Jobs and safety are key concerns for South Australians living and working in the heart of the nation’s naval shipbuilding industry, following a new nuclear submarine deal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of the deal with the United States and United Kingdom to build nuclear-powered submarines in Adelaide means the existing $90 billion deal with French company Naval Group will be scrapped.
Adelaide’s northwest, including the Lefevre Peninsula and the suburbs of Osborne and Port Adelaide, is home to a significant portion of the nation’s naval shipbuilding capability.
ASC — the Australian government’s naval shipbuilding business — is headquartered at Osborne, and today’s announcement has drawn mixed reactions from local residents, some of whom are worried about the safety of nuclear-powered submarines and the impact on local jobs.
Susanne Johncock has lived at the “lovely little suburb” of North Haven for 46 years and said the decision to cancel the Naval Group contract was “absolutely terrible for our neighbourhood”.
“It was all set in concrete before, wasn’t it? And now it’s just such a big let down,” she said.
Ms Johncock said she has concerns about local jobs and nuclear technology being used so close to her home.
“Really, when you hear about other countries where it’s all gone wrong and it’s exploded and they’ve blown up, what do they do with the waste?” she said.
“What happens if it happens in our lovely little neighbourhood here?”
She said the residential area had expanded due to the Naval Group contract and said she was worried about the implications for the area.
“All the houses that have been built over there, will they still want to come down and live here if they’re going to have jobs over there that have gone now?” she said.
“There will be no jobs.”
‘Sad to see that happen’
Authorities today moved to reassure South Australians in the shipbuilding sector about their future employment, with Premier Steven Marshall saying there are “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of jobs in defence.
He said while it was a “tough day” for the Naval Group, their employees would be able to move into “other fantastic, sustainable defence jobs in South Australia very quickly”.
“We know that these skills in the defence sector are in short supply right across our nation at the moment and we’ll be doing everything we can to help those people transition over,” he said.
Mr Marshall also said he had “no fears whatsoever” about safety to the area, and that risk assessments would be conducted.
Anika Havey, who owns Folklore Cafe across from the Naval Group office in Port Adelaide, said she sympathised with local employees.
“It’s been really nice to have a larger community here and they’ve really settled in as well,” she said.
“We’ve created relationships with the people at the Naval Group so … it’s kind of sad to see that happen, especially people who have moved over here.”
Ms Havey said about 50 per cent of her midweek trade came from Naval Group workers, and said today’s decision was a “bit of a blow”, especially amid the economic turbulence caused by COVID-19.
“Having that consistency has been really, really amazing for us so it’s concerning to know that that might not be there,” she said.
Gary O’Neill, who has lived at his North Haven home since 1977, said he was “pro-nuclear” and was “quite comfortable” with the new deal and the safety of nuclear-powered submarines.
“I’ve seen over my lifetime the impact of global warming, and to me that would have been one of the [solutions] that could have helped … if we had adopted more of that type of technology,” he said.
While some residents, including Ms Johncock, were concerned about the area potentially becoming a military target during conflict, Mr O’Neill said he was not worried.
“I think if we were on the northern side of Australia yes, in proximity, but I think our southern-ness helps us in that regard — Adelaide is a quiet little place,” he said.
Mr Marshall today spoke of the military implications of the deal, which he said would help deliver the “best capability we need to protect our nation going forward”.
“Our two strongest alliance partners, in the history of our nation, have been the United States and the United Kingdom and now we are forging this new arrangement, the AUKUS alliance, which I think is going to strengthen our security arrangements here in South Australia,” he said.
Mr O’Neill was hopeful that the “immense” work and investment needed under the new deal would lead to more jobs overall for the region.
“I think the community will probably benefit in terms of business opportunities,” he said.
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“Hopefully we’ll all come out on the other side better off.”