PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd’s announcement proposing to move Fleet Base East from Garden Island to Brisbane will have no effect on HMAS Albatross at Nowra.
“The Rudd Labor Government has announced a Taskforce to advise on implementing recommendations from the 2013 Defence White Paper and the 2012 Defence Force Posture Review,” a spokesperson from the Labor campaign headquarters said.
“And these recommendations do not affect HMAS Albatross.”
Only a few months ago the government ruled out the Brisbane option, with the Defence White Paper setting a $6 billion price tag on the proposal.
Mr Rudd said the guiding principle was the Defence Force Posture Review.
“The Defence White Paper decided to not implement its recommendations at this time. We have reviewed that decision and we believe that the right thing to do is to establish this Naval Taskforce to give us detailed advice on operationalising the plan. That is the change here. We think it is the right change,” he said,
However, that has not stopped local politicians launching a United We Stand - Hands Off Our Base campaign.
State MPs Shelley Hancock and Gareth Ward have joined Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash and Liberal Gilmore candidate Ann Sudmalis in sending a clear message to Canberra that any potential relocation of defence presence from the Shoalhaven was out of the question.
The Prime Minister said the plan would boost Australia's security and provide an economic benefit.
The proposal would mean while the naval air station would remain at Nowra, the fleet base relocation would result in a 1000-plus kilometre trip from the South Coast to Brisbane for Nowra-based helicopters to embark on their warships.
It would also involve a major detour for ships to get to the main east coast exercise area off Jervis Bay.
South Coast MP Shelley Hancock rejected the proposal outright, saying she couldn’t believe such a policy could come at the last minute of a campaign without any consultation.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward raised the issue in state parliament on Tuesday, calling on Labor to rule out any move of Shoalhaven defence force infrastructure.
“The Defence Force White Paper makes no mention of moving Garden Island to Queensland – there is simply no strategic or justifiable reason,” Mr Ward said.
“Labor’s decision is 100 per cent about the politics which results in NSW losing 4000 jobs to win votes in Queensland.
“If Mr Rudd has this attitude to Garden Island, what would a re-elected Labor Government do to Albatross?” Mr Ward said.
Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash said after many years of fighting to keep HMAS Albatross and Creswell here, she’s not likely to let them be taken away any time soon.
“There’s one thing all three levels of government agree - Labor’s proposal is a job-killer,” she said.
Mrs Sudmalis said there could be no doubt Mr Rudd’s plan to shift defence assets from NSW to Queensland would cause enormous threat to an ongoing defence presence in the Shoalhaven.
“Kevin Rudd’s impromptu announcement on Tuesday will have grave consequences for thousands of jobs in the Shoalhaven, and could undermine the entire local economy,” Mrs Sudmalis said.
Labor candidate Neil Reilly said the implications of any fleet relocation would be subject to a review before any firm decision was made. He said even if there was a fleet relocation, the outcome could for the region could be positive.
“My belief is that it will strengthen both Creswell and Albatross for strategic reasons. This belief is subject to a review of the implications of relocating Garden Island,” he said.
“Either way if elected I will be there to defend and strengthen both facilities.”