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Thursday, 17 November 1983
Page: 2890

Mr HURFORD (Minister for Housing and Construction)(4.20) —I move:

That in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, and by reason of the urgent nature of the work, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work without it having been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works: Australian frigate project, Williamstown Naval Dockyard, Victoria.

On 12 October 1983 the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) advised the House that the Government had decided in principle that two FFG-type vessels would be built at Williamstown Naval Dockyard, subject to a number of conditions being met relating to evidence of improved work practices and performance.

A most important prerequisite to execution of a construction order is the exchange of formal agreements between each of the unions at the Dockyard, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Dockyard management covering a range of industrial relations and work practices issues. I am informed that this action is substantially completed. On the basis that a construction order is placed on the Dockyard before the end of 1983 the first of the frigates is expected to be delivered in about 1991.

To preserve the option of having the ships delivered from a local build program , orders to the total value of around $300m have so far been placed on long lead time equipment from United States suppliers. The first items will arrive in Australia next year.

The construction time-table is based on a need to avoid an unacceptable drop in destroyer numbers in the early 1990s, co-ordination with expected deliveries of the equipment already ordered and the desire to open job opportunities at the Dockyard as soon as possible. The time-table unfortunately precludes consideration of the proposal by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. The fundamental reason for not proposing the construction order earlier has been the protracted period in obtaining sufficient demonstration that the problems which have beset the Dockyard in recent years have been resolved.

In seeking exemption of the ship construction project from Committee examination the Government has provided for the necessary Dockyard upgrading modernisation works to be referred for consideration and report. The first stage is expected to be referred to the House before the end of the current sittings. The Public Works Committee has been advised of the proposal and the reasons for urgency. My colleague the Minister for Defence advises me that formal actions to execute the work cannot be held over until the next sitting days. Consequently I am proposing this exemption action in advance of formal advice from the Committee. I understand that the Committee has no objection in principle and indeed discussed this matter at its meeting today.

The total cost of the program, including the Dockyard upgrading and modernisation elements, is $830m. If the House agrees to support this motion, detailed planning and construction can proceed. I commend the motion to the House.