CANBERRA, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- A 28-billion-U.S.-dollar Australian warship project could be delayed for two years if local companies are handed the contract, a government minister has warned.
The Future Frigates project will see nine new anti-submarine warfare frigates designed and built to replace Australia's existing Anzac frigate fleet.
The Australian bid to build the ships is being led by South Australia's ASC and Western Australia's Austal but Spain's Navantina, Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Fincantieri have also been shortlisted for the project.
Despite an initial promise that the ships would be built in Australia, the Defence Department has convinced the government that the Australian-built clause should be "optional" rather than "mandated."
Christopher Pyne, Australia's defence industry minister, said: "Advice from the Department of Defence is that changing the request for tender to mandate a particular shipbuilder would result in a delay of at least two years in the Future Frigates program."
"The government is committed to creating an indigenous naval shipbuilding industry in Australia which will involve a significant increase of employees in the shipbuilding industry, focused on South Australia," Pyne said in a statement on Friday.
Appearing alongside ASC and Austal at a parliamentary inquiry into the project, Glenn Thompson, assistant national secretary at Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU), said that the foreign companies had to commit to hiring 1,000 Australian apprentices and graduates for the program.
"The government must reward and support tenderers that show that level of commitment to developing the skills that workers will need to complete these projects," Thompson said.
"It is pretty remarkable that we've got a foreign company bidding for this project, talking up the Australian workforce, while the government's own documents make it clear that using these workers is optional.
"A sovereign capability to build, maintain, sustain and upgrade ships and submarines in Australia is not optional, using Australia workers on these projects from day one isn't either."