Submarine build – not such a boon for Adelaide?

Defence and industry officials testifying to Senate estimates this week have cast doubt on the potential benefits to the South Australian economy of Australia’s $50 billion French submarine buy.

The most damaging testimony to government assurances came from Defence’s deputy secretary, Stephen Johnson, questioned by SA Senator Penny Wong.

While the government has claimed the submarines will have 60 per cent local content, Johnson contradicted this.

“We have not set a per cent,” Johnson, who is also general manager submarines, said.

“It is a flawed strategy to set a per cent before you have enough information to understand.”

Johnson said a percentage local content had never been on the table with Naval Group, the French government business building the Attack class submarines in Adelaide.

Asked how he could explain government claims of 60 per cent he replied: “I don’t have a way of answering that.”

SA Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said this was a “stunning revelation which raises serious questions about just how many jobs and work on the Future Submarines will go to South Australians”.

While Johnson said local content would be fulsome, the admission reflects Naval Group claims in France of immense French job benefits from the submarine deal.

Also concerning to Adelaide’s fortunes was testimony from shipbuilder ASC’s CEO, Stuart Whiley, who revealed Collins class submarine maintenance work might be moved to Western Australia.

He told estimates that he had received a ‘tasking statement’ from Defence to look at options for moving the work, which employs 500, to WA.

Whiley said ‘full cycle dockings’ could be moved to WA as early as 2022. However one option was to retain them in Adelaide where the Collins class were built.

Senator Patrick commented: “It is clear a move is on.”

Picture: Defence/Collins class vessels off Perth

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