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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 646


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (15:15): I have sat through numerous debates in this chamber over the last 10 years, but, jeez, you hear some beauties in here! And when I say 'beauties' I really have got my tongue in my cheek. When I hear a parliamentary secretary from Victoria use the terminology he has used around job losses, saying that Labor is 'crying crocodile tears', I actually do question the quality of some of the people in this building. If you could feign some sympathy for the terrible announcements by your government that unfortunately see thousands of Australian jobs going, Senator Ryan—through you, Mr Deputy President Marshall—it would not be so bleedingly obvious that you do not care about Australian jobs.

Senator Ryan actually used the word that I was trying to figure out. There are a lot of words that one could wrap one's tongue around to describe this Abbott government, but I will have to use Senator Ryan's word, and it is 'debacle'. And what a debacle we have seen—18 months or 520 days of debacle—in this country! And the saddest part is that as each day goes by, I think: 'Goodness me! No wonder the Australian public have turned off Australian politics!'

When the Prime Minister came in, he had a few three word slogans, like 'grown-up government' and 'no more surprises'. And one of his classics, of course, was 'Stop the boats'. A lot of us thought that 'Stop the boats' was about those poor souls who were paying some of the scum of the world, people smugglers, to bring them in to Australia, but when the Prime Minister said 'Stop the boats' I had no idea that he meant stopping building Australian boats! I had no idea that 'Stop the boats' actually referred to submarines!

I do not come from South Australia, but I have actually got it really clear: we have seen a debacle, particularly in the last few weeks. We have known that from the downfall of the previous Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, who, when quizzed in this chamber by Senator Gallacher about Australian jobs at the Australian Submarine Corporation, in attacking Senator Gallacher uttered that infamous line:

… I wouldn't trust them to build a canoe …

And it has just escalated from there. It is just not good enough. If the Prime Minister had—and I do not know whether he has—done a deal with the Japanese to build submarines for Australia, he should have just had the guts to come and face the Australian people and say, 'A deal is done.' But instead he wheeled out poor defenceless Senator Edwards. He is a government senator from South Australia who, I have no doubt, has compassion for Australians' jobs in his state. The Prime Minister wheeled him out, and, under the guise of getting his vote and maybe other South Australians' votes in the leadership contest last Monday, gave him some loose guarantee. Senator Edwards has been trying to defend this. And I have no doubt that Senator Edwards was told by the Prime Minister—and if I am wrong the Prime Minister can come out and defend himself—that he would allow the ASC to enter a competitive tender.

As to the word 'tender'—fine! You can wheel out all the government ministers—and I saw that shocking interview with the now Minister for Defence, Mr Andrews, in which he used the line, when being questioned down there in Adelaide, that he was the minister and he would use the words that he wanted to use, and in which he came out with this phrase 'a competitive evaluation process'. What the hell that means I have absolutely no idea! But if there are some whiz-kids out there who can explain to me how a competitive evaluation process equals a competitive tender then I am all ears—and that is no pun intended when I am having a crack at the Prime Minister!

But, with the greatest respect, and in fairness, it is not just about the jobs that we have seen lost in South Australia in submarine building and shipbuilding and manufacturing; it is also the risk we put our submariners at—not to mention the thousands and thousands of jobs that will be gone in this country, like Australian jobs in the automobile manufacturing industry.

This government, in its time in opposition, used three word slogans like 'grown-up government' and 'no more surprises'. My goodness me—I have never realised how much I have missed truck driving, because at least when you are truck driving and you are out there in the Kimberley and the Pilbara, you are meeting real Australians. I was meeting real people. I was meeting genuine people. And I cannot put any faith in there being genuine people in this government because they have not even got the intestinal fortitude to face the Australian people and say: 'Yes, we've traded off your job. We've given it to Japan.'