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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 4940

Defence Procurement

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:51): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, Senator Brandis. I refer the minister to testimony to a Senate Economics References Committee hearing on 22 July by leading Australian shipbuilding expert Dr John White. Dr White is heading the German consortium's bid as part of your sham submarine process. He had this to say about a local submarine build:

I am sure that if we truly analyse all aspects of the project we will have a lower cost to the government from an all-build in Australia.

Minister, if experts involved in your own sham process are saying it is cheaper to build in Australia, will you now direct that the only option the government will consider is a local build for our future submarines?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:53): We certainly will not be making a declaration to that effect now. That is why we are having a competitive evaluation process—so that all the options can be considered. As you know, Senator Conroy, there are three potential international partners—from Germany, from France and from Japan. And as you know, the competitive evaluation process contemplates that all options are on the table in relation to each of those three potential bidders and it does your argument absolutely no service to come into this chamber and quote the views of one individual, when even you—a very negligent shadow minister, I must say—must know that there are a variety of views among a variety of experts on this subject.

There is one assurance I can give you. We are not going to repeat, with the future Australian submarine project, the disaster of Australian naval shipbuilding bequeathed to us by the government in which you served as a senior member, the government in which, in six years, not one single warship was commenced—not one—the government in which the only naval acquisition in six years was of a second-hand warship from the Royal Navy, the government in which you allowed the so-called valley of death to appear, so that between the completion of the current shipbuilding programs, begun by the Howard government and delayed under your government, and the earliest date at which the naval shipbuilding program announced by the Prime Minister last Tuesday could be commenced there will be a sharp decline in the number of people in work. That is entirely your legacy, Senator Conroy; all your own work. (Time expired)

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:55): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Again, I refer to Dr White's testimony in which he said:

… if Australia wants to have a long-term, sustainable, competitive, world-class naval industry, we need to plan to build both future frigates and future submarines in this country.

Minister, why will you not heed the advice of experts and build our submarines here and stop playing politics with Australia's vital shipbuilding industry?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:55): The reason we are undertaking a competitive evaluation process—

Senator Edwards: They never did.

Senator BRANDIS: That is right, Senator—as the Australian Labor Party never did, but they did not need one because they did not begin any ships. They were not going to have a competitive evaluation process about zero ships, which was your legacy, Senator Conroy. The reason we are having a competitive evaluation process is so we can heed the best advice from all of the evidence, not the opinion of one man but the opinion of all experts, so that we may make the decision which is in the best interests of the Australian people, with all three bids on the table, with all options under consideration and all expert opinions, not just one, being taken into account. That is the way a competent government deals with a major defence acquisition. But that is not something you would know, Senator Conroy, because there were no defence acquisitions on your watch. (Time expired)

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the Prime Minister's admission that our future frigates will be built in Australia because 'there are significant benefits that flow from a domestic build'. Now that the Prime Minister has finally admitted the truth, will you come clean and admit that the only reason you have invented your sham submarine process is that the Prime Minister did a secret deal to send our submarines to Japan, and you know it because you voted for it in the National Security Committee? (Time expired)

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:57): Senator Conroy, every assertion that you have made in that question is a falsehood—every single one.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: I do know the truth, Senator Conroy. The truth is that every single assertion you have made in that question is a falsehood. The fact is last Tuesday the Prime Minister announced the most visionary naval shipbuilding program in Australian history, welcomed not merely by my side of politics and not merely by industry but by the Premier of South Australia, Mr Jay Weatherill. So we are building the future frigates in Australia, in Adelaide. We are building the coastal patrol vessels at shipyards in Australia, not necessarily all in Adelaide but also potentially in other shipyards, including Williamstown, about which Senator Carr showed such interest yesterday, and we will be making an announcement about the Future Submarine program after the competitive evaluation process is concluded. (Time expired)