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Transcript of interview with Marl Colvin: ABC PM: 12 December 2012: Collins class submarines, The Coles Review

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Interview: ABC PM with Mark Colvin December 12, 2012

RE: Collins class submarines, The Coles Review

MARK COLVIN: The navy's multibillion-dollar submarine fleet has been criticised for needing far more maintenance

than was predicted.

Today, the Federal Government released a report which it hopes will change all that. It's found the submarines are

only available about half the time of comparable overseas fleets, and that scheduled maintenance is about a third


The Federal Opposition says it's a scandal on a par with the pink batts insulation program.

Tom Nightingale reports.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: The first Collins Class submarine was commissioned in 1996, a few months after John Howard

was elected prime minister. Since then, the long and distant patrols meant that about half the time, the submarines

are in maintenance. At times, only one of the six was available.

ANDREW DAVIES: I think what we're seeing is the result of a decade and a half of mismanagement and under

resourcing basically.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Dr Andrew Davies, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute speaking on News 24.

ANDREW DAVIES: And finally those enduring problems have been recognised and with our fingers crossed maybe

we're on the track to getting submarines that are performing adequately.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Today's report is the second in the two-part Coles Review that began last year. It states

expectations of availability were unrealistic in the past. The 25 recommendations include a new maintenance cycle,

and targets including two submarines always being available, and three available 90 per cent of the time. The report

says it could take three years for the fleet's performance to be acceptable.

DAVID JOHNSTON: This is the most damning report that supports Coles One that I think any of us have ever seen

concerning a defence force element group.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: The Opposition's defence spokesman, Senator David Johnston says defence bureaucrats and

government ministers aren't being accountable for the project.

DAVID JOHNSTON: Our costs are obviously through roof. We should have had this report three or four years ago

and indeed we've been saying in Estimates since 2009/10 the submarine is in trouble.

But the Minister of course and the Government just ignored us and often gave us figures that were clearly optimistic

and Coles says that; you know they've actually mislead the Parliament as to the wellbeing of this particular platform.

So, you know it's just a scandal of major proportions and the Labor Party has dropped the ball again. It rivals pink

batts in fact.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: But there's an argument that both sides of politics should take some blame for this, I mean

subs have been in the water since 1996.

DAVID JOHNSTON: No, no, no, have a look at figure 6 in the Coles report and you'll see where this thing's come off

the rails in 07/08 and the minister did nothing about it.

The then Labor minister did nothing about it and now he's wanting to say, well this was the Coalition's problem too.

Well it just wasn't.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: A Government backbencher, Senator Mark Bishop, says the new report repeats what's been

heard before.

MARK BISHOP: I for one wonder why we keep examining the same problems, coming up with the same solutions

and then are reassured that everything is fine. Something is desperately wrong in either Defence or DMO (Defence

Materiel Organisation).

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Do you think the Defence Minister needs to be a bit more active in trying to break that cycle?

MARK BISHOP: I think it's not, it's not, it would be proper for me to comment on how Minister Smith conducts his

office, that's his business and those questions are best put to him for his response.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: You don't want to share your opinion of his performance in that respect though?

MARK BISHOP: I have a view on that but I'm not going to say it publicly.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: The DMO or Defence Materiel Organisation is responsible for equipment like tents and rations

to satellites and submarines.

The Government hasn't yet decided what will make up the next fleet of Australian submarines. And the Collins class

fleet was to be retired in 2031. The Government says another report, also released today, says that could be pushed

back seven years.

MARK COLVIN: Tom Nightingale.

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