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Calls grow for certainty on Future Frigates project

fremm frigate
A Fincantieri FREMM Frigate

The Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council (AAMC) has joined the chorus of those calling on the federal government to maximise Australian industry contribution for the construction of the Future Frigates, in the wake of reports revealing the project’s tender has no mandate to use an Australian workforce.

The CEO-led private sector initiative said in a statement the latest revelations about the SEA 5000 request for tender (RFT), coupled with the "considerable industry concern", has prompted it to call on the government to clarify how this RFT is in line with government's commitment to Australia's defence industry.

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"The AAMC has previously applauded the Australian government's commitment to defence industries," the statement began.

"The AAMC understands the contracting principles behind the reported provisions in the RFT documentation for the Future Frigates project that require the successful tenderer to 'directly manage and supervise the workforce undertaking the shipbuilding work'. However, it would be prudent to clarify how the RFT is consistent with the ambition embodied in the government's previous statements on local industrial capability development."

"The AAMC has previously applauded the Australian government's commitment to defence industries," the statement began.

"The AAMC understands the contracting principles behind the reported provisions in the RFT documentation for the Future Frigates project that require the successful tenderer to 'directly manage and supervise the workforce undertaking the shipbuilding work'. However, it would be prudent to clarify how the RFT is consistent with the ambition embodied in the government's previous statements on local industrial capability development."

Concerns for the project were raised last week when the leaked documents came out, with South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon lashing the federal government over leaving out Australian shipbuilders like ASC Shipbuilding.

Xenophon labelled the RFT's lack of mandate for an Australian shipbuilder as "an act of bastardry and deception on a grand scale" and tabled a motion to scrap the "fundamentally flawed" tender process, a motion backed by Labor Senator Kim Carr and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

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Opposition spokesman for Defence Richard Marles was also critical of the government's Future Frigates RFT, describing it as a "low act" towards Australia's shipbuilders.

"The government needs to explain why they’ve left Australian workers in the lurch in the $35 billion frigates program," Marles said.

"Specifically excluding Australia’s shipbuilders is a particularly low act.

"Without an Australian build, we won’t have a sovereign capacity, and miss our best chance to develop an exporting industry."

But Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said in an interview on Adelaide breakfast radio there is "no possibility" ASC workers will be overlooked for the Future Frigates build.

"There's absolutely no possibility of that. The ASC workers are the most skilled and experienced shipyard workers in the country," said Minister Pyne.

"We need 5,000 workers at Osborne between now and mid-2020. The idea that every one of those people who wants a job wouldn’t get one is quite frankly ridiculous; this is an absurd media beat-up."

The $35 billion project will see the successful tenderer – either BAE Systems (UK), Fincantieri (Italy) or Navantia (Spain) – build nine frigates for the Royal Australian Navy.

Calls grow for certainty on Future Frigates project
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