David Wroe, The Sydney Morning Herald
8 July 2015
Australia should have the ambition to keep a submarine industry that can make the "most sophisticated equipment on the face of the planet", South Australia's Premier Jay Weatherill has said.
In an impassioned plea to build submarines at home amid fears the Abbott government continues to lean towards sending the work offshore, Mr Weatherill said high-end manufacturing was just the kind of industry that should be encouraged.
"There is almost nobody that thinks it's a good idea to spend $50 billion in somebody else's country, especially when you're crying out to create the new economy of the future," he told the National Press Club in Canberra.
"These are the sorts of jobs people want to have. We're told in South Australia we're not allowed to do metal bashing anymore, we can't make cars. But now we're told we can't build the most sophisticated piece of equipment on the face of the planet.
"What does it say about the ambitions for a nation that's not prepared to back itself to have the talent, the skills and the capacity ... to have an industry of this sort?"
Mr Weatherill's comments follow renewed jitters among South Australian Liberal MPs about the political backlash in the state if the government does not build the submarines there as it promised before the 2013 election.
Several South Australian lower house seats are expected to be vulnerable if voters there believe the government isn't delivering the jobs promised through submarine building.
The Abbott government has announced a "competitive evaluation process" to look at bids by Japan, Germany and France, each of which can partner with Australian firms such as the government-owned shipbuilder ASC, which is based in Adelaide.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed that there will be more jobs in South Australia whatever happens, particularly as the lifetime sustainment of the boats would have to be done there.
But Mr Weatherill warned it would become a major election issue if the Abbott government broke its pre-election promise to build 12 submarines in Adelaide.
"I think that the federal government not only will suffer dramatic losses in South Australia if they don't keep their promise on this, I think it will actually become a national economic issue," he said.