Tony Abbott insists there is no secret deal with Japan to replace Australia’s ageing submarine fleet with Soryu-class vessels.
Mr Abbott announced on the weekend the contract to build Australia’s next generation submarines would be an open tender, even though it had looked likely the government was close to a deal with Japan.
The Prime Minister was accused of changing tact to win the support of South Australian Liberal MPs and senators on the eve of Monday’s party vote on his leadership and then denied a deal had already been done with his Japan.
“There are no secret deals,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday after surviving the vote.
“Obviously, we want to get the best possible submarines at the best possible price.”
He said Australia continues to talk to Japan as well as France and Germany about a suitable replacement.
Mr Abbott said it would be criminally irresponsible to send submariners to sea in something that was not capable of taking on whatever others could throw at Australia.
While the ship builder’s union welcomed his commitment for an open tender, it says the process must be genuine.
Assistant national secretary Glenn Thompson also said the National Manufacturing Workers’ Union (NMWU) was outraged that the PM only gave the assurance when his own job was on the line.
“We are obviously outraged that the Prime Minister, who knew shipbuilders, including submarine maintainers were concerned about their long-term job security, and the issue only became a matter of importance when it was all about his job,” he told AAP on Monday.
The NMWU covers many workers at Adelaide shipbuilder ASC, which will be able to tender for the job, worth between $20 and $40 billion.
Mr Thompson echoed comments by SA’s Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith, who welcomed an open tender but said an assurance should be given the vessels would be built locally.
“Whichever design is chosen, the federal government tender must mandate for maximum local industry content to guarantee Australian jobs and a sovereign defence industry,” the minister said.
Mr Thompson said the union understood the need for an international partner.
“But the government needs to take the position where they stand behind the clear pre-election commitment to build the vessels in Australia,” he said.
Given Mr Abbott’s SA assurance, Victoria’s Industry Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said she would urge the Prime Minister to allow her state to bid for the patrol boat contracts.