Calls to write Aussie jobs in new sub deal

·2-min read

Labor will push to have Australian jobs written into any new submarine contract, chastising the government for leaving businesses high and dry after tearing up the French deal.

The government axed the $90 billion French submarine contract in September, torpedoing the jobs of thousands of shipbuilders, contractors and workers who were set to be based in South Australia for the build.

Labor's defence spokesperson Brendan O'Connor told the Submarine Institute of Australia conference the party would include a local jobs quota into any new contract.

"These are uncertain times for businesses and their employees in the defence industry," he told the conference on Tuesday.

"Defence has confirmed that shipbuilding jobs won't come online for another six years.

"We need a detailed, actionable plan from the government for these workers so we can preserve and develop their skills and knowledge to ensure we have the talent required when the time comes to build the new submarines."

Mr O'Connor said 3000 South Australian jobs were at risk under the new submarine contract, with the 8000 direct jobs in the state under the French contract being revised down to 5000 in a government factsheet.

"If you were a worker who left Holden to go and work on submarines after this government shut down the car industry, you would be feeling a strong sense of deja vu," he said.

"With the Australian government spending $270 billion over the next 10 years spent on defence, Labor wants to see a commitment to growing our sovereign defence industry with a focus on local jobs."

Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said there would be "significant opportunities for Australian industry involvement" under any new submarine deal.

The government is working with the UK and US on a plan to deliver a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Ms Price tried to allay fears around uncertainty in the industry, with the government so far agreeing to investigate the acquisition of the new submarines over the next 18 months.

"I am determined to maximise (Australian) involvement and know-how wherever possible," she told the conference.

"I understand the decision to discontinue the Attack class program has taken industry on a new course ... but I want to assure those workers and businesses that I have their back."

The Department of Defence is creating a support portal for small and medium businesses impacted by the cancellation.

A talent pool is also being set up to retain shipbuilding skills.

But Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings told AAP any submarine deal, as important as it is, has no bearing on today's strategic challenges.

Mr Jennings said the government needed to bring forward some of the $270 billion investment to focus on improving Australia's defence capabilities in the short term.

"The defence force in 2021 matters a lot more to us than the defence force in 2041, which is where all the investment is currently being driven," he said.

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