The boss of the private company that manages the lands surrounding Port Kembla harbour has said a proposed submarine base would not fit if plans went ahead for a combined wind farm assembly facility and container terminal.
In an interview with The Mercury on Tuesday, NSW Ports CEO Marika Calfas said that while a proposed assembly and staging area for offshore wind turbines would easily transition into a container terminal by the late 2040s, fitting in a sub base would be more tricky.
"We don't know any details about what defence needs, but just knowing what we need for containers in the future and what we are showing that we need for offshore wind, you'll see there isn't space for a defence facility to be located there as well," she said.
Ms Calfas's comments come at a pivotal time, as NSW Ports, which also runs Port Botany, revealed concept plans for an offshore wind turbine assembly platform at Port Kembla. In addition, defence minister Richard Marles is currently poring over the Defence Strategic Review, which was delivered to him and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week.
The wider release of the review, as part of a comprehensive overhaul of Australia's defence posture, is expected to lead into an eventual recommendation of which out of the three way shortlist, Brisbane, Newcastle and Port Kembla, will host a future base for Australia's fleet of nuclear powered submarines.
Until now, Port Kembla has been seen to be the favoured location for the base - despite vocal local opposition from some quarters. In addition, with the Port of Newcastle successfully lobbying local politicians to get a restriction on containers passing through that port overturned in the NSW parliament, some have suggested that with a second NSW container terminal located in Newcastle the sub base would land in Port Kembla's lap.
Brisbane has been largely ruled out by defence commentators due to the lack of immediate access to deep water, with submarines having to travel through the shallow Moreton Bay before reaching the ocean.
Member for Cunningham Alison Byrnes, who recently returned from a trip to New London and Groton, Connecticut where the US Virginia class submarines are built said comunity leaders would be involved n the final decision.
"We'll have a community leaders consultation with one of our defence ministers to talk through the process going forward," she said on Wednesday.
South Coast union boss Arthur Rorris said workers had a more secure long-term future in Port Kembla's role as a wind turbine and trade gateway.
"Life is about choices," he said, "and we need to choose between a future that provides solid, ongoing jobs for our maritime workers, our steel workers, our manufacturing, transport, and construction for decades to come, or we're whether we want to give away our port to become a nuclear submarine parking lot."
But, the jostling over where and when the base will be announced has not stopped NSW Ports in pushing for its long held aim of having container terminals in both ports it operates.
Coincidentally, current projections for when Australia would first receive a nuclear-powered submarine in the 2040s, would neatly line up with when NSW policy predicts a second container terminal will be required as Port Botany reaches capacity.
With an already highly utilised port precinct, Ms Calfas is as clear as ever in saying there is little appetite for what could be a massive defence base in Port Kembla harbour.
"Our mandate at NSW Ports is to support the state's trade needs, so we had already identified that the outer harbour was a critical part of supporting the state's trade needs [as the location of a future container port], and if we don't have the capacity to do that, what that results in is additional costs to businesses and to consumers because you end up with a more congested port supply chain," she said.
"What that means to us is that Port Kembla, the current Inner Harbor, and the future outer harbour is not a site for defence [and] that defence would be compromising the ability of NSW to handle its future trade needs."