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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5851

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (16:30): South Australia, my home state, has real challenges—the highest unemployment rate in the country. These are challenges we have to face up to and be honest about—indeed they are challenges that our government is determined to do everything we possibly can to address, but of course they also require action at the local level, which has been so sadly lacking.

South Australia doesn't just have real challenges; it has an image problem fed by those who want to talk the state down. And, sadly, all too often that comes from our own state—from people who are wanting to concoct political opportunity in our own state so they can talk it down. That is what we are seeing in this beat-up, rubbish news story that is being pushed around the place today—fed presumably by Senator Xenophon to the Adelaide Advertiser—and is the subject of the debate in this chamber right now. It is the biggest load of rubbish I've read in the paper for a long, long time.

Let's be crystal clear: the nine future frigates are guaranteed to be built in South Australia, mandated—to use the word Senator Hanson-Young just used—to be built in South Australia, in Adelaide, at Port Adelaide, at the Osborne shipyards. That's where they're going to be built, so where are the jobs going to be? Guess what? They're going to be in South Australia, in Adelaide, in Port Adelaide, at the Osborne shipyards.

This is nothing more than a scurrilous scare campaign. It is unnecessarily scaring the workers of Osborne and scaring the people who fear for the state's future when in fact we have a great opportunity as a state. And it does those senators in this place, who come in here and try to seize the opportunity of this scare campaign, no credit whatsoever to add to the negativity that surrounds the image in South Australia, to give another blow to the confidence of the people of South Australia. It does them no good at all.

I am saddened that Senator Xenophon appears to be leading the case in this regard. Why on earth does he think that those who successfully win a tender that requires them to build the future frigates in Adelaide would then overlook the South Australian workforce? Why on earth does he think that somehow it will be more cost-effective for them not to employ skilled workers who are there, ready and available to build the ships and instead source them from somewhere else? It's a preposterous argument; it's a ridiculous argument. It holds no water and makes no sense, and yet he perseveres with it. Senator Xenophon has renamed his local party South Australia's best. Sadly, it seems that the brand that Senator Xenophon wants to build instead is one of talking down the state, talking down South Australia and talking down the opportunities that have been created by the Turnbull government's decisions around shipbuilding.

Unlike the Labor Party, who for six years went through office consistently promising they were going to do something about new submarines but never commissioned one single ship to be built in Australia, we have got on with the job and guaranteed that, in relation to the South Australian shipyards, there will be two offshore patrol vessels, nine future frigates and 12 submarines, all generating in excess of 5,000 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs. The future frigates alone, starting in 2020, will generate around 2,000 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs. And yet we have Senator Xenophon, the Labor Party and the Greens all conspiring to say, 'Those jobs won't exist.' Of course they'll exist: they'll exist in Adelaide, because that's where the ships are going to be built.

This is nothing but scuttlebutt and, of course, if we actually took it literally, the result of the motion that Senator Xenophon has brought to the chamber would delay the project by months, if not years.

That's the absurdity of the proposition on the table: thousands of jobs would truly be at risk if we went right back to the start of this tender process, as Senator Xenophon seems to be suggesting in his motion, and allowed it all to start again. The tenders are in and being assessed. We'll have a winning tender in the not-too-distant future. We'll have certainty that work is going to start in 2020. We'll have certainty that people are going to be employed in Adelaide to undertake this work. We'll have guarantees that there are actually going to be opportunities, jobs and prospects for people to get on and undertake this very valid work. It was only last week that the request for tender closed. Yet now we're confronted with a matter of public importance motion suggesting we should go back and start it again. It's not only ridiculous, it's downright dangerous in that it would further undermine capability in South Australia if we were to do that. It would further extend the valley of death that the six years of Labor inaction created in terms of the shipbuilding workforce in South Australia.

I cannot believe that all those parties opposite want to play such politics with this enormous national investment activity. Our shipbuilding program, our defence investment program as a government, is the largest investment undertaken in this country since the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It is about building a sovereign, indigenous, naval shipbuilding capability in Australia. For the first time, difficult decisions have been made about prioritising shipyards, about making sure that we have a critical mass of work and about making sure that we have an ongoing platform and body of work. All of these decisions have been made in the interests of ensuring that Adelaide is the hub for this construction activity decades into the future. This is the golden goose that the Turnbull government has laid to help South Australia, to guarantee jobs for South Australia, yet those playing politics want to kill off the golden goose before we even get the benefits of the egg. We're going to see contracts signed, people employed and jobs starting now, within a realistic time frame. The offshore patrol vessel work is due to start only next year and the future frigates are due to start only a couple of years later—with those contracts all underway.

I hope that people will take a step back from the lunacy of the newspaper story that's been fed out today and realise the logic that with $90 billion worth of shipbuilding activity in the pipeline there is certainty for South Australia that there is going to be a big uplift in work, in economic activity and in job prospects. The real debate that we should be having is a debate about how we capitalise on it, how we make the most of it. That's why, as a government, we have not only sought to pursue the work around the delivery of these projects but also coupled that with activities in terms of defence industry investment in SA, the building of further capability and the building of innovation related activities in SA. All of this is about ensuring that those businesses that will be supplying into our sovereign, national shipbuilding capability in South Australia are encouraged to look at how they can leverage off that, leverage further opportunities for feeding into supply chains of other defence projects around Australia and around the world and leverage further opportunities to supply outside of defence into other related high-tech projects.

It does those who come in here no credit whatsoever to run this shameful fear campaign and suggest that the workforce won't be in SA. They are, of course, stoking fear rather than helping to stoke the future engine of South Australia's workforce. The defence industry will be that engine. It will be driving and sustaining a new wave of high-tech, highly-skilled jobs in South Australia. The debate we should be having is about how we make sure we maximise that so that, in the future, Senator Leyonhjelm—who I know will speak in a second—will no longer be able to run the types of appalling lines that he runs about my home state, of which I'm proud. In the future, he and others will see that we're a proud state, a state with a great history and a state that is achieving much by using the investment in the defence industry in our state to grow more jobs, more industries, more expertise and more capabilities. These are the types of debates the Turnbull government is focused on: making sure we deliver on the future frigates, the patrol vessels, the submarines, and making sure we maximise the workforce in SA, but also making sure we then leverage off that opportunities to generate even more capability for our state and future, even more jobs, so that the 5,000 direct jobs are just the tip of the iceberg. That's our focus. Shame on those who want to scare the workers! (Time expired)