Once in a generation opportunity must be leveraged: Marles

Once in a generation opportunity must be leveraged: Marles

Richard Marles MP (centre) and Member for Wright, Queensland, Mr Scott Buchholz MP (left) chat with Executive Officer, ADF Parliamentary Program, Major Lisa Collie during a uniform fitting at the Duntroon Clothing Store.

The 2016 Defence White Paper provided much optimism and excitement to the defence industry, but opposition spokesman for defence Richard Marles said there is cause for concern if key projects are not undertaken correctly.

Victorian MP Richard Marles told Defence Connect the federal opposition has held concerns over the speed at which some of Defence's major projects are moving.

"We are critical of the way in which the defence industry space was run by government, particularly this government, particularly in its first term," Marles explained.

"I do hope that we see coming to fruition as quickly as possible a number of these major projects. There are a lot of jobs that are on the line in respect to that."

The MP also echoed calls for an Australian defence export industry, which he believes must start in the shipbuilding industry in conjunction with Australia's largest naval procurement history.

"It goes deeper ... about the need to make sure that we are properly leveraging this opportunity," said Marles. "Which in many respects is a once in a generation opportunity, particularly in the shipbuilding space, to really create an Australian export-based shipbuilding industry.

"This needs to happen as quickly as possible, I obviously get that it doesn't happen over night, though, and it needs to be done right. Part of making sure that, for example, there's as much Australian industry content involved in each of these builds, is making sure that the design work and that the design around the procurement work, the supply-chain ... is done as thoroughly as possible, as early as possible."

The former minister for trade also raised concerns about the level of Australian industry content in the $50 billion Future Submarines Project, which, as previously reported on Defence Connect, may fall to as low as 60 per cent from the previously suggested 90 per cent.

"It feels to me like, having made that statement previously, people are now walking away from that 90 per cent figure," Marles said.

"I'm concerned about that as well. I think we obviously want as much of an Australian build as possible in the subs. It by some measures is the single biggest procurement in Australian history.

"It's really critical that that [90 per cent] occur. A valley of death has been created by key decisions. For example, the supply ships being sent offshore to be built.

"The OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels), we still don't have a preferred tender in there. It would've been our policy going into 2013 to try to speed that up to try and bridge the valley of death that we're really experiencing right now. But it is important that the early work is done thoroughly, first, so that there is as much Australian industry content as possible in each of those projects. The subs is the biggest of them all."

And while the $3 billion OPV project is, financially, much smaller than the $50 billion submarine project, Marles said there is certainly cause for concern, particularly for shipbuilding workers, that the tenderer is yet to be selected.

"It's a concern and we're experiencing it right now. We've had thousands of people in the shipbuilding industry lose their jobs over the last few years because of the valley of death becoming a reality. Now, the valley of death was something that could be foreseen, and we did. It essentially arose through how you were going to bridge the gap between the completion of the fit out of the LHDs and the completion of the Air Warfare Destroyers and then the commencement of the OPVs," Marles said.

"Our view was, the way in which you could bridge that gap would be to have the supply ships built in Australia and to bring the OPVs forward. Well the supply ships are now being built in Spain, as people know. We're still at a point where we don't have a preferred tender for the OPVs. So it is a concern. We do need to be seeing that happen as quickly as possible.

"It's not just a concern for those who lose their jobs and their families, but obviously that it affects them directly. But from an Australian capability point of view, every time somebody with those skills leaves an Australian shipyard, is another person or another body of retraining that we're going to have to go through when we staff up again in the future for the OPVs, the Future Frigates, the Pacific Patrol Boats and ultimately the subs.

"So to not have this continuous shipbuild right now is costing us dearly and it is an enormous concern."

To hear more from the opposition spokesman for defence, click here for our exclusive podcast.

 

Once in a generation opportunity must be leveraged: Marles
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