The federal government has been slammed for its multimillion-dollar upgrades to shipyards across Australia, with critics saying the capabilities already exist in NSW.
Managing director of Harwood Marine Ross Roberts is calling on the state government to give NSW businesses a leg-up in securing defence work.
Roberts told the NSW Legislative Council standing committee on state development's defence industry inquiry in Tweed Heads that the Yamba Port in Clarence Valley has the potential to be the largest shipyard on Australia's eastern coast, but has lost out to other states.
"What could the government do to help? First, it has got to recognise that this is potentially the largest shipyard on the east coast of Australia," said Roberts.
"We have got about 200 or 190 acres of land. We have got about 1.5 kilometres of waterfront. We have got a heavy-lift slipway. We are putting in travel lifts that will pick up the patrol boats and the tug boats. The idea of a travel lift is that you pick the boat up, take it out of the water and wash it down, rather than wash it on a slipway and then try to catch everything."
Roberts said the federal government's $24 million investment in shipyards in Cairns is a bitter disappointment as local maritime businesses are looking to utilise the existing Yamba Port capabilities and expand from the commercial to defence space.
"I would like to see the New South Wales government actively encourage us, because so far we read about $24 million going up to Cairns to help them rebuild what we have built and we hear about another so many million," Roberts lamented.
"We have already built it; it is here in New South Wales. I have not had one Navy person visit the yard yet. We have had politicians but not one Navy person. That strikes me as unbelievable, really. I read about there being no shipyards, they have got to be rebuilt for $1.3 billion and we have to import ship labourers – we have got the workers here."
Clarence Valley's potential as a defence industry hub was discussed at the third hearing of the standing committee on state development.