South Australia secures STEM funding for AUKUS

Brandon How

The South Australian and Commonwealth governments have formerly signed an AUKUS cooperation agreement, which includes an initial commitment to 800 additional Commonwealth Supported Places at South Australian universities over the next four years.

Defence minister Richard Marles said the places will target STEM disciplines “critical to the building of nuclear-powered submarines”, including engineering, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, physics, psychology and management. The first 200 places will commence in 2024.

The agreement also includes a commitment to invest in research capability and infrastructure as well as to “progress consideration of options for defence-related science and technology facilities in Adelaide”, according to a joint government statement.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas signing the deal with Defence minister Richard Marles

Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor reiterated the government’s position that AUKUS will assure both national security and economic security through investments in sovereign capability.

“We need to invest in skills in order to provider the capability and the capacity for the defence industry to produce these remarkable defence assets,” he said.

“For that reason, these has to be not only a whole of government approach to this, but indeed working with other governments and indeed working with industry employers and unions to make sure we get this right.”

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas said was appreciative of the Commonwealth government taking a collaborative approach to ensuring South Australia has the skills to construct nuclear-powered submarines.

“AUKUS will transform South Australia’s economy for generations, but work begins right now. As Premier, I am determined to seize this opportunity, which is why this agreement with the Commonwealth is so important,” he said.

“It is all about delivering tangible outcomes to build the highly skilled workforce and the infrastructure we need to make the AUKUS program a reality.”

A training academy will also be established at the Osborne naval shipyard, which is being expanded to allow for the construction of nuclear-propelled submarines. The academy will “provide for apprentices and the trade-level training which is so particular to the building of nuclear-powered submarines”.

The deal also includes a land exchange from the Department of Defence to the South Australian government to open the Keswick Army Barracks in urban Adelaide for redevelopment, as well as land at Cultana to facilitate development of hydrogen infrastructure.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy, Chief Nuclear Powered Submarine Task Force vice-admiral Jonathan Mead, South Australian Deputy Premier Susan Close, and federal Labor MP for Boothby Louise Miller Frost were also in attendance at the announcement.

A Unions and Defence Industry roundtable was held in South Australia following the announcement.

The Commonwealth and state governments are currently working on a Defence Industry Workforce and Skills Taskforce, which is expected to make its recommendations around September and October 2023.

A broader AUKUS Submarine Workforce and Industry Strategy was also announced on Tuesday alongside the announcement of the AUKUS optimal pathway for nuclear-propelled submarine acquisition.

This includes supporting “an existing cohort of over 50 Australians to commence new specialised courses in the UK and US and new tertiary courses for nuclear engineering at the University of New South Wales and nuclear science at the Australian National University”, according to a government statement.

In particular, a peak of up to 4,000 workers will be employed during the design and construction of submarine construction infrastructure in South Australia. A peak of an additional 4,000 to 5,500 jobs will be created in 20 to 30 years’ time.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas is travelling to the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in the United Kingdom on Wednesday to learn from the UK government’s nuclear submarine construction program and visit its training academy at the shipyard.

The United Kingdom will build its own SSN-AUKUS nuclear powered submarines which will be delivered in the late 2030s. The first South Australian-built SSN-AUKUS is expected to be complete in the early 2040s.

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