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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1271

Senator TIERNEY (7.28 p.m.) —I rise to respond to some very welcome news today; that is, the award of the contract for the new minehunters to ADI.

Senator Collins —Just say thanks and sit down.

Senator TIERNEY —I am going to say thanks to a lot of people. I acknowledge the role of the federal government and pay special tribute to the state task force headed by Ian Armstrong for the enormous pressure it brought to bear and the very professional way it went about fighting for its preferred tender, preferred state and preferred city of Newcastle, for the development of this new $1.2 billion contract.

  This will be a tremendous economic boost for the Hunter region which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Australia, with an overall rate of 16 per cent unemployed and youth unemployment hitting 49 per cent in some areas of the city. This contract will provide directly 1,000 new jobs and 350 of them will be at the Throsby Basin site in Newcastle.

  It is a very welcome change in government direction. In the past we have seen some very disgraceful pork-barrelling by this Labor government with respect to naval tenders. In the case of the submarines that went to South Australia, immense pressure was instigated by Mick Young in order to get his Labor state government this particular contract. The Kirner regime in Victoria was on its last legs. This federal Labor government gave that particular contract for the frigates to Victoria. But, at last, this government has had the commonsense to provide this opportunity to an area such as Newcastle, which has a tremendous industrial base and technological base. By doing this, it has actually revived what was almost a dead industry, and that is shipbuilding. This will give it a new lease of life. As I mentioned before, this has largely happened due to the pressure of Ian Armstrong, the chairperson and now Acting Premier of New South Wales, and his high level task force of state ministers and local representatives.

  The technology this is bringing to the Hunter is quite exciting. There is a joint arrangement with ADI and Intermarine Spa, which is an Italian company with leading edge technology. It will be building the combat proven Italian Gaeta class vessel, which is of state-of-the-art glass reinforced plastic. That particular technology will bring enormous opportunities to develop high-tech industries in the Hunter in the areas of advanced sonar, data processing and information systems. Hopefully, it will bring other defence work and shipbuilding work to the Hunter region.

  The most exciting thing about this project, in terms of industrial development, is probably these new fibreglass plastic composites. Research is now going on by ADI and others to actually develop this product for a more extensive use than shipbuilding. It is hoped that by the latter part of this decade it will be possible to use this type of technology in the development of materials for cars, whitegoods and furniture. So it will have a real opportunity to develop new industries and to re-establish the reputation of the Hunter as one of the leading industrial centres of Australia.

  We have some concerns about the readiness of the region for this possible future expansion. We would urge the federal Labor government to help develop a proper infrastructure plan for the region. In recent years, there have been a number of welcome developments in this area, particularly in the area of rail and the F3. But the area is not properly linked with the rest of the economy at this stage. There needs to be more road works and port works. The development of a proper aircraft facility would be very useful for the region as it would bring other industries into the region. That needs to be developed now so that this new industry and the support industries that it will attract can develop. It will really help bring down the unemployment levels in this region of Australia.

  I have fears as to whether the sort of development needed will occur. My fears are based on the government's recently released paper on regional development in response to the Kelty inquiry. That turned out to be a totally damp squib. It responded in a very minor way to the regional needs of Australia.

  Regional Australia needs further infrastructure development to help it compete with the big centres. We did not see anything like that in the government's response to the green paper. We will call on the federal government to put proper infrastructure into regional Australia so that areas such as the Hunter can achieve their full potential. In the meantime, we have one good first step in all of this. It is great news for the Hunter. It is long overdue. All involved at the federal, state and local level should be congratulated.