South Australian Senator Rex Patrick has accused the Department of Defence of treason for what he believes is a deliberate attempt to remove Australian shipbuilders from participating in a project to build submarines with a French company. Instead the Department of Defence awarded the project to a foreign subsidiary of the French company.
According to documents released by Defence Minister Marise Payne, the French company Naval Group had initially offered to partner up with Adelaide-based ASC to build the submarines for the project “Future Submarines”. However, the Department of Defence rejected the proposal and awarded the contract to build to the Naval Group’s foreign subsidiary.
The Future Submarines project has been envisioned to introduce innovations in submarine design. It also outlined plans for technology transfer and to set up research centres throughout Australia. The project estimated a total number of 1,700 jobs would be created. These jobs would involve design work and the recruitment of skilled labour for hull wielding, fitters and electricians for ASC.
The Naval Group discussed its plan to build “two shipyards as one” whereby Australians would undergo training in France while construction would be undertaken in the shipyard of ASC.
Senator Patrick questioned the decision of the Department of Defence to award the contract to build to Naval Group’s foreign subsidiary instead of the ASC. According to Senator Patrick, the Department of Defence’s decision means that while Australians would be hired, technology transfer will be lost:
“The commercial arrangement will mean the ‘know why’ and ‘know how’ will be transferred from the French parent company to the French daughter company in France. We will just lose all that knowledge when the subsidiary closes at the end of the build.
“This is treachery. Coupled with a tender that explicitly prohibited Australian shipbuilders, ASC and Austal, from tendering for the $35 Billion Future Frigate program, it’s clear that defence has betrayed the Australian industry in the execution of its naval shipbuilding agenda.
“Defence has slowly been working to ensure Australian shipbuilders are removed from the naval shipbuilding program.”
Senator Patrick believes the Department of Defence chose not to award the build project to ASC because of their contentious history. ASC is owned by the government.
Recently, Senator Patrick introduced the sovereign naval shipbuilding bill. This is considered a private member’s bill and requires that all future navy vessels should be built only by Australian companies that are not foreign-controlled or subsidiaries of foreign companies.