Opinion: A decision on the location of a new east coast base to support the operations of nuclear-powered submarines is expected in 2023. Now is the time for governments, industry and communities to position and plan, write PwC’s Nick Tate, integrated infrastructure director, and Louisa Minney, director and founder of PwC’s Australian Industry Capability Community of Practice.
In light of the AUKUS agreement, Defence has announced a proposal to develop a new east coast base at one of three sites (one in Queensland and two in NSW) to support the operations of nuclear-powered submarines as well as surface vessels. The acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines opens substantial opportunities to develop resilient, fit-for-purpose bases and precincts to support operations and maintenance. While HMAS Stirling in Western Australia will continue as the west coast submarine base, the new east coast base will be the home port for half of the new nuclear-powered submarine fleet, supported by industry for operations and maintenance.
The economic benefits to the chosen location will be significant: a spend in the region of $5–10 billion to develop the base, ongoing employment of 3,000 to 5,000 personnel, and an array of industries and services supporting these workers and their families. As an example, the Garden Island Defence Precinct in Sydney injects an estimated $842 million into its local economy annually, with around $286 million in salaries.
Implementation will be a complex undertaking with resources from Defence, industry, and the community drawn together to support this important development in our nation’s military and industrial development. Therefore, governments, industries and communities that want to embrace an opportunity of this scale need to start planning now, so that they’re prepared once the location of the new east coast base is announced. Making the most of the opportunity calls for supportive policy and future-focused placemaking towards a precinct that may define Australia’s ongoing strategic capability as well as materially increase economic activity. It also calls for consideration of substantial challenges, not just within the precinct but across multiple regions surrounding the base.