By Peter Roberts
Industry has taken no time at all to react to the news that Australian governments of both colours are determined to continue making a hash of developing local defence industry capability.
The latest indignity come in clear signs from defence and deputy prime minister Richard Marles that we might just buy submarines from overseas rather than build them locally.
Despite promising again and again in the lead up to the election that we would build the vessels in Adelaide, Marles told Channel Nine media that the heightened tensions around Taiwan trumped putting industry development first.
Marles said: “Capability and strategic need must drive decision-making,” said Marles in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“That is how we have to think about it. And there’s got to be clarity of thought about that. Industry follows that.”
Former senator for South Australia Rex Patrick, a submariner, told @AuManufacturing news: “That is a terrible outcome.
“Successive governments both Labor and Liberal have made mistake after mistake in terms of a future submarine.
“Thirteen years have passed and we have spent $4 billion and nothing has been achieved.
“The most achievable submarine is something off the shelf built in Adelaide.”
Patrick said an existing foreign submarine could be rushed into construction by the end of next year and would achieve the most in making the submarines sustainable in Australia should the strategic situation continue to deteriorate.
South Australia chapter president of the Australian Industry and Defence Network Michael Slattery said this morning: “Here we go again back to buying off shore capability instead of growing our industrial base.
“Just when is that moment in time that our government understands the need to build sovereign capability?
“Sure, the geopolitical scene is on a knife edge but the best time to build self reliance was yesterday.”
The strategic situation around Taiwan shifted in recent days with the Chinese conducting live-fire within nine kilometres of Taiwan, clearly contravening international law.
Missiles were also fired over the island and some even landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
However it is unlikely that China is ready to try an invasion of the island soon, both from a capability point of view and given the West’s strong support for Ukraine in resisting its invasion by Russia.
If the issue is not then immediate, then the whole point of Labor contracting to build the Collins class in Australia back in the 1990s – it was designed to create a submarine design and build capability in Adelaide – is still the course we must hold.
Kim Beazley’s intention with Collins was to place industry capability at the highest level, along with the equipment we own and the skills and spirit of our forces, as a key pillar of defence capability and national security.
Or will the partly complete submarine construction yard that stands (picture) on the banks of the Port River in Adelaide be all that is left of domestic submarine ambitions, standing as some sort of monument to our own ineptitude and timidity?
Picture: Australian Naval Infrastructure
Subscribe to our free @AuManufacturing newsletter here.