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Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Page: 5730

Defence Procurement


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston. I refer to the minister's pre-election promise that:

The coalition is committed to building 12 new submarines here in Adelaide.

Is this still the government's position?


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:00): I thank the senator for what is a very, very important and crucial question for Australia's future strategic defence capacity. Submarines are our most significant and important strategic deterrent. Since the Labor Party gave us the Collins class submarine on the basis that it would be very cheap to maintain and very reliable, we have done nothing more than spend $1 billion a year for one or two submarines being available every year. The point about this is that we do not want to make the same mistakes that the Labor Party has bequeathed to us with submarines.

Submarines are, as I said, extremely important to us and a vital strategic deterrent. For a country like Australia, where a very large percentage of our economic exports are on the water—which must go through three choke points—sea denial is essential. Submarines are absolutely fundamental to our defence capability. We have said, firstly—and these are our promises—that there will be no capability gap between the transition out of the very troubled Collins class—

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. My point of order is on direct relevance. It was a very specific question. It was about the promise of building 12 new submarines in Adelaide. We would like to have a response to that question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has been addressing a portion of the question, and I remind the minister of the question. He has 30 seconds to answer the question.

Senator JOHNSTON: We have promised for this vital strategic capability that there will be no capability gap. We will have new—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock.

Senator Cameron: How about South Australia and South Australian jobs? You are pathetic.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cameron!

Senator Wong: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister has avoided the question for almost the entire time. There was one question only: is the commitment to build 12 new submarines in Adelaide still the government's position? That is the only question that was asked. He should answer the question and tell South Australians the truth.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, there was a point of order just a short while ago and the minister was barely on his feet when there was a second point of order. The minister has been reminded of the question. The minister has 14 seconds left.

Senator JOHNSTON: This government takes defence seriously. This government has guaranteed no capability gap between the Collins class and— (Time expired)











Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to reports in today's Adelaide Advertiser that a secret delegation of Japanese submarine experts has toured the shipbuilder ASC in Adelaide without the knowledge of the South Australian government.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right—

Senator Conroy interjecting

The PRESIDENT: and my left.

Senator WONG: Mr President, I ask if the clock could be stopped while this—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right. Senator Wong, you will be given ample time to ask your question. I will be ignoring the clock.

Senator WONG: Will the minister rule out purchasing Japanese submarines for Australia's new submarine fleet?







Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:04): We were bequeathed two options: son of Collins and a whole new design. When we opened the lid on submarines, as a new government must do, you know what we found in the box? Zero—a round number before one. They had done nothing.

Senator Moore: Mr President, again my point of order is on direct relevance. There was a single question about whether the minister will rule out purchasing Japanese submarines for Australian's new submarine fleet. That was the only question that was asked.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Moore. The minister has 25 seconds left to answer the question, and I remind the minister of the question.

Senator JOHNSTON: Not only had they done nothing about submarines; in the forward estimates out to 2030 they had taken $20 billion out of the future submarine program.

Senator Wong: Mr President, my point of order is on direct relevance. The question was very simple: will the minister rule out purchasing Japanese submarines for Australia's new submarine fleet? Yes or no?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, your question had a longer preamble than just that simple statement. The minister has been reminded of the question, and I invite the minister to continue with his answer.

Senator JOHNSTON: There are many options for diesel electric submarine operators: DCNS at Cherbourg in France, TKMS at Kiel in Germany and— (Time expired)








Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:06): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. With the Japanese delegation visiting ASC, the foreign minister confirming that the government is in discussions about purchasing submarines from Japan and the minister's refusal today to commit to his pre-election promise, is the government preparing to break its promise to the people of South Australia?


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:06): May I say that that promise was broken in 2009 by the Labor Party when they did nothing for submarines.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Wong! Minister, you have the call.

Senator JOHNSTON: We have had the pleasure—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Order on my right!

Senator JOHNSTON: We have had the honour and privilege of some 14 Japanese technicians visiting South Australia. They will visit Perth, Canberra and Sydney. We recently signed a defence science technology exchange agreement. We have had people from Germany, France, the United States and the UK visit Adelaide, all to exchange technical information with Australia. (Time expired)