Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union


Putting Australian shipbuilding back on course

OPINION By Glenn Thompson, AMWU Assistant National secretary


This week the three consortiums competing for the future submarines contract made final bids, so it’s worth taking stock on how much AMWU members have achieved for Australian shipbuilding in 2015.

A year ago, many people thought the “captain’s call” of former PM Tony Abbott made it a foregone conclusion our subs would be built in Japan instead of here as the Coalition had promised. We thought better.

Now the German, French and even Japanese consortiums say that most of the $50 billion project can be done in Australia: built in Adelaide and with advanced manufacturing opportunities across the rest of the country.

That’s only happened because AMWU members had faith in Australia’s skilled workforce and an understanding of our need for shipbuilding self-reliance that so many Coalition politicians lack.

We’ve hit the media airwaves, rallied in the streets, testified at Senate hearings, sent delegations to Canberra and generated so much community heat that we forced Liberal politicians from SA to stand up for their state because their own jobs were right on the line.

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Pressure over his submarine betrayal was a potent factor in Tony Abbott’s demise, just as his first Defence Minister paid the price for that ‘canoe’ insult of ASC members.

Since Malcolm Turnbull became the Prime Minister, we’ve continued our campaigning. In October, shipbuilding members and supporters crowd funded over $6,000 to install billboards across marginal seats in Adelaide demanding a local submarine build. We’ve also continued pressuring individual MP’s to make sure they are delivering for their electorates.

In 2015 the Government’s refusal to bring forward navy shipbuilding orders meant that BAE, Forgacs and ASC couldn’t bridge the “valley of death” and keep all our yards active and our members in work.

It sent two navy supply vessels and the contract for a new icebreaker overseas, projects which could still be built in Australian yards. We will continue to campaign to have these decisions reviewed.

Big numbers of our skilled shipbuilders from Forgacs in Newcastle, BAE at Williamstown and some at ASC Shipbuilding are now looking for work. We’re doing all we can to assist them.

The $39 billion to advance the offshore Pacific patrol vessels and future frigates to 2018 and 2020 vindicated everything the AMWU has told politicians about the imperative for a long-term, continuous building program to sustain the industry for decades to come.

The hard truth is that we can’t just rely on politicians, particularly Coalition MPs, to make decisions in the interests of workers and jobs.

We need to hold them to account and in 2016 we’ll do that as they release the Defence White Paper and industry shipbuilding plan to make sure this “valley of death” is the last.

It is crucial that we organise workers across the sector into our union, as it’s the only way to keep the focus on the industry, skills and jobs.

We still need to know exactly what the Government means by “maximum Australian build” and we must lock in the details of those offshore patrol vessels  and future frigates to ensure maximum Australian content.

And we need to keep up the pressure to hold the Coalition to its pre-election promise to build 12 submarines in Adelaide - not just eight, as is rumoured in Canberra.

Our industry is capable of delivering this project on time and on budget from day one, so the hybrid and the offshore builds the Coalition has asked the bidders for will not assist Australia and must be abandoned

I wish all our shipbuilding members a safe and restful festive season, because in 2016 we go again.


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