Under one of the world’s largest military deals, Naval Group will design and build a dozen submarines for Royal Australian Navy over two decades.
Initial design work is being done in France and is due to shift to Australia in 2022 under a commitment made by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
However, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick fears the French company may be stalling on its commitments.
Senator Patrick — a former submariner — sought documents using Freedom of Information (FOI) laws that outlined Naval Group’s progress in fulfilling the deal.
On Tuesday, the Senator said the Defence Department initially approved his FOI requests, but claimed Naval Group then vetoed the release of relevant documents because of “commercial reasons”.
“This is a really important issue for Australian sovereignty and Australian industry — we have to make sure the design capability does transfer to Australia, and there can be no secrecy around this,” Senator Patrick told the ABC.
“I am somewhat shocked that Naval Group would seek to have suppressed information which Defence FOI has determined is not sensitive.
“Up until now I thought that Defence was the most secretive organisation in the country when it came to FOI — I guess I was wrong.”
Naval Group insists the cutting-edge designs for the Attack Class submarines will be transferred to the Defence Department well before construction commences in Adelaide.
In a statement, the firm said it was still “going through the document review process with the Commonwealth to ensure no commercial or technically sensitive information is released”.
“Transferring design capability to Australia is an important part of sovereignty and Naval Group is committed to this journey.”
The ABC revealed earlier this year the Department of Defence was considering walking away from the deal with Naval Group over bitter negotiations and questions about whether the money spent so far had been “fully effective”.
The Defence Department said it was working with Naval Group on “appropriate arrangements” to “ensure the transition of detailed design to Australia”.
“Preparations will involve a range of training activities to ensure necessary qualifications and essential skills are developed to undertake the detailed design and production planning in Australia,” a Defence spokesperson told the ABC.
“Naval Group is exercising a review of the documentation considered for release by Defence in accordance with its rights as a third party to the FOI request.”
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