The Australian Government has “committed to a $195billion investment in Australian Defence” over a 10-year period – the NSW Government wants its fair share, and, in turn, Harwood Marine wants a share, too … and a slice of the state’s $1.3billion enabling infrastructure funding.
Harwood Marine’s managing director, Ross Roberts, and Clarence Valley Council’s environment, planning & community director, Des Schroder, made verbal submissions to the Standing Committee on State Development at Tweed Heads on Monday August 28.
While the public hearing focused on the “defence industry in New South Wales, regional development and a global Sydney”, Mr Roberts was most interested in gaining work from Australia’s defence organisations.
In broad terms, the committee’s chair, Greg Pearce, opened the hearing by saying: “We will … identify sectors in the economy that can provide the greatest opportunities for regional development and consider how collaboration between government, non-government and private sectors can assist the regions to benefit from Sydney’s global position.”
On the defence industry, he said the committee “is considering how to incentivise and grow” it.
“A key area of focus will be to look at ways to further encourage the defence industry, innovation, research and education and workforce development,” he said.
Mr Roberts expressed his frustration regarding being overlooked while federal money is being invested in other enterprises similar to the Harwood facility.
In answering a question from the committee’s John Graham – “What assistance would you require to pitch into the very significant program that is now being outlined?” – Mr Roberts said, in part: “What could the government do to help? First, it has got to recognise that this is potentially the largest shipyard on the east coast of Australia.
“We have got about 200 or 190 acres of land. We have got about 1.5 kilometres of waterfront. We have got a heavy-lift slipway. We are putting in travel lifts that will pick up the patrol boats and the tug boats.
“…I would like to see the New South Wales Government actively encourage us, because so far we read about $24 million [of federal money] going up to Cairns to help them rebuild what we have….
“We have already built it; it is here in New South Wales. I have not had one navy person visit the yard yet. We have had politicians but not one navy person.”
Speaking with the Independent, Mr Roberts bemoaned the NSW Government’s
spend at Newcastle, to “renew the Fitzroy Street shipyard slipway to reactivate the Port of Newcastle and the Hunter as a major marine ship repair and maintenance precinct”, as announced on June 29.
“Newcastle and Cairns actively support the marine areas in their region, which creates well paid highly skilled work for young people,” he said.
“Harwood slipway has been repaired and refurbished to meet environmental and safety compliance with private funding, and has received no government funding, either state or federal, for these works.”
Previously, however, the Australian Government funded a $455,500 grant for the slipway’s abrasive blast and spray paint facility completed in 2008.
Mr Roberts said his company was seeking to expand its business within the Clarence River’s constraints, particularly the maximum six metre draft (the depth of a ship/boat below the waterline].
“Six metres might be small for a big ship,” he said at the hearing, “but it is huge for a ship up to 80 metres. Most of defence’s vessels are [less than] 100 metres and they are not cargo carriers, so there draft is up.
“…We are … an international … IX class [shipyard].
“…The defence ships in Germany are built under IX. We have the workforce and the facility, which we are continuing to develop, but we are working now and we have the location and the river.”
He said the navigation hazards could be overcome by constructing larger ships in “blocks” (a common practice, he said) and putting them on barges for shipping to where they are assembled.
“That can be handled with our existing cranes,” he said.
Mr Roberts said taking on defence work is not a new concept for the slipway.
“I was here in the ’70 and ’80s,” he said. “There were up to 170 people working here on defence industry work.”
Mr Schroder told the hearing that Collingburn Engineering, based in Yamba, was currently fulfilling a $5million contract building vessels for the Australian Government’s Border Force.