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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9558


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (15:07): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

Senator Abetz: Off you go!

Senator GALLACHER: Thank you, Leader of the Government. I will take that invitation. Yesterday, between the 'rhetorical flourish' and the deadpan non-committal answers given by the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, there was a great contribution from Senator Faulkner. Without any malice—I got the sense that he did not take any great enjoyment out of it—he analytically, dispassionately and systematically demolished all of the arguments that the Minister for Defence put up in defence of his position.

But I want to take a slightly different tack The Opposition Whip, Senator McEwen, put it very succinctly today when she said there are lots of groups in the community that rely on certainty and confidence in our economy. One of those groups is the very valuable and highly skilled workforce at the Australian Submarine Corporation, and another, sitting alongside it, is the small business community that relies on those people having confidence to make a decision to buy a car, a house, some insurance, a holiday and all the normal things that workers in the economy do. There are a number of very large companies and a number of quite disparate sectors who look at the manufacturing base, which is collected in South Australia around defence; and see the potential from possibly the greatest investment that this nation will make in defence procurement; and make long, careful, deliberate decisions in respect of that. Those companies have had that confidence blown away by a completely callous statement that the ASC 'could not be trusted to build a canoe'.

This is so serious for the state of South Australia. We had the decisions in the automotive industry. The next largest manufacturing sector is the defence sector. The Minister for Defence stood in the people's Senate and said, 'I wouldn't trust them to build a canoe'. He did not suffer any penalty for that despite the fact that there are workers going home to their families and considering whether they can move to a bigger house, buy a new car or take a holiday. The uncertainty that was expressed in this chamber the other day is widely held, deeply felt and repugnant to many South Australians. We are not just talking about Labor or Liberal here; probably 90 per cent of South Australian electors find the statement of the minister completely repugnant. It impugns the reputation of the ASC workers. It impugns the reputation of South Australia as a whole. It is completely unacceptable to simply say, 'I had a rhetorical flourish.' It is completely unacceptable. Senator Faulkner said that if a reasonable person could find a predisposition to bias in the defence procurement process then that comment was totally out of order. No penalty has been paid. The Prime Minister has come out and tried to salvage things a bit. All of the South Australian members of parliament that I have anything to do with have tried to salvage things a bit. There will be an adjudication on this—and it may well come on 6 December at the by-election in South Australia.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator GALLACHER: Senator Macdonald is yawning from across the chamber; it will be very interesting to see whether voters and electors in South Australia go to sleep like Senator Macdonald or actually stand up and make a decision based on the treatment of their state by a very callous minister who in my view has gone beyond the pale in castigating, denigrating and impugning not only South Australian submarine workers but South Australia as a whole. This is a widely-held and deeply-felt issue—and we will get an adjudication. Senator Macdonald will be able to read the paper, the same as I do. After the Victorian election, there will be a South Australian election and people will make a decision based on the character of this government. This government will basically have an adjudication on what it has done and said about South Australia in the manufacturing sector in particular. It is an absolute travesty that this minister has not fallen on his sword and taken responsibility for denigrating hardworking people. (Time expired)