Adelaide shipyard work on track for AUKUS subs deal

Work on a new $2 billion submarine building shipyard at Osborne will start this year, despite work on eight AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines in a deal worth up to $368 billion not beginning in Adelaide until the end of this decade.

Mar 14, 2023, updated Apr 20, 2023
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announce the AUKUS submarines deal on Tuesday. Photo AAP

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announce the AUKUS submarines deal on Tuesday. Photo AAP

The submarines will be built at a site three times the size of the previously planned French-build shipyard in Adelaide’s north-west, after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the AUKUS deal alongside US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Point Loma naval base in California this morning.

Australia will take delivery of three US Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines in early 2030 under the plan, while working with the United Kingdom to design and build an evolved Astute class nuclear-powered submarine called the SSN-AUKUS to be built in SA.

The first SNN-AUKUS submarine will be delivered by the SA workforce in the early 2040s, sparking concerns from former senator and submariner Rex Patrick there would be “not a valley of death but a cliff of death” in local jobs.

Premier Peter Malinauskas and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong today assured there was a phased plan that meant the project will deliver thousands of jobs to South Australians from this year.

Malinauskas said he would fly to the United Kingdom tomorrow to “get on the ground as quickly as possible” to meet with key leaders at the submarine shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness.

Malinauskas said at its peak, up to 4,000 workers will be employed to design and build the infrastructure for the Submarine Construction Yard in Osborne with $2 billion funding over four years, starting this year.

The Albanese Government said that more than 500 workers based at ASC in Osborne will continue sustaining the Collins Class submarines to work alongside the US subs.

A further 4,000 to 5,500 direct shipyard jobs are expected to be created to build nuclear-powered submarines in SA when the program reaches its peak, with Malinauskas saying this will create more highly skilled, highly paid jobs across the economy.

“These submarines will be the most complex machines that have ever been built in human history,” the Premier said.

“And we now have a massive task ahead of us to prepare the highly skilled workforce to capitalise on this historic opportunity.”

He described the announcement as “truly historic, not just for South Australia but for our nation” and that it “will transform our state for decades”.

The project announcement by Albanese, Biden and Sunak highlighted that the trilateral agreement signed in 2021 was designed to ensure stability and security in the region.

“From early in the next decade, Australia will take delivery of three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines,” Albanese said, adding that Australian submariners are already undertaking nuclear-power training in the US.

“This is the first time in 65 years – and only the second time in history – that the US has shared its nuclear propulsion technology.”

Albanese said the next generation submarine, to be called SSN-AUKUS, was a new, conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered, submarine based on a British design and incorporating Australian, UK and US technologies.

“This will be an Australian sovereign capability – built by Australians, commanded by the Royal Australian Navy and sustained by Australians in Australian shipyards – with construction to begin within this decade,” he said.

While in Port Adelaide, local MP and federal health minister Mark Butler believed the project provided extensive job opportunities for his electorate that includes Osborne, along with the nation overall.

After a decade of changing plans for submarines – including the $90b contract to build French-designed subs being scrapped by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2021 – Butler believed SA now has a detailed commitment to national capability and in building jobs for decades.

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“Kids in school today could spend their entire career working in these jobs after the announcement by Prime Minister Albanese, President Biden and Prime Minister Sunak, this is a huge day for SA,” he said.

“Over the coming couple of decades, we will see the construction of a new submarine yard at Osborne, there will be another 1000 ongoing jobs in extending the life of the Collins Class submarines as well as the frigate project jobs that are there ramping up.

“Then in the 2030s, thousands of jobs will be ramping up to build the new SNN AUKUS submarine in SA.”

Foreign Affairs minister Penny Wong said a “phased approach” meant there would be immediate investment in ensuring there are skilled workers to be “part of the biggest undertaking that this state has ever seen”.

“We are going to get to work straight away on the defence force,” she said, and “there will be an upskilling in capability”.

Deputy Premier and Port Adelaide MP Susan Close said the announcement would see the already 15,000 South Australians working in the defence sector escalate over coming decades.

“This is going to be transformation for our manufacturing industry, our IT industry and service industries,” she said.

During the joint announcement, President Biden said the Indo-Pacific was where the future of the three nations of Australia, the United States and United Kingdom would be written.

“Forging this new partnership, we’re showing again how democracies can deliver our own security and prosperity and not just for us, but for the entire world,” he said.

“The new-generation submarines will be based on the British Astute class, but it will be integrated with an American weapons system and technology.

“Top-of-the-line submarines are the vanguard of US naval power. We’re putting ourselves in the strongest possible position to navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow, together.”

Standing alongside President Biden and Prime Minister Albanese, UK PM Sunak said the navy in each of the three countries working together under AUKUS would operate and maintain the boats together.

“For the first time ever, it will mean three fleets of submarines working together across both the Atlantic and Pacific, keeping our oceans free, open and prosperous for decades to come,” he said.

Steve Ludlam was ASC chief from 2010 to 2014  and also the former president submarines at RollsRoyce in the United Kingdom where the nuclear reactors for will be made – he said it was encouraging to see the three nations working together on a “well thought out” plan.

Rather than a “valley of death” in jobs, Ludlam predicted that instead there “will be more and more jobs” in the highly complex project that would take decades to introduce.

-with AAP

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