Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Answers to Questions on Notice

Question No. 4291

4:06 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of the minister's response. On this occasion I do agree with Senator Patrick: it is not unreasonable to get an answer—a timely answer—to these questions. But it's also entirely unsurprising that we don't have an answer to Senator Patrick's questions because, when it comes to this announcement and the impact of this announcement on my state, there are many questions which remain unanswered by this government. They are questions which go to the heart of the future economic prosperity of my state—questions about local jobs and questions about local content in the new contracts. These are significant questions, and, by failing to answer them and by failing to have an open conversation with the people of South Australia, this government is creating deep anxiety in the people working on these contracts and in the people who have changed their whole lives to work on these projects, either in South Australia or, indeed, abroad. I've had families contact me from abroad who have found this incredibly stressful.

We still don't know what will be built in South Australia and we don't know when. We don't know precisely how local companies and local content will be engaged. We don't know what the future looks like. Whilst we support the AUKUS decision—we've provided bipartisanship on that, as we should—there are significant questions which remain unanswered, and they need to be answered as a matter of urgency.

South Australians are anxious about this, and it's no wonder they're anxious. Time and time again, when it comes to submarines in our state, to defence expenditure in our state or to local content requirements in our state, they have been misled by this government. They've been led down one path, fed something and then fed something else. They've been promised one thing, then had it ripped away from them. They've been promised something else, and then stepped back from that. Now we've got more than 1,100 jobs on the line that we know about, not including the people working for small businesses, the people working for businesses gearing up to tender for this work and the businesses who have spent money but do not yet have a contract in their hand.

Senator Patrick's right: it takes time, particularly for the small businesses. Not every company is a large company. Not every company can withstand this kind of uncertainty. And the workers are stressed—they are stressed and nervous and they don't trust this government to be honest with them. They don't trust this government to act with urgency. So, when Senator Patrick stands here and asks for an answer to these questions, I'm happy to stand here and support him because my state needs answers. These workers need answers. We've used estimates to do that. We're using the committee system to do that. It's reasonable that on the floor of this parliament we request all that information. We need to know urgently so that we can provide some comfort and assurance to the people in my state who are anxious.

Let me be clear: it's not just the people working directly on this program. It's not just those who are directly employed by Naval Group, although of course it is most critical for them. When there is uncertainty for this industry in my state, it affects our entire state. It affects business confidence in our state, which has a significant impact and flow-on effect on the rest of the economy, on other people's jobs and on the decisions South Australians are making for themselves, their future and their families. South Australians are already stressed around issues of brain drain. South Australians don't want their kids to go interstate for work; they want a bright future for them in our state with high-skilled jobs, secure jobs, technical jobs and jobs which will give them a long-term future in South Australia. But they need answers and they need clarity.

We need to know that this government is absolutely committed to maximising South Australian input and involvement in this. We need answers on that. The South Australian workforce that is working on these projects needs answers on that. It needs that security and that assurance, and so does every single small-business owner and employee who depends on this work in South Australia. Whilst we support the decision, we don't support the lack of clarity. We want assurances for South Australian workers. I want assurances for my state. I want to know about the future of secure and high-skilled work in my state when it comes to these defence projects.

Question agreed to.


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