Monday, 17 September 2018
Future Submarine Project; Order for the Production of Documents
I compliment Senator Patrick on bringing this issue before parliament. It is a very important issue to be spoken about. I raised the issue of the submarines in Senate estimates earlier this year. I am greatly horrified at the thought this government has continued with its secrecy over the purchase of French submarines that haven't been proven or tested and yet come with a combined price tag of possibly $100 billion or even as high as $200 billion if they're not adequate, if they don't work properly. Who knows? It could go a lot higher than $100 billion. Down the track, we might be looking at a cost as high as $200 billion. How do we know? With the Collins class, we had nothing but trouble. It cost us billions of dollars in ongoing costs. Let me remind the people. We're not buying a fleet of Commodores anymore, kids. This is $100 billion-plus.
It's taken a while for some of the facts to surface. I need to take my hat off to Senator Patrick for his tenacity on this matter. We know now the Adelaide submarine fleet cost breakdown is $50 billion for the build and a further $50 billion for sustainment. We also know the project is struggling to find qualified Australian workers to do this project. As the CEO of French firm Naval Group said, it's one thing to train people, but people confuse education with experience. That was his worry. Now this project needs 1,500 highly specialised workers by the end of the decade. If you're thinking this is a great employment opportunity, think again. At a price of $100 billion, that works out at over $66 million for each employee. Some of you might say that's it's a bit rough to divide the $100 billion by 1,500 employees, but that's all we've got to work with from this government. Where is the information?
What other options do we have? There are conventional subs from Germany and Japan that will cost us around $20 billion to build. No doubt the sustainment costs will be equal to that figure over their lifetime. But we also have nuclear subs that we should be discussing—off-the-shelf technology from countries like the United States or France, for that matter. But no; we want to reinvent the wheel and go with an unproven, untested new diesel-electric model that even the French didn't have confidence in when I spoke to them. If you are unaware, I went on a delegation to France earlier this year, in June, and I asked them about the submarines. I said, 'Have they been proven or tested?' They didn't answer my question. They just said that the companies that are dealing with it are very reliable companies. It was quite interesting to listen to Senator Carr today saying that those companies may not be around and might be sold to Italian companies. We don't know what's going to happen such a long period down the track and whether that is going to be the company. I think we need to have answers now.
The Australian people have had a gutful of government waste, and I can see the headlines now for 2032-34—whenever the first delivery is going to be. The papers will read, '$100 billion lemon'. The Prime Minister in 2032-34 will have demands placed on him or her for yet another royal commission as to how this disaster occurred. It's time that this government came clean and delivered answers to the questions being asked here today and during this parliament.
My suggestion would be to scrap the agreement—it hasn't been signed as yet with Naval Group Australia—and to start talking with the Germans and Japanese about off-the-shelf models we can both afford and have in the water in a few years, rather than in an unknown time frame. Let's make this quite clear: yes, we do—and I do—support all the defence services in having decent equipment for our security and around Australia. It is important that we do have submarines, especially with what is happening in the South China Sea and with the Chinese. But was this done in the last election as a shore-up for Christopher Pyne's seat in South Australia? Or anyone else's seat? It was an election issue. We have not heard about the true figures. And how much will it cost us to get out of the contract once signed? What will happen from the delivery of the first sub that is unsuitable, outdated or inferior? Do we buy the other 11 over the next 15 years, and at what cost?
These questions must be answered. Australians are sick and tired of governments having agreements with contractors and having yet another government come in and pull out of that contract. How do we know where Labor stand on this? Are Labor going to continue it? If this contract is signed prior to the next election, will Labor pull out of this contract? Is there a clause in there about it and how much is it going to cost the Australian people? We need to know this. And how much? As I said: how much is it going to cost us to get out of it if we have lemons delivered to us by 2032-34?
Another thing I must ask is: can South Australia deal with it? They're flat out now dealing with their companies and electricity. The whole state is falling into turmoil because they can't deliver decent electricity to run the state. And if they think that they're going to run this on renewables, I'll tell them absolutely different: it's not going to happen. So that's an important matter to discuss as well. Why I'm talking about the cost and the blowout is because didn't we have the same happen thing with the NBN? What it's cost us has completely blown out, we have an inferior product and it's not delivering what we need for the Australian people. We had this happen with the pink batts as well. That was an absolute blowout and a disaster, with lives lost. There was also the building schools program. And we had the Collins class submarines.
How many times have we seen contracts entered into that haven't been fully investigated to ensure that we have the right product at the right price? I'm sick of governments who have signed off on these to big-note themselves in the eyes of the public. There's no costing and they're not answerable to the public. They just change over: who's the next one? Then they'll actually have to put bandaid solutions over it.
The Centre Alliance and One Nation took a very measured approach in not supporting the corporate tax cuts, which were going to cost the taxpayers an extra $45 billion. But that was seven to eight years down the track. My reasoning was: could we afford it? I don't believe we can. We can't leave it to making decisions that far down the track. Where is the money going to come from for this? That's why I can't see the benefit of even $100 billion—and it may even be a lot more than that—for submarines that will possibly be inferior.
I call on the Labor Party: I want to know your policies. The people need to know what you intend to do about this if the contract is signed? Do you intend to pull out of it or do you intend to go ahead with it? And no matter what the costs might be, we have to know how much it's going to cost us to get out of this. We're talking about submarines being delivered in about 14 or 16 years down the track. The Barracuda submarine is diesel powered. These submarines don't perform as well as nuclear submarines do. I understand that we need to have nuclear plants here in Australia, but we are moving forward so fast that we need to talk about all this. Will we go nuclear? Will it be better for us in the expanse of oceans that we have around us? We need a submarine that is going to be up to doing the job at the time.
I fully support Senator Patrick calling this to the attention of the parliament. We need to ask these questions. We need to put pressure on the government because we're leading into an election. I want to know the answers and I'm sure the public of Australia want to know the truth.