opinion

Melissa Price defends Federal submarine decision

Melissa PriceMidwest Times
Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price tours the Resources Technology Showcase.
Camera IconMinister for Defence Industry Melissa Price tours the Resources Technology Showcase. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

Ask anyone on the street to run you through the ins and outs of Collins-class submarine full cycle docking and you’re likely to either get a blank stare or a complaint that WA has “lost out” to South Australia.

I suspect most fall into the first category, but for those who fall into the latter one, let me reassure you, there is so much more to WA’s defence industry than a submarine maintenance contract that we’ve never actually had to lose.

The facts are that, in addition to the many billions of dollars worth of work already happening at Henderson, courtesy of the Morrison Government’s investments, WA is now set to reap the benefits of yet another major shipbuilding project.

The Premier was too busy playing politics with Scott Morrison’s announcement on Thursday that full cycle docking work would simply continue in Adelaide to notice the PM also revealed the construction of up to eight mine-hunting ships at Henderson, right here in WA.

That’s another five on top of the three we announced in 2019.

Construction of these mid-sized vessels is expected to be worth about $5 billion — a sum far greater than the value of full cycle docking.

That’s a massive win for the WA economy, and one I wish I could dedicate the entirety of this column space to.

But after two years as the defence industry minister, I have well and truly come to understand it’s all but impossible to have a discussion about WA’s defence industry without that “FCD” acronym getting a mention.

Mark McGowan and his Government — who, ironically, now find themselves awash with more cash than any other government in the country — have been the drivers of an audacious claim that FCD somehow loomed as the economic saviour of WA. Those claims centred on FCD supposedly providing the WA economy with a $9 billion boost. That figure is just fanciful.

Let me tell you, that figure is not only news to me, but also news to Defence.

Defence spends about $600 million a year on Collins-class sustainment (aka maintenance and upgrades), and a significant portion of that is already spent here in WA.

Defence estimates FCD would have brought another $100m of that $600m to WA — nothing like the figure the WA Government has been touting.

It’s vital that we deal with the facts on these issues, not the fiction.

I am very proud of our Government’s record on naval shipbuilding in WA, and any claim that WA has somehow been dudded is clearly ill-informed.

More than 50 vessels are being built or upgraded in WA, creating more than 2000 jobs by 2030. A staggering $2.7b is being spent on our shipbuilding infrastructure, to ensure we can handle the load of work coming our way.

Nuclear-powered submarines are good news for our defence industry and good news for our universities — and not just in Perth, either.

I am confident that businesses in Geraldton and our other regional centres will have roles to play in this endeavour.

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