Industry ministers demand the gov't to mandate Australian job numbers in shipbuilding work

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French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron (C) looks through the periscope of submarine "Le Terrible" during a visit to the vessel, whilst at sea on July 4, 2017. Picture taken July 4, 2017. Reuters/Fred Tanneau/Pool

State defence industry ministers have jointly demanded that the federal government mandate Australian job numbers in multi-billion dollar contracts. They stated in a letter that the government must order minimum Australian industry involvement of 60 percent of the contract value on every stage of the naval shipbuilding industry.

South Australian Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith and his West Australian and Victorian counterparts have put aside interstate rivalry over naval projects and partnered in a letter to a Senate inquiry. The state argued that the ability for Australia to develop sovereign naval shipbuilding capabilities would be at risk.

The defence industry ministers have listed policy settings that include a target year for an all-Aussie workforce, which has to be “adopted as a matter of urgency” and transfer of knowledge. The letter argued Australian industry and research will otherwise be denied the “benefits of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Advertiser has obtained a draft of the latter that shows state Labor ministers had hoped to co-opt Liberal NSW Minister Niall Blair. However, he has no signature in the final version.

$50 billion Future Submarine program

According to Hamilton-Smith, the three ministers had opted to utilise their collective power to champion jobs in Australia and put an end to the state versus state rivalry. The defence industry ministers working together for a common intent comes as the 2015 tender documents unveiled under Freedom of Information laws implies Australian jobs on the $50 billion Future Submarine project was an “afterthought.”

For Senator Nick Xenophon, it was “mind boggling” that jobs in Australia were not front and centre. Xenophon had to obtain the documents handed to the countries that competed for the project.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Federal Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the government had made a “virtue” of Australian industry content. “No government before, Labor or Coalition, has made a bigger commitment to using the heft of the defence build-up to drive industry, jobs and research and development."

The spokesperson assured that the government would guarantee Australian content is maximised in the $50 billion Future Submarine program. It is already in the process of finalising these details with DCNS, now known as Naval Group.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has visited Cherbourg in France to open a new design facility for the Australian submarine project. Naval Group’s Herve Guillou said the opening was a significant milestone for Australia's largest ever defence program. 

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