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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6329

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (12:50): I note that there will be an urgency motion later today in relation to submarines. Because I will not be here, I now indicate my support for that motion moved by the opposition. I will not make a long contribution, but I want to make it clear that I support the opposition's motion. This is of critical importance, and we need to put this in perspective. On 8 May 2013, the then shadow minister for defence, Senator David Johnston, said during a visit to Adelaide:

We will deliver those submarines from right here at ASC in South Australia. Now why ASC? Right across Australia there is only one place that has all of the expertise that’s necessary to complete one of the most complex, difficult and costly capital works projects that Australian can undertake. It’s ASC here in Adelaide.

He went on to say:

The Coalition today is committed to building 12 new submarines here in Adelaide, we will get that task done, and it is a really important task, not just for the Navy but for the nation. And we are going to see the project through, and put it very close after force protection, as our number priority if we win the next Federal Election.

Fast forward to today, and we seem to be in a parallel universe in relation to those previous statements. I have said before that I actually have enormous regard for Senator Johnston. He is a decent and capable man. I believe he wants to do the right thing by the nation, but we are hearing all sorts of inconsistent messages from the government as a whole in relation to this. This motion that will be moved by the opposition later this afternoon is even more important and timely given what is happening to manufacturing in this country with the impending departure of General Motors-Holden, Ford and Toyota as original equipment manufacturers—as car makers in this country. I hasten to add that those three companies—particularly General Motors—will still have a strong dealer presence, so it is important that they are supported through their dealerships as well.

I have here a list from the Parliamentary Library of 16 separate public statements that now Prime Minister Abbott and the defence minister, Senator Johnston, made between September 2012 and September 2013 about building submarines in Adelaide. My concern is that there has been ambiguity and, perhaps, backsliding since June in relation to naval shipbuilding in Australia in general and to the Future Submarine project in particular. The Prime Minister last week refused to rule out a foreign build for the Future Submarine project—and that concerns me. There is one way that this can be fixed up. It can be clarified very quickly as to what needs to be done to make good the commitment that was made before the last election.

In June the government made a fundamentally wrong decision to excluding the entire Australian shipbuilding industry from the tender for the Navy's two new supply ships. The work is worth up to $2 billion, but the decision means that the Australian government will send that money offshore to firms either in South Korea or Spain. It is an insult that Australian manufacturers and Australian shipbuilders—the ASC and others—did not even have an opportunity to be part of that tender process. Instead of spending the money in Australia employing skilled Australian workers in their thousands, we are exporting jobs overseas in terms of a key national strategic issue—our shipbuilding. It does not make sense to me that Australian companies did not even have a chance to be part of a competitive tender process. It was a gobsmackingly stupid decision by the government and it must be reversed. It was also a very, very concerning decision that I hope will not act as a precedent.

Media speculation, bolstered by the government's public statements, has only increased fears that the Future Submarine project will be shipped offshore to Japan, for instance, which recently signed a military technology sharing agreement with the government. The Future Submarine project could cost between $12 billion and $36 billion depending on which design option is chosen. It is a crucial project to sustain the employment of thousands of South Australians and, indeed, nationally and it is, just as importantly, of national and strategic significance.

South Australia is suffering a historic deindustrialisation that requires a proper policy response from the federal government. The Productivity Commission last month predicted that the end of Australian car making will lead to the loss of 40,000 jobs nationally. I believe that is conservative. About half of these job losses will be felt in South Australia. You can add more than 10,000 further manufacturing job losses to the scrap heap nationally if the federal government does not include Australian industry in its future naval shipbuilding plans. That is why I will work with all of my colleagues in the Senate: the opposition; the government, including the Nationals; the Australian Greens; the Palmer United Party; Senator Madigan; Senator Ricky Muir from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party; and, of course, the man right in front of me, Senator Bob Day from Family First, a fellow South Australian. Can I say on the record, I know that Premier Jay Weatherill accused Senator Day of being an enemy of the state. He does not look anything like Will Smith to me. Senator Day and I will have our policy disagreements but we will deal with them genuinely and in a civil manner. I am convinced that Senator Day shares these concerns about jobs in South Australia and that is why I regard him as a friend that I can work with for jobs in South Australia.

Having made those remarks, I support what the opposition will be doing this afternoon and I commend them and the work of Senator Kim Carr and the shadow defence spokesperson, Senator Stephen Conroy. We need to get a result for South Australia and the motion that will be moved this afternoon is both timely and warranted and we must heed the warnings inherent in that motion.