The words of Australian Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester ‘promised’ good times ahead for Harwood Marine’s slipway. Impressed following an inspection of the near-completed work at the facility, he told the Independent: “All credit to the Harwood team for having the foresight and to make this ambitious investment, which I think will have some long-term benefits, not just for the company, but for the wider community. “We need to make sure that [the Department of] Defence, in particular, understands the opportunity to have vessels serviced here and undertake maintenance in a location where there is a facility equal to anything along the east coast. “Now it’s up to us as a government to work with the company to secure opportunities for them. “The opportunity, for Defence in particular, is to procure as much as they possibly can from Australian industry and to spread the benefits of Defence procurement beyond the capital cities into regional areas. “So I am very keen to see regional facilities utilised; whether it be for manufacturing new equipment or maintaining existing equipment. “These are conversations happening right now across the defence sector. “The Prime Minister has made it very clear he’s keen to see Australia develop its defence industries to a self-sustaining level as much as we possibly can.” Member for Page Kevin Hogan brought the Minister to the slipway following an inspection of the Pacific Highway upgrade works. “This business has invested $15million into upgrading the slipway,” Mr Hogan said. “I wanted Darren … to see what they are doing, because governments always have involvement with this; whether it is for defence vessels going past, or [knowing the] infrastructure … is here.” Harwood Marine’s slipway has been out of action since October 2014, as a result of the slipway collapsing below the river’s water level. Now, following a multi-million dollar upgrade, it is almost ready to accommodate ships of up to 90 metres in length and 460 tonnes in weight. Harwood Marine’s managing director, Ross Roberts, said he expected the slipway to be operational in January sometime and that the upgrade has also addressed longstanding environmental issues. “This shipyard has been here for 50 years, since the end of ’60s [initially] for the cane industry,” he said. “That has served very well; over the years we’ve made a number of improvements. “We have now invested what is required to [bring] the facility up to a standard to meet the next 50 years. “We are well aware that there is a perception that shipyards are a dirty industry. “When in reality, there are hardly any shipyards left. “We really are now state of the art … to that end we have worked with the EPA [and other agencies]: we removed any contaminants that were left over from the days before we bought the place. “We’ve concreted the [slipway] basin and stabilised the riverbank and the cutting walls inside the slipway. “We’ve made the place a much safer workplace for our employees; and, to their credit, during this difficult time of more than two years since we shut down operations, we’ve kept our employees’ jobs and they have worked hard to help us. “If we can win the contracts that we are quoting on, we expect to increase our employee numbers. “We currently have 18 months of bookings for the slipway.” Harwood Marine is currently looking for boat builder, boilermaker and fitter and turner apprentices; and welcomes any enquiries.