By Peter Roberts
The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has committed the government to building a new, large naval ship dedicated to humanitarian work and disaster response among a suite of policies aimed at our Pacific Island neighbours.
In a major speech delivered to a largely defence audience in Townsville, he revealed the vessel as part of Australia’s response to China’s growing regional influence.
“The Government will also put in place arrangements to ensure that Australia has a dedicated vessel to deliver our support to our partners in the Pacific,” Morrison said.
“Its duties will include humanitarian assistance and response.”
In his speech, delivered at Lavarack Barracks, PM Morrison also pledged to ask Parliament to provide EFIC, Australia’s export credit agency, an additional $1 billion in callable capital to support exports and investments in the Pacific.
“These new measures will enhance Efic’s ability to support Australian SMEs to be active in their region,” said Morrison.
“Working with the support and aid that we are putting into the region. Private capital, entrepreneurialism, open markets are crucial to our mutual prosperity.”
the Prime Minister also said there would be greater diplomatic contact, the Navy would deploy its ships more often to the Pacific, Australia would help train regional police and the Army would establish a dedicated training unit to work with our neighbours.
However, this all comes at a cost. Fairfax today reported Defence Minister, Christopher Pyne would not say how much the new vessel would cost, nor where it would be built.
Pyne described the ship as “a large-hulled humanitarian and disaster relief vessel that would operate semi-permanently operating in the south west Pacific”.
Yet another new vessel for the Navy begs the question of the role of our two brand new landing ships (LHDs), HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide, which are capable of delivering humanitarian aid through their embarked helicopters, landing craft and onboard medical facilities.
The Adelaide class ships, which dwarf even our former aircraft carriers, utilised Spanish hulls fitted out in Australia and were built at at total cost of more than $3 billion.
There is already widespread concern that the federal government has committed taxpayers to massive and perhaps unaffordable future costs by ordering patrol boats, frigates and submarines within a short space of time.
A further large ship would also stretch Australia’s naval shipbuilding capacity, and yet if it was to be built overseas it would make a mockery of Canberra’s ambitious sovereign shipbuilding plans.
Meanwhile the opposition has reaffirmed its support for Australia’s $50 billion Future Submarine Programme, but has labelled the federal government’s approach to the bidding process for SEA 1000 as an “epic mistake”.
Picture: Defence/Adelaide and Canberra at Garden Island.
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