Centre Alliance plans to “return sovereignty” to naval shipbuilding program

Austal Shipyards 13ede7788c591f582248c40209bdc538
Austal Shipyards 13ede7788c591f582248c40209bdc538
Austal Shipyards
Austal Shipyards

Centre Alliance has indicated it will introduce a bill into the senate that will, "inject the concept of sovereignty back into Australia's purported 'sovereign' naval shipbuilding program."

The Defence (Sovereign Naval Shipbuilding) Bill 2018 will amend the Defence Act 1903 to require all new naval vessels (e.g. patrol boats, frigates, destroyers, submarines, supply ships, etc) be built in Australia, except in times of defence emergency or in time of war (as defined in the Defence Act), and responsibility for any vessels built in Australia be assigned (contracted) to a well-established, high performance Australian controlled shipbuilder.

Centre Alliance said the bill will not prevent foreign shipbuilders tendering to be the prime contractor in any shipbuilding program, but they will need to sub-contract the entire build to an Australian-controlled shipbuilder that meets a minimum experience and performance threshold.

"Australia's uncertain strategic future requires a much greater measure of self-sufficiency as a pacific maritime power," Senator Rex Patrick said.

"While we can expect to work with our alliance partners for a long time to come, we need balanced and self-sustaining naval capabilities that will buttress our security in a regional environment that is likely to be more contested than it has been at any time since the Second World War.

"Australia needs to be able to exercise a much greater measure of independent maritime power in our region and to do that we need a sovereign naval shipbuilding and support sector."

Centre Alliance said it is fully supportive of the Federal Government's $90 billion continuous naval shipbuilding program, but said improvements to it are required in the interests of national security and to maximise the economic benefit of the program to Australia.

"The bill is designed to counter what may in the future come to be seen as the treacherous approach taken by Russell Hill bureaucrats in the Future Frigate program whereby Australia's two established and highly capable shipbuilders, ASC and Austal, have been excluded in the tender documents from having responsibility for the build," said Patrick.

"Instead the government has invited three foreign ship designers to bid for the job, offering them a taxpayer-funded shipyard in Adelaide and a $35 billion contract to establish themselves to compete with the long standing Australian companies. This approach to the project makes ASC's future rather bleak."

It was revealed by former Senator Xenophon in June 2017 that ASC will have no part in the Future Submarine build. In August 2017, he again revealed that they were excluded from taking a lead in the Future Frigate program. Centre Alliance said it was also clear from an FOI release to Senator Patrick last month that Defence officials are planning to shift Collins submarine full cycle dockings to WA.

"All of this will leave ASC without substantive work," said Rex. "Perth-based Austal, the world's biggest aluminium shipbuilder, will also be damaged in its overseas markets because exclusion from the Future Frigate program will be seen by potential export customers as shunned by their home navy here in Australia."

Senator Patrick said he would move to introduce the bill when parliament resumes.

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