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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2933

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (15:56): I rise to make a contribution on this matter. It's always a pleasure to follow Senator Macdonald. It usually means that you don't need any speaking notes because he raises so many points that are so easy to rebut. I'm sure the Hon. Marise Payne is basking in the warm glow of his adulation and appreciation. I am absolutely certain of that. But, just to take one point of issue, we are this day going to table in this parliament a report on the economic effect that defence training exercises have around the country. The fact that Shoalwater Bay is now able to demonstrate 80 per cent local content is a really good thing, but at the start of that inquiry—and we produced four interim reports—Defence wasn't able to demonstrate that. Trust me: you can see that from the evidence. Victory always has 1,000 fathers, and no doubt Senator Macdonald is claiming that as a victory for himself personally and the minister.

I accept the minister has moved very quickly in that area to put in place around those exercises really good practice that is beneficial to regional economies. But Senator Macdonald's statements alleging that Senator Carr is simply jumping at the request of unions could not be further from the truth. I don't really get where he's coming from. If representing the best interests of skilled, hardworking, willing workers in an immensely important Defence sector is a sin then I'm sure everybody on this side of the chamber, and probably a few on the other side of the chamber, are going to plead guilty—but it's not a sin. When I go to Senate estimates and carry out my duty, which is to go to the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee hearing, look at the Hon. Mathias Cormann and read a script which says, 'We have so many people employed, so many apprentices employed and so many contractors employed; can you please update the register?' he immediately says: 'It is all your fault. When you were in government, you did nothing.' I have to remind the other side that that's two parliaments ago. A couple of parliaments have been created since that day. Blaming it all on the Labor Party five or six years later really doesn't cut it.

We have the Hon. Christopher Pyne declaring that the 'valley of death' is over and that the decision that he has made will avert people being turned off through lack of work and having to seek employment in other states or overseas. We know through the estimates process and the briefings we get that these workers are immensely valuable and skilful and they probably won't have a great deal of difficulty translating those skills into other sectors—but at what cost to this project? What is the cost to this project if that workforce—currently 223 jobs—is being shed, despite the protestations that the valley of death has been averted? That claim, extraordinarily enough, came during the preamble to the South Australian election: 'The valley of death is over. We've fixed it all. It's all good. We're getting on with the job.' Shortly thereafter, ASC announced it had to shed 223 jobs.

We know that the Minister for Finance is a shareholder of ASC, and we know that the Minister for Finance is very keen to sheet all the blame home to other people and to governments twice removed. But really the responsibility does go to this government, to these ministers, to properly and appropriately plan the spend of $87 billion and to properly and prudently put in place the right parameters, the right disclosure and the right decisions for the country. And it shouldn't be based on a marginal seat campaign. The South Australian redistribution is over, and plenty of people in South Australia recommended that the Honourable Christopher Pyne's seat of Sturt be abolished. But the Electoral Commission didn't take that advice. They abolished the seat of Port Adelaide, much to the amusement of some. So the member for Sturt's seat is now safe. The seat of Sturt is safe, but it should never have been in the consideration.

It's very shallow of Senator Macdonald to cast aspersions that representing working class skilled South Australians and others in this sector is a bad thing to do. What is shallow and what is not worthy of proper ministerial diligence is making decisions designed to protect someone's seat—federal, state or other. Defence and Defence's capability is too important to be put at risk for those shallow political considerations. So, Senator Macdonald, you're completely wrong. But we'll willingly wear the tag every day, forever, of standing up for hardworking skilled workers in whatever sector. If this is a stop-gap, or a sop to skilled workers in South Australia for the damage caused by the closing of the automotive industry, then get on with it. Let's program it properly. Let's avoid the loss of jobs. These workers will probably get jobs elsewhere because they're skilled and hardworking. If we can avoid the loss of skills to the sector, that's a direct benefit to defence capability, a direct benefit to the nation and a prudent and efficient way of doing business. In my view, that is where we should be going.

Question agreed to.