WA to miss out on $8.4 billion as feds pick South Australia for submarine maintenance

Western Australia will miss out on an $8.4 billion injection into its economy after the Commonwealth selected South Australia for the location of its Collins Class submarine maintenance program.

The long-awaited decision came amidst the announcement of a new trilateral partnership between the US, UK and Australian governments called AUKUS, which will see Australia build nuclear submarines using US technology in South Australia that could be based at the HMAS Stirling Naval Base.

The Collins-class submarine full-cycle docking maintenance program will remain in SA.Credit:Defence Department

The announcement to keep the maintenance, known as full cycle docking, in South Australia will be a blow to the McGowan government, which has waged a three-year campaign urging the Commonwealth to move the work to WA.

That campaign included advertising and commissioned studies, which found it would inject $8.4 billion into the WA economy and warned South Australia’s shipbuilding industry would overheat if full cycle docking remained in that state as submarine and other shipbuilding projects ramped up.

But that campaign has come to naught with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the Commonwealth would invest $6.4 billion to begin major upgrades to extend the life of the Collins Class fleet and keep full cycle docking at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide.

He said he spoke to WA Premier Mark McGowan on Thursday morning about the decision and tried to soften the blow by declaring the state would remain a shipbuilding hub for decades to come, with a range of naval ship building projects in the pipeline, including the offshore patrol vessel and Guardian class programs.

He also said the Commonwealth would chip in for a dry dock at the shipbuilding area in Henderson, south of Perth, to help the state maintain defence and commercial vessels.

“There’s more jobs going into Western Australia now than [full cyle docking] was ever going to deliver to Western Australia,” he said.

“Western Australians are Australians, like New South Wales residents are Australians, and all Australians benefit from the national interest decisions to protect Australians and to keep Australians safe.

“And the decision that is necessary to keep Australians best safe is for the full cycle docking to be undertaken in South Australia to maintain the continuity of what has been achieved by the team that has been engaging in that process.

“Western Australia will continue to play a key role in sustaining the Navy’s fleet with Collins class submarine, intermediate and mid-cycle dockings. Continuing at Henderson through until the mid- 2040s.”

Mr McGowan was approached for comment but in March was adamant that full cycle docking should be carried out in WA.

“It shouldn’t be political, it shouldn’t be decided on that basis, it should be decided on what’s in the national interest; defensive interest, and the Navy’s interest. On all three counts, the work should be done here,” he said at the time.

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