Build conventional submarines to maintain local skills – unions

Australian maritime trade unions have called on the federal government to commit to building six conventionally powered submarines locally to protect Australia’s sovereign defence capability as we transition to a nuclear submarine fleet in the 2040s.

The Australian Shipbuilding Federation of Unions (ASFU) national convenor Glenn Thompson (pictured) warned that the nuclear submarines promised under the AUKUS treaty would take decades to arrive, leaving Australia vulnerable when the current Collins-class submarines are retired.

Speaking at the Osborne naval shipyard in Adelaide, Thompson said: “As a matter of urgency, the Albanese government should commission six conventionally powered submarines to be built locally.

“It is the only way we can cover the capability gap, train the workforce our future subs will need, and create thousands of good jobs that will boost Australia’s manufacturing recovery.”

Thompson said a local build would allow our submarine fleet to be built and maintained locally, rather than relying on on overseas ports to maintain and repair our submarines, something he described as an unacceptable security risk in the 21st century.

“Nuclear submarines don’t run themselves – you need a well-trained, highly skilled workforce of thousands to maintain them.

“Unless we can build up our manufacturing capability in the interim, we simply won’t have the skills and knowledge to keep these submarines in the water.”

Thompson was confident that Australian shipbuilding workers could meet our defence needs.

“If we allow this chance to slip away, we won’t have the sovereign defence capability we need to maintain and repair our subs in Australia.

“Covid showed us how easily global supply chains can snap. We need to be able to build and repair our defence materiel here so we can be sure we can defend ourselves.”

The government will outline its plans for the future submarine force, including any interim vessels required, in March.

Picture: Glenn Thompson with former industry minister, Kim Carr

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