November 9, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo | Image: Australian Department of Defence

While the contretemps continues between Paris and Canberra over the decision to scupper a $90 billion submarine contract, Australia’s submarine industry is staging a three-day conference in Adelaide.

Under the theme Home grown undersea technology: How can Australian academia and industry provide a capability edge?” the Submarine Institute of Australia’s (SIA) 6th Submarine Science, Technology and Engineering Conference (SubSTEC6) is a hybrid event due to COVID travel restrictions.

Despite their recent catch-up in Rome, relations between French President Emmanuel Macron and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison were reported by the Associated Press to be at a “new low” after Macron accused Morrison of lying and Canberra released details of texts sent between the two leaders.  France’s ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault, speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra last week, warned that private communications with the Australian government could be “weaponised”.

SIA’s secretariat and conference organiser, Sue Hart of Canberra-based Commerce Management Services said the conference had been 12 to 18 months in the planning and the recent AUKUS submarine announcement had taken everyone by surprise – “it was a very closely guarded secret”.

She said that while it had not been possible to rework the program to take account of the AUKUS announcement, it would be discussed during the conference this week.

However the announcement was “still just conceptual” so another SIA conference scheduled for November titled, “Might submarines lead a nuclear industry in Australia? Continuing the conversation” had been postponed, but SIA’s strategic conference already scheduled for Canberra next year would focus on the nuclear solution proposed under the AUKUS trilateral security pact.

Morrison had been invited to address this week’s conference but Hart said the PM had apparently not responded, however the federal Minister for Defence Industry, Melissa Price, would speak on video.

The conference attracted 200 delegates meeting face-to-face in Adelaide with a further 100 delegates tuning in virtually from interstate and overseas. While she was not sure exactly who and where the overseas delegates were, she said a number were likely to be Australians still working in France on the cancelled project to build a fleet of 12 diesel electric submarines. Others would likely participate from the UK and “possibly USA”.  Hart said she had technical teams in both Canberra and Adelaide to produce the hybrid event, which is more difficult to produce than a fully online or live event.

This week’s conference program commences today at Adelaide Convention Centre, following a tour program on Monday to academia and industry.

One of the conference visits was to ASC Pty Ltd, formerly the Australian Submarine Corporation, which is the Australian government business enterprise that built and maintains the current Collins-class submarine fleet. Another included Adelaide’s Tonsley Innovation District, a high-tech campus for university and industry.

Speakers include Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Catherine Foley, and Commodore Tom Phillips RAN, Director-General, Submarines, in the Royal Australian Navy who will deliver the “state of the union”.

As a technical and scientific event there are speakers from a range of defence sectors, including the Defence Science & Technology Group (DSTG), the Australian Maritime College, universities, defence contractors and consultants.

Apart from plenary sessions, Adelaide Convention Centre is hosting a welcome function, multiple program streams and a conference dinner overlooking the River Torrens. The Centre was the first major venue to return to hosting a large convention since COVID hit, when it attracted record numbers to Ozwater’21 in May. Other business events coming up for Adelaide Convention Centre include the Self-Managed Superannuation Fund Association national conference in February 2022 and the Australian Space Forum in March.