Relocating submarine maintenance from South Australia to Western Australia would likely cost more, see half the South Australian workforce lose their jobs and reduce the safety and performance of the submarines, a new report has revealed.
- The Federal Government is considering whether to move Collins Class submarine maintenance from SA to WA
- An internal ASC report has found doing so could cost money and jobs
- The Western Australian Government has questioned the credibility of the report
About 700 submarine maintenance jobs in Adelaide are in limbo with federal Defence Minister Linda Reynolds yet to make a decision on whether full-cycle docking maintenance work will relocate to Western Australia.
An interim report commissioned by shipbuilder ASC, which has shipbuilding yards in South Australia and Western Australia and is responsible for the maintenance of the Collins Class submarines, has found it is safer for the Collins Class submarine maintenance work to stay in Adelaide.
Obtained under Freedom of Information by Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, the report also revealed if maintenance work was transferred to WA in 2022, almost half the South Australian ASC workforce would be made redundant.
But that would be an insufficient amount of time to transfer knowledge and develop adequate training for WA employees, according to the report.
“The greatest risk to the enterprise in considering the potential transition … to WA is the loss of skill, knowledge and capability that ensures the [Collins class submarines] are safe and capable of performing the operational requirements,” it stated.
The report stated it would likely cost more as alternative training programs would need to be funded.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall described the findings as a “devastating blow” for WA Premier Mark McGowan.
“This report … shows very clearly that the ASC believe that the risks are too high to transfer that very complex full-cycle docking over to Western Australia,” he said.
“They just don’t have the skills in place and these are not easy skills to create in a short period of time.
“South Australia is the home of the Collins Class, we built them here, we’ve been doing the full-cycle docking, we’ve got that at an acceptable level, it’s a massive, massive risk to move that to Western Australia.”
The Federal Government is expected to make a decision on the submarine maintenance work by the end of this year.
WA Government says SA doesn’t have capacity
WA Defence Issues Minister Paul Papalia questioned the credibility of the report.
“As far as I understand, there’s some secret report written by some South Australians which they’re making all their assumptions upon; it’s farcical that Rex Patrick or anyone else in South Australia are making claims on a secret report,” he told the ABC.
“There are challenges associated with leaving it in South Australia.
“In 2024, South Australia will be incapable of meeting the demands for a skilled workforce in the range of 1,500 additional people — they just don’t have the capacity.
“The reality is this decision must not be political, it must be made in the national interest and when you do that, you’ve got to shift full-cycle docking to Western Australia.”
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia’s Collins Class submarines were spending more time at sea than ever before and it was in the national interest that all states and territories contributed to the shipbuilding.
“The delivery of our submarine capability is a key priority of Government and it is my most solemn of duty to make sure that this project is delivered and we receive the capability that our nation requires,” she told Parliament during Question Time.
“The Collins Class submarine continues to achieve Royal Australian Navy requirement; the Collins Class is technically only half its way through its life and remains a highly potent and capable platform.
“With an estimated 300 submarines expected to be operating in the Indo-pacific region by 2035, submarines are an enduringly important strategic capability for Australia.
“The Collins Class submarines incorporate the most advanced technology of any conventional submarine and continue to excel in their operations in a way that should make all Australians incredibly proud.”
Senator calls for WA to abandon its bid
However, Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said Western Australia should abandon its bid to poach submarine maintenance work.
“There’s no question that the full-cycle docking should stay in South Australia, it will cost more than a billion dollars and involve significant risk to national security if full-cycle docking is switched across to Western Australia,” he said.
“You’ve got something that works, why shift it?”
“For South Australia, this is a $400 million contract per annum, that’s a huge amount of economic activity for South Australia and we’ve got 700 workers jobs at risk.
“The report has been prepared by Australia’s submarine experts, I might point out that ASC has sites both in South Australia and Western Australia, it’s silly to think that they are not the experts and somehow the Western Australia Defence Minister is.”