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Media Room: Defence Transcripts

Department of Defence


08/04/2009 MECC 90408/09



Wednesday, 8 April 2009






Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much for your time today. I'd like to brief you on some major changes to the way we're managing one of Australia's most important assets, our submarines.



You all know Australia's maritime force is facing - Australia's submarine force is facing significant challenges. Rest assured they remain a very capable force and I am extremely proud of the service and capability that our submarines provide.



But I am concerned that their long-term sustainability cannot be guaranteed unless we act decisively. The challenges facing navy submarine force today may well be felt by the wider navy in years to come unless we put our people first.



Navy is sometimes accused of ignoring our submariners. But while they make up about five per cent of our total workforce, they require a substantial percentage of Navy's total budget and deliver a very substantial element of our fighting capability. So we owe it to them to get this right.



Today, I am announcing significant and widespread reforms to the way Australia's submarine force is structured and the way in which it operates.



Navy is implementing a submarine sustainability program which will do four things; it will stem the number of qualified submariners leaving the submarine force by improving their working conditions. It will speed up the training process to get new submariners fully qualified and to see faster.



It will increase the number of new submariners through an aggressive external and internal recruitment program and change the prevailing mission focus submarine culture so that there is a greater focus on the wellbeing of submariners and of their families.



The overall goal is to grow the submarine workforce to enable a fourth, sustainable, seagoing crew to be formed by the end of 2011. To achieve this, we're spearheading a five-pronged process, the first of which has already been completed. Phase one which occurred in 2008 is an analysis phase.



This phase included the conduct of the submarine sustainability review and other surveys to understand the problem, followed by implementation of initial actions and some quick wins. Phase two is a stabilisation phase and will run from 2009 to 2011. This phase will achieve three sustainable crews of 58 personnel, up from 46 currently; assisted by a submarine support group of 27 people to provide high priority technical and administrative support services to our crews when they're alongside.



Phase three, which is a recovery phase, will run concurrently from 2011 through to 2012. This phase will achieve a fourth sustainable crew of 58 personnel to consistently meet submarine readiness requirements, a fully manned and sustainable submarine support group providing a broad range of support services to crews and sustain manning of the submarine shore positions.



Phase four, which is a consolidation phase, will operate from 2012 through to 2015. Now this phase will include evaluating alternate crewing arrangements, three crews to perhaps two platforms, as was recommended in the review.



By evaluating the need for more crews, depending on the effectiveness of the new construct of four sustainable crews backed up by a fully resourced submarine support group. Phase five, which is a growth phase, will occur from 2015 onwards.



Now this phase will implement workforce expansion plans, to meet strategic guidance and lay the foundations for the transition from the Collins Class submarines to our future submarines under C1000.


Last year, Navy commissioned several studies; the most significant was handed to me in November. Rear Admiral Rowan Moffitt's submarine workforce sustainability review pulls no punches. And I invite you, navy members and the Australian public, to read it.


Most of the report is now being made available to you and is up on the Navy website at


Since November, we've been working hard on stabilising the submarine workforce. As I've made clear, this phase will achieve those three sustainable crews of 58 personnel each and to support them with a submarine support group of 27 people to provide that high-priority technical and administrative support to our crews at sea and alongside.


By 2011, my aim is for our submarine force to have recovered enough to be able to sustain that fourth crew. From 2012 we will consolidate by evaluating what we will have achieved so far and thoroughly examining options for alternate crewing strategies. Now this might involve a form of multi-crewing.


We've already taken the first step in this area by separating our crews from hulls.


The most critical element of any warship is its crew. And we've now taken an approach in the submarine group which aims to focus on the crew and rotate crews to submarines rather than the other way round. That's not unlike the approach taken in the airline industry or indeed in the offshore industry.


Now, I should point out that our efforts to improve Navy submarine force are already beginning to show some results. There has been a small increase in our retention rates for submarines. That's an encouraging sign, but we still have a lot of hard work to do.


But we have already had some success. Actions now underway include improved shore accommodation standards for submarine crews when their submarine is alongside, away from home port, fewer submariners will be required to keep watch in port, giving them additional rests and respite, a 25 per cent increase in submarine crew size in order to ease the workload on sea-going crew members to enable more sustainable work routines both at sea and alongside, internet and intranet access is being provided to our submariners, the number of shore-based postings for our submariners is being increased, ensuring posting stability for our people in the west, an establishment of a new submarine support group, as I've mentioned, to take over some of the workload from our crew members.



Australia's submarine force remains critical in the defence of this nation. Let me repeat, if we are called upon today, our submariners are well able to meet any challenge. But we can't afford to burn out our people. I will not allow it and neither will the Australian people.


The time has come for strong action to safeguard Australia's submarine force now and into the future. I'm now happy to take any questions that you might have.


QUESTION:   Admiral, Mark Dodd from The Australian newspaper. How was it that things were able to get so bad in the submariner force and who takes responsibility?


RUSS CRANE:          I think if you read the Moffitt Report which is being made available to you today, you will see that the pace of life and operational commitment in our Submarine Force Element Group has been perhaps the single most difficult contributor to this particular problem. My takeaway from the report and from the recommendations that have been put to me is that we need to take some of that pressure off our submariners. I think that is the key issue. Our submariners have told us that. We now need to fix it. This plan will do that.


QUESTION:  Max Lincoln (*) from AAP, Admiral. What do you define as a sustainable crew?


RUSS CRANE:          A sustainable crew is one that we can continue to plan for over many, many years, one that we can rotate people through, that we have the infrastructure and the people elsewhere to be able to rotate people through a crew consistently. So it's not a one shot. It's one that is able to be replaced, as people move through their submarine career.


QUESTION:   So that's as people move through - there's enough people in training and there's enough people available to fill gaps while on leave, that sort of thing?


RUSS CRANE:          That's correct. If you have people at sea for a period of time, you need a sustainable resource behind them to be able to replace them and not leave them at sea for too long. Typically, we would look for 18 months to two years before it's time to bring people ashore and give them a break. Sustainable crews is all about having our ability to be able to do that.


QUESTION:  Ian McPhedran from News Limited. This report paints a pretty terrible picture of mismanagement. What guarantees can you give to the Australian people that your plan for the future will work and what will you do if that plan doesn't work?


RUSS CRANE:          I think the report, as I said, is very hard-hitting. It doesn't pull any punches. It tells the picture as it is. I take confidence in that that is a realistic assessment of the submarine group by the submariners themselves. They're the people we really need to listen to.



And so I have great confidence that what we're doing addresses the issues that they have raised with us. We've focused very much on their particular issues, and I have great confidence we can do that.



In terms of reporting, I am required to report to the Minister on a quarterly basis, so I'm very comfortable that there will be an ongoing tracking process to ensure that we continue to deliver.


QUESTION:  Nick Butterly from The West Australian. Can you explain how many boats you can have and how many submarines you can operate at the moment - or you are operating at the moment sustainably? And also can you explain a bit about - the fortunes of the mining industry in WA have always played a large role in being able to find crew for submarines. Do you think that is now going to turn around, given that the mining industry has suffered something of a slump?


RUSS CRANE:          Certainly, the - if I could take the second part of the question first. Certainly, the movement and the increase in the numbers of people moving into the mining industry, particularly in Western Australia, in the past have been a factor in the separation rates from our submarine group. But I would have to say that I think that's only part of the issue. The fact that people felt that they needed to leave the submarine group to go off into another industry is something that we need to pay attention to.

            In terms of the first part of the question, it's well known that I've got three crews available at the moment, and I can man the submarines that I have available to me to provide to the CDF the capability that I'm directed to provide so we can meet our requirements today, and we will continue to meet them as we build the submarine force into, into the future.


QUESTION:  John Kerin from the Fin Review. In terms of recruiting new people, are you looking at, within navy overseas, or Gen Y? I mean, is it a mix of all three? What's the thrust of that going to be?


RUSS CRANE:          Initially the thrust in the recruiting area will be internally.

I've recently implemented an internal recruitment program which sees us take the top 10 recruits from every recruit intake that we have, across to Western Australia, and provide them with an opportunity to participate in the initial part of submarine familiarisation.


It's very early days. But, in the first course it looks like eight out of 10 have elected to follow a submarine career path.


So, internally I think is where we will, we will focus very much in the near future. But we do look for lateral recruits. We have an active campaign looking for lateral recruits; and we are very keen to bring people in directly from the external recruiting program as well.


QUESTION:  Admiral, Latika Bourke from 2UE.

Just, I'm wondering, you said earlier that you wanted to stem the number of mariners, submariners leaving by improving their working conditions. What improvements do you hope to make, and by when?


RUSS CRANE:          Well, as I, as I've tried to outline; I think increasing the crew size from 46 to 58 - and bear in mind that this does not mean that there will be 58 submariners at sea in every submarine - it means that the commanding officer will have available to him, for his submarine, an increased crew.


So he is able to rotate his people, as he comes alongside, give them an opportunity to go off and do professional development courses, personal development training, take some leave perhaps.


We also have the submarine support group available to augment, where required, for those types of activities.


It's that quality of life, looking after the individual, that we're particularly focused on.


QUESTION:  Admiral, Max…


RUSS CRANE:          [Inaudible question]


QUESTION:  …what the likely budget impact of these reforms, these changes? Have you an estimate?


RUSS CRANE:          We're still working the detail of the financial requirement in order to implement the plan; bearing in mind that this is a, quite a long-term plan; about six, six years before we get out to 2015.


But our initial look would suggest to us that it's not a big number. For instance, in the case of HMAS Farncomb, we have already increased the size of that crew, and we've done that through an internal reprioritisation of submarine billets. So that's been done from our, internally from navy itself.


And that's where we'd be looking.


QUESTION:  Sorry, Nick Butterly from The West Australian, again.

Just on another topic - a boat load of asylum seekers managed to make it all the way to dock into Christmas Island last night at four o'clock in the morning. Can you explain to us what you know about this?


There's also been a recent, apparent surge of boats detected recently. What's your intelligence as to why this is happening at the moment, and was this a failure of security for, to allow a boat to come all the way into Christmas Island?


RUSS CRANE:          Can I say I am certainly aware of the arrival of that boat at Christmas Island this morning.


I think one of the key issues for me is that those 45 people onboard are safe and well and are now in the hands of the Customs and Immigration Department on Christmas Island; and being processed.


The operation of the border protection is, is a function of the border protection command - something which sits outside navy.


So I think it's probably more appropriate that I leave any further detail in relation to that incident to them.


QUESTION:  Was the navy aware of the existence of this ship before it docked though?


RUSS CRANE:          I'm not sure whether border protection command was aware or not. I am saying that I'm aware, have been made aware of the arrival.

It's an issue that the border protection command would work.




RUSS CRANE:          Is this the last question?


UNIDENTIFIED:      Fit two in, maybe.


RUSS CRANE:          Okay.


QUESTION:  Hi. Jonathan Pearlman from The Sydney Morning Herald.

Just in the target date for that fourth crew of end of 2011. It still seems like quite a long time. Why will it take so long to fill out another crew?


RUSS CRANE:          Two things, I think that are important here. In setting target dates for something as critical as our submarine force, we need to be careful not to put in place deliverables that we can't meet. We need to do this in a sustainable way.


So I'm after a very measured approach, and something that we can really achieve.


That's because training submariners is not an easy task. Firstly they have to be trained in their particular category. And then of course they've got to go off and get their dolphin qualifications. It doesn't happen overnight.


It takes time to generate submariners. It takes time to generate that experience. So I want to be careful in announcing this plan, that we do something that we can achieve and achieve consistently.


QUESTION:  Admiral, Max Blenkin back again.


How many submariners would you like to pick up from the Brits or the Canadians, and do you have any indication of their response? I know how they'd, how we'd respond if they set up a recruiting stall outside Fleet Base West.


RUSS CRANE:          We, we certainly advertise overseas for submariners, or indeed any other naval people that might be interested in transferring to our navy.

It's not something I hide. It's a discussion that I have with chiefs of navy from other nations. I'd have to say that it's generally a very positive response.


We don't actively recruit outside establishments. That's not the way we do business. But if people are interested in transferring to the Royal Australian Navy, then there's an opportunity for them to do that.


QUESTION:  …the earlier issue about the asylum seekers - I understand what you're saying about they're a Customs issue, but, what does it say about, from a defence point of view, that this boat could arrive undetected right to the Island?


RUSS CRANE:          Well I think you, you need to perhaps understand the, the concept and the way in which the border protection command executes its surveillance and response mission.


But is - this is a matter for the border protection command, not for navy.

So I really should leave any further comment to them.

Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very very much for your time. I appreciate it.




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