Austal asks Australia to back trade

Peter Williams

The head of Austal says the shipbuilder is more likely to build defence vessels for foreign customers in the US because of a lack of Australian government support overseas.

Chief executive Andrew Bellamy said in its recent pursuit of a potential contract with a Middle East nation, Austal had found it more effective to gain access to that government through the US embassy.

That made it more likely that if a deal was made in this case the ships would be built at Austal's US operations in Mobile, Alabama. "Ideally, we'd like to build the ships in Australia," Mr Bellamy said.

"My job is to make sure our technology is leveraged to the maximum value. I'd love to see those products built in Australia but I'm not going to sit back and let those products be built in Germany."

Mr Bellamy said the US had a "machine" of foreign missions and officials promoting the export of military products to friendly nations.

"We are so far short of that in Australia, it's extraordinary," he said. "As long as we get outcompeted by the Europeans and the Americans, business in Australia will suffer."

He said government ministers travelling abroad needed to get the balance right between foreign affairs and trade. "If we've got great technology in this country . . . we need to work much harder at marketing Australian products internationally."

Austal is building warships for the US Navy in Mobile and patrol boats for Australian Customs at its Henderson headquarters.