Over 100,000 South Australians in Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne’s electorate of Sturt will receive a letter in the coming days accusing the Liberal government of "committing a great betrayal" of Australian industry.
In his letter to South Australian voters, crossbench senator Rex Patrick of the Centre Alliance Party offers his support to the government's $90 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan but laments the lack of Australian involvement.
"Centre Alliance strongly supports the naval shipbuilding program and the commitment by the government to build two Offshore Patrol Vessels, nine Future Frigates and 12 Future Submarines. These projects have the potential to bring great economic benefit to our state, forming the nucleus of a high technology industry sector that should not only support Australia's defence needs but also win export contracts and revitalise South Australia's manufacturing sector," the letter reads.
"But unfortunately the government is committing a betrayal. It turns out that the build responsibility for all of these programs will go to foreign companies that will result in Australian industry being short-changed on an opportunity to fully develop their capabilities and will also see the profits associated with the shipbuilding being taken off shore, not retained in the Australian economy."
Included in the letter is a table of the recent naval shipbuilding projects including the Icebreaker, which is being built in Romania and the Supply Vessels that are under construction in Spain.
The letter comes ahead of the much awaited decision of the $35 billion Future Frigates program. The competition is between three designers, BAE Systems, Fincantieri and Navantia. Whether local shipbuilders like ASC and Austal will play a role in the build of these vessels remains unknown, but political pressure from the Centre Alliance and Labor Party has been ongoing for months.
Last year, former senator Nick Xenophon, who was later replaced by Senator Patrick, obtained the Future Frigates tender, which specifically told the three foreign tenderers that ASC Shipbuilding and its workforce does not have to be used in the project.
"In particular, the Commonwealth is not mandating that the successful tenderer use the workforce of ASC Shipbuilding Pty Ltd currently working on the AWD Program," the RFT reads.
At the time, 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.
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.
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"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."
South Australia will be the build site of nine Future Frigates, 12 Future Submarines and two Offshore Patrol Vessels, while Western Australia will house the construction of 10 Offshore Patrol Vessels.