Defence Procurement

I want to follow on from the comments that Senator Birmingham made. I think he was onto something when he was comparing the inaction on the submarines while Labor were last in government to what they were doing on the NBN. They did spend billions of dollars on the NBN and we all saw the results of that—not much service to people and nothing rolled out, but lots of money spent. 

We saw no planning on the NBN. After reflecting on hearing Senator Conroy, who is now in charge of the submarine in a shadow capacity for the Labor Party, I thought, 'What would be more frightening? Having a Labor government do nothing on submarines or having Senator Conroy doing a lot? What would be more frightening for us as a nation?' We all saw the results for the NBN when the Labor Party tried to spend billions of dollars, did nothing and wasted money in convoluted contracts, when they clearly did not have a commercial bone in their body in order to sign something which will protect the interests of this nation.

We just saw an example of that. The shadow defence minister of our nation would like to take, as somehow almost tendered documents, statements made on a radio station by a European submarine builder, which are apparently evidence enough of what the budget should be. If this is how the Labor Party put their budgets together in government, maybe it starts to explain a lot about why our budget is blowing out and why they could never hit a deficit target in their whole period in government.

Senator Gallacher: "This is about submarines!"

Apparently, it is okay, Senator Gallacher, for us to say that a company has said something on the radio, so it must be a fact. Because someone has said in a radio interview that they could build something for $20 billion, that is now an established fact. That is not the process we are going to take in government. We are not going to rely on evidence from a radio transcript in a $20 billion decision for this nation. The decision is about the defence interests of our nation and will have decade-long consequences on how we can defend our nation.

The approach that we take when we are going to spend that sort of money, when we make a decision that will be about protecting the interests of our children and grandchildren in this nation, is to take the best evidence from the Department of Defence. They have the experts who are independent and are not working for particular companies—not that there is anything wrong with that, but everybody of course has their own barrow to push. We need to rely on independent evidence, and that is what this government is doing. We will not be cherry-picking evidence provided by particular people. We will be properly testing it through the process that the Labor Party also used on defence decisions when they were in government. It will be a two-pass process: there will be a first-pass process to go to cabinet and a second-pass process when more due diligence is done. That is what will happen and that will lead to better decisions by our government.

I was also listening to Senator Wong. She said that we do have the skills here in this nation to build a submarine. I have been to some of the Senate committee hearings—I am a member of the Senate economics committee—and I cannot think of one witness who thought that we can build a submarine alone in this nation. That cannot happen. It did not happen with the Collins class submarines; it is not happening with the air warfare destroyers. We will have to rely on expertise in other countries. Everyone recognises that. The Collins class was a multicultural submarine. It was made up of Swedish design, a US combat system and French propulsion. We will have to do the same with any decision we make in the future. It cannot all be done here, but there will still be plenty of work done in Australia, particularly in Adelaide, as the minister has outlined.

I want to finish with some evidence that was also presented at one of these Senate committee hearings. It was from Mr Glenn Thompson, who is the Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union. He put in his submission that the project to replace the HMAS Success, which has just been re-contracted, should have been approved and announced many years ago. I put that to him and said, 'I presume that this means it should have been done more than one year ago.' Mr Thompson replied, 'Absolutely.' So here we have the assistant national secretary of the AWU saying that the Labor Party should have made that decision years ago on that ship, and their own union bodies are damning them for their inaction. The reason that we are in this plot right now is that Labor had six years to do something on this and did nothing.

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