Wong backs subs decision but commends WA for the fight

Labor senate leader Penny Wong says a McGowan government campaign to bring lucrative submarine maintenance work to Western Australia was the right thing to do by the Premier,but she was happy the work will remain in her home state of South Australia.

Senator Wong,who is also shadow foreign minister,is in WA drumming her party up ahead of an expected election early next year.

Labor leader in the senate Penny Wong.

Labor leader in the senate Penny Wong.Alex Ellinghausen

Her visit comes three weeks after the Morrison government decided to keep $8.4 billion worth of Collins Class submarine maintenance,known as full cycle docking,in SA as part of its move to scrap a $90 billion agreement with France to build conventional submarines for a fleet of US-designed nuclear-powered vessels.

The McGowan government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a two-year campaign to bring the work west,arguing that SA was inundated with other naval shipbuilding work and the Collins Class subs were already based out of WA.

The decision means thousands of jobs will not be created in the state,and it prompted a stinging rebuke from Mr McGowan,who said Mr Morrison had let the state down.

Ms Wong said it was the right move for her WA counterparts to fight for the work,but she wanted it to stay in SA,and pointed the finger at the Morrison government for stringing the state along.

“I’ve been upfront,including with Western Australians,of course I wanted those existing jobs to stay in South Australia but the people who put that uncertainty out there for two years was the Liberal government,” she said.

“Both states have been strung along by the Morrison government since the 2019 election campaign,and you might recall that Linda Reynolds said they’d make a decision on FCD a couple of years ago,that meant uncertainty for existing jobs in South Australia and also uncertainty for businesses in WA.

“I understand why people here are disappointed.”

At the time of the announcement,Mr Morrison said the decision was made in the national interest.

“And the decision that is necessary to keep Australians safe is for the full-cycle docking to be undertaken in South Australia to maintain the continuity of what has been achieved by the team that has been engaging in that process,” he said.

Ms Wong spruiked a Labor promise that it would conduct a new ‘defence posture review’ if elected – the first review of its kind since Labor was in power in 2012.

She said the review would naturally have a particular focus on WA.

“I’d anticipate that what you’d see out of that is a reflection of the importance of Western Australia’s strategic position,” she said.

Hamish Hastie is WAtoday's state political reporter.

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