After losing the bid to build Australia’s new Pacific Patrol boats to Fremantle last month, Cairns’ city leaders have created a master plan for the shipping industry that will help position the city as Australia’s leading port for maintenance work. (L-R) Member for Leichardt Warren Entsch and Managing Director of BSE Slipways Justin Parer talk over possible options at BSE Slipways’ shipyard in Portsmith. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

CAIRNS leaders are cooking up a colossal “Plan B” in the wake of the city missing out on a lucrative Defence contract to build up to 21 Pacific Patrol Boats.

The plan – which will be handed to the Federal Government today – maps out new opportunities for the city’s marine industry and will involve combining new infrastructure with existing facilities at HMAS Cairns and the three major private slipways of Norship Marine, BSE and Tropical Reef Shipyard.

The goal is to position Cairns as the leading Naval ship maintenance hub in the country by establishing “common user facilities” in a massive public-private partnership.

The $400 million-plus contract to maintain the new Pacific Patrol Boats – which was initially thought to be a consolation prize of losing the contract to build the vessels – has turned out to be more valuable to the city than first thought.

The Cairns Post can reveal the winning West Australian bid by Austal came in at just $280 million – $150 million cheaper than the bid by the Cairns consortium.

Advance Cairns chairman Trent Twomey said city leaders had been briefed on the Federal Government’s plan for the future of Defence shipbuilding in Australia.

 Mr Twomey said the draft Marine Precinct Strategic Plan would set the stage for the city to secure long-term maintenance contracts for the majority of navy vessels.

But there were also opportunities in the short-term with Cairns and Darwin taking back maintenance of the Armidale Class boats from Singapore and tenders for maintenance of eight Cape Class boats ­closing in July.

 The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, Senator James McGrath, is reportedly flying to Cairns today to collect the draft Marine Precinct Strategic Plan from MP Warren Entsch.

The crucial ingredient for the plan to succeed will be a substantial financial commitment from the Federal ­Government.

“And that’s what I’m chasing,” Mr Entsch said. “This will provide a long-term economic future for this area.”

Neither Mr Entsch or Mr Twomey could reveal how much funding the project would require, or how many jobs could be created.

Mr Twomey and Cairns Chamber of Commerce president Sam Marino said they would be pushing for Defence Minister Marise Payne to make good on her commitment to visit the city before the July 2 election, which would set the scene for a major election commitment by Mr Entsch and the Coalition.

SOURCE: Cairns Post