THE Morrison government’s dawdling over whether to shift maintenance for the Navy’s submarine fleet to WA might indicate how far behind schedule its next generation of subs has fallen, says defence issues minister Paul Papalia.
Defence minister Linda Reynolds was in Henderson last week to talk up the government’s investment in the shipyard, describing it as an emerging “sovereign capability powerhouse”.
But apart from re-announcing a 2019 election promise to bring forward the replacement of the Navy’s minesweepers by around 10 years and hint at the need for more major docking facilities in the future, there wasn’t much new from the minister.
That had Mr Papalia suspecting the flattery was a “diversion” to draw attention from the government’s lack of a decision on full cycle docking and delays in the new Attack Class submarine program.
“The only question we want an answer for is ‘are they going to say whether full cycle docking will be moved to Western Australia,” Mr Papalia said.
“We made the case more than a year ago.
“I must say that I am starting to suspect the new subs build may be so far behind, but they won’t even admit that.”
The government has commissioned 12 Attack Class submarines, but the federal auditor general found in January last year planning was nine months behind, while other critics claim the delays run into the years.
But Defence insisted at the time the construction phase would start in South Australia on time in 2023.
But Mr Papalia says if that’s true the federal government needs to hurry up and make a decision.
“The thing about full cycle docking is that you don’t make the decision a year out from when you need it, you need to make it well in advance so you can train the workforce, get them experienced in the task – then we can spend money on our infrastructure.”
A report prepared for the McGowan government by ACIL Allen found if WA scored the lucrative maintenance program, it would be worth between
$515 million and $544 million annually to the WA economy.
It involves cutting a submarine in half so its main motor and diesel engines can be serviced. Other upgrades are also included, with the whole process taking around two years per submarine.
by STEVE GRANT