The Future of Defence in Cockburn

A Western Australia perspective

Western Australia is home to a strategic Defence Force presence, which receives significant funding from the Commonwealth government. Defence contributes an estimated $3 billion to the Western Australian economy.

Maritime projects dominate the defence landscape in WA, a situation that is expected to continue following major naval capability acquisition in the wake of the 2016 Defence White Paper and more recently, following the AUKUS agreement.

The WA Government has identified its aim to become the principal location for the maintenance and sustainment of submarines and frigates as its most significant defence industry goal. In addition to this, growing emphasis on the concept of the Indo-Pacific over the last decade places WA, and therefore the City, in a strong position to become a leader in Australia’s defence industry.

Cockburn’s role in the future of defence

The City of Cockburn and the Australian Defence Force has a long and rich history, more recently driven by the Australian Marine Complex (AMC), a world-class defence and industrial hub located in Henderson.

The City of Cockburn plays a vital role in Australia's defence and maritime sectors, encompassing key areas such as the Australian Marine Complex (AMC) in Henderson and the new Cockburn Blue Innovation Hub.

The City is home to a $15 billion cluster of marine infrastructure and several major businesses in the sector, including Austal, BAE Systems, Civmec, and Luerssen Australia.

Henderson is also a critical sustainment hub for the Royal Australian Navy’s presence on Garden Island. All out-of-water repair and upgrade activities for the fleet in WA are undertaken at the AMC.

The AMC has also been instrumental in some of the country’s largest mining, oil and gas projects and is one of only two locations suitable for naval shipbuilding in Australia.

Future initiatives and the importance of local government

As a leading force in Western Australia's defence and marine sectors, Cockburn aims to support the Federal and State Governments to meet the demands for jobs, skills, supply chains, and innovation in the next 10-20 years. 

Local government plays a critical and very practical role in facilitating economic activity with its detailed local knowledge and relationships with businesses and industry. 

Proactive local governments can add significant value to economic opportunities presented by federal and state governments.  

A prime example of this is the imminent opening of the Cockburn Blue Innovation Hub in Henderson, spearheaded by the City of Cockburn. This hub will be an advanced research and innovation facility to develop and test new maritime practices and technology and build local supply chain capability and capacity. The hub will help ensure that the opportunities provided by the Federal Government in shipbuilding and defence are maximised and that jobs are leveraged from the $6 billion AUKUS submarine pathway.

Recognising the need for skilled workers

It is critical for clear skills pathways for the next generation of workers and strategies to attract talent, especially in maritime defence and shipbuilding. South Metropolitan TAFE in Cockburn is the only Australian institution registered to train in accordance with defence manufacturing standards.

The TAFE is located adjacent to the Australian Marine Complex (AMC) and is a world-leading facility. Expansion of South Metropolitan TAFE will provide additional training, upskilling and industry career opportunities, to fill the future skills gap.

Defence Strategic Review and Cockburn

The Federal Government released details of its Strategic Defence Review 2023 on 24 April 2023. 

The City of Cockburn has expressed frustration at the Federal Government's failure to clarify details or include a mooted large-vessel dry berth for Henderson in its release of the Defence Strategic Review. 

The review makes a strong case for the dry berth infrastructure calling it a ‘critical enabler’ for naval shipbuilding. Perplexingly, there is no acknowledgement or agreement to this recommendation in the Government’s release.  

The Henderson shipbuilding precinct is home to Australia's largest marine industry and Cockburn is poised to become a major national and global centre for blue economy industries, especially shipbuilding and maritime defence, following the AUKUS submarine pathway announcement in March.

Why the City is advocating for a dry berth in Henderson

It is critical that the Government reaffirms its commitment to building a new large-vessel dry berth in Henderson. The only other dry berth in the nation is in Sydney and is about to be decommissioned, potentially leaving Australian maritime assets reliant on foreign ports to sustain and repair ships and submarines.

The proposed large-vessel dry berth in Henderson is a critical investment in Australian sovereign capability. It's essential to maintaining the new fleet of submarine and other military projects, as well as civilian and commercial projects on the West coast. The current Collins Class submarines will still require maintenance and will utilize the new large-vessel dry berth facility.

The long lead time to design and construct such significant infrastructure means that a commitment is required urgently. This new facility will herald the future of the marine industry in the region and will provide employment and capability security for decades to come.

These significant opportunities, which will benefit both Western Australia and the nation in shipbuilding, defence, and the broader blue economy, will not be able to be achieved without the addition of a dry berth and strategic road upgrades in Henderson.

View Media Release: City frustrated at lack of dry dock announcement

What the review means to the City of Cockburn

The defence industry is a major component of the Cockburn economy, driven largely by the Australian Marine Complex (AMC), a world-class industrial hub in Henderson.

The City is home to $15 million in marine infrastructure and several major businesses in the sector, including Austal, BAE Systems, Civmec, and Luerssen Australia.

The AMC is also a critical maintenance hub for the Royal Australian Navy’s presence on Garden Island and all out-of-water sustainment activities for the fleet in WA are undertaken at the AMC. The AMC has also been instrumental in some of the country’s largest mining, oil and gas projects and is one of only two locations identified for naval shipbuilding in Australia.

Revenue from the Australian shipbuilding industry is expected to reach $4.8 billion by 2025 and the Federal Government plans to invest between $168 and $183 billion into the National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise, the largest capital investment ever undertaken in Australia.

Flow-on effects of the significant shipbuilding and submarine sustainment programs based in Henderson will see over 2,000 additional workers, 500 US/UK sailors and a new submarine task force based in the area. These employees will bring families and require housing, schools, shops etc nearby.

AUKUS and Cockburn

AUKUS will result in Garden Island’s HMAS Stirling naval base – adjacent to Henderson shipbuilding precinct in Cockburn Sound – hosting increased port visits and rotational presence of US and UK nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs), and Australia’s first sovereign SSNs, the US Virginia class submarines from the early 2030s.

At its peak, building and sustaining SSNs will create up to 8,500 direct jobs in the industrial workforce. An additional 500 direct jobs are expected to be created to sustain the rotational presence between 2027-2032 in WA.

View Joint leader statement on AUKUS

More information and contact

If you would like to know more about the defence sector in Cockburn, contact the City of Cockburn's Business and Economic Development team at (08) 9411 3444 or [email protected].

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City of Cockburn
Whadjuk Boodja
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Spearwood 6163

PO Box 1215, Bibra Lake DC,
Western Australia, 6965

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Cockburn Nyungar moort Beeliar boodja-k kaadadjiny. Koora, yeyi, benang baalap nidja boodja-k kaaradjiny.
Ngalak kaadatj dayin boodja, kep wer malayin. Ngalak kaadatj koora koora wer yeyi ngalang birdiya.

City of Cockburn acknowledges the Nyungar people of Beeliar boodja. Long ago, now and in the future they care for Country.
We acknowledge a continuing connection to land, waters and culture and pay our respects to the Elders, past and present.