Minister for Defence - A choice for Labor: get on board or miss the boat

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The Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Minister for Defence

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16 April 2015

Today the Victorian and South Australian Premiers confirmed that they would prefer to play politics with the future of Australia’s defence industry rather than work constructively with the Federal Government.

If the Premiers actually cared about the future of the defence industry in Australia they would have lobbied the former federal Labor government who, over their six years, did not commission a single naval vessel from an Australian shipyard.

If the Premiers actually cared about the future of the defence industry in Australia they would also lobby Bill Shorten, whose current policy on submarines is to delay the Future Submarine Programme by an additional five years, on top of the six years of delay and inaction when he was in government.

Today was also an opportunity for the Premiers to accept that productivity improvements are required in order to have a sustainable naval shipbuilding industry in Australia. Sadly, they did not do this.

Strong and visionary leadership is required to embrace and institutionalise the changes that will lead to a defence industry that is properly structured to operate effectively and drive efficiencies, and a commitment to a productivity-based culture from all parties – including unions.

As a matter of record, it was the former Labor government that ripped $16 billion from Defence – reducing Defence spending as a percentage of GDP to the lowest level since 1938.

Years of neglect by the former Labor government has left naval shipbuilding in a precarious and uncertain state.

Decisions on the replacement frigates for the Anzac fleet and new submarines to replace the Collins Class should have been taken during the previous Government’s time. The shipbuilding job losses that are now occurring could have been avoided had the necessary decisions been made by Labor.

The Abbott Government is committed to a strong and sustainable defence industry in Australia.

As we announced today, following the release of the RAND Report into naval shipbuilding, this Government is prepared to invest in the skills and knowledge base of the Australian naval ship building industry, and is prepared to commit to a long-term investment to make sure this important industry enjoys a future in Australia and these critical skills are maintained.

One of the options being considered by the Government is to the feasibility of a continuous build strategy. This would sustain a shipbuilding industrial base, and avoiding the peaks and troughs currently being experienced.

What both Premiers failed to acknowledge was the significant Defence investment already being made by the Federal Government in their States.

Over the forward estimates the Government will invest at least $4.6 billion in Defence materiel acquisition and sustainment in South Australia and at least $3.8 billion in Victoria.

This year alone, the Government will invest $6.2 billion on Defence materiel acquisition and support in Australia, which represents around 53 per cent of total spending in this area.

In addition, the Government remains firm on its commitment to increase Defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP within a decade.

Media contact:

Brad Rowswell (Minister Andrews’ Office) 0417 917 796

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