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An Australian defence contractor and the industry’s unions say the Federal Government will put national security at risk if it awards a contract to refit an Australian warship to a company in Singapore.
They are also warning that up to 200 jobs are at stake in New South Wales if the work heads overseas.
The Defence Department says it is still evaluating the tenders, but a spokesman told ABC Radio’s The World Today that there is no reason – security or otherwise – to exclude an international bidder from the process.
The Australian warship HMAS Success has been sailing the seas for more than 25 years and is due for a major refit, including the building of a second hull。
The contract is said to be worth around $40 million and the battle is on between Singapore and Sydney’s Garden Island facility to secure the work.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW secretary Tim Ayres says although the project would be cheaper if carried out in Singapore, it would come with risks.
“The Singapore product will be cheaper on paper … because it’s underwritten by the Singapore government,” he said.
“It’ll be cheaper because Australian standards of occupational health and safety and entitlements for workers don’t apply on this project.”
Mr Ayres says he is fighting hard for his 200 members he says are at risk of losing their jobs if the contract is not landed in Australia.
“I don’t believe that, ultimately, the Australian taxpayer will get value for money for this project if it goes offshore,” he said.
Defence contractor Thalis Australia says it is similarly concerned about the potential job loss.
It is also worried that if the work is moved offshore, highly-skilled employees will over time lose the expertise necessary to maintain what is known as industry capability.
Mr Ayes says if the Australian Government moves the work overseas it will threaten the viability of the Garden Island facility, as well as the jobs and skills of the workers.
He says while the facility may survive despite losing this contract, it will damage Australia’s ability to maintain and repair warships.
“The Commonwealth Government identified Garden Island as a priority industry capability. We’ve got to make sure, in the national security interest, that we maintain the capability to maintain and repair Australian warships if they’re damaged in battle,” he said.
Mr Ayes says Singapore does not send its navy assets offshore to be maintained and neither should Australia.
The Defence Department has been considering the merits of both bids for some time.
While the Minister responsible, Jason Clare, and the bureaucrats were unavailable to speak to The World Today, they did release a statement.
It says no decision has been made and contract negotiations with either tenderer are yet to begin.
But the Federal Opposition says it understands this is not true.
Opposition defence spokesman Senator David Johnston says he believes the contract has already gone overseas but was kept secret during the election campaign.
“Obviously, when 200 jobs in Sydney are being put at risk or lost because of a contract going to a Singaporean company employing Bangladeshi workers that don’t comply with [International Labor Organisation] conventions, I am absolutely appalled,” he said.
“This is a scandal of the most classic proportions.”
Mr Johnson says a number of senior officials have told him that there was a $10 million saving in the project and that the contract had been completed.
The Opposition says it is overwhelmingly in the national interest to maintain the defence maintenance jobs in Australia, both for security reasons as well as economic ones.