There’s no doubt the Government’s decision that Australia has a nuclear-powered submarine fleet will improve our defence capability in an increasingly challenging environment.
This decision, made possible because of a change of policy by our closest allies, is supported by Labor. After spending a few days on one of our Collins Class submarines recently myself, I know this is also strongly supported by our submariners.
Importantly for our community and our international neighbours, Labor’s support is on the basis that this change does not require the establishment of a domestic nuclear industry in Australia, Australia will not be acquiring nuclear weapons, and we will remain in compliance with our nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations.
But we must ensure that the Morrison Government’s record of completely and utterly mishandling our future submarine program to date does not continue with this critical new nuclear-powered project.
It is vital the acquisition of this new defence capability is done on time, on budget and, as much as possible, using our Australian defence industry and developing our sovereign capabilities.
With expectations the first submarine may not be in the water until 2040, years later than the previously commissioned Attack Class were due, we don’t have time to waste.
To date we’ve seen very little Australian industry involvement in the future submarine program, yet, for those who were employed by Naval, or those smaller businesses already included in their supply chain, this announcement has left them out of pocket, and their futures uncertain. As is the future for the many Australian businesses that were preparing to be involved in the Attack Class program.
In the previous submarine program we were initially promised that 90 per cent of the project would be Australian industry content. The Liberals failed to have an Australian industry content requirement included in the contract.
The lack of oversight resulting from six defence ministers in eight years of this Liberal Government has resulted in time frame blowouts by a decade and local industry contributions taking a back seat.
When the program was cancelled, the target Australian involvement was down to 60 per cent and even that wasn’t likely to be met. While we’re seeing early reports that Australian involvement in the nuclear-powered program may be as little as 40 per cent, the Government has refused to come clean on a figure publicly. Industry is expecting this figure to be far less in practice.
The Morrison Government must provide a roadmap to industry about how and when they can move into the new program and ensure they are supported in that process.
A 40 per cent local content requirement just doesn’t cut it — particularly when you consider what’s been promised and not delivered by this Government before. It is inevitable that elements of the new submarines, primarily those pertaining to the nuclear components, will require overseas inputs.
That being said, the Australian build, operation and sustainment of our current Collins Class submarines has taught it is imperative for our national interest that we maximise Australian industry involvement, including the development of local capability and intellectual property.
It is fundamental that our Australian defence industry is supported, not cast aside, and Australian advanced manufacturing developed along with it.
That’s why Labor has committed to maximising Australian industry involvement in major defence projects with specific and transparent contractual obligations that are audited and enforced.
I’ve seen first-hand the innovative work our Australian industry is doing, but they are capable of — and want to do — so much more.
As the Government now embarks on the most expensive, complex and important procurement process in the history of our nation, it is vital for our national interest that they manage it properly.
Australian defence industry must be supported and our sovereign industrial capability enhanced.