Both the State and Federal Governments have recently started talking much less about local industry participation in the design and construction of our major resources projects, and more about the opportunities for locals to win supply and maintenance contracts over the 30 to 40 years lives of the projects.
When Premier Colin Barnett announced the go-ahead for Chevron’s Wheatstone LNG project in Parliament recently, he didn’t mention the levels of engineering, design and fabrication what would be performed for the $29billion project locally. Instead, he said the project would spend $17billion in Australia over the life of the project.
While we welcome government support for locals firms to win work during the operational phases of our big projects, this shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to designing and building the projects locally.
If local firms and workers are not involved in the design and construction of our major projects, it is difficult to see how the local economy is going to develop and retain the skills and capacity to perform maintenance work. Plus, if we endorse the offshoring of design and construction work, what is to stop our big resources companies offshoring maintenance and supply contracts too?
When assessing the local benefits flowing from our major resources projects, we should place a high value on the level of skilled work the projects deliver locally. Will the projects develop our local workforce and the capacity of local businesses to create jobs beyond the resources construction boom, or won’t they? If not, what can we do to secure work that will deliver this lasting economic benefit?
Wheatstone and Gorgon were almost completely designed offshore. Gorgon has sourced more than 90 per cent of its fabricated steel offshore. Andrew Forrest’s FMG is getting every one of its 300 new railcars built in China. Using statistics that effectively count the wages, plane fares and meals of workers not even born yet as a part of “life cycle” project expenditure should not distract the community from the low levels of skilled local work flowing now.