Nov 28, 2017

Turnbull’s $90 billion National Shipbuilding Plan has a recruitment problem

The "nation building" project intends to be a major boost to heavy industry and could see significant economic shifts. With so much at stake, what could possibly go wrong?

Michael Sainsbury — Freelance correspondent in Asia and <em>Little Red Blog</em> Editor

Michael Sainsbury

Freelance correspondent in Asia and Little Red Blog Editor

Australian shipbuilding plan

As the collective anger and disappointment gathers strength across the country over Malcolm Turnbull’s signature infrastructure policy the National Broadband Network-Lite, an even costlier policy is taking shape in the form of the National Shipbuilding Plan (NSP).

The bold project that will, in the words of senior naval officers at the Submarine Institute of Australia’s recent annual conference in Adelaide, “allow Australia (as an island nation) to take its rightful place” as a shipbuilding nation. The scope for cost blowout, delays and poor scoping and technology divisions such a massive and highly complex undertaking are almost endless but the rewards for success are also substantial and potentially nation-changing.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

16 thoughts on “Turnbull’s $90 billion National Shipbuilding Plan has a recruitment problem

  1. Redgum

    Turnbull’s plan for ship building illustrates the dire state of Australia’s manufacturing industry. The fact that technicians and skilled personnel cannot be found is no surprise at all. Successive governments have gone from a manufacturing base to a service industry base-heavy industry is virtually finished. No car manufacturing, no ship building, no rail industry.
    Even if naval vessels are built here, it would make far greater sense to buy off-the-shelf designs and assemble them here-the potential for disaster with in-house design, cost over runs and constant delays into service might be mouth-watering for the contractors involved, but on pastform, the taxpayer will get a poor deal. It all seems to me a Turnbull thought bubble for the moment.
    J Gleeson

  2. 124C4U

    Technical, note.
    Pissing into wind , or ,nautically, pissing to windward – means that you are going to get your own back.

  3. [email protected]

    If there is war in the Pacific, how will Australia survive without a broadly based military support industry and sufficient oil refineries? On the current system we would be out of petroleum fuels in 2 weeks.

  4. Barnes Graham

    After the way this and other LNP State governments have wound back VET and stripped TAFEs almost buck naked, turning out half-educated Tradies, it is no surprise that there is a shortage of the necessarily skilled personnel eligible for security clearance. This is one instance where 457 visa holders can’t fill the gaps!

    1. CML

      It is obvious that the next Labor government will need to drastically increase TAFE funding, and ramp up the supply of tradies. 457 visas should not even be considered…for security or any other reason…when we have so many young people unemployed.
      Pity the Coalition doesn’t pull its finger out and start the process NOW.
      Don’t hold your breath on that happening…they haven’t got a bloody clue, as usual!!

  5. graybul

    ” . . . what could possibly go wrong?”

    Australia needs, must, mobilize its technological potential, know-how, given national, regional responsibilities, and present, future geopolitical challenges. For as Michael says “. . . but the rewards for success are also substantial and potentially nation-changing.”

    Australia has grown-up under protective umbrellas’ that may not necessarily be available to us, perhaps should not be available for us; in the future? No matter what might be the PM’s motivation in committing the nation to this high risk initiative; Australia may well need to be challenged, and if in so doing we incur a few blood noses gaining essential experience . . . so be it! ” . . . what could possibly go wrong?” Simple, if we fail to identify the essential key executive staff; hold them ruthlessly, fully accountable and, back them up when the inevitable happens . . . .

  6. AR

    The inexorable obliteration of all forms of manufacture in this country has reached its nadir – not even enough skilled workers to build Sydney’s train carriages whilst no longer even stopping at Redfern – once the largest railway workshops in the Southern Hemisphere.

  7. bref

    Amazing how pollies will crow about spending a cool hundred billion on ship building, another $100B+ for aircraft, and god knows how much for the Army, yet bitch like mad about the cost of building essential infrastructure like the NBN. Especially as, no matter how much the NBN will end up costing, it’ll be paid back.

  8. klewso

    Foreign universities aren’t turning out enough graduates and foreigners coming here to study (paying for our pay-as-you-go university courses) aren’t coming in sufficient numbers to meet our demand/shortfalls?

    Where’s a John Howard when you need one? All that infrastructure investment spending (to futureproof us) he, Costello, Turnbull, Abbott, Andrews, Abetz, Morrison, Pyne, Jethro, Bishop et al put the proceeds of the mining boom toward over almost 12 years in government……? Oh, wait a minute…..

    1. AR

      Klewi, pithy.
      As always.

  9. Mike Waller

    Michael Sainsbury’s article is having a bob each way on what, on any reasonable analysis, is a shipbuilding procurement program involving a massive financial premium (aka as a subsidy, usually anathema to the Coalition’s neoliberal ideology but driven essentially by concerns about marginal coalition seats) and enormous execution/delivery risk (partly for the reasons set out in the article). It completely ignores the opportunity costs involved, running into as much as 20-30% of the procurement budget, that could otherwise be applied to other more pressing needs (such as restoring an effective vocational/technical training system that could support a viable defence equipment in-service support capability). The resulting costs per job are eye watering – an order of magnitude larger than those that precipitated closure of local car manufacture. And it accepts, largely without question, the highly dubious proposition that Australia can build a globally competitive military shipbuilding industry from scratch, despite the absence of any serious Australian capability in the weapons and software that constitute the major part of the cost and capabilities of military vessels. All in all, a particularly egregious example of the short term political interests of both major parties trumping the long term public interest.

    1. bref

      Yes, our government continues to perpetuate the myth, all evidence to the contrary, that we’re a clever country.

  10. kyle Hargraves

    Not a particularly comprehensive account but considering a representative sentence (nevertheless) :

    “The the decision to build the submarines and frigates in Australia is a clear attempt to finally replace the loss-making auto industry and fits with Turnbull’s stuttering National Innovation and Science Agenda and, if played right, could well salvage a big win for that strategy by using $1.6 billion that has been set aside for the Next Generation Technologies Fund, the Defence Innovation Hub and a clutch of smaller initiatives.”

    suggests that the country has a choice as to possess something like a STEM industry but the mentality that the main source of national income will accrue from Primary industry prevails. Having said that the country is not sufficiently educated to have a public discussion on significant matters concerning technology; the “fiber to the house” mantra serves as an example. Secondly, why would private money bother to invest in ventures when negative gearing is so (short-ish term) lucrative.

    If the House of Commons in the 19th century had the mentality that the House of Reps has had over the 20th and 21 centuries (to date at least) not a kilometer of rail track would have been laid. It is entirely reasonable that venues, with a sufficiently robust strategic plan, are planned so that the expenses are amortized over future generations.

    As to a suitably trained workforce the plight of TAFE (in every State) has been discussed in some detail, indeed by long-term FATE-teachers / administrators?. While, so called, training courses act, and are constructed to act, as a strategy to minimise the percentage of youth unemployment there will never be an effective vocational training sector – as there once was 30+ years ago.

    China, according to national newspapers, by comparison, is going to graduate something like two million engineers at the end of the academic year of 2020; i.e. circa May 2021. Even allowing for variations across Chinese universities might some of these engineers (assuming IELTS 8.1 – 9.0) “fit the bill” – given sufficient work experience in Australia?

    Donald Horne did not do the country any long term favours. The book was published almost 54 years ago so rather a lot has changed; out of sight in fact. Stage one would be to adopt something like the Singaporean or French education system; even a system from Great Britain would do. Such systems well exceed the best of what Australia has; viz., the VCE. Now of course, a new system could be crafted to exceed the (e.g.) British system {where the education systems in England, Scotland, Wales are different}.

    What exists currently (in every State, on account of being watered-down since the 70s) isn’t going to satisfy long term technological objectives of the country – assuming that such objectives will be adopted in the first place. During March, most years, the V.C.s of the major universities lament the “poor quality” of the new student; yet the problem resides with the universities as much as it does with the politicians.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details