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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1960

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Defence) —by leave-I am delighted to announce the Government's decision to select the design of Australian Shipbuilding Industries, of Jervoise Bay, Western Australia, for the construction of the boats to be acquired under the Pacific patrol boat project. The successful design-known as the ASI315-is for a 31.5-metre, 165-tonne vessel. The ASI company has succeeded against competition from 12 other designs submitted by 10 companies from Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. The ASI design is based on a requirement, prepared after consultation with participating countries, to take account of characteristics most important in the envisaged roles-including range, speed and accommodation.

The Government's decision is the culmination of a process which began in late August 1983 when the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), with the support of Pacific leaders, announced the project at the Canberra meeting of the South Pacific Forum. I have already informed Ministers of participating countries of the Government's selection. Five countries-Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga and Western Samoa-have already indicated an intention to take part in the project and the Government is examining options available to assist other countries in the region with maritime surveillance.

I should like to remind honourable members of our purpose in pursuing this project, as part of the Australian defence co-operation program with regional countries. Primarily, the Pacific patrol boat project is intended to provide Pacific Forum states with an effective means of surveillance and enforcement in their maritime exclusive economic zones. For many countries in the region, fisheries are a major resource. The Pacific patrol boat will contribute to the deterrence of illegal fishing and to the monitoring of the activities of licensed operations. The boats can also be used for a range of other tasks, including police work, immigration, quarantine, and search and rescue.

Australian and regional countries' strategic interests are complementary. The Pacific patrol boat project supports common defence interests and common resolve to maintain a secure and stable environment in the region. The Pacific patrol boat project will assist with the establishment, or further development, of regional naval capabilities to support national security concerns, and the creation of a regional maritime support infrastructure. We also hope that the project will further encourage co-operation between countries of the region, particularly in surveillance of their often adjacent maritime resource zones. These things are of value to the countries concerned and they are of value to Australia. As maritime capabilities are introduced or expanded in regional countries, they will provide potential for direct and continuous linkage with Royal Australian Navy operations in the region and the Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion surveillance flights that now take place on a regular basis. The single, standard design approach provides benefits of commonality of support and maintenance in the region and economies of scale.

On the Australian side, the contract with ASI will include design and construction of patrol boats, with an initial two years support package and operational and technical training. The RAN will provide training and, as necessary, long term advisory assistance in country, as well as operationally managing the project. We are also discussing with the New Zealand Ministry of Defence how we might take up its offer to assist with the project. For their part, participating countries will be providing the necessary national infrastructure to support the boat, such as wharves, workshops and operational headquarters and national surveillance administrative systems to permit effective use of the vessel. They will also pay all operating and support costs for the vessel. The project should provide work in Australian industry for about 60 people for about four years and give ASI a strong basis for winning additional sales in Australia and overseas.

The final cost of this multi-million dollar project will be determined in negotiations with ASI. Current financial planning is based on the expectation of building up to 10 boats. Prior to the completion of negotiations with the company, my officials will visit participating countries to provide details of the ASI design and why it was selected, and to discuss the work the countries are doing to develop support facilities and command and control arrangements so as to make effective use of the boats when delivered.

I congratulate the ASI company on its outstanding response to the Pacific patrol boat tender and I congratulate RAN and departmental officials on their diligence and efficiency in evaluating all responses and preparing recommendations for Government.

The ASI315 design is longer, larger and more spacious than that of the next ranked tenderer. Its hull is more easily repairable and its seakeeping and survivability capabilities are assessed as being better, particularly in extreme sea states and winds. The ASI project also has a $5m advantage on price over that of that tenderer on the cost of 10 boats. I also congratulate the other tenderers. Many of the submissions were for excellent vessels. Some exhibited a high degree of expertise indeed and would have provided a satisfactory vessel.

The Government commends the project to the House as a most appropriate use of defence resources to assist regional countries in developing capabilities to protect their sovereign rights, to support major Australian defence interests in the region and to provide Australian industry with an opportunity to participate in the largest and most complex project ever attempted under the defence co-operation program. I am issuing a Press release today providing more details on the project.