Thursday, 27 June 2013
Questions without Notice
Defence: Naval Vessels
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, Senator Bob Carr. During Senate estimates in February this year, Senator Brandis ascertained from Defence officials that Australia had conducted no patrols in the Southern Ocean in 2012 and that the vessel ACV Ocean Protector, which can be used for those purposes, is being used in Australia's northern waters. Given the fact that our limited number of patrol vessels seriously affects our capacity to patrol our interests in the Southern Ocean, and given that BAE Systems has cautioned the government that it does not have sufficient workload to keep its current trained and skilled workers employed beyond the end of next year, can the minister outline what considerations have been taken towards bringing forward the funding and construction of the SEA 1180 offshore combatant vessels project?
I thank the senator for his question. I can inform the Senate that this offshore combatant vessel was a 2009 Defence white paper project to develop proposals to rationalise the Navy's patrol boat, mine countermeasures, hydrographic and oceanographic forces into a single, modular, multirole vessel. As outlined in the 2013 Defence white paper released in May, Defence will continue to have the capabilities to conduct patrol, minehunting and hydrographic roles. That Defence white paper outlined the government's commitment to bring forward the replacement of Australia's Armidale-class patrol boats with both Australia's patrol boats and the Pacific patrol boats being replaced, preferably with a proven vessel. A multirole vessel remains a possible longer-term project, subject to technological maturity and an ability to provide operational flexibility with lower costs of ownership. Similarly, the government intends to upgrade and extend the existing minehunter coastal and survey motor launch hydrographic vessels until a longer term solution can be delivered.
Government decisions on the scope and the roles of future vessels will take account of the technological maturity of particular solutions as well as the remaining life of current vessels. But I underline that this project, the offshore combat vessels, was there in the 2009 Defence white paper project to pursue the proposal of rationalising the Navy's patrol boat and mine countermeasures, the hydrographic and oceanographic forces, into a single modular multirole vessel. I draw the attention of the senator and the Senate to references in the 2013 Defence white paper released in May.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Defence Department's Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan states:
As it currently stands, the scheme of shipbuilding projects in the Defence Capability Plan creates gaps for the Australian shipbuilding industry with a decline in project activity that has already commenced … These peaks and troughs further deny industry the serious opportunity to invest, develop skills and improve performance over a longer period.
What assurance can the minister provide to the Australian people that he will not allow a gap to occur in the Australian shipbuilding industry again and that maintaining and growing current capacity is a national security priority?
In May the government released the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan. The government is committed to acquiring 12 future submarines to be assembled in Adelaide. I know that is warmly endorsed by government senators from South Australia, who worked very hard to refine and nurture this policy—pre-eminently, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, whose interest in this matter has been so marked and has distinguished her political career. Future Submarine will be the biggest and most complex defence project Australia has undertaken. The Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan was commissioned to identify what is required to build and sustain the skills to deliver submarines. It was in consultation with CEOs— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In a recent media release, AMWU national secretary Glenn Thompson stated with regard to the Australian shipbuilding industry and our currently planned but non-funded order for naval vessels that we are 'heading towards the valley of death'. Can the minister explain what, if any, attempts are being made to help Australian shipyards build quality ships for Australia and the world?
I can inform the senator that, to provide more stable work for the industry and retain critical skills in the Future Submarine project, the government will at the earliest opportunity replace Australia's supply ships HMAS Success and HMAS Sirius. This will include examination of options for local, hybrid and overseas build. The government has brought forward the replacement of Australia's Armidale class patrol boats to be assembled here in Australia. The government will give consideration to bringing forward the replacement of the Anzac class frigates with a new frigate to be assembled in Australia. This will include further investment in the Australian radar technology already in service in the Navy frigates. The government has made key decisions on future submarines and will implement the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan. So that is our plan being implemented. (Time expired)