Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has reaffirmed the Commonwealth government’s commitment to naval shipbuilding and the development of a leading-edge naval shipbuilding capability in Western Australia, but has stopped short of announcing the location for Full Cycle Docking (FCD) for the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarines.
The Minister for Defence Linda Reynoldshas issued a fiercely worded reminder to industry and the media, while also setting a very pointed challenge at the feet of the West Australian government following comments made recently by Premier Mark McGowan and Defence Issues Minister Paul Papalia regarding the government's decision time frame for the Collins Class Full Cycle Docking (FCD) intentions.
"Our submarine capability is one of the most strategically important and complex capabilities in our Defence Force. To preserve our hard won submarine availability that is above international benchmarks, the government is carefully considering the needs of managing the entirety of our submarine program," Minister Reynolds said.
"A decision on Full Cycle Docking for the Collins Class submarine will be made in the national interest following a deliberative process of government consideration."
A consistent focal point for the Commonwealth government has been the capacity of the workforce in Western Australia to meet the exacting standards required to keep contemporary combat submarines updated and in the water, with Minister Reynolds detailing: "The considerations include the need to preserve and grow our expert skills sets and knowledge in the Collins Class workforce, the best long term maintenance outcome, achieving steady growth across the enterprise, the continued need to deliver operational outcomes, and above all, what is in the national interest.
"Whatever the decision, it is not a binary outcome. The government’s consideration on submarine sustainment will be made in the context of the entirety of our national naval shipbuilding plan."
Premier McGowan made comments earlier in November, stating, "Western Australia has always said the decision must be made in the national interest. It would be deeply concerning to think the timing of a federal election would have any influence on when government and industry are notified of the future of this critical project."
The call for a decision comes as the McGowan government this week reached a significant milestone in progressing its $100 million-plus investment to support FCD and other Defence projects at the state's marine industry hub at the Australian Marine Complex (AMC).
Minister Papalia added at the time, "We have worked hard over the last three-and-a-half years to demonstrate Western Australia's superior capacity to undertake this work, and there is no doubt WA is the clear choice for locating FCD."
The state government is now calling for expressions of interest from marine contractors to begin work on the design and construction of a major wharf upgrade – the first of four infrastructure projects valued at $87.6 million and set to create up to 600 jobs.
The wharf extension will create additional berth capacity and allow the accommodation of all RAN vessels.
Minister Reynolds' response was sharp and directed at the West Australian government, stating, "For many years, I have championed at both state and federal government levels infrastructure investment at Henderson. This advocacy has seen $1.5 billion in infrastructure at HMAS Stirling and Henderson committed, and the further investment of more than $300 million for a new Maritime Underwater Range from the federal government.
"The Henderson Maritime Precinct, a state government facility, has been transformed into a hub of more than 100 companies servicing Defence’s need. But there is still much work to do to bring it up to world standard, including higher levels of automation, efficiency and flexibility – scalable to meet the future demands of a burgeoning industry, larger and more complex naval vessels, and for our allies and partners."
The project at the key industrial hub will see the existing AMC Berth 1 lengthened by about 140 metres, together with the extension and upgrade of existing services on the wharf. It will also see the design of a new 200-metre Finger Wharf to create Berths 7 and 8, to increase future capability to service Collins Class and Attack Class submarines, and support larger naval vessels.
In addition to the wharf upgrades, the $87.6 million investment includes a new vessel transfer path, three road intersection upgrades and a new shipbuilding hall. These major infrastructure upgrades are in addition to the state government's recent $18.6 million investment in defence industry training, to help build the workforce required to support FCD and other Defence projects.
This significant infrastructure and training investment follows the McGowan government's work over the last three-and-a-half years to enhance WA's defence industry and elevate the state's case for securing FCD and other high-value defence projects.
This has included the establishment of Defence West, independent business cases demonstrating WA's superior case to secure FCD over South Australia, and the development of the Strategic Infrastructure and Land Use Plan to develop the AMC.
Minister Reynolds added, "Since 2013, the Coalition government has been the catalyst for growth in Western Australia for shipbuilding – enabled by comprehensive strategic planning and carefully funded investment plans.
"The WA government must now deliver on its long discussed, but not yet actioned, master plan and start much needed upgrades at Henderson. With the inclusion of new build programs in the 2020 Force Structure Plan, the WA government needs to build the pathway for industry confidence and investment."