Australia will struggle to find the 20,000 workers required to build the nation’s new submarine fleet unless the defence force is cleaned up, Jacqui Lambie has warned.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to unveil the jobs target in his formal announcement that the government will purchase up to five US nuclear-powered submarines while a new fleet, based on a British design, is built.
A recruitment drive to snap up thousands of engineers, scientists, electricians, welders, metal fitters, project managers is expected to kick off next week.
But the independent Senator said it would all be for nothing unless the government did something about the ADF’s culture and leadership.
“They’ve got a retention rate (problem), nobody wants to stay in. And secondly, nobody wants to sign up,” the senator, who served in the army for 11 years before being medically discharged, said.
“So you might want to get to the boots on the ground before you actually even start building anything and fix that issue before you do anything else.”
Over recent years, the ADF has averaged a separation rate of about 8 to 10 per cent.
In its incoming government brief to Defence Minister Richard Marles, the defence force acknowledged it was facing an uphill battle to find and retain skilled personnel.
“This will continue until they get their c**p together at the top of the military and the only way to change the culture … is getting rid of the top echelon and restarting,” Senator Lambie added.
Mr Albanese landed in San Diego on Sunday (AEDT) and was met by Australian ambassador to the US Arthur Sinodinos and US ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy.
NED-4597-How AUKUS stacks up
The formal AUKUS announcement is anticipated on Tuesday morning (AEDT).
Prior to the trilateral statement, Mr Albanese will hold individual talks with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden.
According to leaks from both sides of the Atlantic, the three-phase plan will include US submarines visiting Western Australia more regularly, the government purchasing five second hand US vessels and a next-generation fleet to be built from a British design and include American US combat systems and weapons.
Estimates provided to The Australian have forecast the program will cost more than $200bn over 30 years.
Asked about the reported price tag, Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek decline to confirm the cost ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.
“These submarines will be very important in our ability to defend ourselves in the future,” she told Seven.
“It’s a very long-term project and with it will come a substantial number of jobs and huge investment and a real capability in the Australian economy”.
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