Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is directed to Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Senator Hogg has raised with me the fact that Senator Campbell, in answering Senator Hogg’s question regarding reports of the government’s cancelling of the FA18 Hornet’s electronic warfare protection project, in fact, read a brief relating to a quite different Defence project regarding the smart bomb. While I accept that Senator Campbell made an honest mistake in reading a document he did not understand, totally unrelated to the question asked of him, I invite him to have a second go, and respond to front-page newspaper reports that the $400 million project will be dumped as an expensive failure. Has the electronic warfare project, the one originally asked about, been abandoned? And, if so, at what cost to taxpayers? And what does that mean for the jobs of the people working on the project in Adelaide?
The answer is that there are a number of programs operating under that. There are two projects, which are related. Of the project that Senator Evans is referring to, we understand that—and I do have further information that I promised to give Senator Hogg and, Mr President, you will know that I—
There is a brief, and it refers to two projects, and I referred to both of those projects, and I said to Senator Hogg that I would add any information I had at the end of question time, and you have a note by your right hand, Mr President, that says, ‘Yes, I do have some further information and will be seeking the call after question time.’ But since Senator Evans wants to give me the opportunity to add that information now, I will. As I have said, there is no decision made in relation to that project—
the ALR-2002B—at this time. This element of the Hornet upgrade program aims to improve the FA18’s ability to detect radar. BAE was selected by Defence as the preferred radar warning receiver for the program. I think there was an implication made in Senator Hogg’s earlier question that it was not the preferred system, but it was in fact preferred by Defence, as the project was regarded as better value for money.
With these Defence contracts, they are seeking to ensure that the FA18’s air combat capability is enhanced. And you go through a process of developing it, integrating it and testing it. And, as I have said, that has cost $94 million. Defence now advises that the remaining schedule and technical risk in maturing the program for the Hornets is not acceptable. But the government will ensure that the air combat capability of the FA18 Hornets is not compromised.
BAE Systems Australia is developing a radar warning system, the ALR-2002, to be fitted to some ADF aircraft. BAE Systems Australia has informed Defence that it has approximately 140 people working on the radar warning projects and those engineers who are involved in the project are highly skilled and can be redeployed to other areas within BAE. So, in response to Senator Evans’s questions about potential job losses at BAE, Defence has been assured that there will, in fact, be no job losses.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his second go at the question but, given that he provided information that there will not be a loss of jobs but there would be no decision taken, I am a bit confused. Has the government decided to abandon this project? If not, when will it make the decision? And what will be the cost to taxpayers if the decision is made in accordance with the advice from Defence which, as he informed us, was that the schedule risk was not supportable? So, given you have had firm advice from Defence that the project basically should be abandoned because it is a complete dud, what will be the cost to taxpayers and when will you formally abandon the project?
That, of course, is a decision that is before government. I have already answered the question in relation to the costs of the project. What is remarkable is that on the one hand you have Labor, who presided over an historic reduction in Australia’s defence capabilities, a reduction in total Defence outlays from 9.4 per cent down to 8 per cent, and the greatest mismanagement of a Defence project in the history of the free world in the Collins class submarine project—one of the worst-managed projects—and on the other hand you have a government that has been steadfastly improving our Defence expenditure, improving our defence capability, improving the size and effectiveness of our Defence Force. And yet, when a process has gone through to develop an improvement for our air capabilities, the Labor Party have the audacity to criticise it. They should pull their heads in.