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Transcript of interview: ABC News Adelaide: 12 December 2012 : Coles Report into the Collins Class submarine maintenance, the future submarine project, nuclear option

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Interview: ABC News Adelaide December 12, 2012

RE: Coles Report into the Collins Class submarine maintenance, the future submarine project, nuclear option

Nick Harmsen: The Minister makes the point that these are not new problems, and in fact they have been in

existence since the first of the Collins fleet were launched in 1996.

Senator Johnston: That would be exactly what this Minister would say because he would need to say that. Figure 6 in

the document clearly spells out that the massive decline in available material days and the sky rocketing costs that

are almost 200 per cent bigger than our comparable international submarine managers have all occurred in the

2008/2009 time frame.

When Labor was in power, this problem emerged and they did not acknowledge it, and indeed, in Senate Estimates

they have sought to avoid the issue at every available opportunity.

We have been talking about this for four years now and they have been telling us that we are on the wrong track.

Nick Harmsen: What does this report mean for the future submarine program? Does this make it less likely that

Defence will choose a totally new submarine or a son of Collins type?

Senator Johnston: Well it means that you can’t be all hat and no cowboy - there is no costs in the Coles

recommendations, the Minister has carefully avoided committing anything to fixing the Collins class submarine and

yet wants to say that he is out there leading the charge for the new submarine and has barely put any real money on

the table to support that project.

These guys are all spin and no substance. What we need here is a clear, mapped out, funded course forward, which

is exactly what Coles says.

The best thing this Minister has ever done is have the Coles report. It has really exposed the Minister, the

Government and the management of submarines for what it has been - and that is an unmitigated failure and a


Nick Harmsen: What would you like to see happen with that next submarine project? The Minister has now committed

to a test facility in Adelaide and saying the submarines would be built in Adelaide. What would the Coalition do?

Senator Johnston: We agree that the submarines should be built or assembled in Adelaide - but to say that we want

a son of Collins or we want to do our own design is really high risk stuff. We need a strong international partner and

someone like Mr Coles, who is independent, to oversight the project so we get the truth as to what is happening and

how much money this is actually going to cost us.

Nick Harmsen: Are you willing to rule out the nuclear option? The Minister is accusing you of being all over the place

on that.

Senator Johnston: I have ruled out the nuclear option so many times that the Minister needs to fabricate what I am

saying to distract from the inadequacies he has brought to the portfolio.

This Collins class submarine scandal has probably cost us about $2 billion in delay whilst we find out what is wrong

with it. Now that is $2 billion at this Minister’s feet, that is what it has cost us because in 2008 the signs were clearly

there and even the Opposition, with our minimal resources, we were starting to ask questions about the cost of

sustainment of these boats.

The Minister simply ignored us. Of course, we are in a circumstance now where the Minister has taken us back in

terms of GDP expenditure in Defence to 1938 levels.

That is his really big contribution to Defence funding, so he needs a distraction to say I am talking nuclear. I am not

talking nuclear, I am talking conventional, I’m talking in South Australia but there will be resources before I start

making media splashes.

Nick Harmsen: Now just going to what we have seen from the Coalition about that cost issue and the increases, I’m

presuming you are talking about the big increases that were seen in the 2010/11 year in particular…

Senator Johnston: …that is right.

Nick Harmsen: Coles puts that down to the purchase of additional stairs and the like and he makes the point that did

make a difference to stabilisation of the availability of the boats. Is there a sense to which that was money unhappily


Senator Johnston: I think the important thing is this - the full cycle docking times for Collins class submarines are

double to comparable Navy submarines around the world. The maintenance repartition times are 200% more, in

other words we have lost twice as much time as everybody else for equipment failures.

Now these are very telling statistics, and these facts have been on and should have been known by the Department

and particularly the Ministers for much longer than the 2011 time that they woke up to get Mr Coles to come and help

them. Mr Coles is the best thing that has ever happened to submarines in Australia, may I say.

Nick Harmsen: In terms of the length of operation of the Collins class, there is a separate document today saying

there is no reason that they can’t extend the useful life of the Collins class by 37 years. Is that something the

Government should be looking to do or relying on?

Senator Johnston: Well, it is very clear that because this Minister has been so utterly lethargic in getting this program

going, that is the SEA 1000 new submarine project, that we are going to face a capability gap.

Page 1 of 2 Interview: ABC News Adelaide > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Austr...


maritime security has never been more important as a responsibility for Canberra and this Minister has lost the plot.

We are headed for, and this is ASPI’s assessment, we are heading for a capability gap with submarines. Now what

this Minister has to do is think long and hard about how we are either going to sustain Collins with a viable, costed

plan or we are going to get something off the shelf as an interim solution.

Of course I’m not really sure that he is interested as every decision he has wanted to take or make has been put off

until after the next election.

Nick Harmsen: Is it is a realistic proposition to think that given everything governments have been through with

Collins that things can be turned around to get that extra lifetime out of them?

Senator Johnston: If you look at the graphs you will see that when Brendan Nelson and Robert Hill were the

Ministers, our submarines performed well.

They weren’t the best, but they certainly weren’t at the levels we are seeing now. What this Minister has to do, and of

course it is very difficult for him because he has just ripped $5.5 billion out of the Defence budget, he has got to fund

these submarines.

He won’t do it because he hasn’t got the money, so we are in absolutely lose-lose situation. We have got a massive

problem in capability and maintaining our capability and we have no money. That is the situation this Minister has

taken us to.

Page 2 of 2 Interview: ABC News Adelaide > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Austr...