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Adelaide frigates a nightmare: govt

January 2, 2008 - 10:19AM

The federal government says the problems plaguing Australia's Adelaide Class fighting frigates are a "nightmare" it inherited from the Howard government.

But the Australian Defence Association (ADA) says both parties must shoulder some of the blame for the woes besetting the ships.

A newspaper report said Australia's front-line guided missile frigates cannot defend themselves and are unable to be sent into battle despite a $1.4 billion upgrade.

The Howard government-contracted program to upgrade the 4,000-tonne frigates is running four years late and sailors are reportedly quitting the service because they cannot be sent into any conflict zones.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said he had serious concerns about the frigates and it was not the only "nightmare" project Labor had inherited from the coalition.

"This is just one of a number of projects which we are now learning in government are going to be a real problem for the new government," Mr Fitzgibbon told ABC Radio.

"But we're determined to work sensibly through them and deliver the navy and indeed all the services the level of capability they need or require to adequately defend the nation.

"The former Howard government managed to portray itself as a government very confident in the area of national security but unfortunately we are learning in the very early days of government that the reality is something very, very much different."

However ADA executive director Neil James said while the Howard government was responsible for the widely criticised upgrade contract, it was the Whitlam government that chose the wrong frigates to begin with.

"There's no one government that can be blamed for this, the whole problem has both parties' fingerprints on it," Mr James told AAP.

Opposition defence spokesman Nick Minchin questioned the timing of the criticism.

"This is really a bit of a Christmas/New Year beat-up by a Labor Party wanting to play politics with defence," Senator Minchin was quoted as saying on the ABC website.

"It's been known for quite some time that this particular upgrade of the frigates is running behind schedule - that it's a contract entered into nearly 10 years ago - but that it is running behind schedule," he said.

Senator Minchin said it was not unusual for such a complex project to experience delays and warned there could be another motive behind the criticism.

"I think Australians should be worried that this could be Labor softening us up for some cut in defence spending," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he was not sure whether many sailors were quitting the service due to the slow progress of the frigate upgrades.

"I am aware there is a very, very high level of concern amongst the people who crew these vessels including those who are in the most senior ranks ... (but) I'm not sure about quitting."

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