South Australian senator Rex Patrick has used Senate estimates to put forward concerns over South Australia-based submarine maintenance and sustainment jobs to support the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarines.
Defence officials at ongoing Senate estimates hearings have apparently confirmed that plans were underway to shift up to 500 submarine deep level maintenance and sustainment jobs to support the Collins Class submarines from the ASC shipyards at Osborne, SA to Western Australia.
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said, "We are talking about 500 highly skilled South Australian jobs, we are talking hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity, not to mention the adverse national security effects of disrupting submarine sustainment."
ASC and the then Defence Material Organisation (DMO), now CASG, signed a multi-billion through-life support agreement covering ongoing design enhancements, maintenance and support for the Royal Australian Navy's fleet of six Collins Class submarines until the end of their projected operational life. This was reinforced in 2012 when ASC signed a new in service support contract (ISSC), a replacement contract for the Collins Class submarine through-life support agreement.
"Defence have been playing the long game on this. Minister Pyne needs to step up and stop this reckless proposal. Collins sustainment should stay in SA and the minister needs to appreciate that the Future Submarines’ sustainment should also be based in Adelaide, half way between the planned west and east coast basing locations," Senator Patrick added.
Senator Patrick has raised concerns in the past regarding the full-cycle docking of the submarine fleet. Any planned relocation would see the majority of these jobs relocated to the West Australian ASC facility, which already carries out half-cycle docking. It is believed that transitioning the project to WA would be welcomed by the state government, which has been in favour of the move for some time.
Freedom of information (FOI) documents have been powerful tools in Senator Patrick's arsenal regarding the future of both the Collins class support and sustainment contracts and the $50 billion SEA 1000 submarine construction contracts, with the Senator raising concerns about the level of Australian industry content (AIC), capability concerns and delivery timeline, among others.
"ASC's South Australian workers have spent many years developing an exemplary submarine sustainment capability. Not only would such a move cause job losses in SA, it would also jeopardise the success of extending the life of the Collins Class fleet which need to be in service until at least the late 2040s," Senator Patrick said, stressing his concerns about the stresses of relocating sustainment and maintenance support for the Collins Class.
A spokesperson for Minister Pyne responded to the claims raised by Senator Patrick, saying, "The government has not made a decision to move full cycle docking to Henderson from Osborne. ANI has been working with Naval Group on plans for the submarine construction yard at the Osborne Naval Shipyard because that’s where it is being built.
"Defence is creating options because they always prepare for contingencies but it’s the NSC that decides these matters not the department."
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The majority of submarine maintenance work is undertaken at ASC North in Osborne, SA, by way of full cycle dockings (major refits). Other shorter term submarine maintenance activities are carried out at ASC West in Henderson, WA, where the submarines are based.