The government is under fire again for not mandating the use of an Australian shipbuilder for the $35 billion Future Frigates project, after Defence revealed such conditions were contained in the Offshore Patrol Vessel tender.
Responses to questions on notice show the three bidders for the $4 billion OPV project - Damen, Fassmer and eventual winner Lürssen - were required to produce a response to the tender that included the use of an Australian shipbuilder registered as an Australian company for at least 15 years.
"A requirement of the Offshore Patrol Vessel request for tender necessitated tenderers propose a commercial structure which included an Australian shipbuilder with at least 15 years registration as an Australian company," Defence said in response to questions on notice from Labor senator Kim Carr.
Lürssen’s tendered commercial structure, based on a proposed joint venture between ASC and Forgacs Marine and Defence (a subsidiary of Civmec), complied with the tender requirements, as did Damen's bid, which also saw the Dutch company partner with ASC and Civmec, while Fassmer partnered with Austal.
While Lürssen is currently in negotiations with Austal, at the request of the government, to determine whether the West Australian company will play a role in the construction of 10 of the 12 vessels, Senator Carr has questioned why no such condition was included in the $35 billion SEA 5000 Future Frigates project.
"This answer just creates more questions," Senator Carr told Defence Connect.
"When did the government intervene to make this a requirement, given they didn’t do it in the tender documents? And if they realised having an Australian builder was important enough to intervene like this in the OPV tender, why haven’t they learnt that lesson for the frigate project, too?"
The government has been under pressure in the Senate since last year to change the tender conditions for the SEA 5000 project but has continued to reject the calls, claiming any changes to the tender could significantly delay the project.
The government's eleventh hour decision to include Austal in the OPV project, despite not being a teaming partner of Lürssen, prompted Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick to label these claims as a lie.
"The final shipbuilding configuration announced today, which is different, proves the government can change tack even very late in the piece to give Australian shipbuilders a prime role," said Senator Patrick when the OPV project was announced last November.
Subscribe to the Defence Connect daily newsletter.
Be the first to hear the latest developments in the defence industry.
Minister Pyne hit back at Senato Carr's comments, telling Defence Connect the build will be done by Australians.
"Whoever is selected as the prime contractor it will be an Australian build, create Australian jobs and use Australian steel.
"It’s the height of hypocrisy for Labor to be lecturing us on shipbuilding. Not one Australian worker will ever be employed constructing a naval vessel commissioned from Labor’s time in office. Labor created the Valley of Death by not committing to a single submarine or ship to be built in Australia during their six years in office.
“While Labor’s idleness in office caused the problems, we have acted to fix them."