Opinion Article – The West Australian – The Government’s Historic Commitment for Naval Shipbuilding

August 6th, 2015 | Editorials

Over the next few decades, the biggest regeneration of the Royal Australian Navy since the Second World War will take place. That regeneration will be the centrepiece of the Abbott Government’s fully funded and cost assured Defence White Paper that will be released later this year. This White Paper will set out the Government’s plan for the Australian Defence Force as it forges a pathway to meet current and future strategic challenges.

The Abbott Government will now implement an unprecedented continuous build of surface warships in Australia, meaning that Australia’s world-class shipbuilding workforce have been given the certainty that they will be building Navy’s Future Frigates and Offshore Patrol Vessels for decades to come.

By committing to building Navy warships in Australia, the Government has provided a clear path for companies such as Austal to fully participate and the Government welcomes the positive response to our announcement from industry.

Andrew Bellamy, CEO of Austal, described the announcement as ‘transformative change’ and Austal themselves have seen the opportunities that are before them. They said in their statement: “Austal looks forward to participating in that process for both Frigates and Offshore Patrol Vessels” and “…(the) workforce in Western Australia are similarly well positioned to deliver Offshore Patrol Vessels.”

These are exciting opportunities for the defence industry in Western Australia.

This strategy will transform Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry and put an end to the boom-bust cycle that has afflicted the industry, which has led to the current shipbuilding ‘valley of death’ left to the nation by the previous Labor government.”

The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, said yesterday: “This (continuous shipbuilding plan) provides certainty for not just the naval shipbuilding side of things but it also provides certainty for planning, not just within Navy, but within the Australian Defence Force.

This is a strong vote of confidence in Australia’s world-class shipbuilding workforce. Unlike our predecessors, who failed to commission a single naval vessel from an Australian shipyard in their six years of office, this Government is prepared to invest in the skills and knowledge base of the industry.

Not surprisingly, the Labor Party has not offered bipartisan support for this strategy.  There are critical questions that Mr Shorten must now answer:

Will Mr Shorten offer bipartisan support for the Government’s continuous build programme of naval surface ships in Australia?  Will Mr Shorten commit to match the Government’s defence investment commitment to increase the Defence budget to 2% of GDP by 2023/24?  Will Mr Shorten now acknowledge that in six years of government, Labor did not commission one naval ship from an Australian yard, therefore creating the Valley of Death?  Does Mr Shorten stand behind Labor’s former Defence Minister – now Shadow Cabinet Minister – Joel Fitzgibbon who yesterday conceded that Labor did not commission new shipbuilding project during its last term of government?  Does Mr Shorten stand behind Labor’s former Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, who said in November 2012: “The key to building these skills is a continuous shipbuilding plan with long term, predictable work”?  Does Mr Shorten now acknowledge that immediately following its 2009 White Paper, Labor cut $16 billion from Defence – reducing spending to 1.56 per cent of GDP, the lowest level since 1938?

I encourage Mr Shorten and Labor to join with the Government and present a united voice promoting Australia as a great place to do business and to promote our skilled shipbuilding workforce in a positive manner.  For the sake of all Australians, we need to do what is in the national interest.

The strategy that the Abbott Government has committed to will ensure Australia has a sustainable naval shipbuilding industry that delivers to the Navy the right capability, at the right time and for the right price. But equally important this strategy supports shipbuilding jobs remaining in Australia. It is a key part of our commitment to a safe and secure Australia.