Opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles has used an address to naval shipbuilders at Osborne to respond to the Coalition’s claims about Defence expenditure and naval shipbuilding.
With polls tightening ahead of the 18 May election, Marles thanked shipbuilders and union officials for their efforts in building the next generation of the Royal Australian Navy fleet – the Hobart Class guided missile destroyers – and the role they would play in supporting the delivery of both the Hunter and Attack Class vessels, saying: "I acknowledge all the work that all the unions here at Osborne do in representing a workforce which is doing such a fantastic job for our nation in building our naval assets."
A key component of Marles' address to the crowd was the focus on rebutting claims made by retiring-Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and, to a lesser extent, newly-appointed Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds regarding the Coalition's record of naval shipbuilding delivery and support of Australia's domestic defence industry since coming to government in 2013.
"One of the worst acts of the Coalition government was to reverse that decision and see the supply ships be sent off to Spain to be built there. Now, that's fantastic for the Spanish industry. It doesn't do much for us here at Osborne and has created a situation where we've seen thousands of job losses around Australia. We’ve seen Forgacs in Newcastle mothballed; Williamstown in Victoria mothballed; and a thousand jobs lost here at Osborne," Marles explained.
He focused on one the Coalition's key touch points; the long-feared 'valley of death' experienced by Australia's naval shipbuilding industry between the completion of the last Collins Class submarines and the beginning of construction on the first Hobart Class destroyer.
"We're now in the crazy situation where since Christopher Pyne announced in October of 2017 that the valley of death was over that a further 450 jobs have been lost in that period of time alone. This is the reality of what is being faced here at Osborne in relation to actual jobs in the Australian defence industry. For all the press releases, for all the hoopla of this government, the facts on the ground are people are losing their jobs as recent as last night. That's what's going on here at Osborne," Marles added.
Another focus of Marles was the instability within the Coalition – not just the constant leadership changes, but also the fact that the Coalition will go to the election with the prospect of having "their fifth defence minister in as many years".
"I know the uncertainty that you're facing here. What I want to say to you today is that a future Shorten Labor government, if we were fortunate enough to be elected on Saturday week, is utterly committed to you and to your jobs. We will, within four weeks of being elected if we're fortunate to be elected, hold a summit here in Adelaide about Osborne; a summit which would have at it, ASC, BAE, Lürssen, Navantia, and all of you, the unions representing the workforce
here, to talk about how we can make sure that we save every job that is possible, how we can save every skill that is possible in terms of what needs then to be done for the building of our naval shipbuilding program going forward," Marles committed.
His comments come a week after he joined Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in Western Australia to commit Labor to $105 million on funding in the defence industry infrastructure at the Australian Marine Complex at Henderson and a $10 million investment to support the creation of the Western Australian Defence Industry Support Centre.
As part of that announcement, the opposition announced a series of commitments to support the development of Western Australia's defence industry capabilities and to conducted the first review of Australia's force posture since 2012.
Labor has recognised that "the world looks different from when Australia’s last force posture review was undertaken by the former Labor government in 2011-12. We now face the most challenging set of strategic circumstances since the Second World War".
Labor said the review would consider whether the ADF personnel, infrastructure and assets are correctly geographically positioned to meet our future strategic challenges.
"So what I can absolutely guarantee is that a future Shorten Labor government, if it’s elected in a week and a half’s time, will be completely committed to not leaving a single stone unturned in doing everything we can to defend every job we possibly can here at Osborne. Thank you," Marles added.
Since the last Force Posture Review, there have been two Defence White Papers and a bi-partisan commitment to spending 2 per cent of GDP on Defence, including the acquisition of 72 joint striker fighters, 12 submarines, 12 offshore patrol vessels, nine frigates, 21 pacific patrol boats and 211 combat reconnaissance vehicles.