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Government vows ‘continuous build’ of surface warships and rolling acquisition of submarines

The government has stopped short of promising to build the submarine fleet at home. Photo: Damian Pawlenko$150b program centrepiece of Defence planDefence plan faces up to realitiesWhat else could we buy?Turnbull fails the flag test
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The Turnbull government has vowed to significantly boost Australia’s shipbuilding industry with a “continuous build” of surface warships and a rolling acquisition of submarines.

While stopping short of promising to build the submarine fleet at home – a decision still be made through the competitive bidding process – the government is strongly linking the development of a stronger navy to high-tech Australian jobs.

About 1500 jobs have been lost so far across Australian naval shipyards, with Adelaide-based ASC warning recently it risked losing a further 1000 because of the so-called “valley of death” in which work dries up between major projects.

Where the fleet of 12 new submarines is built is being decided under the “competitive evaluation process”, with bids by Japan, Germany and France.

But Defence and government sources say it is now all but inevitable that at least two-thirds of the construction work will be done locally.

But defence analyst Andrew Davies, who acted as an outside consultant on the White Paper, sounded a note of caution that Australia could bite off more than it can chew.

He said Australia would be “taking on an enormous project-management challenge” by a steady drumbeat of building nine frigates, 12 patrol boats and, potentially, 12 submarines all onshore.

He said there was a risk in “monopoly buyers” having too much power.

“How do you hold its feet to the fire in terms of competitive behaviour and productivity? It’s not obvious how you do that. The British navy is about to take delivery of several ships they don’t want because work had to be found for a monopoly supplier.”

Shadow assistant defence minister David Feeney attacked the government for failing to guarantee the submarines would be built in Australia, saying they were “of enormous strategic importance to this country”.

Chris Burns, national spokesperson for the naval industry group Australian Made Defence campaign said the White Paper was a significant vote of confidence for the defence industry.”We have the local shipyards, skills and workforce to deliver Australia’s naval shipbuilding requirements,” he said.

“Today’s announcement shows the Federal Government is ready to partner with industry to deliver key capabilities for Australians,” said Mr Burns.

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