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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2489


Mr BALDWIN —Is the Minister for Defence Support aware of reports that Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd intends to lay off some 1,000 workers between March and June next year consequential on the completion of the first underway replenishment ship, HMAS Success, and that this will mean unemployment for substantial numbers of additional people employed in firms dependent on Cockatoo 's shipbuilding activities? What steps is the Government taking in response to this prospective calamity for working people in the inner Sydney region?


Mr HOWE —I thank the honourable member for his question. I appreciate the interest that he and a number of other honourable members representing the Sydney area have taken in the future of Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard. The decision announced on 12 October to build the two Australian frigates at Williamstown Naval Dockyard indicates the commitment of this Government to Australian defence shipbuilding. This decision will mean that Australia now has the capacity to build warships as well as to undertake major refits and modernisation of FFG- type vessels. Flowing from this desision, both government-owned shipyards, Williamstown Naval Dockyard and Garden Island Dockyard, will be sustained in workload for a considerable period. As honourable members will be aware, Cockatoo Island Dockyard has been operated by the Vickers company since the late 1940s. As the honourable member suggests, it is true that, unless additional work can be found, the company has indicated that demand for certain metal trades will diminish from April next year. In saying that, I certainly do not suggest that the position is as serious as was suggested by the honourable member for Sydney. I do not endorse the figures suggested but I think it is true that, because of the particular stage that HMAS Success is at, the demand for certain metal workers will be considerably diminished.

The dockyard is a major dockyard in terms of the Government's defence priorities, particularly in relation to ship repairs. It will continue to undertake Oberon class submarine repairs through into the early 1990s. People will recognise that this year's defence budget, announced by my colleague the Minister for Defence, is severely constrained by forward capital commitments made by the previous Government. There is very little scope in this year's Budget for major new capital spending. Certainly, that places question marks, if not severe restraints, on the possibilities of an immediate move towards a second replenishment ship.

However, responsibility for the defence work load of the Vickers yard is not simply a matter for the Government. It is a commercial yard and, when one looks at its future, one has to look at not only what contracts it might receive in terms of the defence budget and defence requirements but also its capacity to get commercial repair work. That, of course, is not easy within the current context of the ship repair industry which is in a very depressed state. The Government is very concerned about the possibility of the loss of jobs at Vickers Cockatoo. My colleague the Minister for Defence and I are looking at the situation very seriously. It is our intention to discuss several options both with the management of the dockyard and with employees in the not too distant future and certainly before the end of this year.


Mr McVeigh —Will the Minister table the documents from which he was quoting?


Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Darling Downs has asked for the tabling of the documents. Was the Minister quoting from a document on public affairs?


Mr HOWE —Just notes.