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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3212

Mr WHITE —My question to the Minister for Defence relates to our defence capabilities, which seems pertinent in view of the cuts announced last night and the events in Fiji today. The question concerns the submarine project due for decision this week and the evaluation of that project. I quote from a minute dated 16 April 1987-one month ago-from the Director of the submarine project, Admiral Hughes, to the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Capital Procurement. He says:

. . . we have been offered a commercial design which does not reflect the performance or standards required by the German Navy.

I think it will be agreed that that is a damning comment from the Director of the project. Yet, in the House on 11 May-last Monday-in answer to a question from me the Minister said:

. . . we have presented for decision by government two good submarines . . . I am happy with the two submarines that have been offered us.

Will the Minister explain why there is such a vast discrepancy between those two statements?

Mr BEAZLEY —I was well aware of that particular memorandum when I made the comments that I made. The honourable member's initial question was based, I think, on that particular memorandum, which had some circulation in the Press. It is like any document that is leaked from the Department of Defence; such a document never presents a full picture either of the views of the author of the document or of the total evaluation process. It is impossible for it to do so. The evaluations of the actual designs of the submarines are set out in very thick documents, which circulate around the relevant committees. They contain a very detailed analysis of the performance features of the submarines and the suggestions about-if we go ahead with one or other submarine-what might be improved as it goes to the final contracting stage and all those sorts of issues.

Mr White —That was a month ago.

Mr BEAZLEY —That is fine. All those sorts of issues are considered by government. If we decide to go down one track--

Mr Spender —Is it a commercial design--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I draw the attention of the honourable member for North Sydney to standing order 55.

Mr BEAZLEY —If we decide to go down one particular track we have, of course, the option to go down that track accepting offered improvements or insisting on improvements. So, that particular document, or any single document, cannot present the last word on the evaluation process.

The fact of the matter is that-this is not based just on my own assessment of the situation; it is also based on questions I have put to the Chief of Naval Staff and to the project team itself-my comments were based not on my own assessment but on the views that they presented to me. It is those views that I will be taking into the Cabinet. There is always a substantial danger, when looking at this process, as I said, in relying on single documents, or whatever, that fall out of the system. We are still a few days short of Cabinet consideration of this matter. It is not possible for me to go into all the detail. But I will be in a position to go into detail after the source selection process has been completed. It is very difficult for me to respond to individual comments or individual items that happen to fall off the back of a truck. Suffice it to say that on all the information that has been made available to me-well beyond that particular piece of correspondence-my initial judgment that we could accept either of those submarines is valid.

That, however, is not necessarily the recommendation that I will be making to Cabinet. I will make a recommendation to Cabinet on what submarine we ought to purchase; but I am not going to walk into the Cabinet room and say: `You can purchase this one and not the other, because if you fail to purchase the one I am recommending you will purchase a submarine that we are incapable of using'. That is not the basis on which I approach my Cabinet colleagues, and it is not the basis on which the project definition study is being done. They could select either. I have a distinct preference, based on advice that comes to me, for one.