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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 627

Defence Procurement


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to reports in The Australian today that extensively outline that Japan believes it already has a deal to build Australia's new submarines. I quote:

While Japan wants to sell submarines to Australia, Tokyo does not want to be part of a formal open tender process demanded by South Australian MPs.

Has the Prime Minister made yet another 'captain's pick' and agreed to have Australia's next submarine fleet built by Japan?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:01): I have indicated to the chamber what the Prime Minister's words are, and that is that 'any Australian company that can credibly meet the requirement will be considered on merit, as will potential international partners.' That is the situation. I previously did get up to make a comment in relation to this, but can I indicate that that is the government's decision and it remains the government's position.

Senator Wong: Mr President, I thought Senator Abetz in fact said no at the start of his answer. I do not know that the microphone is on, but it might be useful for Hansard purposes to ensure that that was in fact recorded.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Wong. We will take that into account with Hansard.




Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:02): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that draft talking points, draft media releases or any other draft supporting documents have been prepared in the Prime Minister's office, the Prime Minister's department, the new defence minister's office, the old defence minister's office or the Defence Department announcing that Australia's new submarines will be built by Japan?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:02): I personally cannot confirm that.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:02): You could take that on notice, minister, to confirm it. Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the minister's refusal to confirm whether the Prime Minister has already made a captain's pick on submarines, does he agree with Senator Sinodinos, who told Sky News yesterday 'It's a matter that does need to be cleared up'? When is the Prime Minister going to come clean on what he has promised Japan on submarines?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:03): Any discussions in relation to the acquisition of such an important defence capability, of necessity, need to be dealt with in a sensitive manner and not with the bull-in-a-china-shop attitude of the shadow minister for defence, Senator Conroy, whose behaviour we have seen on display at Senate estimates attacking high-level men in uniform. So let's not pretend there is any sensitivity for matters defence from the shadow minister for defence. The situation is clear. We are working through it in a methodical, purposeful manner, a manner that would be completely foreign to the shadow minister who presided over the debacle of the NBN and the Australian national overseas TV network, on which the Auditor-General had plenty to say about you, Senator Conroy. (Time expired)