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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 486

Senator ELSTOB —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I ask: What steps is the Government taking to ensure that the Royal Australian Navy is appropriately equipped with high quality ships for the defence of the continent? Does the Government's program constitute the largest naval shipbuilding effort in Australia's peacetime history and, if so, what will be the benefit of this to local industry and to the economy in general?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I doubt that Senator Elstob will be surprised to hear me say that the Government has paid and is continuing to pay very close attention to ensuring that the RAN is equipped with high quality ships to meet the needs of the 1990s and into the next century. In October 1983 the Government reinitiated the building of warships at Williamstown Naval Dockyard by placing the order for the first of two Australian frigates. These frigates are similar to the four FFG-7 class guided missile frigates that were then in the process of being built in the United States of America. With the arrival of the final United States built frigate-HMAS Darwin-in 1985, all subsequent naval shipbuilding has been and is planned to be done in Australia.

In particular the Government has placed increased emphasis on the vital but neglected area of protecting shipping and our strategically important harbours from mining. The second prototype minehunter catamaran is due to be launched later this year from Carrington Slipways at Tomago near Newcastle. The Navy has been directed to complete the necessary trials and evaluations of those quite revolutionary glass fibre vessels as quickly as possible to allow early construction of production vessels. Honourable senators will also be aware that it was this Government's decision, commencing in the 1990s, to construct six new submarines at an estimated project cost of about $2.6 billion at April 1985 prices to replace the aging Oberon class. All six of these submarines are to be constructed in Australia and an announcement as to the selected design and building site will be made shortly.

On 20 January 1987 the Minister for Defence announced that the Government had initiated what is undoubtedly the largest naval shipbuilding program in Australia's peacetime history by inviting companies around the world to submit established designs for a new class of eight frigates for the RAN. These new ships, estimated to cost around $3.5 billion at April 1986 prices, would be built in Australia, and the acquisition strategy has been designed to maximise Australia's involvement in all phases of the project with Australian companies as prime contractors.

Senator Hill —Where are you building them?

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is yet to be resolved, Senator Hill. Australian companies have since been invited to register their interest in the project and before the end of the year tenders will be sought from Australian companies capable of undertaking the prime contractor role. The possibility of building the ships in more than one shipyard will be considered. I conclude by saying that it is evident that the Government's direction is, wherever possible, to construct naval vessels in Australia, to maximise Australian industry involvement and to maintain and develop the necessary shipbuilding skills to equip the RAN with high quality ships to meet the needs of Australia's defence. This policy, with all its separate elements coming together, provides a very substantial return to the Australian economy from the defence outlay, as well as providing and retaining jobs at home.