Cairns has a long, proud history in ship building. More than 270 vessels have been built in Cairns, including the Fremantle class patrol boat and the hydrographic ships for the Navy—on time and on budget, and they have been in service in our fair city for their entire lives. That is why I am very pleased to be supporting a Cairns based consortium in its build, train and maintain bid for the Regional Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Program.
The program involves the construction of up to 21 steel hulled patrol vessels with an estimated $594 million, plus ongoing whole-of-life costs estimated at $1.38 billion over the next 30 years. The vessels will be supplied to the Pacific Island nations to allow them to continue to take an active part in securing their own extensive exclusive economic zones. The bid is termed the 'Cairns solution' and is being driven by TK Shipping Australia as the prime contractor.
TK is one of Australia's pre-eminent ship operations and maritime services companies. It has a long history in technical services to the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of Defence and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, now the Australia Border Force. TK will engage Damen Shipyards Group as the vessel designer and builder. Damen are world leaders in their field, with over 100 similar vessels already operational.
They will be employing BSE Maritime Solutions facilities and staff in Cairns to build these vessels. The facilities BSE now own have repaired and maintained Royal Australian Navy ships for over 30 years. The RAN Fremantle class patrol boats were built at that Cairns slipway.
Also in Cairns, Norship Marine will be engaged to maintain vessels. They too have more than 30 years of experience.
Then we have the Great Barrier Reef International Marine College practically next door—a first-rate training facility to support the long-term talent pipeline. Lastly, we have Advance Cairns, the Cairns Chamber of Commerce and other official supporters, who are presenting a united community commitment to a successful project. It is an absolute coup that these Cairns companies are working with others who are at the top of their field internationally. It really says something about the calibre and the reputation of our local industry.
Last week I welcomed the Cairns solution team to Canberra. I would particularly like to thank my colleagues who attended the briefing on Thursday. We had the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss; the Attorney General, Senator George Brandis; the Assistant Minister for Defence, Stuart Robert; Senator Ian Macdonald; Senator James McGrath; the member for Petrie, Luke Howarth; the member for Flynn, Ken O'Dowd; and representatives from Senator Joanne Lindgren and the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane.
There is a whole host of reason why I am unconditionally supportive of the Cairns solution, and I would like to share these with the House today. When it comes to ship building and maintenance, quite frankly, we do it very well.
Cairns has the largest marine service facility north of Brisbane. The Cairns shipyards built the RAN Fremantle class patrol boats, as I said earlier, which have served the Navy for nearly 30 years until their retirement. The two hydrographic survey vessels currently in service were also built in Cairns and these ships support the surveying over one-eighth of the world's surface. The current PPBR Program is supported from a Cairns base, and this continuity of service will provide welcome familiarity to crews from the Pacific nations.
With more RAN dockings having been performed at Norship than at any other Australian shipyard over the past few years, having the patrol boat replacement program in Cairns will offer a seamless transition from current maintenance schedules to the delivery of new vessels.
The economic value to the local economy of the current service and repair program is over $200 million a year. If the Cairns solution is successful, we will maintain and develop industry-leading Australian shipbuilding and support services for the next 25 years.
A project of this size will have a transformational impact—diversifying the Far North Queensland economy, with massive economic benefits for FNQ and Queensland more broadly. Our city has experienced very high unemployment for many years—at one point more than 10 per cent. We also have the highest youth unemployment in mainland Australia with one in five young people aged 20 to 25 out of work.
This bid could significantly grow local employment and boost the development of our skills base. It would provide over 200 direct jobs in addition to indirect employment of up to 1,000 people. Not only that, but it would encourage people, including Indigenous youth, to take up apprenticeships and learn a trade, because they will be able to see that there are job opportunities for them locally.
It is also critical because, as the mining industry moves from a construction to an operational phase, we need employment opportunities for people with those technical and trade skills. We will be able to take those skills from right across Queensland and provide opportunities in our beautiful city.
Geographically, Cairns is perfectly located to provide cost-effective through-life support. The city boasts a worldclass international airport, which is proving itself in capacity and capability over and over again. A record 4.6 million passengers passed through the airport in the last financial year—not a bad number for a small regional city. Then in July the airport again smashed records with nearly 20,000 extra passengers through its terminals.
With a tropical environment, we have a broad understanding of Pacific island issues and culture, geographical proximity to the area of operation, and a clean harbour that is not a busy mineral port. Also in the immediate vicinity of the Cairns shipyards is the HMAS Cairns base, a naval base highly awarded for efficiency and productivity.
Then there are the vessels themselves. Damen is a world leader in commercial ship construction and has developed the revolutionary sea axe patrol vessels. With the axe-shaped bow they are perfect for cutting through rough seas while maintaining a high speed and a smooth ride. This means they are also saving on fuel and producing lower emissions.
I wish I could show you a picture of these boats, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I invite you to my office. I have a model there which is available for all of our colleagues to see. They look incredibly modern, but the real selling point is that they are actually quite simple inside. This is a major plus when you consider that the everyday operations of the vessels will often take place in remote areas and in testing tropical conditions.
Lastly, it is important to consider this bid in the context of the Australian government's broader policy direction for northern Australia. In the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia's report Pivot North, we identified that there was:
“… considerable scope to significantly increase the Defence presence in Northern Australia.”
This was reinforced in the white paper on developing northern Australia, which stated:
“The Government expects Defence capital investment in northern Australia over the next decade to be significantly higher than the historical Defence average, reflecting the importance of the north to our nation’s current and future defence and national security. This will bring a range of economic and broader opportunities for this region.”
The Cairns solution is the only bid for Queensland, and certainly the only bid for all of northern Australia. Others are coming from South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. Cairns is the logical place to construct and maintain vessels designed to patrol the waters off northern Australia. Further, the economic diversification and skills building this project promotes will be critical to the ongoing success for the development of northern Australia.
In conclusion, the Cairns solution really does have the ability to build Pacific national capability supported by the Australian government, which makes Australia and our Pacific nation neighbours a safer and more secure region. Our job is now to rally support at every level—we have certainly ticked all the boxes, locally—and, as a result of the meetings last week, I will continue to drive awareness and support among my federal colleagues, particularly those from Queensland.
It is up to the state government now. I spoke on Friday evening with Premier Palaszczuk and had a very positive response from her. But I will now be encouraging the Premier to recognise that this is a great project. It is great for Cairns but also great for Queensland.
I have committed to passing on a whole range of information to her and I will be asking that she now comes out, on behalf of the Queensland government, on behalf of these proponents, and very strongly supports this initiative to show that it is not just something from Cairns. This is about all of Queensland. Let us get out there and do all we can to support this—and you, Madam Deputy Speaker Prentice, as a Queensland member—Cairns solution. I encourage people to use the hashtag #CairnsForTheWin!
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Prentice ): Thank you, member for Leichhardt. I am sure the enthusiasm of the local federal member will add great support.