Port jobs boost as slipway revived

MAKEOVER: French company Thales has unveiled plans to overhaul the former Forgacs slipway at Carrington. The investment is set to create 70 jobs. Picture: SuppliedFRENCH company Thales has unveiled plans to rebuild the former Forgacs slipway, promising 70 new jobs after a deal was struck with the state government to transform the area into a marine repair precinct.

Thales Australia director of maritime, Max Kufner, said the company and state government were investing $6 million into the rundown facility for small ship repair, with a new lift at the Fitzroy Street, Carrington, site expected to handle ships up to 55 metres and 1000 tonnes in size.

Having originally built the facility for a 1994 Royal Australian Navy contract, Mr Kufner declared it was “Thales coming home”.

He said the company planned to start work on the site next year.

And while he stressed this investment was only for commercial ship repair and support, not construction, Mr Kufner said the company was “all eyes and ears” for lucrative Navy contracts.

“We’re happy to talk to them,” he said.

The company expects other businesses in the supply chain to flourish as a result of the investment.

“It creates a lot of jobs. Not just the direct jobs but also the indirect onesas well,” he said. “Looking forward at the future phases of this project, it could be many more on top of that.”

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the “ripple effect” would see benefits flow to small businesses in the Hunter as the facility is “reberthed”.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Deputy Premier John Barilaro, right, and Thales Australia’s Max Kufner on Thursday.

Mr Barilaro admitted the announcement on Thursday was a long way from the industry’sheyday, when ships used to be built at the site, rather than maintained.

“You look globally there are not many countries that build ships,” he said.

“We don’t build trains any more, and as you know, we’re not going to be building cars in this nation. The reality is manufacturing in this country is transitioning.”

However, Mr Barilaro said ship maintenance was a “growth sector”.

“That’s why you’ve seen Thales with a significant plan of investment,” he said.

Port of Newcastle chief executive Geoff Crowe said the investment showed the port was still the lifeblood of the region.

“I don’t think people realise the capacity we’ve got in this port. This port is operating basically at half-capacity,” he said. “So the future is really rosy and there’s strong opportunity.”

Mr Crowe said he was confident Thales would continue to increase its footprint in the port.

Both the Hunter Business Chamber and Hunter Unions welcomed Thursday’s announcement as a win for jobs in a fledgling manufacturing environment.

Chamber chief Bob Hawes said it was a “major boost” for the region’s defence industry sector.