NEW SOUTH WALES Premier Barry O’Farrell was involved in an angry confrontation with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd earlier today, interrupting Mr Rudd on the campaign trail to have a heated discussion regarding the Labor leader’s decision to move a naval base out of Sydney without consultation.
Mr Rudd held a press conference at Sydney Harbour to announce plans to move the navy’s main east coast base from its Garden Island home to a new location in Brisbane. Mr O’Farrell arrived towards the end of the conference, engaging the Prime Minister in a spontaneous public exchange on the issue.
Mr O’Farrell told Mr Rudd that “a phone call would have been helpful” before condemning the Prime Minister’s plan and claiming that it would “slash” over 400 jobs. Mr Rudd justified his actions by claiming that moving the naval base was in the interests of “the national security.”
Mr O’Farrell said: “I’m happy to share, your predecessor could share and you should learn to share.”
Mr Rudd ended the altercation abruptly, walking away from the New South Wales Premier saying “good on you.” Campaigning in Brisbane later in the day, Mr Rudd accused Mr O’Farrell of “huffing and puffing” and said that the Royal Australian Navy was “not Premier O’Farrell’s property.”
Mr Rudd said: “It is the property of the Australian government making national security decisions about where our defence assets should be located in the future.”
Mr Rudd announced that a re-elected Labor government would appoint a committee to determine the process that would need to take place in order to move the naval base by 2030. He said that Australia’s naval priorities needed to be based on strategic cooperation with regional defence partnerships and protect the country’s northern borders.
Mr O’Farrell claims that the Garden Island naval base provides a fiscal benefit of around $470 million to the New South Wales economy and generates employment for around 6700 local residents. His appearance at Mr Rudd’s campaign event suggests that the conservative New South Wales government were left out of discussions regarding the fate of the Garden Island facility.
The Labor government’s plan to move Fleet Base East from Sydney to Brisbane is in line with a Force Posture Review released in 2012 under the Gillard government. The report suggested that the government explore the option to establish an alternative naval base further north in a location such as Brisbane.