Paul Papalia: WA needs its own State Minister for Defence

One of the eight Cape Class Patrol Boats Austal supplied to Australian Border Force.
One of the eight Cape Class Patrol Boats Austal supplied to Australian Border Force.

THE decision to give South Australia’s beleaguered ship building industry the chance to construct a new fleet of Australian Navy ships has prompted calls for WA to take a stronger stance.

Labor spokesman Paul Papalia said WA needed its own State Minister for Defence Issues, backed up by an advisory board that will fight to secure work for the local industry.

The proposal came after the Federal Government confirmed builders in South Australia would be given the opportunity to construct Australia’s future frigates, with WA and companies based at the Australian Marine Complex missing out.

“We need a super-charged advisory board to ensure we have the best possible chance of winning lucrative contracts for building and maintaining defence equipment,” Mr Papalia said.

“A strong local defence industry can provide long-term, reliable employment opportunities to offset the booms and busts of the resources sector.

“If we win a fair share of the Australian defence dollar, local industry can then compete internationally for contracts to supply and support foreign navies.”

Premier Colin Barnett said his government was in ongoing discussions about defence contracts for WA. “The Department of Commerce regularly has extensive discussions with Defence and related parties in relation to various Defence shipbuilding initiatives … and has made submissions on the Defence White Paper and to defence committees,” he said.

“WA is also engaged with the three international bidders (from France, Germany and Japan) for the submarine contracts and has hosted them at Henderson, and I’m confident we are well-placed to secure a slice of these future contracts.”

Henderson-based shipbuilder Austal has built ships for the US Navy and the Australian Border Force (formerly the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service).

A spokesman said they supported a clear, transparent debate on an “important national issue”.

“We believe the best way for contracts to be awarded is on merit,” he said.