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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6381

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:14): The good news, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams, is that I will not need your protection, to borrow the phrase from my learned colleague. I rise to speak on this urgency motion. There is an absolute need, despite what our new colleague from South Australia says, for the Abbott government to keep its pre-election promise to design and build Australia's future submarine fleet in Adelaide. This issue is of the most serious importance for South Australia and our country. Before the election—and this goes to the heart of this debate—Senator David Johnston, now the Minister for Defence, stood outside submarine builder ASC in Adelaide and said the following in a video clip that I will now show the chamber on my iPad:

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

Straight up and out. It is as simple as that—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Williams ): Senator Conroy, that was out of order.

Senator CONROY: in black and white on the television of Australia, and particularly South Australia. That is exactly what he said. That we will deliver these submarines from right here at ASC in South Australia. He said: The coalition today is committed to building 12 new submarines here in Adelaide.

It does not get any plainer than that in black and white. That is your defence minister conning the people, conning the people of South Australia and conning your electors about their promise and about what they were going to do with submarines in South Australia. That is why you should support this motion, Senator. That is exactly why you should, because this is a con job. Not 'might' build; not 'possibly' build. No, Senator Johnston said that the coalition will build 12 new submarines in Adelaide. I have jogged the Senate's memory by showing you the video clip live in colour of Senator Johnston making that commitment.

But what has happened since the election? The opposition has asked the defence minister seven times in the Senate to recommit to his pre-election promise. He has refused every single time. Seven times—and refused every single time. And what about the government's South Australian senators? Silence. What about those who made a contribution recently from the government? Silence, as well. While you may have failed to win Liberal Party preselection, I am told by some of those opposite—I have lost count of how many—you are not a government senator. You have the opportunity to hold this government to its promise—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, you will direct your remarks through the Chair, please.

Senator CONROY: Mr Acting Deputy President, I am glad you have remembered that standing order.


Senator CONROY: And I will. From the South Australian Liberal senators—silence. They have not uttered one word demanding that this promise be kept. Not a word. Today is a test for South Australia Liberal Party senators and other South Australian senators. Will they stand-up for there state against a broken promise of this government, or will you all stay silent?

It is clear from the public statements of the Abbott government that it plans to abandon this promise and buy submarines from overseas. Just last week, we saw a secret delegation of Japanese submarine experts secreted into ASC. The South Australian government was not even told. They just brought them in, hid them and raced them out. They would not let them stop and answer questions. They would not even let them stop and answer a question at the airport. They dragged them through the airport with cameras following and still would not stop and answer a single question.

The government seems determined to do all it can to undermine Australia's strategically vital submarine and shipbuilding industry. In uncertain times, the last thing we should be doing is killing our submarine industry. It is against our national interest. It hurts our national security and it undermines our defence capability. The most vital question for you to consider over the coming months—because this is going to become live very soon—is: are the Japanese submarine's designed to meet Australia's capability needs and not to simply take them off the shelf from Japan? That is the most fundamental question. And what do you hear emanating from our defence establishment—from people who know about the submarine build? This government is not only breaking its election promise about where it is going to build them in South Australia but it is also not buying a submarine from Japan that has Australia's unique strategic needs for range, endurance and capability. That is the test. Do the Japanese submarines meet our capability needs?

This government is planning on spending billions of dollars on new submarines that are not going to be what our Navy say they need. The government is also doing nothing to ensure the survival of Australia's shipbuilding industry. Here is what the minister said—and I will not show it because I would not want to anger you again, Acting Deputy President Williams. Here is what the minister said:

I get really fired up when I find us giving away our manufacturing base in the Defence space—

(Time expired)