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Naval shipbuilding plan needs $1.3b for yards, thousands more workers

Defence minister Senator Marise Payne during supplementary budget estimates hearings at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 19 October 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesThe Turnbull government will need to spend $1.3 billion on shipyards and oversee the creation of an army of skilled workers to realise a national naval shipbuilding industry.
Nanjing Night Net

The Naval Shipbuilding Plan, released on Tuesday, outlines how the government will achieve one of its signature promises: the creation of a local industry that can build $89 billion worth of ships over the coming decades.

But the plan outlines the scale of the challenge, including massive upgrades of the shipyards outside Adelaide and at Henderson in Western Australia, the $1.3 billion cost of which will be borne by the taxpayer and comes on top of the price tag for ships themselves.

It also warns there will be significant challenges in raising and training a skilled workforce that will have to grow sharply from the early 2020s and which, unless centrally managed by the government, could fall short and rob other industries and the navy of vital skills.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne and Defence Minister Marise Payne will launch the plan in Adelaide on Tuesday morning.

Between now and the middle of the century, the program will turn out 12 submarines, nine frigates and 12 offshore patrol vessels, as well as 19 Pacific patrol boats to be given to neighbouring countries. The blueprint describes the naval shipbuilding program as “larger and more complex than the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and the National Broadband Network”.

The report says the shipbuilding enterprise will “generate significant economic growth across Australia, revitalise Australia’s heavy-engineering and advance-manufacturing industrial capability and capacity, and grow and sustain thousands of Australian jobs”.

To train the anticipated workforce, the government will set up a $25 million “naval shipbuilding college” in Adelaide, which will be run by a company or consortium chosen by tender and will team up with other educational institutions.

But it will ultimately be up to the shipbuilders – generally partnerships between overseas companies and local ones such as ASC and Austal – who they hire.

The workforce will need to double or triple from its current size to peak at about 5200 workers in 2026. About 3600 staff will need to be found for South Australia in the first half of the 2020s, posing a “substantial challenge”, the plan warns.

Unless carefully managed by the government, naval shipbuilding could poach much-needed experts from other industries, and from Defence and the navy themselves. This would “impact the Australian Defence Force’s capability and reduce Defence’s ability to be a smart buyer”, the report says.

The program aims to create steady work in shipyards, rather than having peaks and troughs that mean workers need to be laid off and then new ones trained, as has happened in the past.

The government has also made much of its “continuous build” plans for the surface ships. This is a perpetual production timetable in which the first ships of the next generation are ready for construction just as the oldest vessels of the current generation are getting ready for retirement.

However, some experts have warned that continuous builds for a relatively small naval fleet such as Australia’s could mean vessels are replaced before they have served a decent lifespan, which is uneconomical.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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