The construction of the Australian Navy’s new Pacific Patrol Boats use “a particular variation of a high tensile steel that we don't currently make in Australia”.
They were the words, uttered by the country’s Defence Minister Marise Payne during a shipbuilding announcement earlier this week, that have Illawarra steel campaigners and fabricators scratching their heads.
The minister might say the steel required isn’t made in this country but Unanderra-based fabricator Bisalloy Steel would beg to differ.
Bisalloy takes raw material from BlueScope Steel and transforms it into specialty high-strength steel for use in armoured vehicle, tank, frigate and submarine projects.
“The naval vessels do use some [high-strength steel],” Bisalloy chief executive Greg Albert told the Mercury.
“For the specialty high-strength steel component for the projects, we are the only manufacturer in Australia.”
The company makes various grades of steel and even has an in-house metallurgist to make “special mixes”.
“We’re a specialty steel company so, if the government wanted to use us, I’m sure we could do it,” he said.
On Monday, Senator Payne joined Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to announce the build locations for 12 offshore patrol vessels and up to 21 steel-hulled Pacific Patrol Boats.
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said he understood the country’s steelmakers and suppliers weren’t given the specifications for the boats.
“It is very sad and extraordinary our own steelmakers appear to have been locked out of even being considered for the steel content for these ships,” Mr Rorris said.
“That is a national disgrace. How do we expect to save the Australian steel industry when the Australian government … appears to have excluded our steelmakers from big parts of this contract.”
In a statement, Senator Payne said the “locked out” claim was incorrect and the ships’ “competitive evaluation processes” would include identifying the type and standard of steel to be used.
“Once this is determined Defence will engage with industry to determine the potential for local steel to be used during construction,” she said.
“Defence has advised that if Australian steel manufacturers can ramp up production of tensile steel suitable for the build of the Pacific Patrol Boats, successful shipbuilding contractors will be directed to consider sourcing it on a cost, schedule and quality basis.”