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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5855

Senator KITCHING (Victoria) (16:49): This week has probably felt like an incredibly long week for the government, and we all know the common political maxim 'a week is a long time in politics'. But I would like to take the Senate back to a time which must feel like an absolute aeon ago, and that is last December, when the member for Sturt went on a series of defence industry roadshows which were held in Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney. In those roadshows, he promoted job prospects for major defence projects, specifically including the future frigates program. The Melbourne roadshow, I believe, happened in December.

Contrary to Senator Leyonhjelm's statement that we're only really dealing with South Australia here, Victoria as well is affected. During one of those roadshows, Mr Pyne stated that the future frigate program and the offshore patrol vessel project will directly create over 2,500 jobs for Australians and will indirectly support the jobs of many thousands more. However, to ensure this occurs, it is critical that we provide Australian companies with opportunities to enter the supply chain.

I now go to today's matter of public importance on the future frigate tender process and to the article that appeared in The Advertiser this morning. A part of the problem, a part of the reason this matter of public importance has arisen and why the article was in The Advertiser today is because unfortunately the Australian public has learnt not to trust the words of this government. So when the government says they are committed to doing anything, people question what that actually means. They're seeking reassurance. For example, they learnt what happened to another shipbuilding project, the Collins Class submarines that Senator Gallagher alluded to already. When there was some concern from the government about ASC, they shut ASC out of that process.

We have another shipbuilding project, the future frigates project. When the government and Mr Pyne say the government is 'committed', everyone quite rightly asks, 'Well, actually, what does that mean?' This debate is seeking reassurance from the government that in fact they actually say what they mean and that they will be held to account on this project. Imagine being a South Australian and you think there's a shipbuilding plan lauded by the Prime Minister, another person who sometimes doesn't live up to his commitments. You might actually say, 'I don't believe him.' And that is the problem we're discussing here.

I want to turn to Victoria because Victoria is also affected by this. Victoria has a proud tradition of shipbuilding, particularly in Williamstown. As little as three or four years ago, the Williamstown shipyard employed 1,000 workers. There will be no investment anymore in Williamstown. Where do those people go? What kind of work will they get? The reason that there's concern about the language of the tender document is because those tender documents say one thing and the government says another; there is a discrepancy and an inconsistency between those documents and the government's statements and the promises they make. Where do the Victorian workforce which might be part of a supply chain go? What do they do? Do they look at that article today and say that once again there's been another promise from this government and it's not worth the paper it's written on?

Senator Birmingham said his colleagues were talking down the state of South Australia. I don't think they are. I think they're merely seeking reassurance that Senator Birmingham's cabinet colleagues have remained true and consistent to the promises they made, and that Australia will be a part of, indeed the main part, of the shipbuilding program. Mr Pyne is quoted as saying in The Advertiser(Time expired)