Has the federal industry minister sunk the Aussie subs deal?

The issue of exactly what, if any, work Australian industry will get out of the next generation submarine fleet will be a hot one at least until the results of the government’s “competitive evaluation process” come out.

Last week industry minister Ian Macfarlane pointed out that Australia “may not build” the first few subs – and they most probably will be contracted out to Japanese, German or French builders.

Soon after this, we called the minister’s office, simply wanting to know “how many submarines ‘might’ be built in South Australia and also over what time frame we would be looking at”. A fair couple of questions, we believed. We followed this up with these a range of simple questions in an email, which also has yielded no reply to date.

As Australia’s premier manufacturing publication, we feel that this stuff is of interest to our readership. Generally, most folks – political or otherwise are polite enough to answer us, even if it is to point out they we are in the wrong in our assumptions.

However in this case, we’re still awaiting a reply, any reply actually to a simple, brief enquiry.

What part of the submarines gets made and where it gets made are of legitimate interest both to Australia as a whole to us, our readership, as well as those at the highest levels representing our industry.

Keynote speaker at the Endeavour Awards last week, John Pollaers of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council, pointed out that an Australia-first approach to sub contracts is of far greater benefit to local expertise and value creation than the government appears to realise.

If you think of Marand Precision Engineering’s work in the supply chain for the JSF for example, you can soon calculate the value created for our local manufacturers in gaining access to major projects, be this on subs, fighter planes or elsewhere.

What we’d like to know is what sort of opportunities Australian manufacturers will see at the end of the Orwellian-named “competitive evaluation process” – and we’re certainly not the only ones.

Our enquiry is not about politics. We’ll happily acknowledge the Rudd- Gillard-Rudd government made little headway in the way of progress on the Future Submarines.

However we are still waiting to be informed by the minister or his office about what’ll get built here and what won’t. Does the Abbott government care about increasing Australia’s manufacturing capability through this flagship project? Or have the submarines been used as a bargaining chip for some other purpose – maybe in getting a certain economic partnership agreement over the line?

These are questions that we cannot answer however we welcome and will report Mr Macfarlane’s response, when or if it ever arrives.

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