Under one compromise proposal being considered, the “blue-collar” maintenance workers would be moved to WA while the “white-collar” engineers would stay at Osborne.
SA Liberal MPs are concerned about the decision, privately noting three of the eight NSC members are from WA, including Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, while none are from their state.
Senior government sources said Senator Reynolds was intent on making a decision in the national interest.
A spokeswoman for Senator Reynolds said: “We don’t comment on cabinet matters.”
Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Marcus Hellyer said there were risks and opportunities associated with both options.
“Ultimately, this is about delivering military capability to defend Australia,” he said. “My sense is Minister Reynolds does want to make the right decision for the right reasons.
“Once the government makes the decision, I think it is important they explain it to the Australian public and outline what the key reasons were behind that – that it was in the national interest and not just about jobs in one state.”
The McGowan government in WA has been running a months-long campaign to secure the work, delivering a business case to the Commonwealth in September that found it was in the national interest to put maintenance and operations in the same location.
But an interim report commissioned by shipbuilder ASC, which is responsible for the maintenance of the Collins-class submarines, found it would likely cost more and reduce the safety and performance of the submarines to move the maintenance work to Perth.
SA senator Rex Patrick, whose Centre Alliance party controls two votes in the Senate, warned his negotiations over unrelated legislation with the government would be “a lot bumpier” if the decision was not in the national interest.
“It’s my view that, if considered properly on the merits, the sustainment work will stay in South Australia,” he said. “This would have a very large impact on South Australia. If the decision is not made on the merits … they [the government] could expect the ride to be bumpier.”
Full-cycle docking of submarines takes place after a decade in service. It involves taking them out of the water, cutting the hull to remove the main motor and diesel engines and rebuilding them, as well as putting in new weapons and sonar systems.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.