A belated epiphany from the embattled Abbott Government on the need for a continuous local building program for Australian navy
ships is welcome but needs more than rhetoric to rescue the industry.
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews (left) finally bowed to political, strategic and economic reality this week when he recognised the truth in the AMWU’s campaign for a 30-year continuous building program to sustain Australian naval shipbuilding.
But the minister gave no commitment on budget, timetable or plan of action and instead went on to knock the local workforce’s productivity, stating costs were well above US benchmarks.
“The Abbott Government’s belated conversion is driven by by a fear of losing jobs – their own,” said AMWU Assistant National Secretary, Glenn Thompson.
“It’s brought on by the intense fear of an electoral wipeout in South Australia if this Coalition Government keeps selling out manufacturing jobs and sends our future submarines to be built overseas.
“But this barnacle won’t come off the Abbott boat unless it makes immediate commitments to shipbuilding needed to save thousands of jobs now being lost at yards across Australia.”
Mr Thompson said this was needed to stop job losses at Forgacs in Newcastle, stop redundancy plans by BAE Systems at Williamstown in Victoria and to give security to ASC workers in Adelaide.
“To make good on his rhetoric, Minister Andrews can start by scrapping the decision to build two major navy supply ships in Korea and Spain and re-open the tender to these Australian shipyards as recommended by the Senate Inquiry into navy shipbuilding,” Mr Thompson said.
“Most importantly, he should bring forward an announcement on the build of our future frigates to give defence shipbuilding firms the certainty that is essential if they are to retain their workers and capacity.”
This must be done now, rather than awaiting the release of the Defence White Paper late in 2015 by which time hundreds more jobs will be lost.
Mr Thompson dismissed Minister Andrews’ complaint that local shipyards needed to lift performance to be cost competitive with overseas when he continued to sit on the White-Winter report which had solutions to bring down cost overruns on the Air Warfare Destroyer project.
“He well knows that the failure of government to provide a continuous flow of work which generates experience, expertise and cost efficiency is the main reason there’s a price premium,” Mr Thompson said.
“You can’t have a stop-start industry. The solution lies in the Minister’s own hands, by giving our shipbuilders the certainty of fresh orders and the continuous work to make sure that costs per unit do come down to international levels.”