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27 October 2021

“If there was any doubt, it’s now abundantly clear that the Morrison Government is wrecking Australia’s sovereign naval shipbuilding capabilities,” Independent Senator Rex Patrick said.

In today’s Senate Estimates Committee hearing, the Defence Department admitted that the Royal Australian Navy’s new Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) vessel will not be built in Australia as originally committed to by the Coalition Government. Instead, it will be procured overseas.

That was a commitment made by the Government as recently as July last year - torn up in less than eighteen months. 

Senator Marise Payne, representing Defence Minister Dutton at Estimates today, left open the possibility that the same might happen with the Prime Minister's commitment to build nuclear submarines in Adelaide.

This is already too familiar a story. The Australian Antarctic Division’s new Icebreaker should have been built in Australia, but the Government gave the job to a Romanian shipyard. 

“The Government says it’s committed to continue and expand an onshore sovereign shipbuilding capability, but that takes a lot more than glossy public relations brochures,” Senator Patrick said.

“At every turn the Government’s naval construction projects are a shambles.” 

“The Arafura offshore patrol vessel project, initiated at haste to address a shipbuilding valley of death, is running late.” 

“The Hunter Class Frigate was supposed to be a mature design to keep risk down and allow for early construction. Yet we’ve now got a ship that’s overbudget, overweight and being delayed because of the lack of design maturity.”

“The Attack Class submarine project, already running late and overbudget, has been cancelled to pursue the possibility of nuclear powered submarines.”

“The original plan was to replace the six Collins-class boats with twelve new submarines that would constitute a regionally superior capability in the 2030s. “

“With no certainty about the numbers, costs or delivery timeframe for any nuclear submarines, Plan B is to extend the life of the Collins-Class boats, not just once – as we were already committed to do because the Attack Class would be late - but likely twice to keep the boats going through the 2040s and beyond."

“The viability of further extensions hasn’t been evaluated.The Collins-class base technology dates to the 1980s and the hulls will be pushing fifty years old.” 

“It’s an open question whether the Collins Class submarines will be safe to operate in the 2040s, let alone be effective in combat; but that’s what Australia's submarine capability will be, pending the proposed entry into service of nuclear-powered vessels sometime between 2040 and 2061.” 

“In 2039 we’ll have just five aging Collins boats which will be difficult to maintain and little more than steel coffins in combat, a far cry from what was announced in the 2009 Defence White Paper.”

“The first nuclear boat won’t be actually operational until sometime after 2040. The last built, if there are eight, may not be delivered until around 2061.”

“There’s no guarantee that any will be built in Australia. A Scott Morrison media release really doesn’t amount to much.”

“Meantime Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry faces huge uncertainty and hundreds of job losses and Australia’s strategic circumstances are rapidly changing.”

“To put things into perspective, China’s nuclear-powered submarine force will have more than doubled before the first of any Australian nuclear-powered submarines goes into the water.”