ADJOURNMENT;Tasmania: Defence Industry – 09 Nov 2015

As we know, Tasmania is not typically thought of as a place that could be home to a thriving defence industry, but what Tasmania has to offer to our defence industry may be of great surprise to the rest of Australia. Not only are there several Tasmanian-based companies supplying goods and services to the Australian Defence Force, but there are also a number of Tasmanian companies supplying other defence forces around the world. My home state is fast developing a reputation as a manufacturer of high-quality defence products. I will briefly outline a few examples of companies in Tasmania that are achieving success with defence contracts in Australia and the rest of the world.

The Australian Maritime College in Launceston offers training, consultancy and research services to the Australian Defence Force and international defence services through its business development arm, AMC Search Ltd. The famous Blundstone boots, the world’s most recognisable boot brand, are supplied to defence forces all over the world. Incat’s wave-piercing catamarans are useful for fast transit, fast turnaround in port and can be used for rapid sea-based deployment of troops. The Royal Australian Navy chartered an 86-metre Incat vessel for use during the East Timor crisis, and Incat has supplied a number of its vessels to the US Navy. A Defence Science and Technology Organisation facility in Scottsdale has been researching nutrition and human health for the production of ration packs for the Australian Defence Force. Fiomarine Industries worked with DSTO and the Navy to tailor their Fiobuoy underwater retrieval system to suit Defence needs and is now supplying defence services in Singapore, Japan and the United States. These are just a few examples of how Tasmania’s defence industry is kicking goals in Australia and across the globe. But it has the potential to achieve much, much more.

In late September, I hosted a roundtable with the Tasmanian defence industry as part of the consultations for federal Labor’s Tasmania Taskforce. The Tasmania Taskforce was established by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, to develop a clear and coherent strategy that will grow jobs and enable Tasmania’s sustainable development into the future. The task force is co-chaired by the Member for Franklin and Shadow Minister for Employment Services, Julie Collins, and the Tasmanian Leader of the Opposition, Bryan Green. The task force has been busy consulting with the Tasmanian community through a series of regional forums and industry roundtables, and we have been fortunate to have the participation of several shadow ministers as we consult with different industry sectors. On this note, I would like to thank the Shadow Minister for Defence, Senator Conroy, for coming to Hobart to meet with defence industry stakeholders.

Following the roundtable, Senator Conroy and I visited the construction yards of Incat and Taylor Brothers (Slipway & Engineering) as well as Liferaft Systems. During his visit, Senator Conroy got to see firsthand the beginning of construction on the first of six ferries bound for Darling Harbour, for which Incat has just secured a $50 million contract. At Taylor Brothers, we witnessed the company’s innovative prefabrication approach to constructing ships’ accommodation. Walking through corridors past bunks and lockers, we saw that the company can build an entire accommodation complex, which is then flat packed for shipping and installation.

The third and final company we visited, Liferaft Systems, has designed an inflatable evacuation vessel that fits into a capsule weighing 400 kilograms. The capsule is small enough that it can be operated by a couple of crew, and the vessel inside inflates on deployment. Despite the small size of the capsules, these evacuation craft are large enough to carry 100 passengers. Liferaft Systems is supplying defence forces in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, France, Holland and the United Kingdom.

The few companies that Senator Conroy and I visited are but a small portion of the maritime expertise, knowledge and innovation that Tasmanian companies have to offer. A consortium of Tasmanian-based companies has put forward a bid to tender for the Department of Defence’s Pacific Patrol Boat replacement project. Since the 1980s, Australia has gifted patrol boats to our Pacific neighbours to assist them with their maritime security. This program has been a centrepiece of Australia’s defence engagement with our Pacific neighbours, strengthening our diplomatic ties and making an important contribution to the security of our region.

With the patrol boats that Australia gifted in the 1980s to soon reach the end of their useful lives, Defence has announced a tender to construct up to 21 replacement vessels and provide servicing and support over the life of the vessels. This construction work is valued at around $600 million, with the total contract estimated at around $1.4 billion over 30 years including sustainment and personnel costs. The Tasmanian bid for this contract is being led by Incat, ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions, Haywards Shipbuilding and UGL Engineering—but it also involves dozens of other Tasmanian subcontractors.

The Tasmanian Pacific Patrol Boat bid was one of the key topics discussed at the defence industry roundtable I referred to earlier. The clear message from the Tasmanian industry stakeholders around the table was that they were not after any special treatment. All they want is to compete for the tender on a level playing field. There are several other bidders for the Pacific Patrol Boat contract, but Tasmania has a strong bid that is being led by world-class shipbuilding companies with world-class facilities. Provided they are given a fair go, they should have a very good chance of winning the contract. However, instead of a level playing field in Defence procurement, what we have seen recently from this government is a series of political decisions and political fixes—political decisions such as the deal done with Prime Minister Abe of Japan to have Australia’s submarines built in Japan or the direction that Australia’s future naval surface fleet be built in Adelaide in a bid to save the seats of Liberal MPs in South Australia.

The new Minister for Defence, Senator Payne, should visit Tasmania as soon as possible and see what our industry has to offer in the area of Defence. In particular, I would like her to pay a visit to Hobart’s maritime defence industry precinct and speak to the companies involved in the Pacific Patrol Boat bid. Prince of Wales Bay was identified as a Defence precinct by the former federal Labor government in recognition that Tasmanian companies in the precinct were well placed to secure future defence contracts, especially in shipbuilding. Senator Payne should reassure those companies, in person, that they will get a fair go and that the tender process for the Pacific patrol boats will not be politicised like other Australian defence contracts.

Tasmania has an innovative maritime industry with the capacity to take on complex defence projects that will bring investment and jobs to Tasmania. I know that if Senator Payne visited Tasmania, she would see an industry that is innovative, clever and producing high quality products that are the envy of the world. If Tasmania’s defence industry was truly given a fair go by this government, I have no doubt we would see better outcomes for both the Australian Defence Force and the Tasmanian economy.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge and thank my colleague Senator Brown, who has been advocating for the maritime defence precinct and for Tasmanian maritime companies for many years now. She has been ably assisted by the federal Labor candidate for Denison, Jane Austin, who is a strong advocate for the maritime defence industry in Tasmania and who would become an even more powerful advocate should she be elected as the member for Denison.

It is my fervent hope that the Tasmanian bid for the Pacific patrol boat tender is a success. We have world-class shipbuilding facilities with world-class technology, skills, knowledge and experience. There is a very good chance for the Tasmanian bid if it is a fair dinkum process—a process in which all bids get to compete on a level playing field. Tasmania’s defence industry and the defence industry around Australia deserves fair and impartial decisions and decisions free of the kind of political interference that we have seen time and time again from this government.

Senate adjourned at 22 : 16