Labor Party Lacks Policy on Shipbuilding

What we have today is an opposition without a clue. They do not have a clue about what their plan is for jobs. They do not have a clue about how they are going to respond to the announcement made by the Prime Minister in the last few weeks about a new plan for South Australia.

I have been listening to this debate, I heard the contributions in question time today, and I still do not understand where the Labor Party's position is on shipbuilding.

What policy do they have for building ships in Australia?

Senator Conroy: "The one that was announced."

What do they have? What is your policy, Senator Conroy, through you, Chair? We know they did not have a policy in government. We know in government they had no policy on where and when and how and what ships would be built. They had no policy for six years. They had six years in government to come up with a plan to build ships in Australia and they did nothing over that time, although Senator Conroy would probably say they produced some consultancy reports. I think they spent something like $80 million or $90 million on reports. That is what they did in government for six years but they did not come up with a plan and they did not come up with a policy. Now, another two years since the last election and after two years in opposition, they still do not have a clear policy. They still will not come and be up-front about what their plan is to build ships in Australia for our defence and to provide jobs in South Australia and other areas of our country as well.

It is not surprising they have no plan; they have had so much time. They have got another year before the next election. I do not have a lot of hope that they will come up with a plan to build ships in Australia because their record was not just one of not building ships in Australia; the ships they did buy when they were in government were actually bought ships—get this—from overseas. The three major ships they did procure while in government—two of them were not actually military vessels—were actually sourced from offshore. Two major Customs vessels were sourced from offshore as was HMASChoules—I do not know how to pronounce it right. They have been coming into this chamber for the last year being all very worked up about the fact that there may be ships sourced from overseas from time to time, given our needs. There may be decisions that mean we cannot build every ship we need for our military here in Australia. While they were in government, they actually did exactly the same—they sourced ships from overseas.

I do not criticise that particular decision. The issue of the two supply ships procured was raised. I do not think that the decision has been made yet but I think a Spanish builder and a Korean builder have been tendering for that particular project. But that is not a project that we should build here. Clearly the advice from Defence is that that is not a continuous build program. We will probably need those every 15 or 20 years. So all that doing those here in Australia would do is create a temporary workforce while they are being built then those people would lose their jobs after that and we would have what we have right now, which is this valley of death, thanks to the Labor Party when they were in government. We need to focus on programs that provide continuous work for our shipbuilding industry so that it can build expertise and specialisation in particular areas and actually produce ships to budget over time. And indeed maybe one day, if we did specialise enough, we could have a thriving export shipbuilding industry in this country.

I do want to correct something that Senator Gallacher mentioned before, that these jobs are not starting until 2020. In fact, my understanding is that there were two particular build projects announced in the last few weeks. One was the Future Frigates program, which Senator Gallacher said starts in 2020, which has been brought forward three years. The other though was the new offshore patrol vessels, which the government has brought forward two years, to commence in 2018. So we will have a continuous build. The 2018 date is only three years away. There is still the Air Warfare Destroyer program ongoing at the moment.

There will be finally a continuous build for our shipbuilding industry. It will protect the thousand jobs that we have in this industry right now and, hopefully, over time with these projects it may build a sustainable shipbuilding industry that will provide around 2,500 jobs for Australians. A good policy has been announced to create jobs in our country. The real question before this chamber now is: what is the position of the Australian Labor Party? Do they support the $89-billion build program announced by the government or do they want to keep carping on the sidelines with no plan for jobs in our country?

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