Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) deputy secretary Kim Gillis will appear before a government committee to address claims he told the three SEA 5000 Future Frigates international bidders to ignore Austal and ASC Shipbuilding’s teaming arrangement to act as builders on the project.
As reported on Defence Connect last month, senator Kim Carr, who is one of the senators leading the economics reference committee for the future of Australia's naval shipbuilding industry hearing, presented claims that Gillis spoke with all three international tenderers and told them to ignore Austal and ASC Shipbuilding's teaming arrangement that was made in June.
"I'm advised that Kim Gillis and other members of Defence phoned each of the designers and informed them to ignore the teaming agreement, is that true?" the senator put to Department of Defence representatives.
Associate Secretary of the Department of Defence Brendan Sargeant confirmed there had been contact with the down-selected organisations following the Austal and ASC announcement.
"There was contact with the designers to reassure them that the integrity of the tendering process was maintained," said Brendan Sargeant.
In June this year, Austal and ASC Shipbuilding entered into a teaming agreement for the Future Frigates project, which would see the companies pool their resources, skills and experience and act as one in support of the program.
Spanish company Navantia, Italian firm Fincantieri and UK originated BAE Systems have been shortlisted to design, build and sustain the nine Future Frigates to replace Australia's existing Anzac frigate fleet.
Evidence presented by Austal chief executive David Singleton and ASC Shipbuilding CEO Mark Lamarre at the Senate hearing last month said there was an abrupt change in their engagement with all three international contenders after they received the request for tender from the government, which had no requirement for the use of an Australian shipbuilder – with specific reference to ASC.
"Prior to the release of the RFT we, Austal, were heavily involved with all three of the foreign design companies to provide an Australian shipbuilding solution to their offer to the government," Singleton told the hearing.
"When the RFT came out that was really the end of that engagement between us and those companies."
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ASC Shipbuilding's Mark Lamarre echoed these sentiments, adding, "I would say there was a change [in dialogue] after the issue of the RFT, absolutely."
Since the leaking of the RFT documents in August, South Australian senator Nick Xenophon and Carr have put forward motions in the Senate that the tender process be scrapped and started again with a mandate of inclusion of an Australian shipbuilder.
Defence has claimed the re-establishment of the tender process would set the project back by up to two years.
The nine vessels are scheduled to begin construction in Adelaide in 2020.
A decision on the successful tenderer is expected by April next year.
Representatives from Australian National University's National Security College, AMWU, Insight Economics, the Defence Teaming Centre, and Damen Shipyards, which is bidding for the $3 billion SEA 1180 project, will also speak at the hearing this Friday.