Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR July-Aug 2016 Contents 26 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter JULY-AUG 2016
the planned OPV build. It was something that could
have been done at Adelaide’s Techport had there
been some foresight within Government and Defence.
Through the almost three year term of the Abbott-
Turnbull government no plan was released and there
was an ongoing failure to commission a single naval
warship from an Australian shipyard.
At the commencement of this article an idea was
planted in readers’ minds that politics was playing
interference with naval procurement. The reality is that
such a statement is no revelation at all, least of all to
senior members of Defence.
Political interference in shipbuilding is not ideal.
Shipbuilding requires organisation and stability
whilst politics is ever changing. They simply don’t go
The question that then flows is, how does Defence
limit interference from politics ... if not completely,
The fact is that the political interference that
Australian shipbuilding has been experiencing has
come about because of the absence of a clearly put
and clearly argued plan.
A national strategic plan is required to limit
the influence of politics. It does not have to be a
complicated plan and it does not have to involve
tactical choices such as the exact type of ships to
The plan simply needs to state a clear objective
to build and sustain naval vessels cost effectively
and expeditiously. The plan simply needs to call for
shipbuilding to occur continuously in one location
(note that one location does not mean one particular
entity’s shipyard) and for sustainment to occur close
to the Navy’s operational bases in Sydney, Perth,
Cairns and Darwin. The plan simply needs to detail
sufficient build and sustainment capabilities (in
terms of complexity and size) and capacities and
Such a plan does not need to be too detailed or
complex, indeed it is better if it isn’t . It can strongly
link the idea that industry is a significant ‘input to
capability’ and therefore not a political play point. It
can strongly link ideas that efficiencies come from
continuous build in a single location. It can strongly
press the idea that its framework is resilient to any ship
choices made (so that politicians don’t feel a place
exists for input). It does not need ship types as inputs,
just a rough constitution of the intended fleet (e.g . as
provided in the Defence White Paper) such that the
proposed framework can be tested for capability and
capacity and any resource gaps identified.
The plan needs to be publically saleable such that
it can be absorbed and accepted by industry and,
perhaps more importantly, the general public to whom
the politicians answer. Finally, it should be capable
of sur viving political scrutiny and should not seek to
establish what is wanted, only what is needed.
MISSING IN ACTION
So where is the plan?
A conversation that took place in the Senate just
prior to the election is instructive. Senator Xenophon
asked Minister Payne, “The naval shipbuilding plan
was promised last year, was it not? ” She answered,
“Yes. I think there was an indication that it would
be delivered with the white paper. The government
decided not to proceed with that. We discussed this
at last estimates. It will be produced before the end of
this year”. Xenophon pushed on, “So there has been
a delay in respect of that coming out. That would
have given some certainty. The very nature of the plan
axiomatically is to allow shipbuilders in this country to
make plans for their future and for their workforces.”
to which Minister Payne responded by detailing some
of the coalition’s shipbuilding decisions on OPVs,
future frigates and submarines and adding that “They
are all major, fundamental components of the naval
shipbuilding plan and will be required to produce the
ships that are part of the government's commitment”.
Xenophon rebutted, “Usually a plan comes before
implementation” to which the Minister responded
stating that the plan was simply being developed in
parallel to announcements that had been made.
So... we see a plan being developed on the
run; something that should not occur for a $90
billion program. Planning on the fly opens the whole
process to the very political interference that has been
Proper and considered planning could have seen
the Australian Antarctic Division’s Icebreaker being
built at Australia’s shipbuilding centre of excellence,
as could the Navy’s supply ships. Infrastructure
necessary to allow local completion of these products
could have been put in place in the time frames that
government took to get into build contracts for these
programs. This activity would have benefited industry
in terms of continuity, enhanced infrastructure and
skilling and would also have had positive spillover
effects for the national economy.
That a plan does not exist is a failure of the
Department of Defence.
Australia needs a shipbuilding strategy as a matter
of priority. Australia needs a plan that can substantially
neutralise the politics. Developing such a document
should not be difficult.
It simply involves senior personnel giving regard
only to what make sense and putting it down on paper.
Crucially, it involves no thought of pandering to the
express desires or perceived needs of politicians. A
proper shipbuilding plan requires Defence leaders
leading, not following.
Rex Patrick is a full time advisor to the Independent
Senator Nick Xenophon. The views expressed in this
article are those of the author.
Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Adelaide off the north Queensland coast
during Exercise Sea Explorer 2016 on 2 June 2016. Credit: CoA / Kyle Genner
21/07/2016 6:58 PM
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