The Northern Rivers region in NSW may be most known for its fertile valleys and charming rivers, but businesses within the region are calling for Defence to capitalise on its already established boatbuilding industry.
Clarence Valley's location, and history as an international port, could become a future hub for Defence with the right investments and planning, according to managing director of Harwood Marine Ross Roberts.
Roberts spoke at the NSW Legislative Council standing committee on state development's defence industry inquiry in Tweed Heads, and said the region has a geographical advantage over other eastern ports.
"When you look at the geography, we are only 1½ hours below the most easterly point at Byron Bay," explained Roberts.
"For the south Pacific we are a very geographically well located place for Defence and for small shipping."
Roberts said the survivability of his company, and other marine SMEs in the region, could be enhanced through defence investment, talking up the capabilities in which local companies have already invested.
"As a commercial operator we have to turn to: how do we survive? That is always your first thought," Roberts told the committee.
"So we built a facility that specialises in heavy lift, which is why the bridges are loading their heavy-lift cranes at our place; otherwise, they have to go back to Brisbane and Newcastle. We have got a heavy-lift capacity that we have built into the place.
"The slipway – which is actually like a big trolley that slides into the water, a boat goes on it, you pull it out of the water, it is a type of removal of vessels out of the water – is very efficient for the size boats that we do. We have rebuilt the shipyard to the original design; it has been recalculated. What we have got is a very high point load, which is why the tugs are interested, patrol boats. These are boats that well and truly have the draft to get into the river. I mean, six metres might be small for a big ship but it is huge for a ship up to 80 metres. Most of defence's vessels are under 100 metres and they are not cargo carriers so there draft is up. Being military vessels they cannot be draft restricted, so defence fits."
Clarence Valley's potential future as a defence industry hub was discussed at the third hearing of the standing committee on state development.
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