Defence Minister Peter Dutton has refused to say if Australia’s nuclear submarine program will have at least the same level of local industry involvement as the 60 per cent mandate of the Attack-class program it is replacing.
The government is yet to decide which type of submarine Australia is to acquire under the AUKUS security pact, a critical decision Mr Dutton says prevents any promises on minimum local industry involvement.
On Monday, Mr Dutton faced repeated questions from the media on how much involvement local industry would have in the new submarines after previous government and Defence comments raised doubts.
He said AUKUS would create “thousands” of jobs in Adelaide but refused to set a minimum percentage for local industry involvement or even if the new program would match the Attack Class program’s 60 per cent minimum.
“We’re in discussions with the US and UK at the moment — we don’t know which vessel we’re going to go with, but we’ll make that announcement soon,” Mr Dutton said.
“That will influence the decision as to what quantity is to be built locally, what local content we can have. I hope that will be higher than 60 per cent.”
Mr Dutton had flagged an announcement on vessel type before the election but was quickly contradicted last month by the Prime Minister, who has also said local industry development would be trumped by the need to acquire the capability as soon as possible.
The political leaders’ comments, the closely guarded technology behind nuclear propulsion, and a high-ranking Defence official earlier saying Australia is “maturing beyond ascribing a percentage” of local industry involvement have sparked doubts about how much of a driver the new submarine program will be for local industry.
Unions called for minimum levels earlier this year, saying the government’s decision to scrap its deal with French Company Naval Group led to more than 1100 Australian workers losing their jobs.
On Monday, Mr Dutton declined to say if the new program would at least match the 60 per cent minimum local involvement that was attached to the Naval Group contract.
But he insisted “capacity restraints” in the UK and US shipbuilding, growing global demand and the new submarines larger physical size would mean increased overall shipbuilding jobs in South Australia.
“So I think you’ll see more jobs, not less here in South Australia. As I’ve said before, my concern is not the number of jobs that we’ll have, but how we can fill those.”
But the minister would not be drawn on a mandated minimum. When told shipbuilders’ livelihoods could hinge on the decision to set a minimum and how much it would be, Mr Dutton replied: “Well vote for the Coalition”.
“I would say if you’re concerned for your job and you want a bright future in Defence industry, then vote for your Liberal candidate at the next election. Vote for your National candidate at the next election. That’s what I would say to people,” Mr Dutton said.
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