Disappointment after WA fails to snag submarine defence maintenance contract

© Provided by ABC NEWS The Collins class submarine maintenance contract will remain in Adelaide. (ABC News: Dave Weber)

The WA Premier has slammed a Federal Government decision not to allow Western Australia to share in a multi-billion dollar defence submarine maintenance contract.

The WA Government had been pushing to share maintenance and upgrade responsibilities for Collins class submarines with South Australia.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed the full cycle docking (FCD) contract would remain in Adelaide.

Premier Mark McGowan said it was not a decision made in the national interest.

“We are so disappointed, so disappointed,” he told Parliament.

“The submarines are based in Western Australia. The crews are based here and live here, the industry is here.

“The shipbuilding and repair industries are stronger here and they are internationally competitive.”

Mr McGowan argued South Australia was already receiving a significant amount of defence contract work.

He said the state government had already spent millions on the local defence industry, include a TAFE campaign to guide young workers to defence careers.

“We have invested as a state, over successive governments, hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions of dollars into the Henderson shipbuilding precinct,” he said.

Decision made on nuclear-powered subs

The final decision came on the FCD contract came as it was revealed Australia would build nuclear powered submarines under a new alliance with the United States and Britain, which have agreed to share their technology.

The fleet would also be built in Adelaide.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said WA would benefit from a number of current and future defence projects, including the construction of vessels.

Mr Morrison said more WA jobs were tied to the current building schedule than there would have been with FCD.

“There will be a lot of ships built in Western Australia by Western Australians and they’ll equally be putting their shoulder to the wheel to that national task,” he said.

Meanwhile, the WA Chamber of Commerce said the news FCD would not be relocated to WA was disappointing, describing it as a setback for defence industry businesses.

Nuclear subs faster and more discreet

Submarine Institute of Australia executive director David Nicholls said the nuclear powered submarine announcement was “stupendous news” in terms of national defence capabilities.

“We can get a submarine that’s much faster with more endurance out in an area of interest to us much more quickly than we can with a conventionally powered submarine,” he told ABC Radio.

“In a nuclear submarine, there is no limitation on the fuel and it can get there quicker and stay there longer.”

Mr Nicholls said conventional submarines were at greater risk of detection because they had to surface to induct air, exhaust fumes and recharge batteries.

Shock amongst anti-nuclear campaigners

Veteran WA anti-nuclear campaigner Jo Vallentine said she was shocked to learn of the announcement from the Prime Minister.

“We need to discuss this as a nation, this is a huge change in alignment,” she said.

“We have resisted the nuclear industry generally, and now he has just said unilaterally, ‘yes, we will go along with that’.

“If a submarine is nuclear powered, it can also be nuclear armed.”

The government said while the submarines would be powered by nuclear reactors, they would not be armed with nuclear weapons.

Ms Vallentine said it drew Australia closer to the United States, potentially against China.

“Is that really where we want to be? It’s very very dangerous for Australia to go down that path,” she said.

Ms Vallentine suggested the submarines would likely travel near Brisbane and Perth, which she said could put the cities at risk.

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