Opinion Article – Adelaide Advertiser – Australia’s future submarines: An optimistic future for South Australia

The safety and security of our nation is the first responsibility of Government and as the newly appointed Defence Minister I take this responsibility very seriously.  We can not be complacent – Australia is not immune from real and emerging global threats.

The Government recently announced an acquisition plan for the future submarine that has injected clarity and certainty into the project, while at the same time maximising Australian industry involvement.

This announcement represents a $50 billion investment in our safety and security – the largest Defence procurement investment in Australia’s history.

There will be more than 500 new high-skill jobs for the life of Australia’s future submarine programme for decades into the future, the majority based in South Australia.

In South Australia, it is likely that significant work will be undertaken during the build phase of the future submarine including combat system integration, design assurance and land based testing. In addition, there will opportunities arising from the support and maintenance of the submarine through its life.  In dollar terms, this often accounts for two thirds of the total investment.

For South Australian defence industry, this decision provides a clear pathway so that involvement in this programme can be maximised.

There will be more jobs, more opportunities and long term certainty for South Australia.

It is important to note that by the Australian Submarine Corporation’s own admission they do not have the capacity to go it alone and build Australia’s next submarine.

The Government wants ASC and other defence industry in South Australia to have the best chance at bidding for work.

This is one reason why the Government has announced that France, Germany, and Japan have emerged as potential international partners. All three countries have proven submarine design and build capabilities and are currently producing submarines.

The competitive evaluation process will ensure that capability, cost, schedule, and key strategic considerations, along with Australian industry involvement, are carefully and methodically considered, and avoid unnecessary delays to Australia’s Future Submarine Programme. Interoperability with our alliance partner, the United States, will also be a fundamental consideration.

South Australian defence industry now has an opportunity to showcase their capacity as part of this process.  My Department will soon be holding industry briefings to connect industry with potential international partners.

As a Government and as a nation, we have one chance to get this decision right.

That said, in truth, the people of South Australia should rightly be angered by the fact that a decision on a clear process has been delayed until now.

The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government’s refusal for 6 years to make a decision on the replacement for the Collins class submarines, we have a looming security and capability gap.

Over the last six years, under Labor, Defence spending dropped to levels not seen since 1938 – a cut or deferral of some $16 billion.  As a share of GDP, spending dropped to 1.56 per cent in the 2012-13 Budget – the lowest level since 1938.

Under Labor the Australian defence industry shed more than 10% of its workforce because of budget cuts and deferrals, procrastination and lack of opportunity for Australian suppliers.

Labor’s decisions led to 119 defence projects being delayed, 43 projects being reduced and eight projects cancelled, risking critical capability gaps.

Labor’s ‘valley of death’ could be felt for years to come and, once again, it is up to a Coalition Government to fix Labor’s disaster.

By contrast, over the next four years – subject to the outcomes of the Defence white paper – the Federal Coalition Government will invest up to $4.4 billion in Defence for building and sustaining Defence materiel in South Australia.

I make this solemn pledge: this Government will not leave Australia undefended.