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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 267

Defence Procurement

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:12): My question is to the minister representing the Prime Minister. Did the Prime Minister tell Senator Edwards on Sunday that the Future Submarines project would be subject to a full and open tender? Yes or no?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:12): The Prime Minister and Senator Edwards—and indeed all South Australian representatives on the coalition side—are absolutely committed to getting the very best defence capability for the best value from the Australian taxpayer. The discussion between the Prime Minister and Senator Edwards I was not privy to. If there are matters that the Prime Minister would seek to add to my answer, I will advise him of the fact that this question has been raised. But, put very simply, as I understand it, there is an agreement or a consensus between them as to what needs to be achieved for Australia.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! Senator Conroy, you have asked the question.

Senator ABETZ: The government's policy is clear that there will be a competitive evaluation process for the submarine replacement that will take into account capability requirements, cost, schedule, technical risk and value-for-money considerations. Any Australian company that can credibly meet these criteria will of course be considered on merit. I would say to Senator Conroy that given his track record in relation to the NBN and other matters, he would not understand what a rigorous, proper process is for a very important procurement project such as submarines.

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:14): I thank the minister for that answer. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the Adelaide Advertiser, which reported that Senator Edwards's vote for the Prime Minister in yesterday's leadership spill depended on South Australia 'being able to take part in a competitive tender.' Is the Prime Minister now so desperate to secure his failing leadership that he is lying to colleagues and trading our submarines for votes?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, you will have to withdraw that inference.

Senator CONROY: I withdraw. I will rephrase it. Is he misleading colleagues and trading our submarines for votes?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:15): The simple fact that Senator Conroy had to withdraw part of his prepared question is indicative of the hyperventilation that the honourable senator is engaging in in relation to this issue. The fact that the deputy leader would be the defence minister of this nation, he who trashes the reputation of honourable men and uniform at Senate estimates, who pretends to come into this place has some concern about defence procurement when his own record on the NBN—

Senator Conroy: Mr President, a point of order on relevance: I asked a very simple question about Senator Edwards and what he said in his conversations with the Prime Minister. It has nothing to do with Senate estimates and nothing to do with the opposition. It has everything to do with whether the Prime Minister misled Senator Edwards.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has 25 seconds left to answer the question. I remind him of the question.

Senator ABETZ: Mr President, as I recall it, in fact, the question was based on some article in the Adelaide Advertiser, so let us get this quite clear: the Prime Minister is an honourable man and the Prime Minister would never prejudice the national security of our country for anything. (Time expired)

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:16): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that not even the most senior officers in Defence know what is meant by a 'competitive evaluation process' and can the minister point to anywhere in the Defence Procurement Policy Manual where the term is used? Given the chaos, dysfunction and confusion which has surrounded this morning's submarines announcement, can the minister inform the Senate on what day good government will actually start?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:17): When we as a government talk to the Australian people we do not need a 'policy manual' to tell us what words we are or are not allowed to use in discussing matters. In relation to a competitive evaluation process, most people would understand that on the common usage of the Australian language, but, just to make it somewhat easier for Senator Conroy, what that means is that a methodology will be employed whereby an evaluation is undertaken on a competitive basis. Does he have any objection to that? Does he have any objections to a process? Yes, he does have objections to processes, because he did not want it for the NBN nor did he want it for Australian TV overseas. He does not understand what process is. He does not understand what competition is. He does not understand what a proper evaluation is. And that is why he needs a manual. (Time expired)