Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2018

Documents

Future Submarine Project; Order for the Production of Documents

10:59 am

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | Hansard source

I will make sure I allow Senator Whish-Wilson a couple of minutes, as he's requested, at the end. I have a range of information here that I was planning to present if I'd had 20 minutes. Unfortunately, I only have about three minutes, so I'm just going to focus on the fact that the arguments that have been presented here today have contradicted themselves in their internal logic. Senator Carr started off really well with a whole bunch of information about government, executive government and the transparency required to the parliament. But he finished at about the same point that Senator Hanson and Senator Bernardi started off at, which was with a political point which actually underlines the motivation behind why they are supporting this motion.

Senator Carr said this was all about marginal seats and work occurring in marginal seats. Well, in South Australia, the submarines are being built in the seat of Port Adelaide, or what will be the seats of Hindmarsh and Spence, which happen to be two very safe Labor seats. Senator Bernardi has made the point that this is all about Mr Pyne protecting his own seat and letting a contract and yet has made the point, as have other senators, that there were other bids, for example from the Germans and the Japanese, who came out saying that their bids could be cheaper. If it was all about getting something built in South Australia, and if, as Senator Bernardi said, the minister doesn't care about the capability or the cost, then surely he would have taken the cheapest bid to get built in South Australia and then used the money for some other political purpose. What those comments highlight is that there is a political motivation behind the attacks on the government in this process when, as Senator Carr quite rightly pointed out before, the executive actually has the obligation in the national interest to conduct deliberations and to conduct negotiations with commercial partners in an environment where both parties can trust each other.

The very basis of the first principles review recommendation that Defence industry should be seen as a fundamental input to capability is so that we get value for money over the whole life cycle of a piece of equipment so that the Defence industry partner will be prepared to invest more in its facilities, in its people and in its processes, but that requires trust. If the information is just given willy-nilly to the public via the parliament because somebody decides that they would like that information—and I look through the Notice Paper here at the number of times that information has been requested not just for this program but also for a number of programs. Essentially what's being proposed here is government by a committee in the parliament, as opposed to the Westminster system, which is that we elect a government—an executive—to actually control the functions of government. If the taxpayers are unhappy, then, in a three-year cycle, you can have a change of government. That's how the Westminster system works. Senator Carr quite correctly highlighted that governments of all persuasions have, for reasons of confidentiality and maintaining that trust with a commercial partner, worked with information that has not been given in its entirety to either committees or to the whole parliament.

I do note that, where it is important for a committee representing the parliament to have information, committees like the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security have received classified briefings so that, on behalf of the parliament, they can make decisions. But we see a similar request from people sitting on the cross bench—that they want to be part of that committee too. They're saying, 'Why should somebody have the information and not us?' It's about layers of trust, and some things are held by the executive. Many things are shared with committees like PJCIS, but there are many things which are not shared with the entire parliament for a very good reason.

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