The latest controversy to rock the State of South Australia is the Abbott government’s broadcast to build the replacement for the Collins class submarines in Japan. The reason? Well may you ask. To his thinking, this will ‘give value’ to the Australian taxpayers’ dollar. Really? Ripping jobs and potential new future employment/investment out of a state equates to the PM’s interpretation of ‘value’ does it?
The economy of South Australia is not very diversified. Essentially it is a farm and a mine. South Australia’s ‘value’ relies on its fresh produce, its wines, its wheat and meat. Our mining and active mineral exploration sector does and will continue to add to the State’s coffers. But, these two commodities (farming & mining) are not consistent earners. A bad harvest can shear millions off the State’s agricultural bottom line. Lack of demand can affect the amount of raw, unrefined mining products we can sell to the international markets, locking us into a perennial boom and bust cycle. Car manufacturing and naval shipbuilding were the only other significant economic assets we had in South Australia. The impending closure of the General Motors plant at Elizabeth in 2016 will take auto manufacturing out of the equation. The Abbott government’s consideration regarding the building of 12 next generation Royal Australian Navy subs, ignores 20 years of local investment in creating a sophisticated conventional submarine construction plant.
It is interesting listening to politicians and punditry talk about the potential saving of billions of Australian dollars. Figures bandied around are a moveable feast i.e., from AUD30 billion (built in Japan) versus AUD33 billion (built in Australia) to AUD20 billion (built in Japan) versus AUD40 billion (built in Australia). Have we inculcated that our boats will require different types of systems and sub-systems to that of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force? Will the Japanese builders ‘get it right’ first time around? There are more questions than answers that Mr Abbott needs to disclose to the Australian taxpayers before presenting the public with a fait accompli. My book On Weapons Decisions published in 2002, where I wrote on Australian acquisitions between 1963-96, included the Collins class submarines and I must say that so far we hear only of the boats’ failings, never about their successes.
Then there is the social cost. Rising unemployment and problems associated with it. Surely this can’t be good for the people, nor can it be good for national security. People’s hopelessness, disillusionment, disadvantage brought about by the endless struggle to make ends meet, can’t be good for any government once the “she’ll be right” mentality has lost its meaning.
And finally there is the strategic cost. Farming critically important aspects of self-reliance out to a foreign government is never a good idea, especially were that foreign government caught up in its own strategic dramas which could skew the production of military hardware towards domestic rather than foreign requirements.
It is spurious politics to talk about savings when the costs are so highly speculative. And, it is bad politics to condemn a mainland state of Australia to economic under-development and strategic irrelevance.
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