A $4.3 BILLION commitment from prime minister Scott Morrison to build a dry dock berth in Henderson capable of churning out big navy ships needs to go hand-in-hand with upgrades to the area’s public transport, says Cockburn council.
The prime minister made the announcement on Tuesday, saying work on the dock would start in 2022 and the first ships would go on the production line from 2028. Technically the project is already two years behind deadline, as it was flagged in the Department of Defence’s 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan as being completed by 2020.
It’s part of a complete Defence rethink on Australia’s problematic naval shipbuilding industry, which has been one of the most inefficient in the world – Americans can build the same vessels up to 40 per cent cheaper than Aussie shipyards.
Mr Morrison said his government was committed to improving the country’s sovereign capabilities and “turbocharging our national naval shipbuilding”. The project will be overseen by the Australian government-owned company Australian Naval Infrastructure.
“This is a $4.3b vote of confidence in Western Australia’s shipbuilding capabilities, jobs, training and the critical role that Western Australia plays in defending Australian and powering our national economy,” the prime minister said.
Defence industry minister Melissa Price said the dry dock would support a previously announced $90m regional maintenance centre due to be operational in Henderson later this year.
Cockburn council CEO Tony Brun said the dry dock would provide a major economic boost to existing business and would attract others, but the area’s notorious traffic jams around shift changes has him concerned.
“There will also need to be a commitment to deliver tier 2 public transport (tram/trackless tram or bus-rapid transit) to connect the Australian Marine Complex to Cockburn Central, and also to Fremantle via the South Fremantle Power Station/Cockburn Coast,” Mr Brun told the Herald.
“The city believes that for this investment to realise its full potential, funding will
be needed to ensure grade separation for the Rockingham Road and Russell Road intersection.
Mr Brun said there could be good news for homeowners, with Cockburn’s real estate likely to see increased interest from workers looking to relocate closer to employment opportunities.
He also expects local job and education opportunities, including more tertiary education placements in the long run.
Fremantle Labor MP Josh Wilson wasn’t joining in the celebrations, saying 300 local shipbuilding jobs would be lost because of government dithering before the dock was anywhere near complete.
“The Henderson precinct in my electorate has world-class shipbuilding and sustainment potential that has been subject to chronic neglect by this incompetent Liberal government.
“In September last year the PM confirmed two hammer blows to Western Australia’s obvious shipbuilding capacity and potential by:
• snubbing WA’s bid to undertake full-cycle docking work on Australia’s submarines, despite clear evidence the shift is in the national interest; and,
• breaking his own promise to commission the build of the Pacific Support Vessel in WA.”
The quiet ditching of a locally-constructed Pacific vessel was revealed in a Senate estimates hearing last October, where foreign minister Marise Payne said the naval construction already underway at Henderson meant the only way to get one quickly enough was to look overseas.
by STEVE GRANT