SA defence industry taskforce to manage French sub fallout

Brandon How

A planned joint state and Commonwealth defence industry taskforce will explore the unique skills challenges facing South Australia’s shipbuilding industry following the now-scrapped $90 billion deal with French firm Naval Group, according to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

In May, a report into Australia’s sovereign naval shipbuilding capability said the government would build “Australia’s future fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines” through the AUKUS agreement at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, Australia’s largest naval shipbuilding hub.

When asked by why a national defence workforce plan had not been released, the Prime Minister argued there is an need to ensure the South Australian workforce can still sustain submarine manufacturing.

“There are specific needs from South Australia, based as well on the promises that were made by the former government from its plans that were announced and then abandoned. South Australia in particular has suffered in terms of employment consequences from the tearing up of the contract between Australia and the French,” the Prime Minister said.

“There is a need to examine what we can do in South Australia to make sure that we have the skills that are available, and I’m working closely with Premier [Peter] Malinauskas. He has raised this with me directly, and he’s right to do so, and it was one of the positive outcomes that came out of the Summit.”

The previous Coalition government unilaterally pulled out of a $90 billion submarine deal with France in September last year, replacing it with the nuclear submarine agreement through AUKUS. This led to the loss of about 350 jobs at Naval Group Australia across France and Adelaide.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with Pharmacy Guild of Australia National President Trent Twomey and Minister for Health Mark Butler.

The SA Defence Industry Workforce and Skills Taskforce was announced at the end of the Jobs and Skills Summit last week without mention of AUKUS. It does, however, mention the Life of Type Extension to the Collins Class submarines and its replacement, the Hunter Class Frigates.

Premier Malinauskas had called for a “comprehensive national plan” at the summit to ensure Australia has the highly skilled workforce needed to support the nuclear submarine and advanced technology goals of the AUKUS security pact.

The SA Defence Industry Workforce and Skills Taskforce will bring together stakeholders from government, unions, universities, training providers, business and industry. It aims to “ensure defence projects in South Australia will have a highly skilled workforce to draw on” and notes it will be for projects “underway and already planned for”.

In a joint statement with Defence Industry minister Pat Conroy on Friday, Premier Malinauskas described the taskforce as important in “ensuring our state is well prepared to seize the long-term opportunities of multiple defence projects which will span generations”.

During his call for an AUKUS workforce plan, Premier Malinauskas said that he found it hard to believe that such a plan was not already in development. He added that the nuclear submarine project “is mind bogglingly complex” and that given national security requirements, Australia cannot recruit skilled workers internationally “notwithstanding the fact that our friends and allies have massive skill shortages in this area as well”.

South Australia’s shipyard workforce is expected to grow from 2,800 to 5,000 by 2027 and to 9,000 by 2037, according to estimates from the state and Commonwealth governments.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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