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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4720

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:17 PM) —My question is again directed to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Can the minister confirm that the government's proposal to rationalise the shipbuilding industry relies on modelling that claims to show significant savings through the creation of a monopoly? Doesn't that modelling show, on page 95 of the sector plan, that in the years 2016 and 2017, when the finishing touches are being put on the last amphibious transport, the monopoly will have 650 employees in construction-related fields? Yet the same modelling shows only 500 construction employees will be required in 2008, when three large ships are under construction. Minister, do you stand by the modelling in the sector plan you released, or will you admit that it is flawed and needs to be corrected?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I thought I answered that question a few minutes ago, but I will take Senator Evans through it again because he obviously needs some time on this particular issue. What is Labor's alternative? Presumably, it is to do nothing and to allow the collapse of a couple of shipbuilding companies. Where does he want them to collapse? In Perth? In Henderson, where his Labor government claims to be trying to build up a shipbuilding industry and about which his Premier is writing to me and arguing that it should be given new opportunities in shipbuilding? Is that what he is suggesting? Or is he suggesting that it should happen in Newcastle, Senator Tierney? Or is he suggesting that it happen in Garden Island in Sydney or Williamstown in Victoria? Or is it South Australia that should suffer? It is the Labor Party's scheme, apparently, to wind up ASC, move them out of South Australia—probably under Senator Evans—and move that capability across to Western Australia—now don't smile, Senator Campbell! I wonder what Senator Evans's real agenda is in this matter.

We know what the story is: the Labor Party has no policy, because it never has a policy. So it will stand aside, allow the industry to implode, allow businesses to collapse, allow a lot of good Australians to be put out of work, and then it will say, `Too bad; that is the market. Bad luck.' We, on the other hand, say that we want, firstly, an industry that is viable, that has a sustainable future, that can offer long-term benefits to young Australians and that can invest in Australia's intellectual property and in the sharp end of shipbuilding. That is what we would like to see in terms of a viable industry. Secondly, we want an industry that has the capability to meet the government's requirements for servicing and maintaining the Navy's ships. Thirdly, we want to have a shipbuilding industry that is capable of building the next range of naval ships. So what has happened in this instance—

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to the question of relevance. I have given the minister two opportunities to answer the question, which went to whether he stood by the assumptions in the plan. He has failed to do so. He has blustered on with two answers now and has failed on both occasions to respond to the question asked of him: does he stand by the assumptions in the plan and the arguments that underpin it or not? That is the question. I am happy to debate the broader issues with him, and he can wrap himself in the rhetoric any time he likes. But he has not brought himself to the question on either occasion, and people will wonder why he refuses to answer the detailed question.

The PRESIDENT —As you know, I cannot direct a minister in how he should answer a question, but Minister Hill has a minute and a half left to go, and no doubt you will ask him a supplementary question. I would ask the minister to return to the subject.

Senator Cook —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Your ruling was that you do not have the power to direct him in how to answer the question, and that is quite right. But you do under the standing orders, I submit, have the power to prevent him debating the question and thereby trying to answer it. There is no doubt that the rave we heard from the minister a few minutes ago was an attempt to debate the question and evade the possibility of giving an answer. Can I suggest that, under the standing orders, you now direct the minister, with respect, to comply with the standing orders and to answer the question—not, as the standing orders forbid, to debate it.

The PRESIDENT —Senator, you may not have heard me over the interjections; I did ask the minister to return to the question, and I am sure that he will.

Senator Faulkner —I'm not so certain.

Senator Cook —About time!

Senator HILL —I will surprise you all. I stand by the assumptions in the paper; I stand by the analysis in the paper. It is a constructive attempt by both the industry and government to lead to reform which will give us a sustainable shipbuilding industry in this country for naval purposes and, at the same time, will give us a shipbuilding industry able to meet the capability needs in terms of servicing Navy ships in the future. I would have thought that that is the sort of thing that the public would want from its government. What is the opposition suggesting as an alternative? It has no policy. It is suggesting the industry therefore by default should be allowed to collapse and that jobs should be lost, that the naval capability should be lost—

Senator Cook —You are debating the question now. You are out of order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Cook, you are out of order by interjecting.

Senator Cook —Call him to order!

The PRESIDENT —Senator Cook, I call you to order and I would ask the minister to complete his answer.

Senator HILL —This is a long, complex and thoughtful document that has been prepared cooperatively by industry and the defence department to significantly and constructively contribute to the debate. I invite the Labor Party to try, for the first time, to constructively and positively contribute to the debate. If it did that, it might be the first step towards developing a policy and starting to look like a real opposition, let alone an alternative government.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. I remind him that I asked for access to the discussion documents and he refused to provide them. If he were seriously interested in input, he would have provided them. Minister, have any flaws in the report been brought to your attention and, if so, when? Minister, why have you refused to release the details of the government's modelling in the shipbuilding plan? Minister, why did the consultant who audited the modelling not examine the assumptions or the data used and why has the report not been released? Minister, if you are so confident about the accuracy of the assumptions of data used in these models, why will you not release them now?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —This is a long and complex document. I invite honourable senators to start by reading the primary document. They should read the primary document. If they have trouble with the document and then want to work through the assumptions then I will see if we can provide the modelling as well. I welcome a constructive debate. If the Labor Party is now saying that it is going to transform and enter into a constructive and positive debate, how could I knock that? I would welcome that. If there is anything I can do to help the Labor Party in that regard, I will do my best to accommodate it.