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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 3407

Defence Procurement


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to the Minister for Defence. Following the minister's recent trip to Japan with the Foreign Minister, the Foreign Minister was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying that discussions with the Japanese government included 'the prospect of purchasing even an entire submarine'. Will the minister rule out the purchase of submarines from Japan for Australia's future submarine fleet, or are you afraid to contradict your protector, Ms Bishop?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is order we will proceed. I remind senators that their questions need to be properly framed within the standing orders.



Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:01): We all know that, in 2009, the then Labor government made a commitment to buy 12 submarines with an initial operating capability due in 2025-26. Of course, that plan was never adhered to and, indeed, Labor did absolutely nothing to further that program. In 2013, because of its own inactivity, Labor was forced to move the initial operating date for capability by four years to 2029-30. In doing so, it removed nearly $20 billion from the program leading up to that date. So submarines, under Labor, were in a state of complete and utter shambles.

In the recent two-plus-two defence and foreign ministers meeting in Japan—a very, very successful meeting—Australia and Japan discussed proposals to enhance practical bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries, reinforcing messages from the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore the week before. Security and defence cooperation with Japan is a very important cornerstone of our bilateral relationship, which builds upon the 2007 joint declaration—

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. The specific question was, 'Will the minister rule out the purchase of submarines from Japan?' There are 24 seconds remaining.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The question was broader than that. The minister still has 24 seconds remaining to address the question.

Senator JOHNSTON: In order to strengthen our defence cooperation with Japan, we are examining a number of areas to enhance that cooperation through exercises bilateral and trilateral and the exchange of defence science and technology. One of those areas is in submarine hydrodynamic technology. But of course we are talking to many other countries about this because— (Time expired)





Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:04): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the minister has refused to overrule the Foreign Minister's statement of the prospect of purchasing even an entire submarine from Japan, will he now admit to the Senate that his pre-election promise to build 12 new submarines in South Australia was a lie? Why is the government planning to kill off Australia's submarine-building capacity just like it has killed off our shipbuilding industry?


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:04): All of this froth at the mouth simply discloses this particular senator's extreme ignorance as to the state of the Japanese Constitution. Japan has a very constricted defence posture at the moment because of its Constitution. If the senator had the faintest idea what he was talking about—which he does not—he would understand that it is simply not that simple. In dealing with the matter of submarines—having seen the Labor Party, with huge fanfare, announce a program that had no money and no work done over five years—we are starting, as I said, with a very clean sheet of paper. We are consulting the Germans, the French, the Brits and the US. (Time expired)


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, given that you have now twice refused to overturn and contradict Foreign Minister Bishop in her idea to buy a submarine, I will give you one more chance to guarantee you will build 12 submarines in Adelaide as you promised before the last election.


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:06): So there they were, Mr President, promising the South Australians that there would be 12 submarines, whilst all the while taking money out of the future Defence Capability Plan—some $20 billion—from the submarine program. And, of course, in the constriction of defence funding, $16 billion, reducing us to 1.56 per cent of GDP, the lowest since 1938, South Australia, which is the 'defence state' was absolutely ravaged. Where was Senator Conroy when that was going on? Where were the South Australian senators? They were asleep at the wheel. South Australia was ravaged by Labor in the defence space and they said nothing. We will fix the problem.