Standing up for Canberra

Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014 - Submarines

I rise today speak on this amendment to the Omnibus Repeal Bill. This amendment will make changes to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act to ensure that the government holds an open and accountable competitive tender process for the Future Submarine project. This amendment will ensure a comprehensive project definition study is undertaken for our Future Submarine project. It also ensures that at least four bidders must be invited to take part in the limited tender.

There is nothing more important than protecting our nation. The Future Submarine project will deliver one of our most strategically significant defence capabilities at a cost of more than $20 billion. Given its scale, I cannot think of a project that is more in need of proper governance and accountability than this one. Labor understands that we need to acquire the best capabilities for the future protection of Australia while providing value for money to taxpayers. Labor also keenly understands the need to support Australian jobs—the need to support an Australian shipbuilding industry that deserves the right to compete for our future submarines.

I am standing here today supporting this amendment because Australia cannot risk a 'captain's call' when it comes to the Future Submarine project. This government has shown nothing but contempt for Defence since it came into office. It cut the real wages of our ADF personnel, the former minister claimed he did not trust ASC to build a canoe and we have seen secret deals with Japan leaked through the media This government cannot be trusted when it comes to one of Australia's most strategically significant defence capabilities. That is why we need certainty. That is why we need a bipartisan approach. That is why we need an open and transparent process and to listen to expert advice.

I would like to briefly touch on what the experts are saying. During Senate estimates last year ASC revealed it can build submarines meeting Australia's requirements, on Australian soil and using Australian workers, for between $18 billion and $24 billion. So why not include ASC in the competitive tender process? This would cancel out a whole range of technical, commercial and capability gap risks that come with committing to an overseas supplier. It would also avoid widespread job losses across the Australian shipbuilding industry—an industry that is already struggling. In Victoria, BAE shipyards has already laid off workers, with up to a further 1,400 jobs in the industry set to go. The further loss of vital skills in shipbuilding would be devastating for workers and their families but also for Australia's sovereign submarine capabilities.

Before the election, both the Liberal and Labor governments had promised to build our future submarines in Australia. The Abbott government promised Australia's 12 new submarines would be built in South Australia. But now the government has invited Germany, France and Japan to compete for the project. This represents yet another broken promise. By contrast, when we were in government we saw the need for the future submarine and worked to address it. We allocated $214 million to studies and analysis on what our needs were and what technologies were available. We selected the US AN/B-YG-1 combat system and the Mark 48 torpedos. We began working towards establishing a land based test facility to be centred in Adelaide. We established the Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan. We did this because we knew that, in order to avoid a submarine capability gap, we needed to work calmly and methodically to understand what capability the ADF needs and how we can acquire it at the best possible price. That is why the Leader of the Opposition today announced Labor's policy that Australia's future submarines will be built, maintained and sustained in Australia.

Australia's future submarines are one of the most strategically important defence assets and should not be used for political point scoring. The Prime Minister should not be constantly changing his position—as he has on so many policy issues—on our future submarines, as he did in the lead-up to the spill motion, to keep his South Australian colleagues happy. Instead, the government needs to hold an open and accountable competitive tender process for the Future Submarine project. The government needs to listen to the experts and build our future submarines in Australia. It is time the government followed Labor's policy, set out in this amendment, and put in place a proper competitive tender for this multibillion dollar project that is so critical to Australia's future security.

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