Look Beyond Submarines for WA Featured Image

For too long, WA and SA have pitted themselves against one another over the location of full-cycle docking (long-term maintenance) of the Collins-class submarines.

The problem with this approach is that we’re not focusing on a much bigger opportunity right on our doorstep.

There is no disagreement that maintaining a strong marine industry in both WA and SA is in the national interest.

If we in the West are going to advocate for innovative and important defence projects that will have long-term benefits for jobs and economic growth, we should focus on securing a large vessel dry berth at the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson.

A dry berth is a narrow basin that is flooded to float a vessel in, then drained to allow it to rest on a dry platform. They are used to build or maintain big ships.

Australia has only one dry berth, the Captain Cook Graving Dock in Sydney. Built during World War II, it’s already more than 75 years old and due for significant maintenance in a few years.

In its 2020 Force Structure Plan, the Morrison Government identified the need for an additional docking facility to support the anticipated new large-hull vessels of our future navy fleet.

While vessels up to 4500 tonnes can be constructed at AMC, a large vessel dry berth would enable construction and sustainment of ships of more than 20,000 tonnes.

With the Indo-Pacific region heating up and ageing infrastructure on the other side of the country, WA’s position on the rim of the Indian Ocean gives us a natural strategic advantage for a large vessel dry berth.

It would allow our navy to dry dock some of its biggest ships at Henderson and provide opportunities for our shipbuilders to complete bigger builds locally. It also has the potential to support Allied navies as well as commercial vessels.

It’s predicted construction activity around a dry berth at Henderson could be more than $1b.

With a potential life span of 100 years, the ongoing jobs and economic benefits would be enormous and overshadow full cycle docking for generations.

The WA Government has been assessing market interest for a dry berth in WA. The Commonwealth has provided $9m for AMC studies, including into a large vessel dry berth.

Amidst a complex and contested regional security environment, time and proper focus are of the essence. The Morrison Government is already bolstering defence units in the West, including my previous Army Reserve Brigade at Karrakatta where units are being converted to full-time strength.

We’re investing $270b over the next decade in Australia’s defence capability, with naval shipbuilding a significant component.

Building and maintaining these vessels will be big business. Our greatest focus — State, Federal and private sector — should be where it matters most.

It’s time for WA to focus less on playing political football with other States and score an important goal by landing a large vessel dry berth at Henderson.