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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9560

Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (15:17): Yesterday, for the first time since 2005, a cabinet minister was censured by the Senate. Today, Labor senators and members have called on the Prime Minister to request the Minister for Defence resign. We are not the only ones asking the minister to do the right thing and resign. Even The Advertiser, the bastion of the conservative press in South Australia, is calling on the Minister for Defence to resign. We know that his fellow coalition members and senators are hoping he will do the right thing and resign. The minister's grip on his ministry was already tenuous when, on Tuesday this week during question time, in an attempt to provide cover for the fact he was about to renege on his pre-election promise to build the future submarines in South Australia, the minister made his now infamous and outrageous comment about the women and men of the Australian Submarine Corporation in Adelaide. He said that he would not trust them to build a canoe.

The reaction in Adelaide was instantaneous. How dare the Minister for Defence say that when everyone knows that Australian Submarine Corporation workers are some of the most skilled, dedicated and innovative in this country. How dare he use those workers as cover for his government's decision to break the promise about building the future submarines in South Australia. What damage has he done to the future of manufacturing and shipbuilding in this country with a comment like that which was immediately picked up by the international media? What signal did that message send to the rest of the world about Australia's naval capability? He has compromised our standing in the world, and that is a truly irresponsible thing for a cabinet minister to do. All Minister Johnston's weasel words, his half-hearted apology, his ludicrous explanation of a 'rhetorical flourish' and his utterly pathetic attempts to back track, ever since Tuesday's outrageous comment, have not worked. Business, workers, the media, even his own colleagues know that there is no climbing out of the hole that the minister has dug for himself.

Last Tuesday night I received an email from a constituent in South Australia, Mr Brenton Westell, regarding Senator Johnston's comments. He had sent it to the minister but he also sent me a copy. I am going to read this email out, because it captures exactly the outrage that South Australians felt on Tuesday—and are still feeling today. The email, addressed to Senator Johnston, said:

Dear Senator,

I have just viewed your remarks regarding ASC on the floor of the senate, and party politics aside, I am personally insulted by these comments.

My 23 year old son is a graduate engineer at ASC, having graduated with honours last year from Adelaide University. Four years at uni, studying harder than most people will ever know, after achieving straight A's in year 12, to have a Federal Senator tell him you wouldn't trust him to build a canoe.

You may have an agenda to push, but this does not give you carte blanche to denigrate the "lifters" your treasurer keeps wanting us all to be.

I doubt you will even read this, but on the off chance someone does, it is my view that a heartfelt apology in the senate is the only redress to the insult I feel on the part of a fine young man who actually deserves your respect rather than your spite.

Brenton Westell

I know that Mr Westell has followed up his email with a call to the Prime Minister's office calling on the Minister for Defence to resign. I look forward to hearing what response Mr Westell gets from the Minister for Defence and from the Prime Minister. There are, of course, other South Australians calling on the Minister for Defence to resign. South Australian state Liberal leader, Steven Marshall, was unforgiving of the minister's comments. He said of Senator Johnston:

Unless he can rebuild some connection, some rapport, some confidence within the industry, then I don't think he has any alternative (but to resign).

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has also publicly slammed the minister for his remarks, saying that he has 'demonstrated that he will not be objective or impartial' and that his 'position is no longer tenable and he must resign.' The calls for the minister to resign are coming from all sides of politics. (Time expired)