Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 16 May unveiled Australia’s first Naval Shipbuilding Plan, outlining the nation’s largest ever programme of naval shipbuilding and sustainment.

The plan includes a $1.3bn injection of funds to modernise construction shipyards in South Australia and Western Australia in order to build the Navy’s next generation of naval vessels. The Federal Government is investing around $90bn in the rolling acquisition of new submarines and the continuous build of major ships such as future frigates, as well as minor naval vessels. The Plan will ensure delivery of these modern defence capabilities set out in the 2016 Defence White Paper, creating thousands of jobs and securing the naval shipbuilding and sustainment industry for future generations of Australians.

Work will commence this year on the development of infrastructure at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia. The Henderson Maritime Precinct in WA will also be upgraded. This will encompass construction of new cranes and heavy lift transportation capability, welding stations and upgrades to workshops and storage facilities including new steel framed sheds.

The naval shipbuilding workforce is expected to grow to around 5,200 workers by the mid to late 2020s, with more than double this number of workers in sustainment activities and throughout supply chains across Australia.

The Ai Group welcomed the announcement, saying it would end the boom-bust cycle of recent decades in naval shipbuilding, which has seen hundreds of job losses and local shipyards become increasingly redundant.

“A key to the success of the continuous shipbuilding program will be establishment by prime contractors of strong supply chains of Australian SMEs,” said Innes Willox, Ai Group Chief Executive. “This is especially critical for the new submarine program. Lead contractor DCNS needs to engage fully with local industry to ensure that it can meet the Federal Government’s caste-iron commitment to construction of 12 new submarines at Osborne.”

However, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) warned that urgent action was required to secure existing expertise and prevent the loss of 500 skilled jobs in South Australia before construction starts next year.

“The Government talks often about working to maximize Australian industry and content,” said AMWU Assistant National Secretary Glenn Thompson. “We need mandated Australian industry participation and content written into all build contracts. Around 500 existing jobs are at risk before major building operations commence next year. If we lose this expertise we really will be starting these projects from a long way behind, in terms of using the projects to enhance domestic shipbuilding capability and expertise.”