SHAKE UP OF NAVAL SHIPBUILDING AS CONCERNS GROW OVER FUTURE SUBMARINES, FRIGATES
A powerful new Cabinet committee has been formed to tackle problems with Australia’s multi-billion-dollar Naval Shipbuilding Plan as more concerns emerge over the complex future submarine and frigate projects.
The ABC can also reveal the National Shipbuilding Advisory Board (NSAB) has been abolished, although its former Chair, Professor Don Winter, is now working as special advisor to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
In recent weeks, the Morrison government established the new Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise Governance Committee, which will work under the auspices of Cabinet’s National Security Committee (NSC).
Scott Morrison will chair the new committee, which includes the Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, but the government says its decisions will still have to be endorsed by the NSC.
“The committee will ensure the naval shipbuilding enterprise and each component of it is on track to deliver against Commonwealth agreed outcomes, and emergent or forecast risks are identified that may impact or prevent achieving delivery of milestones,” the government said.
“Agreed outcomes and actions are identified to address these risks.”
Since being released in 2017, the Coalition’s Naval Shipbuilding Plan has been beset by contractual disputes, design problems, cost blowouts and varying delays.
The ABC has confirmed that the now-defunct National Shipbuilding Advisory Board will be replaced by a smaller panel that will not include former female members Lisa Paul and Lesley Seebeck.
Inside defence and industry ranks, there is some disquiet over Professor Winter’s appointment as special advisor to the Prime Minister on shipbuilding, with several figures privately questioning whether the former United States Navy Secretary is the right person.
“The reservations that many had about Don Winter’s ability to understand the Australian small-scale, sovereign and non-nuclear submarine program seem to have been borne out,” one former Defence official told the ABC, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Future programs to come under further scrutiny
Sources have told the ABC that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has become increasingly worried in recent months about Defence’s ability to deliver massive projects and has relayed his concerns directly to the Department’s National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise team.
Last month, the visiting global boss of French defence giant Naval Group was bluntly reminded by the government of Australia’s expectations on local industry content in the massive $90 billion Future Submarine contract.
“We will continue to work closely and ensure collaboration to create thousands of jobs in the Australian supply chain while creating business opportunities for Australian companies, up-skill Australian industry, through the transfer of technology,” Pierre Éric Pommellet said before returning to France.
At the same time, there are growing concerns inside the Defence Department and industry circles over the $45 billion Future Frigate program being run by British company BAE Systems.
The UK-owned company insists it is exceeding its requirements for Australian industry content, but Brent Clark from the Australian Industry Defence Network says local suppliers are concerned.
“We really need to see evidence that local industry is being given every opportunity to compete in a fair and equitable way across all the programs because otherwise we just cannot achieve what the government’s outcome was, which is the sovereign capability,” Mr Clark told the ABC.
“Australia needs to look after itself and have a robust and vibrant industry.”
During Senate estimates hearings this week, Defence officials are expected to be grilled about progress on designing the new Hunter-class anti-submarine warships, which are based on the British T26 frigate.
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