Bill Shorten writes about how the Abbott Government's plans to move our submarine-building industry overseas is bad for Australia.
Last week, I visited the ASC dockyards in Port Adelaide, where more than 900 highly skilled and highly productive Australian workers are building and maintaining our nation’s quality Collins Class submarines.
This was where the Defence Minister promised these workers – and the Australian people – that the next generation of Australian submarines would be designed and built at ASC.
Tony Abbott repeated that promise before the last election – and now he is preparing to break it. He is rejecting expert advice and ignoring important preparatory work in favour of a foreign-made option that doesn’t meet Australia’s strategic needs.
And his betrayal will have devastating consequences for Australian jobs and for Australian skills. Most importantly, it will put Australia’s national security at risk.
We know this broken promise is on the cards because the Liberal myth-making machine has gone into overdrive.
The absurdly inflated cost projections and overly pessimistic delivery dates, plucked from the air and being shopped around by the Government, are transparently cynical attempts to soften the ground for another Abbott lie.
The figures being touted are just plain wrong.
Previous shipbuilding projects have taught us that each vessel costs less, in dollars, time and effort, than the one before it. The accumulated knowledge and skills gained from building the first submarine in a fleet makes it easier and quicker to build the next.
And the learning gained from the design and build makes maintaining and sustaining the fleet more efficient, too. It’s a simple principle: If you make the right investments at the beginning of a project – you save money in the long run.
In contrast, if you choose the bodgie option and take shortcuts, you end up with lower quality and a higher price. When it comes to national security, cutting corners and compromising on quality are simply unacceptable. It’s that straightforward. We are an island nation, with vulnerable sea lanes, living in an uncertain world. We should own the naval technology that meets our unique requirements.
As the Governor-General and former Chief of the Defence Force Sir Peter Cosgrove wrote last year: “Whenever I am asked why we should build submarines in Australia, my short reply is that we can’t afford not to. Submarines are essential strategic defence assets. They are covert, have long reach and deploy a powerful set of weapons and sensors. On the seas, they are our most effective deterrent.”
The Government should be investing in these assets – not outsourcing this most fundamental responsibility. The Government should be thanking the dedicated people at ASC for their high- quality work, not denigrating the vital contribution they make to Australia’s security.
Labor doubled investment in the sustainment of the Collins Class submarine, tackling the chronic underfunding of the previous decade. The improvement in the fleet’s performance was as quick as it was impressive. The Defence Minister has fallen over himself to bask in the reflected glory of this “remarkable”, “astonishing” and “most gratifying” feat.
But in rushing to claim credit, the Minister has failed to heed the obvious lesson: Our national security depends on backing in the skills and innovation of our people.
It is time for Tony Abbott to choose. The Prime Minister can keep his promise to the people of Australia – or he can turn his back on Australian jobs, Australian skills and Australian industry.
Tony Abbott can add Australian shipbuilding to the long list of industries driven into extinction by his government’s short-sighted policies or he can stand up for Australian jobs. The Prime Minister can guarantee our national security with world leading Australian owned technology. Or he can choose the cut price, off-the-rack second best option.
Labor’s position is clear. We believe in investing in the jobs, skills and security of our nation. We believe that the next generation of Australian submarines should be designed and built in South Australia.
We believe Australia is big enough – and our people smart enough – to do this job.
This opinion piece was first published in the South Australia Sunday Mail on Sunday the 14th of September 2014