The South Australian Government wants an explanation from Canberra about the visit of Japanese submarine experts to Adelaide.

The group toured shipbuilding company ASC’s base in Osborne yesterday, heightening fears the Federal Government may build the next generation of submarines overseas.

South Australian Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said he knew nothing of the trip.

Mr Hamilton-Smith said he wanted answers about the reason behind the Japanese visit and whether it signalled a backdown from the Coalition’s election promise to build the submarines in Adelaide.

“I think the Coalition could explain why this visit’s been held in such secrecy,” Mr Hamilton-Smith said.

“Who’s in the party, is it senior military officials from Japan or defence department officials, is it at the political level?”

The Government has been looking at its policy for replacing its ageing fleet of Collins Class submarines including using Japanese technology, which has created uncertainty over how much work will be carried out in Australia.

The Coalition is due to reveal its policy for replacing the submarines next year with speculation Defence Minister David Johnston will reveal a significant downgrade in plans to build the 12 submarines in Adelaide.

Mr Hamilton-Smith said he was urgently seeking an explanation from Canberra.

“There’s been speculation in the press about a submarine being built overseas, there’s been quite a lot of criticism of the Australian shipbuilding industry, some of it unfounded,” he said.

“I think the South Australian and Australian people involved in the defence industry deserve some answers.”

Federal Government says it is business as usual

The Federal Government this morning confirmed 16 Japanese defence experts had toured ASC to look at naval and submarine technology.

Senator Johnston said the Government was considering a range of options but would not say what Japanese involvement there could be in the new submarine project.

He said Australia recently signed a defence science and technology agreement with Japan and the tour of ASC was linked to that.

“They’re down here looking at defence science and technology and we are discussing ways whereby we may both collaborate in that space to the mutual advantage of both of our countries,” he said.

Senator Johnston defended not alerting the South Australian Government to the visit.

“We don’t routinely advise state governments of every hourly, weekly visit by defence, science personnel from around Australia or from overseas,” he said.

“Defence is a Federal Government responsibility. As soon as we have a viable, feasible submarine plan we will announce that much, but having 16 Japanese technicians in South Australia is neither here nor there and quite frankly, is just simply business as usual.”

The Minister said there would be an announcement either later this year or early next year as to the options the Federal Government would pursue to replace the Collins Class submarines.

Shipbuilders head to Canberra

John Camillo from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said there were real fears for the future of shipbuilding in Adelaide.

“Not long ago the Federal Minister Johnston in Adelaide indicated that 12 new submarines will be built at the ASC,” Mr Camillo said.

“And all of a sudden now the tone has been changed from the Government.

“It’s a major concern for our members and their families.”

The AMWU said a delegation of shipbuilders from around Australia will meet in Canberra today to call on the Government to commit to its election promise.

National secretary Paul Bastian said thousands of jobs would be lost if Australia imported submarines from Japan.

“As well as destroying jobs and industry, the Government is risking our national security with this reckless move,” Mr Bastian said.