Senate debates

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Minister for Defence; Censure

2:47 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion censuring the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion to censure the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston.

It is a surprise that the Leader of the Government in the Senate did not have the courage to take this censure. It shows how little this government actually wants to defend the Minister for Defence. This is a serious motion to move. I say to the Senate: the opposition does not move this lightly. What we have is a Minister for Defence who, over and over again, in the management of his portfolio has demonstrated that it is untenable for him to continue in the office of Minister for Defence. That is not only the view of the opposition; that is the view even of the gentleman described as a 'fine man'—that is, the Liberal leader in South Australia.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I should not have to do this with the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, but clearly this is a motion to set aside standing orders; the debate has to be on why we set aside standing orders, not the substantive motion. The Leader of the Opposition should be aware of that and I ask you to bring it to her attention.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Macdonald. You would be also aware that it has been long practice in these debates that the debate is wide-ranging and does tend to cover other matters concerning the suspension purpose.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Macdonald for his assistance.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Worthy assistance!

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

His worthy assistance—thank you, Senator Moore. We are seeking to suspend standing orders because, quite frankly, the Leader of the Government in the Senate did not have the courage to take the censure motion. That is what has happened. If anybody has a look at the way in which this matter has been debated and discussed in the last 24 hours in Australia, I think most reasonable observers would say this is a legitimate matter for debate here in this Senate.

We have a minister who has, first, insulted the men and women of the Australian Submarine Corporation by stating he would not trust them to build a canoe. We have a minister—a defence minister—who has gone out, via his comments, and undermined confidence in the nation's defence capability. What message does it send to the community and to the international community that the Minister for Defence says, about the people who maintain our submarines and who are building our air warfare destroyers, that he would not trust them to build a canoe? What does that say?

Another reason why we are seeking to censure is the demonstrable bias that this minister is bringing to this project. As I said earlier today, this is the largest procurement the Commonwealth will make, and it is important that it be above reproach. What we saw yesterday in question time—and really the minister has done little but compound it with his answers today—was a minister demonstrating clear bias against one of the potential bidders in that procurement. He is effectively knocking out, by his comments, one of the potential bidders. In the substantive debate, I think it is reasonable for us to ask why it is that the government is doing that.

Again today, the Minister for Defence was asked by me—and the opposition has asked this on a number of occasions—to do nothing other than to make clear that he will deliver on the promise he made to the people of South Australia, standing outside the ASC with Mr Marshall, where he made a clear and unequivocal commitment to build 12 submarines in Australia, at the ASC. Today we heard again the minister—and I ask him to consider whether he might have misled the Senate when he did this—keep asserting that he said something different. I read out today—and I will do it again if he requires it—the direct quote from his transcript on 8 May 2013, and all of the footnotes and all of the qualifications that he sought to add today in question time are not there, because what has occurred is that we have a minister who is going to break a promise. In fact, one wonders whether there is a promise that this government is not prepared to break.

The opposition would say this to the chamber: the minister's conduct in the last 24 hours, on top of his conduct in the months to date, is deserving of the debate of a censure motion. We are seeking to suspend standing orders to have that debate because we think this minister's performance yesterday, when he sought to traduce the workers whom we trust to keep our submariners safe, is deserving of a censure debate in this chamber. We say to the crossbenchers, 'We ask for your support for the suspension of standing orders for this debate.' (Time expired)

2:53 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

You can tell it is only one month until Christmas. The groundswell of goodwill coming over to us from the Labor Party is just unbearable! Let us have a look at what this motion is all about. It is about trying to get at a very capable defence minister who, while in opposition, saw the demise of a Labor Minister for Defence—one Mr Joel Fitzgibbon—who had to resign from the portfolio. Why? Because he was in breach of Labor's own very weak ministerial code of conduct. Where were Senator Conroy and Senator Wong when all that was ventilated at estimates? They were running defence until finally Mr Fitzgibbon had to resign.

I simply ask the Australian people and the crossbenchers to do a compare and contrast. Do the juxtaposition: somebody who had so grievously breached the ministerial code of conduct and was brought kicking and screaming to a resignation, compared with this minister's alleged offence which is self-admittedly an overstatement during the heat of question time. That is all that is at issue here—an overstatement during question time. That is the compare and contrast I would put to the crossbenchers. I say to them, quite honestly, it is like chalk and cheese.

Indeed, if you say that Mr Fitzgibbon's case is too far in the past, I would not agree, but let me give you something a little bit closer at hand—this year, when the shadow minister for defence attacked a man who had a distinguished 30 years of service in uniform, one Lieutenant General Campbell. When he was called upon to apologise, Senator Conroy said to the chair of that committee, 'Take it to the floor of the Senate.' That was the arrogance, that was the viciousness with which he attacked this man in uniform, whom he accused of being 'engaged in a political cover-up'. Disgraceful! Where was Senator Wong then? Nowhere to be seen. Where was Senator Conroy's apology? Where was Senator Conroy's mea culpa? Nowhere to be seen or heard. So I say to the crossbenchers, have a look at Mr Fitzgibbon, have a look at Senator Conroy—both more grievous offences, without apology, than that which Senator Johnston, on his own admission, did yesterday at question time.

If we are to have censure motions each and every day when somebody overstates their case in this place, there will be censure motions against each other all day every day because, regrettably, in the heat of debate, some of us are wont to overstate our case. Indeed, I have needed to come into this place from time to time to withdraw words that I had previously spoken. It is part and parcel of the robustness and rigour of debate in this place. When somebody has the decency to put up their hand—as Senator Johnston did at 9.30 this morning, at the first opportunity when the Senate resumed and even earlier this morning he was on the airwaves admitting his overstatement—what more can a man or woman do other than acknowledge that which they had done incorrectly? It was simply an overstatement. That is all we are talking about. So I say especially to the crossbenchers, if you are to vote for censure and suspension of standing orders in relation to a senator's overstatement on one occasion—

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Serial offender.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

which he withdraws the very next day, then we will be debating these matters all the time. Finally, I will take Senator Conroy's interjection. He says Senator Johnston is a serial offender. Senator Conroy, look in the mirror and you will see the biggest serial offender this place has. (Time expired)

2:58 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the suspension of standing orders—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will support the suspension of standing orders because I think we should have a debate on the competence of the minister in this portfolio in relation to this matter. We have before us a procurement process that is going to be incredibly important and serious for the future of Australia's defence forces and we have a minister who has demonstrated that he does not have the capacity to deal with that procurement process. It is very well known that that is the case and that is the view within the government itself.

2:59 pm

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this censure motion and the urgency with which we need to bring it on. The sands are shifting underneath Senator Johnston as we speak. The Prime Minister's unofficial press secretary has announced today, online, what is going to happen. The last time that the Prime Minister's unofficial press secretary made an announcement like this, Senator Sinodinos went to the backbench. Here is what Dennis Shanahan has said online today:

DAVID Johnston’s position as Defence Minister is effectively over.

The only reason he remains in the job for now is that Tony Abbott is manic about not changing his ministry because he wants to appear a stable government after six years of Labor leadership ...

Whether Johnston—

That is, Senator Johnston—

goes as Defence Minister now or a bit later depends is a moot point. His long-term standing is mortally damaged, he’s lost the confidence of his Cabinet colleagues and his comments have been publicly disowned by the Prime Minister.

Johnston’s remark about the submarine corporation not being trusted to build a canoe is not some simple slip of the tongue or “rhetorical flourish” which Abbott can claim is being blown out of proportion. Notwithstanding ASC’s past difficulties Johnston’s made a huge political mistake.

I will keep quoting:

In itself the remark is bad enough: the Australian government may want to sell its share of the ASC and the responsible minister has trashed the brand; the minister who has to make a decision on Australia’s biggest procurement project appears to have a preconceived opinion and; other nations are confused about his thinking.

But what makes it worse for Abbott is that the lack of a public strategy on the submarines and warships and the mixed messages of hope and despair for workers and Liberal colleagues in South Australia and Victoria represent a wider malaise in Coalition management.

And it goes on.

The last time we saw a statement like this from the Prime Minister's unofficial press secretary, Senator Sinodinos spent a year on the backbench. We all know what is happening over there, so let's have it on. The government should have accepted this censure motion. It was quite cowardly not to accept this censure motion, and we should be having the debate right now. I look forward to contributing in this debate because this minister has lost the confidence of all of those opposite, particularly the South Australians. I am looking forward to seeing if the whip can force Senator Birmingham, Senator Ruston and Senator Edwards to stay in the chamber to vote to support Senator Johnston, because they have all come out today. Mr Briggs came out today and said that he was wrong. Mr Marshall has already belled the cat on the untenable position that Senator Johnston is in. So we all know where this is going to end soon. We all know they are going to cling to Senator Johnston to try to stagger through until the end of next week and then he will disappear. He is the biggest barnacle to be scraped off by Mr Abbott in the next few weeks. We know it over here, we know it on the crossbenches and you all know it over there. The time is coming to an end.

So it is urgent that we debate this now. It is important that the Senate expresses its view about the conduct of the minister—about his dealings with defence pay, how he did not stand up to get a fair pay rise for Defence Force personnel, how he allowed others to rail over the top of him, and then he tried to pretend that he had not cut the pay and said that no-one is worse off. It is important for the Senate, right now, to be able to have a chance to debate these issues. I urge all of those in the chamber to support this suspension. Again the government stands condemned for failing to take the suspension on the chin—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Exactly, Senator Wong—a weak government trying to protect its own, but it is all over and you all know it. It is all over for Senator Johnston. Each and every one of you knows what happens when The Australian says you are in the way of the Abbott government. We have to scrape the barnacle off the bottom of the vessel and we have to move on.

3:04 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator David Johnston is one of the best defence ministers Australia has had for many, many years. He is streets ahead of any of the three Labor ministers who occupied the portfolio during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. He is, in my opinion, significantly better than some of the coalition defence ministers of recent memory. He is one of the best defence ministers this country has had in recent years. What the Labor Party is doing, in a cynical political exercise that has no merit in it whatsoever, is trying to hang him for a stray remark.

I ask—through you, Mr President—of the crossbenchers: apply the same test to yourselves. Everyone in this chamber should apply the same test to themselves. Should your political career be in peril by one moment of exuberance in question time? If we were to apply that test and we were to be honest with ourselves, each and every man and woman in this chamber has said things in a moment of exuberance that they would regret. But, unlike Senator Stephen Conroy, who not in a moment of exuberance but in a moment of calculated and despicable calumny, defamed a fine Australian General, General Angus Campbell. Senator David Johnson had the spine and the manliness and the character to come to the chamber this morning and say, 'I made a mistake yesterday. I apologise and I withdraw and I express my regret.'

I rise to oppose this motion, but, in a sense, I am arguing against my own interests, because nothing would be more serviceable to the coalition than to have a debate on the catastrophe that was the Labor Party's defence policy. This is the party that, in six years in government, reduced Australia's defence spending from not quite two per cent of GDP to 1.56 per cent of GDP, the lowest level since 1938. This is the party that went through three defence ministers in six years, and all of them—all three of them—were no-hopers! This is the party that was so interested in defence that at the 2013 federal election, it did not even produce a defence policy because no-one over there was interested enough to do it! This is the party that talks about the importance of the next generation of Australian submarines—and important they are—but do you know what? When they were in office, because their deeds always speak louder than words, they ripped $20 billion out of the Future Submarine program—that is right, Mr President—and progressed it not at all.

Mr Rudd, when he was Leader of the Opposition, said:

A Rudd … Government would make it a priority to ensure that the necessary preliminary work on Australia's next generation of submarines was carried out in time for consideration and initial approval in 2011 …

Well, there was no initial approval in 2011 or in 2012 or in 2013. All there was was a degradation of the budget so that there was no capacity to build a future Australian submarine in time to replace the retiring Collins class submarines. That government, the government in which Senator Wong was the finance minister and in which Senator Conroy served as a senior minister, was so inert, so uninterested, so negligent about Australia's naval needs, and particularly its need for a next-generation submarine, that it left us with a four-year capability gap. There will be, at least, a four-year gap in Australia's defence capability—entirely as a result of your mismanagement, your negligence, your indifference and your incompetence!

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the chair.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

And here, for the sake of a slip of the tongue in question time, they seek to politically hang the man who has been given the task of trying to recover Australia's strategic capability from the mess, from the wreckings that they left. Senator David Johnston is a fine defence minister; he has been given a Herculean task, and he is doing it magnificently.

3:16 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That a motion to censure the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, may be moved immediately and have precedence over all other business this day and be determined without amendment.

Question agreed to.

I move:

That the Senate censures the Minister for Defence (Senator Johnston) for:

(1) insulting the men and women of ASC by stating he 'wouldn't trust them to build a canoe';

(2) undermining confidence in Australia's defence capability;

(3) threatening the integrity of the Future Submarine Project, Australia's largest defence procurement, by demonstrating bias and failing to conduct a competitive tender;

(4) breaking his promise made on 8 May 2013 to build 12 new submarines at ASC in South Australia; and

(5) failing to protect Christmas and recreation leave and failing to demand a real pay increase for Australian Defence Force personnel.

The Abbott government's Statement of Ministerial Standards states in its opening sentence:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are entrusted with the conduct of public business and must act in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards of integrity and propriety.

It goes on to say:

… it is vital that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries conduct themselves in a manner that will ensure public confidence in them and in the government.

The Minister for Defence has breached these requirements in the Prime Minister's standards. He made an extraordinary attack on the Australian Submarine Corporation yesterday, an attack that insulted the company and its workforce, undermined confidence in Australia's defence capability and jeopardised the integrity of one of the nation's biggest-ever Defence procurement contracts.

It was the latest instance of this minister's unacceptable performance in a portfolio which is critical for our national security. It comes on top of a broken promise to build the Navy's new fleet of submarines in Adelaide and his plan which cuts the real pay of Australia's servicemen and servicewomen. This minister has lost the confidence of the defence industry because of his conduct. He has lost the confidence of the men and women serving in the ADF and he has lost the confidence of his own colleagues in the government.

As I have said, yesterday the Defence minister said he would not trust the ASC to build a canoe—a nasty, cowardly and gratuitous slur on the ASC and on the 3,000-odd people who work for the company. The minister should be censured for this insult. It is a kick in the guts for the men and women, from management to the shop floor, who work hard every day and take pride in the work they do and who play an important role in developing, building, maintaining and sustaining Australia's defence capabilities, the men and women we trust to keep our submariners safe. They do not deserve to be treated like this by one of the most senior ministers in the government.

Some of the ASC workers visited Parliament House yesterday, and one of those workers, Andrew Daniels, was asked by the media how he felt about the minister's comment. He said: 'It's pretty disgusting. There's 3,000 ASC workers across two states—South Australia and Western Australia—and we do our best. We maintain submarines and we also build AWDs. There is no way we would put at risk our sailors—Australian sailors—no way we would be giving them second-class work, shoddy jobs or anything like that. We give them the best. That is what our job is: to maintain the submarines, to build the best AWDs. And here we are, we're being trashed. Well, I go home to my family and this guy's telling me I'm useless, and I don't feel useless. It's pretty gutting to 3,000 workers in South Australia and WA, and it's not a great feeling to have your Defence minister, who you are out there doing your best job for for the country, and he is trashing it.'

This is the minister in charge of defence policy and defence strategy in this country. He is the minister responsible for making some of the most difficult and serious decisions a minister in government can make. He is responsible for Defence procurement—for planning, acquiring and maintaining the equipment of our military personnel. He is responsible for policies and decisions critical to the development of our defence industry. This is a minister who needs to display maturity, judgement and leadership, not petulance, prejudice and pig-headedness. Australia is not served well by a hot-headed Defence minister who trashes the reputation of a company and a workforce who are responsible for the sustainment of our submarine fleet and who are building our new air warfare destroyers.

Yesterday, the opposition expected the minister—as I think many people did—to come into the Senate after question time or during the Senate sittings last night to apologise, but he made no appearance. What he did do is come in this morning and sought to recast his insult as nothing more than a rhetorical flourish. These are thoughtless remarks by the minister. They undermine confidence in Australia's defence capability, they undermine confidence in the capacity and the ability of the ADF to do its job and they will undermine confidence in the Australian defence manufacturing industry.

These comments have been reported widely, including internationally—for example, in The Wall Street Journal. This is not just a slur on the ASC which will damage that company's reputation and commercial prospects; it damages perceptions of the wider Australian defence manufacturing industry—an industry which employs tens of thousands of people, which is important for our economy and which is strategically important for the nation's defence capabilities. We should have, and the country deserves, an Australian defence minister who is working with that industry and championing that industry, not going out of his way to damage its reputation.

I am concerned, as are people on this side of the chamber and outside, that what we saw in Senator Johnston's outburst yesterday was a glimpse into the mindset of the Abbott government. It is a mindset which is prejudiced against the Australian build and a mindset which is prejudiced against the ASC—a prejudice which has tainted the Abbott government's whole approach to the future submarine project. That is the only explanation for why this government has spent months backgrounding against this company and these workers. It is a mindset prejudiced against Australian shipbuilding. We saw that when they barred Australian shipbuilders from even tendering to build the new supply ships, a decision which will ensure that jobs that could have been had in Australia are sent overseas.

I want to return to the issue of procurement and the integrity of the procurement process. We say that the minister's comments have compromised the integrity of the procurement process for the future submarine project. When it comes to procurement, this portfolio is the biggest of any portfolio in the Australian government—billions of dollars of government spending are involved. The commercial prospects of hundreds of manufacturing firms and the jobs of thousands of workers around the country are affected by defence procurement decisions. For this reason, these processes need to be above reproach. They must be conducted in a manner which promotes competition and value for money, in a way which is fair and equitable to industry and in a way which is free from bias, prejudice or favouritism.

These are principles which are laid out in a number of important documents which govern defence procurement. First, the CPRs, the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, which state:

All potential suppliers to government must, subject to these CPRs, be treated equitably based on their commercial, legal, technical and financial abilities …

This minister did not treat ASC equitably when he said that he would not trust it to build a canoe. The department's Defence Procurement Policy Manualsays factors to be considered when identifying the risks associated with procurement include the risk of a breach of ethics and probity in the tender evaluation process, including through bias. The minister's comments about ASC have jeopardised the probity of the future submarine procurement by displaying bias against a potential Australian supplier.

The Department of Defence's guide cautions against probity concerns. It cautions against concerns which might involve, for example, allegations of bias in favour of particular solutions or suppliers and risks to the competitiveness or fairness of future defence procurement processes. I say to the chamber that bias and risks to the fairness of future defence procurement processes is exactly what we saw from this minister yesterday and, I regret to say, it is exactly what we are seeing from the approach that the Abbott government is taking to the future submarine project.

The principles of fairness, transparent processes, equitable treatment and the avoidance of bias or favouritism are central to probity of procurement. The minister's behaviour, his comment that he would not trust ASC to build a canoe, absolutely flies in the face of these principles. What it suggests to any fair-minded observer is that he is biased against that company. It suggests that he has prejudged its capacity to be involved in the future submarine project before it has even been given an opportunity to put its case or make its bid. The minister's comments undermine the ability of Defence to conduct a fair, equitable and ethical procurement process. That is an issue for the Prime Minister, not only an issue for this chamber.

I have dealt with what the defence minister said. I have dealt with some of the impact of his comments on the company, on the workers and on the integrity of the defence procurement process. I would like to make some comments as to why he said it, because I think that everybody knows—observing the conduct of this minister in this chamber as the opposition and other crossbenchers have asked him questions, observing what has occurred in Senate estimates and observing what has been put into the paper—that very clearly all of this is about justifying breaking another promise. We know that the defence minister went to Adelaide last year, called a press conference in front of ASC's shipbuilding facility and said the following:

… I want to confirm that the 12 submarines as set out in the 2009 Defence White Paper and then again in last Friday’s Defence White Paper are what the Coalition accepts and will deliver.

We will deliver those submarines from right here at ASC in South Australia.

That was the promise before the election. What has been very clear, patent and obvious in the last months—as we have watched what the Prime Minister's office have backgrounded the media and what this minister has said here in this chamber and outside—is that all of that activity has been about justifying a broken promise. In many ways, one of the worst faults of this minister is not only that he was prepared to trash the workers and the ASC but that he was prepared to do it as cover for his broken promise. I think that is a fundamentally dishonourable thing to do. Instead of fronting up and telling people what the truth is, you try to denigrate those workers whom we trust, you try to denigrate that bidder, you want to knock them out of the bid to justify a decision that you know you either have made or will make—which breaks another election promise.

What we know since the election is the government has abandoned this promise and that is why yet again today in question time this minister would not repeat it. I gave him the opportunity to repeat what he told Australians and those workers in May of last year, and again he declined to do so. This government has abandoned this promise, as it has abandoned so many other promises. This government wants to acquire submarines from overseas. We know this from the Prime Minister's office backgrounding of the media from Japan. This is why this minister has made his extraordinary attack on the ASC, because he is attempting to justify the breaking of this promise.

The Abbott government is abandoning South Australia's defence manufacturing industry, just as it abandoned our auto-manufacturing industry. This government will jeopardise thousands of jobs in South Australia. It will jeopardise small- and medium-sized businesses in South Australia and across the country that rely on defence contracts for economic opportunities. It will damage the viability of our shipbuilding industry nationally—a strategically important part of Australia's advanced manufacturing industry, an important source of jobs in our nation, an important source of advanced technical and engineering skills, an important source of sophisticated technological management and organisational capability. All of these things are essential for any country that aspires to have advanced and competitive manufacturing industry. All of this is at risk because of this government's broken promise on the future submarine project.

This censure motion also refers to the cut in real pay and conditions of the members of the ADF. That is what we are seeing under this government, and it is a disgrace. Under this government, we will see the pay rates of Australia's service men and women go backwards in real terms over the next three years. Under this government, we will see ADF pay not keeping up with inflation over the next three years, meaning the men and women who serve our nation will not be able to keep up with the rising cost of living. Under this government, we will see members of the ADF lose their Christmas leave and other days of leave. Yet we have a minister in this place who said people will not lose anything. Again, this is another case of the Prime Minister saying one thing before the election and doing another thing afterwards. Who could forget Mr Abbott—

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

So many examples.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I take the interjection. There are so many examples but, on this occasion, this example is Mr Abbott saying this, 'A fair go is the least a grateful nation can offer to serving and former military personnel.' Well, the question this minister has never answered is how he can defend cutting real pay and cutting leave, and how that is a fair go.

This minister needs to be censured. He has already been cut adrift by his own colleagues, from the Prime Minister down. The Prime Minister issued a statement last night which is nothing other than a statement of no confidence in this minister, a statement which completely repudiates the minister's comments. The Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Mr Briggs, said his comments were wrong. Senator Birmingham said, and I agree with him, there is no excuse for the minister's denigration of the workforce—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

That's not it.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

All right. He wants me to read the actual quote. I will do that. Senator Birmingham said there is no excuse for the minister's:

… denigration of the workforce or of the extensive capabilities that South Australia has

A senior Liberal MP is reported in The Australian as saying the defence minister's comments were:

… some of the most stupid words I have ever heard from a senior minister.

Mr Marshall, the leader of the South Australia Liberal Party, said the comments were deplorable. He said:

They were disgraceful comments about the ASC and he needs to do something to rebuild the confidence of the workforce ... if he can’t then his position is untenable.

If this minister had any common sense or judgement, he would have come into this Senate after question time yesterday and apologised and withdrawn his comments. He insulted a whole company and its workforce. He has inflicted reputational damage not only on the company but on Australia's capability more generally. He has inflicted serious reputational damage on our shipbuilding industry. He has undermined the integrity of the defence procurement process. He has undermined confidence in Australia's defence capability. Who would have thought a defence minister who says he cares about national security would be happy to undermine confidence in Australia's naval capability?

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

It is disgraceful that a defence minister would be so cavalier with the perceptions of our defence capability. This minister has broken a promise to South Australians and to Australians that the Abbott government would build 12 submarines in Adelaide. This is the defence minister who is presiding over cuts to the pay and conditions of Australian service men and women. This is why this Senate should censure this discredited defence minister.

3:35 pm

Photo of David JohnstonDavid Johnston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have not sought to insult the men and women of ASC. Indeed, what I said has been explained. The greatest insult I have ever seen to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, and indeed to those employed in the defence industry, was when the former Prime Minister sent her bodyguard to the National Security Committee. That is the greatest insult to those men and women who are charged with providing the platforms and actually defending our country—to show no interest and send someone along whose security vet position is completely unknown to the National Security Committee.

I did say the wrong thing. But when you say that I have undermined the confidence in Australia's defence capability, can I tell you that ASPI adjudicated what you delivered in terms of the defence budget as 'an unsustainable mess'. When will you take responsibility for the fact that you elected to rip off the Defence portfolio in pursuit of a bogus exercise chasing a budget surplus that never eventuated? 'An unsustainable mess.' Compare that with the budget that we have delivered in Defence. You were simply the greatest underminers of confidence in Australia's defence capability in the six years that you were there, and you had your fingerprints all over the actual blatant facts of doing it. You ripped $16 billion out of the portfolio and delivered, as I say, an unsustainable mess.

Let's just talk about what, individually, the Labor Party did. I can recall when there was a circumstance where SAS pay was readjudicated and backdated such that serving soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan received debts from the government of $30,000, and interest was payable and taken from their pays. The initial response of the then minister was: 'It's not a problem. It has been fixed.' So there they were, out there fighting for us, and what thanks did the then government give them but a debt, a retrospective debt, of $30,000 and the deduction of interest? Of course, that very same minister had his brother in his office trying to do a hard sell of medical services to the Australian Defence Force. They actually commanded the surgeon general to go to the minister's office so that he could receive the hard sell. This is what they got up to. I have to say that the comparison is off the planet.

Then you say 'threatening the integrity of the future submarine program'. Well, can I tell you, the greatest threat to the future submarine program was the promises, the splash and all of the hype that the Labor Party delivered, and then, when the government changed, we found it was all a fraud. It was all a complete charade. It was all just a headline, it was a doorstop and it was nothing more than an exercise in fooling the Australian public. And that is what we are confronting. You set out to pretend that you were going to build 12 submarines, and I said that if this is fantasy we will have to reconsider it because time is against us. Collins has a limited life, and we must avoid a capability gap.

So here we are in 2014, and I have had to start from scratch, notwithstanding the promises of Kevin Rudd. Of course, you do not want to hear his promises that he would ensure that the submarines were built at ASC. If he wanted to ensure that, why didn't he do a contract? If he was going to cement that into place, why didn't he do what normal, faithful, high-fidelity governments do? They contract people. But, no, he did not. He said that construction work would begin in about 2017. Can I tell you, that is a very, very difficult proposition when we have not even got to first pass in the program; indeed, Admiral Moffitt said you had 20 years after first pass. Now, where are we? We are light years away from having a capacity to deal with this. We must take urgent action. That is a complete and full threat to the integrity of the program. We are now in a position where we are scrambling to make up the gap, the distance and the pain that the Labor Party has left us in with submarines. Kevin Rudd went on to say that he would start this process this year with guaranteed continuity of work for South Australia's defence industry. But not one dollar did he put on the table at that time for this program. He did, some years later, put $214 million on the table under Minister Smith, of which only $60 million has been spent. That is the greatest threat to the integrity of the future submarine program. So what we saw were promises, doorstops, no decisions and no action. He went on to say that a Rudd government 'would make it a priority to ensure that the necessary preliminary work on Australia's next generation of submarine was carried out in time for consideration and initial approval in 2011'. And, as we all know, in 2011, absolutely nothing happened. They just sat there mouthing '12 submarines for Adelaide' and doing absolutely no work. I took them at their word. I thought there was actually something going on. I could not believe that they would perpetrate such a fraud and play so callously with our national security. But now I see what went on: they simply pretended that they were going to do 12 submarines. Right? They pretended. There is not a design, there is not a contract, there are no engineers and there is not even any training.

Of course Senator Conroy talks to the Submarine Institute about having a plan. Well a plan does not deliver anything. Put the money on the table. The money of itself does not deliver anything. Contracts deliver something. There is not a contract. Contracts actually deliver something. Senator Conroy says, 'We had a land based test site'. Well, can you take me to it—because it has never been built. When the senator tells people what Labor's legacy for the submarine program is, can I tell you it is actually a great big fat nothing. It is a little bit like his understanding of this portfolio. So nothing was done.

Let's look at what this motion seeks to talk about. I have sought to establish that the greatest threat undermining the integrity of the future submarine program is the fact that the Labor Party pretended to the Australian public that there was, in fact, a program running. They pretended to tell people, 'We are doing work assiduously, diligently and knowingly.' And all the time the finance minister and the defence minister knew that there was nothing happening

The reason they knew that was: when they costed the program in 2009, pursuant to their white paper that had $275 billion worth of acquisitions, they were told by the department that the acquisition cost was more than $40 billion. We all know that, in acquisition in defence, it is one-third for acquisition and two-thirds for ownership. But we also know that if the program goes out over 20-plus years, you need to factor in inflation. So the out-turned dollar value of that $40 billion requirement to buy these mythical 12 Walt Disney class submarines was in fact $80-plus billion. That is why the file sat on Senator Faulkner's desk with a great big paperweight on it. That is why the finance minister said, 'We won't talk about that ever.' That is why successive defence ministers did not do anything. The numbers were so spooky.

What I am asking the former finance minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, to do is to have some courage to admit that, for six years, they perpetrated one of the truly great frauds of our time on the Australian public. They themselves made the greatest contribution, ever, to undermining Navy's capability in this country. They took our defence spending back to 1938 levels, just callously. They just said, 'The defence capability plan needs funding, but we're just going to rip the money out of it. You guys in Defence over at Russell, just move everything to the right. Just put it off into the never-never. We really don't care about defence. We care about pink batts. We care about school halls.' At the same time, they were saying to people up in the archipelago, 'Come on down, we've got compassion.' And when they did come down—50,000 of them in 800 boats—they expected the Australian Defence Force to stump up and man up and do the work whilst they were ripping the financial carpet out from underneath them.

When I went to Adelaide I wanted to say, as I have said on so many occasions, 'Let's get together in the Defence portfolio, take the politics out. Let's have the submarines, let's have a policy that isn't full of argy-bargy for the benefit of our service men and women—in this instance Navy.' I accepted the word of the minister of the day, Minister Smith. But I did put the caveat in, 'unless this is fantasy.' Of course, Senator Wong never wants to mention the words 'unless this is fantasy', because she knows that the whole thing was a great big fat lie. And she knows the value of the program. She knows that ASPI costed this project at $36 billion. She knows the government costed this program at $40-plus billion. That is why they did nothing ever on this. That is why they have, over six years, spent only $60 million. It boggles my mind that they can stand up here and talk about my sins in the face of what they perpetrated for six years.

Senator Wong wants to talk about petulance. My goodness! If we had a petulance Olympics she would be our gold-medal prospect. We would all stop to watch the TV because we would have a real chance at gold. She is undoubtedly our best hope in the petulance Olympics. She practices it every day. Who could forget when she was in government, not answering any questions—every time you put a bit of pressure on her. Seriously, this is far too important for petulance. When they were confronted with Manoora and Kanimbla being suddenly overnight completely debilitated by rust—because they refused to go aboard and have a look—they had to rush out and buy HMAS Choules. They did not plan to build a ship in Australia, they did not have a plan to build something in South Australia or Melbourne or up in the Hunter. They had to rush out and buy Choules for $100 million. When they were confronted with the fact that Aurora Australis was getting old and they needed a new icebreaker, what did they do? They contracted with a European firm, who were going to build European ships for us. Did they want to come to Adelaide? Did they want to go to Melbourne, did they want to go to the Hunter to build these ships? No. They committed but—guess what—there was no money in the budget for that. So the hospital handball fell to the Abbott government. This is how good they were at managing money.

They would contract to do things and think, 'Well, we'll the money for another day.' That is what we are confronted with. Then, of course, HMAS Success, our No. 1 replenishment ship, needed another hull. So what did they do? Did they take it down to Adelaide or Melbourne? No, they decided that they would take it to Singapore. The audacity of them to stand there and tell us how to run defence procurement. All they could do was cut corners, take money out of the Defence portfolio and go offshore and buy anything that they could when they needed to, because it was always such an emergency. There was no plan, no planning at all. The defence capability plan was in complete disarray, to the point where they went to the last election telling the Australian people, 'We have no policy on defence.'

With all of the things that had happened in our region, with all of the flood of people on little boats, all of the requirements that we had, they did not even see it as serious enough to have a defence policy to take to the Australian people at the last election. No defence policy. I tell you the one really salient feature about this is that I think the Greens actually had a better defence policy than the Labor Party. And then, of course, when they were in opposition they chose a giant of defence understanding as the shadow. He comes along to Senate estimates and has to tap people on the shoulder, saying, 'What does that acronym stand for?'

The point about all this is that the only thing that this shadow minister has brought to the game is to insult one of our best generals, to actually personally attack one of our best generals, to actually get him at the bar table at Senate estimates and accuse him in a most scurrilous, scandalous way, a most cowardly way. And guess what; he has never apologised to that person. He sees that as a badge of honour. This is the respect they have for serving men and women.

For my sins I have worn the odium of two hours this morning and several questions today for what I said and which I regret. I have said on several occasions that the men and women who are doing the welding and the fitting out of those blocks are doing a good job. The problem we have is in management, and may I say I am desperate to fix that problem because we must have a naval shipbuilding industry in Australia. We have eight future frigates we want to build in Adelaide. I cannot in all conscience and credibility go to the Australian people, go to my national security committee, go to the government and say, 'If we are going to cost three times as much as the international benchmark of these ships, we cannot do it in Australia.' I want to bring it down to 80 man-hours or thereabout per tonne. At the moment, it is 150 man-hours. The point is eight million man-hours per ship against three or four million, which is what we need. I am working day and night to see that we can deliver about 6,000 jobs to Adelaide if we can go forward with this project.

This is just a waste of the Senate's time It is absolute nonsense. You people have got your priorities really messed up—seriously—as my portfolio stands in testament.

3:55 pm

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this censure motion because the statement of the Minister for Defence that he would not trust ASC to build a canoe undermines our national security. His statement yesterday in the Senate was outrageous; but, more importantly, the minister's failure to turn up in the Senate before the Prime Minister cut him loose or even after the Prime Minister cut him loose before the Senate rose last night showed contempt and that he was convinced that he was right. ASC workers—and we heard from just one of them yesterday—do a great job in keeping our submariners safe, and the minister's mocking criticism of these workers was appalling. But, to make matters worse, his criticism is wrong.

But let's go back in time just a little bit. Let's go back in time to those euphoric moments after the government won the last election. What do we know happened in those few days? In among the euphoria of those opposite former Prime Minister John Howard picked up the phone five times to the new Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott. John Howard called the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, five times, and what did he say in the course of that week? He said, 'Do not put Senator Johnston in charge of the Department of Defence, because he's not up to it.' That is what the former Prime Minister said to the current Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott. John Howard knew this was going to end in tears. He counselled. He tried to cajole. He tried to convince the current Prime Minister that Senator Johnston was not up to this job. If the current Prime Minister had just taken the wise advice of the former Prime Minister, we would not be in this sad, sorry situation having to censure a minister in this chamber.

As we saw last night, the Prime Minister was the first to highlight the problem that the defence minister had caused for the government and for himself. When the defence minister denigrated the workers who help keep our submariners safe, this is what Prime Minister had to say:

… the Australian Submarine Corporation plays a vital role supporting the Royal Australian Navy and our key naval capabilities.

It was clear when this statement did not include any support for the defence minister that it was over. It is clear that the Prime Minister has no confidence in the defence minister. That last night was a statement of no confidence by the current Prime Minister. But even that was not enough to flush out the defence minister to do the right thing at the earliest opportunity, as is required by this chamber, to come into the chamber and apologise.

The Prime Minister is not the only one in the Liberal Party who has lost confidence in the defence minister. His colleagues have condemned him. One senior Liberal is quoted in today's papers as calling the defence minister's remarks as 'some of the most stupid words I have ever heard from a senior minister'. Another called them 'breathtaking'. The education minister—a senior figure in the Liberal Party in South Australia, Mr Pyne—told Adelaide radio this morning 'the Minister for Defence should not have made that statement' and 'the Prime Minister has made it clear that he does not support that statement', so Mr Pyne cut him loose this morning. It is astounding that a senior cabinet minister would slap down a colleague in such strong terms. What is equally astounding is that it has taken the most senior member of the South Australian Liberal Party six months to grow a spine. For six months Mr Pyne has stood by silently watching as the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's office, the defence minister and the defence minister's office have slandered the ASC. They are serial offenders on the ASC and Mr Pyne has said nothing. I welcome the fact that Mr Pyne has grown a spine and is starting to defend his home state—

Senator Wong interjecting

It has taken a long time, Senator Wong. It is astounding that a senior cabinet minister would slap down a colleague in such strong terms.

An opposition senator interjecting

That is right; he might actually start a petition against Senator Johnston like he started a petition against Mr Turnbull and the rest of the cabinet about their decision on the ABC. We know the measure of outrage from Mr Pyne—it is to start a petition! Look on the websites now to see if he has started a petition about Senator Johnston.

What about the foreign minister, the one person in the government who has been unequivocal in her support, the one person who has kept him in his job for just over a year and who insisted, despite the advice of the former Prime Minister, on keeping Senator Johnston in this job? What did she have to say today? Did she offer a full-throated defence of her embattled colleague? Did she offer her full support for the defence minister and express her unshakable confidence in his ability to manage the nation's defence? No, colleagues, she did not. What did she say? She said she 'accepted his statement'. Oh, dear, that was it—she 'accepted his statement'. There was no: 'He has got my absolute loyalty. He is doing a great job. He'll be sitting in that seat right there in February when we reconvene.' Senator Birmingham went even a little further. He offered even less than that tepid statement from the foreign minister. He said that there is 'no excuse for denigration of the workforce or of the extensive capabilities that South Australia has'.

It is not just the opposition who think the minister has denigrated workers at the ASC who play a crucial role in our national security. We had Mr Briggs, another frontbench colleague of Senator Johnston's, quoted in the paper today as not supporting the minister's comments, labelling them 'wrong'. Another South Australian frontbencher grows a spine on behalf of the state of South Australia. So we have seen a pattern from yesterday through to today that the minister's frontbench colleagues have abandoned him, but what about the backbench? Senator Sean Edwards stated that he was 'in full support of the ASC and the people in it'. I note he did not say the same thing about the minister. The minister has no friends on his own backbench either.

I say to those senators, particularly the coalition senators from South Australia: support this censure motion; put your vote where your mouth is and stand up for South Australia in this vote. By their words they have abandoned the Minister for Defence, but today—right here, right now—is a chance for them to make it official. Stand up and be counted for your state. What about other South Australian Liberals? Are they standing up for Senator Johnston? Steven Marshall, the South Australian Liberal leader, said that Johnston's comments were a 'massive slap' in the face of workers in South Australia and described his position as 'untenable'.

What about the wider community? Is there any support for the minister's outrageous remarks there? The Small Business Association of Australia stated this morning that the minister's comments show:

… a disturbing lack of faith in the country's proven capabilities as a quality manufacturer of goods for the world. Frankly, it also shows a deep disregard for the thousands of skilled workers and businesses that ASC supports.

Professionals Australia, who represent the engineers who work at the ASC to keep Australia's submariners safe, put out a release today that had the headline 'The Prime Minister must intervene: Johnston must go'.

The defence minister's role is to ensure our national security. He should not be undermining our national security. That is what his comments did yesterday and that is why he deserves censure. The fact that he would not front up to the Senate yesterday and had to be dragged in screaming and kicking after the Prime Minister cut him loose last night and after his colleagues bucketed him in the morning papers and on morning radio and TV is why he deserves censure today.

But this is not the only time the minister has failed his duties. The minister at estimates earlier this year told the hearing that he did not go to a meeting of the National Security Committee of cabinet because he 'wasn't going to add much'. The Minister for Defence, while we have troops in the field in the Middle East, said he did not go to the National Security Committee of cabinet because he 'wasn't going to add much'. Well, it is hard to argue with him. I think it is pretty clear now that the minister is not the only person in cabinet who thinks he wouldn't add much.

But the minister's disdain for the Australian defence industry has been seen before when he held a tender project for Australia's new supply ships and specifically excluded Australian companies from tendering. He actually said no Australian company is allowed to tender for two supply vessels. Only a Spanish company and a South Korean company were allowed to tender. No Australian company was even allowed to put in a bid. He simply does not believe, he does not have a vision, for Australia's naval submarine and shipbuilding industry. He doesn't believe we can build things in Australia, and we saw that again yesterday. Rip the ugly mask off and there it was: the ugly view that he 'wouldn't trust them to build a canoe'. The truth was out there.

The minister has constantly and consistently exaggerated claims about the issues with the AWD project. This is probably his most heinous offence. To save his own sordid political skin he has been willing to constantly mislead this chamber about the issues around the AWD. He has constantly mislead the Australian public for short-term political gain. He has repeatedly claimed that the AWD project was operating at 150 man-hours per tonne. But BAE, the company actually building it, have told the Senate that they are currently beating their productivity targets and achieving 76 man-hours per tonne. Not 150 as the minister has constantly sought to say. The minister has zero credibility on that issue.

The minister is relying on a secret report that he refuses to release. It is called the Winter report. Instead, he talks down the Australian defence industry, cherry picking facts that he thinks support his case. But will he released the full report? Will he allow the Australian public, the Australian parliament, to look at it? No, he won't. You have only got to have growing suspicions about why. The minister has a terrible track record of talking the Australian industry down. He is a serial offender.

We have known a long time now that the Prime Minister was worried about this minister. He wasn't even allowed to employ the staff of his choice, with the PMO choosing staff for his office, including, ironically, a former ASC executive general manager who is currently his chief of staff. So we have the Prime Minister's office knowing that they had a pretty average weak link picking his chief of staff. We have a minister who says the ASC couldn't build a canoe, but one of their former executives is running his office. No wonder Liberal MPs are out in force today condemning the defence minister.

While we are talking about the treatment of the ASC by the minister, I would like to highlight the report in The West Australian today. It says that the defence minister apologised to ASC Chair Bruce Carter a fortnight ago for his relentless and baseless negativity towards the ASC. So this minister is a serial offender. It got so bad that two weeks ago he had dinner—as he has just admitted in the chamber—with the chair of the ASC and he apologised. What does the minister say today? I don't remember that. It just turned up in the newspaper saying he apologised, but he has no recollection of that. But since that apology in just two weeks this minister has personally abused on Adelaide radio the interim CEO of the ASC just last week and then yesterday, to cap it off, he mocked the entire ASC workforce. The minister promised to stop denigrating the ASC two weeks ago and twice in that two weeks he has broken his word to the chair of the ASC.

It is worth reflecting on the minister's personal bias against the ASC and its workers. The minister has consistently and repeatedly criticised Australia's capacity to build our future submarines. The minister has made claims about the strengths of the Japanese submarines, but they have been rejected by every submariner expert in the country. The Soryu is not the submarine for Australia. It does not have range, the endurance and the capability that meet Australia's unique needs, despite what Senator Johnston wants you to believe.

The minister has said that Australia doesn't need to run a competitive tender process. That's right: the minister says we don't need a competitive tender process; we don't need a funded project definition study to choose our next submarine. This was absolutely rejected by every single expert who turned up and bravely, in the face of the minister's abuse, scorn and denigration, told the truth to the Senate committee.

The minister has said there will be a capability gap—you heard him say it again today—if we build our next submarine in Australia. This again has been rejected not just by the experts but by the companies. Because they have seen that the fix is in for Japan, three companies have put unsolicited bids in because they can see the fix is in for Japanese submarines. So three companies have put in bids and they will say around $20 billion and we can avoid the capability gap.

But the minister does not want you to believe that evidence from the experts, from the companies. He wants you to ignore it all because he needs an excuse that he can hang his hat on when this government is exposed for lying to the Australian people when it said before the Australian election—and Senator Johnston said it on behalf of Tony Abbott—

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Abbott to you.

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Abbott. He said, 'We'll build 12 submarines in Adelaide.' He said it before the election. And—just like the ABC, just like health, just like education, just like SBS—it was another lie and is another broken promise about to be exposed. That is what this whole farce is about. The minister knows that the fix is in for Japan, and he needs to create a complete and utter farce of lies because he knows he is going to be done like a dinner when the announcement is made that Japan are getting the subs. You cannot believe what he has been saying for the last six months. You cannot believe Tony Abbott on this—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Abbott.

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

because he has already done a deal with Japan.

4:15 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

The Labor luminaries that have brought us this censure motion are the same Labor luminaries that told the Australian people there would be no carbon tax. They are the same Labor luminaries that engineered the pink-batt debacle, which saw four Australians lose their lives. They are the same Labor luminaries that went to the Australian people at the 2013 election without a single word of defence policy. The person who moved the motion is none other than the former failed finance minister who ran up the biggest debt this country has ever seen, which we as a government now need to fix on behalf of the Australian people. And the seconder of the motion, Senator Conroy, was the architect of the debacle of Australian acquisition, namely the National Broadband Network. Labor have not only left us with a huge defence capability gap; they have also delivered a huge credibility gap.

I say in particular to the crossbenchers—and I would invite them very carefully to listen to what I am about to say—that censure motions are not to be treated in a flippant manner. They are serious. I was here under the Howard government when Labor and those opposite used to move a censure motion nearly on a weekly basis, and it became laughable. Indeed, the only regret I had, serving in the Howard ministry, was that I was never censured. I thought I just did not quite make the mustard. I just was not quite up there to be deserving of a censure motion. So freely were they given out that it demeaned the currency of a censure motion.

What I would say to those opposite and especially the crossbenchers is this: those that move censure motions need to come into this place with clean hands. When you see Senator Wong's past performance as a failed finance minister and as the failed climate change minister—remember, the greatest moral challenge of our time was climate change. Everything had to stop to fix it. And then, all of a sudden, it was just jettisoned like a used tissue, to be thrown away and forgotten about as though it had never previously existed. This is that sort of passion and commitment. It is faux passion. It is faux commitment. It is just pretence on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

And then what about the clean hands of Senator Conroy, the man who brought us the debacle of the National Broadband Network, which misled the Australian people coast to coast by putting up on websites that the NBN was being rolled out here and rolled out there? When we came to government and opened the books, there was no rollout happening in those places at all. It was being put on the website simply as a political ruse, as an attempt to shore up the government of the day, which of course was the discredited Labor government. So the people that are bringing this motion to us have no credibility.

Let us set that aside. Let us have a look at what a censure motion should be all about. I simply pose this question: what is the actual allegation against Minister Johnston? Did he fail to administer his portfolio? No. Did he mislead the Senate? No. Did he fail to declare a conflict of interest—read Mr Fitzgibbon? No. Did he breach any parliamentary rule? Answer: no. What did he do? He simply overstated, as he said, in a rhetorical flourish at the end of a noisy question time while being constantly baited and interrupted by Senator Conroy. It was a matter that he regrets, and he has said so. So somebody makes an error by overstatement; he admits it, and then we are going to censure him for that. Excuse me. Is that going to be the standard for a censure motion—that you overstate something in a rhetorical flourish in the heat of a debate by whilst being baited by those opposite, and you have the decency to apologise, but we will still censure you? What a waste of the Senate's time.

This is designed by the Australian Labor Party to ensure that the government's important program does not get through by the end of the year. This is a methodology employed by desperate oppositions since time immemorial, and we know the tricks that they play. And that is why the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate continually interjects during my contributions and everybody's contributions, every single question time. Indeed, I took a note of Senator Conroy's, her deputy's, interjections. Within the first five minutes of Senator Johnston's speech, he had interjected more than 13 times, and I lost count. This is their behaviour, yet they come in here and say, 'We are the upholders of parliamentary standards.' If only somebody could supply them with a mirror, what a sight they would see, and they would not be moving these sorts of censure motions.

So what is it that Senator Johnston is alleged to have done? I simply say that it is a measure of an individual to say, 'I overstated something. I regret it.' I would have thought that we were all mature enough to then move on. We are told that Senator Johnston heinously 'insulted the men and women of the ASC'. Well, he has already withdrawn that. The seconder of the motion, Senator Conroy, said this to a man who has given over 30 years of faithful service in uniform in the Navy: 'You can't tell the Australian public the truth. That is called a political cover-up'. In other words, under parliamentary privilege, he accused somebody in uniform of lying and being engaged in politics, but he comes in here saying, 'Oh, I'm concerned that the defence force's reputation might be tarnished by something which the minister has withdrawn.'

Why doesn't Senator Conroy come in here and have the decency to apologise to Lieutenant General Campbell? When you come to this place with a censure motion, you have to come with clean hands. Senator Conroy was the architect of a deliberate ploy to trash the personal reputation of an individual in uniform such as Lieutenant General Campbell—he deliberately set up and pre-planned it for Senate estimates—but when caught out and exposed, he did not apologise. In the heat of the moment, Senator Johnston says something and is decent enough to acknowledge he should not have said what he did.

I say to the crossbenchers, you vote for this sort of censure motion, you vote for hypocrisy writ large. You will encourage the likes of Senator Conroy who will do one thing and then demand the exact opposite of his political counterpart. That is not leadership, that is not statesmanship, especially not in the vital defence portfolio, which requires bipartisanship.

Why is it that Senator Conroy so viciously attacked Lieutenant General Campbell at Senate estimates this year? Because he was being told chapter and verse how border protection was working and that which Senator Wong and Senator Conroy told the Australian people could not be achieved was actually being achieved. We were stopping the boats and, by stopping the boats, we were stopping the over 1,000 deaths at sea overseen by the Australian Labor Party's mismanagement of border protection. So we were not only saving lives but we were allowing ourselves to undertake a genuinely orderly intake of refugees whereby social justice can be served, whereby people can come into this country on a basis of need, not on the basis of being able to pay criminals to advance their cause by gate crashing Australia. Senator Conroy did not want to hear any of that and so, as is Labor's wont, he made a personal attack under parliamentary privilege, accusing somebody of lying.

When he was asked to withdraw, he did not. When he was asked to apologise, he did not. Yet he comes in here, saying to the crossbenchers in particular, 'Listen to me. I'm the upholder of standards. I'm the person you should be listening to.' That is something I would invite the crossbenchers to keep in mind. Senator Conroy also told us that that for which Senator Johnston has already apologised was damaging perceptions of defence personnel, that it would undermine confidence and that it would cause reputational damage. Yet calling a man in uniform a liar or saying, 'You can't tell the Australian public the truth; it's called a political cover-up,' does not damage perceptions of our men and women in uniform, does not occasion any reputational damage and does not undermine confidence? Excuse me: it does all three of those things for which Senator Conroy to date has not yet apologised.

We are told in this censure motion that we are threatening the integrity of the Future Submarine project and Australia's defence capacity. Well, let us have a look at Labor's six years in government. The former government's decisions led to—just listen to this—119 defence projects being delayed, 43 projects being reduced in scope and eight projects cancelled, risking critical capability gaps. I wonder what that might have done to the workforces right around this country. I wonder what another 119 defence projects might have been able to deliver by way of jobs. But here, today, we get this ridiculous display of crocodile tears and concern for workers who allegedly do not have a job. The problem is that there was no work done in the submarine space for the six years of the previous Labor government. Senator Johnston, excellent, capable minister that he is, was confronted with a blank sheet of paper, in circumstances where Labor had said, throughout their term, that they had plans, they were getting ready to build, everything was on track and all Senator Johnston had to do was take it over. I suspect Senator Johnston made the mistake of believing that which Labor had been saying. When he confronted his ministerial desk on coming to office, he saw that the plan was simply a blank sheet of paper.

If we are having a look at standards of ministerial conduct, I remind Labor of Mr Fitzgibbon, Labor's defence minister, who was forced to resign. Why? Because of the excellent work of one Senator Johnston. Oh! I wonder whether that might be one of the reasons that Labor have come in here with a trumped-up charge to try to even the ledger—a little bit of payback. I simply ask if the Labor Party wants to go through that which Mr Fitzgibbon did. Indeed, Senator Faulkner was part and parcel of a meeting, if the media reports are correct, that then led to Mr Fitzgibbon's resignation, after the expose so wonderfully undertaken by Senator Johnston—an expose which showed that a minister had been in breach of the ministerial code of conduct. He resigned. It was the right thing to do. But where was Senator Conroy's outrage at the time? Silence. And Senator Wong's outrage at the time? Silence. Yet they come in here and say: a man who apologises for what he has said should somehow be censured. I simply say: what a huge, huge double standard.

Now we are told as well that somehow Senator Johnston failed to protect the conditions and pay of our defence personnel. Well, Mr Acting Deputy President, what do we have here? We have a situation where the Australian Labor Party in the 2013 election told the Australian people: 'The budget is on track to come in at an $18 billion deficit.'

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was the 26th time in a row.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order on my right!

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

When the budget finally did come in, it was $48 billion in deficit—a gap of $30,000 million—

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the chair.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He's that way. He's there—he's behind you.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order on my left!

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

in circumstances where we were borrowing $1,000 million just to pay off the debt incurred by—

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Senator Lines interjecting

Senator Lines! Senator Abetz, resume your seat, please. Senator Lines, when I call for order I don't want the backchat, okay? If it happens again, I will take action. Continue, Senator Abetz.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, do you have a point of order?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I do, Mr Acting Deputy President. I think the point Senator Lines was making was: those of us on this side have been—

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Wong, continue.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

chided for turning our backs to the chair, and I appreciate that, in the course of debate, one tends to move, but I think the point was that the Leader of the Government in the Senate had not actually turned around; I think that was the point that was being made.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You make a point. Senator Abetz, I must admit that most of the time I have been looking at your back in your presentation. Please address the chair.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I can understand you would prefer to look at my face rather than my back—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am human, Senator Abetz!

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

but I confess that not many people would share that view! But, with respect, there is nothing in the standing orders that says how one faces the chamber.

Nevertheless, let us keep moving in relation to this issue of defence pay. We know that twice under Labor there were wage increases given to our defence personnel that were under CPI. So when Labor does it, under Senator Wong and Senator Conroy, it is okay, but if the coalition might do it, it would be the most heinous crime ever! It is this sort of immaturity and this sort of incapacity to come to grips with the issues before the nation that really does defy any explanation. I say to the crossbenchers: how can you vote for a censure motion being moved by a former Labor minister who oversaw two pay increases that were below CPI on the basis that we might be doing that in relation to one payment in relation to CPI? If that is a sin they are doubly guilty, and they have no credibility to be able to move a censure motion on that basis.

Further, we know that not only did they not increase according to CPI; they actually backdated certain reductions and left military personnel serving overseas with debts that had to be repaid. And they come in here appealing to the crossbenchers, saying, 'Haven't we looked after the defence forces so magnificently,' when they have done so, so much worse in this space.

But let us be very clear: as a government, we are committed to our defence personnel. We are committed to our defence industries. But when you are left with a situation of a trajectory of getting this nation into $667 billion worth of debt, where we are borrowing $1,000 million a month just to pay the interest on the existing loans, what do you do? Well, I, as a minister on behalf of this government, went to the remuneration tribunal and said: 'All parliamentarians, the Minister for Defence, the Chief of Defence Force, all our judges and other people, should not be given a pay rise at all; there should be a zero per cent pay rise for the Chief of Defence Force, for the Minister for Defence, and for the Prime Minister,' and so, in those circumstances, a 1.5 per cent deal was, as the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal determined, a fair offer in all the circumstances. Do we really want to keep borrowing money from overseas to pay the wages? If we pay the wages today of parliamentarians and defence personnel and public servants with borrowed money from overseas, who has to repay it? It will be our children and our grandchildren who will have to repay that debt. We are not going to be party to that sort of inappropriate economic management. We have full confidence in Senator Johnston. (Time expired)

4:36 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to support the censure motion as has been moved, and I do note that a censure motion is a serious motion of the Senate and it needs to be taken seriously, and the born-to-rule kind of response that we have had here this afternoon—

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Give it a break!

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Order!

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I have not interjected on the coalition as they have spoken here this afternoon because censure motions are very serious motions. I want to put it very clearly on the record that I recognise that, as do the rules of this parliament. They make very clear that a minister is accountable to the Senate, that a censure motion can be moved in the Senate and, while the Senate has no power to remove a minister, the Senate does have the power to censure a minister because of their accountability to the Senate. It would seem to me that Senator Abetz and some others who have spoken here today seem to think that the Senate have no right to hold a minister to account. We do have the right to hold a senator to account, and we are moving to censure the minister, Senator Johnston, in this parliament.

I would like to go through the reasons why I have joined, on behalf the Australian Greens, in supporting a censure motion. First of all, the leader of the opposition in South Australia, Steven Marshall, has come out and said that the minister needs to apologise to the workers of the Australian Submarine Corporation and to the people of South Australia for his remarks. There has been overwhelming criticism—

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He has.

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not believe the minister has apologised. What he said was this—

Government senators: He has!

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Continue, Senator Milne.

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. He has said, 'I never intended to cause offence'. Whether he intended to or not, he did. The second thing is that he said, 'I regret that offence might have been taken'. Yes, he regrets that offence might have been taken, but he did not say, 'I am sorry; I should not have said this'.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Assistant Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, he did.

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

He said he 'regrets'. In his statement to this Senate earlier today, before this happened, he did not say that he was sorry, just that he regretted that offence had been taken. Well, offence was taken, and offence was rightly taken, because it was a clear inference that the workers, the people at the Australian Submarine Corporation, were not up to the job.

I did think at the time, on 17 December 2013, that it was interesting that it was Minister Cormann who said at the time that Sophie Mirabella was appointed to the Australian Submarine Corporation:

… her legal background, and her extensive experience working with the manufacturing industry … will make a valuable contribution to the board.

And here we now have the minister saying that he would not even trust them to build a canoe. That could be a partial justification—that is, they appointed someone who knows nothing about submarines to the board; however, I return to the main points here.

This is an accumulation of things for me; it is not just about this latest insult. It is also the fact that the minister has before shown that, in my view, he undermines the integrity of and the confidence that we might have in the Australian Defence Force. We will all remember that the ABC ran a program with asylum seekers saying that they had burnt hands because they were forced to hang onto hot pipes on an asylum seeker boat. An investigation was called for and the minister said that he would not conduct an investigation, that he would not hear for a moment any allegations or criticisms of anyone in the armed forces and that, in fact, the investigation should be into the ABC. Of course we have seen subsequently what the government thinks about the ABC with the cuts that have been made. But you cannot have a minister who will not take seriously complaints that people might have. At the same time, he should take seriously the praise people have and the agreement and the support people have for the armed forces. If you are the minister you have to take both sides of things seriously, and he did not.

Also in relation to my confidence in the minister, I want to go to the issue of the deployment to Iraq. Again, we have a situation where the minister was asked on television, 'Do you believe you can destroy the Islamic State?' He said, 'Yes, we can destroy the Islamic State.' He then went on in that vein without any evidence or anything other than the muscular rhetoric that the Prime Minister had shown and that we have seen in here today. We have seen that same rhetoric that the minister is capable of, but it has not been backed up by evidence, it has not been backed up by the kind of competence you would expect in a Minister for Defence. That is a serious issue for me in this case.

We have already heard that Mr Bruce Carter was told by the minister, less than a couple of weeks ago, that he would stop criticising the ASC in public and then, within a matter of weeks, he comes out and completely undermines any kind of confidence that people might have. The bigger picture here though is we have a minister, a defence minister, who is overseeing Australia's deployment of troops to Iraq and there is still no clarification from the government as to the legal basis for their engagement in Iraq. What I saw was Australia pleading with Iraq to let us be there after the Americans asked us to go and a lack of clarity around the legal status of our troops being there—to the point where the latest that was put out there was that they are there under diplomatic immunity. In the absence of the legals, they are advising troops to work alongside Shia militias who are involved in just as barbaric behaviour in many instances as the Sunni militias and the Islamic State have been capable of doing in various places, and my big question here has always been: what vulnerability has our defence minister put on our armed service men and women if they are caught up in war crimes in the future—accusations of war crimes? If they are associated, if they are—

Senator Canavan interjecting

I will not be verballed by people with interjections like that. What I am making is a very straight legal point here as to whether the men and women in the armed services are going to be protected from accusations of being associated with people who may, in the future, be accused of war crimes if they are in the Shia militias or other militias with whom they are associated via the Iraq army. That is a point that I would have thought a Defence minister would have wanted to have covered off before anyone sets foot in Iraq in this current conflict.

But I want to return to the big picture here in terms of Defence procurement. Defence procurement is a critical matter, and you would want to have confidence in the minister overseeing the process. What we have seen is a minister lose his cool, condemn the capacity, the competence and the capability of the ASC, undermine confidence and then say he is going to oversee a procurement process. I do not have any confidence that this minister can oversee a procurement process where he will be outdone on every front by the countries with which he is engaging. Defence procurement is not a simple handing over of the cash and taking whatever it is you are buying—in this case, a submarine, but it might be other defence equipment. There are all kinds of issues associated with it, and I am not confident that this minister is competent, having seen the behaviour to date overseeing such a procurement process.

Apart from that, of course, there is another broken election promise, made on 8 May 2013, to build 12 new submarines at the Australian Submarine Corporation in South Australia. That was a promise to the people. But, frankly, we are seeing election promises just being chewed up and spat out virtually every day. Nobody could have any confidence in anything that the Liberal Party had to say before the election, because after the election it was just meaningless. Then we had a complete attempt to cover up the broken promises. Further to the issue of procurement, I have wondered ever since the last election what was promised to Incat and associated companies in Hobart in terms of support for the Liberal Party at the last election. But I will not go into that now, except to say that it is a matter of concern.

Finally, I want to go to failing to protect the Christmas and recreation leave of and failing to demand a real pay increase for ADF personnel. When it was put to me that the government were expecting our men and women of the armed services to go and serve in Iraq and, at the very same time, came out with this decision to cut their leave and cut their pay, I said on that very day that it was appalling and that the people of Australia would not support it. Everybody can see that it is entirely the wrong thing to do. If you want to build loyalty in your Defence forces, if you want to give some sense that you mean it when you say you support them, then not only do you actually support them but you have a record of looking after them when they come home and of dealing with the issues. Yet we have seen some pretty shabby treatment of people who have come home from Afghanistan and, previously, Iraq and other conflicts.

I went to Sydney to see that fantastic production between the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force, The Long Way Home, with veterans talking on stage about their experiences of post-traumatic stress and of coming to terms with what they had to live with once they came back to Australia. It is a very moving and powerful piece. Sitting there you realise that it is all very well to do the big farewells and the big media stories at the time people leave for conflict duty, and it is all very well to stand up in here on condolence motions, but if you are not prepared to actually put the money into looking after the people who come home and have to live with it for the rest of their lives, with either physical or mental anguish and disability, then we are not standing by our words that we support our men and women of the armed services.

It is in that context that I support this censure motion of the minister because I do not have the confidence that he has the temperament to oversee a procurement process, given his reaction to the issue of the Submarine Corporation and his reaction to the issue of the complaints about the ADF with the asylum seeker boat incidents. He just reaches a conclusion and does not investigate the matters properly. But, more particularly, the big picture here is: he should be saying he is sorry. He should not be insulting people who are working in that particular business. More particularly, as the Defence minister of Australia, he has an obligation to have a level of competence that is not being demonstrated If people do not have the confidence that he can oversee the procurement process, then the Prime Minister should take that on board and think about that very carefully because it is pretty fundamental.

4:50 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This censure debate is a matter I genuinely wish that the Senate did not have before it. I get no pleasure that an Australian Defence minister is the subject of a censure debate. I get no pleasure from the fact that the Defence minister has left himself open to and has suffered from an avalanche of criticism, not only from the opposition but also from his own side of politics. Literally only a handful of Australians know the pressure a Defence minister in this country is under, and I am one of that small handful.

Because of earlier comments in this chamber by the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis, who described me as a 'no-hoper' as Minister for Defence, I am now in no position to duck this debate. I reluctantly participate, but I have no choice; I will not allow myself to be accused of gutlessness by not speaking. I speak as someone who absolutely accepts the importance of a continuous and credible submarine capability for our nation into the future, and I speak as someone, I think, who does understand the challenges that are involved for ministers and government in our future submarine project. I am well aware, also, of the challenges a defence minister faces in relation to the crewing, availability and maintenance of our Collins class submarines and I also know the huge responsibility that a defence minister has for the safety of our submarine crews. There is no higher priority in this area than that.

I would like to acknowledge this afternoon how important the work of the ASC is. Along with the Department of Defence and the Royal Australian Navy, it has worked very hard to meet all the issues—procurement and otherwise—in relation to submarine design, manufacture and sustainment. I can assure you that the ADF know, the Department of Defence know and defence personnel in this country know that, as defence minister, I worked hard and—I believe that I can say this not immodestly—worked successfully to take most of the partisan politics out of defence issues in this parliament. As defence minister, I did not pass judgement on my predecessors—Labor or Liberal—nor did I engage, at that time, in partisan sniping about the then opposition. As a former defence minister, I have not passed comment about my successors—again, Labor or Liberal—and have been careful about entering debates regarding contemporary defence issues. But what I have done is be very forthright in this chamber about the critical importance of government process and probity issues. In this debate, I intend to limit my contribution to those issues.

We have heard Senator Wong and others remind the chamber today that the procurement of Australia's next generation of submarines will be the biggest government procurement project in Australian history. The Minister for Defence is in charge of a multibillion dollar project and it is critical that the fair and equitable conduct of that procurement project is not jeopardised in any way. I am concerned as to whether Senator Johnston's comments of yesterday in question time raise serious probity issues. There is a critical question of whether an Australian bid for the submarine project will be treated fairly. Let me take the Senate to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. Procurement rule 5.3:

The Australian Government’s procurement framework is non-discriminatory. All potential suppliers to government must, subject to these CPRs, be treated equitably based on their commercial, legal, technical and financial abilities and not be discriminated against due to their size, degree of foreign affiliation or ownership, location, or the origin of their goods and services.

I now go to the first part of paragraph 6.6, which is headed 'Ethical behaviour':

In particular, officials undertaking procurement must act ethically throughout the procurement. Ethical behaviour includes:

a. recognising and dealing with actual, potential and perceived conflicts of interest;

b. dealing with potential suppliers, tenderers and suppliers equitably …

And it goes on. I am concerned that the comments by the Minister for Defence yesterday are not consistent with these requirements to act ethically but particularly equitably.

Let me take the Senate to the Defence Procurement Policy Manuala manual that I know well. Let me take the chamber to page 1.4-9, and the last part of paragraph 40:

‘Ethical’ generally involves honesty, integrity, probity, diligence, fairness and consistency. Ethical behaviour usually means acting consistently with the core beliefs and values of society; it includes the appropriate management of conflicts of interest and making decisions without being influenced by personal bias.

Then I go to paragraph 14 of the Defence Procurement Policy Manual, which is on page 3.2-3. I will quote a small part of that paragraph:

Some of the factors to be considered when identifying the risks associated with a procurement include—

and there is a range of them; one of the dot points—

breach of ethics and probity in the tender evaluation process, including conflicts of interest, bias, and breaches of confidentiality.

The issue here is: what do these requirements mean when it is the Minister for Defence, the minister who will be responsible for advising the National Security Committee of the cabinet on the procurement of Australia's next generation of submarines? What does it mean when that responsible minister comes into the Senate and says that he would not trust Australia's government owned submarine builder to build a canoe? Not my words, his. The issue for this parliament is whether a reasonable person would feel that the minister had an apprehension of bias.

Thirdly, let me take the Senate to the Australian government Department of Defence, Defence Materiel Organisation, Better practice guide: industry engagement during the early stages of capability development: a guide to the effective management of pre-first pass ‘probity’ risks. This is the exposure draft release version that I am quoting from which was issued July 2013. I want to quote this too for the benefit of the Senate and senators. Paragraph 1 on page 5 of 38:

Defence cannot do this alone and looks to industry as its capability partner. Particularly in the early stages of capability development, it is vitally important that Defence develops close productive working relationships with innovative and sustainable Defence industry companies that understand and can respond to Defence’s capability needs.

Paragraph 2, same page:

To further emphasise the importance of this relationship, it is widely recognised that the quality of Defence’s engagement with industry, particularly in the early stages of capability development, can have significant implications for delivering required ADF capability and the achievement of value for money over the longer term.

Then paragraph 3, same page:

However, it is also the case that Defence’s engagement with industry can, if not planned and managed appropriately, involve or give rise to ‘probity’ concerns that risk damaging Defence’s reputation, the quality of Defence and Government decision making and Defence’s ability to achieve best value for money capability solutions. During the early stages of capability development (ie prior to First Pass Approval) these concerns may involve allegations of bias in favour of particular solutions or suppliers and/or risks to the competitiveness or fairness of future Defence procurement processes.

This statement is unequivocal. It is unequivocal in stating the importance of protecting the reputation, the quality and the probity of Defence, and of government procurement decisions, as it should be.

Then, finally, I want to go to, as I have before in these sorts of debates, the 'Statement of ministerial standards,' which of course is the document which sets out the expected standards of ministerial conduct in this country. I quote first of all the words of the Prime Minister in the foreword to the document. Mr Abbott:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are entrusted with the conduct of public business and must act in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards of integrity and propriety.

They are required to act in accordance with the law, their oath of office and their obligations to the Parliament.

In addition to those requirements, it is vital that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries conduct themselves in a manner that will ensure public confidence in them and in the government.

The statement goes on. In paragraph 1.1 on page 2 under 'Principles':

The ethical standards required of Ministers in Australia's system of government reflect the fact that, as holders of public office, Ministers are entrusted with considerable privilege and wide discretionary power.

That is of course absolutely correct, as we know, as it should be. Paragraph 1.2:

In recognition that public office is a public trust, therefore, the people of Australia are entitled to expect that, as a matter of principle, Ministers will act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility, and the public interest, as required by these Standards.

These statements outline the foundation on which these standards are written. I would like to draw the attention of the Senate to the following specific paragraphs in this 'Statement of ministerial standards'. Firstly, 1.3(ii):

Ministers must observe fairness in making official decisions—that is, to act honestly and reasonably, with consultation as appropriate to the matter at issue, taking proper account of the merits of the matter, and giving due consideration to the rights and interests of the persons involved, and the interests of Australia.

Then paragraph 1.3(iv):

Ministers must accept the full implications of the principle of ministerial responsibility. They will be required to answer for the consequences of their decisions and actions—that is, they must ensure that:

      And the standards go on

      All ministers—all of them—and all members of the executive must fulfil their responsibilities in accordance with this Statement of Ministerial Standards. We do not know if the Prime Minister has raised any concerns about these issues with Senator Johnston. That is, of course, a matter for the Prime Minister, and it is a matter for the Minister for Defence. But it is reasonable for any senator, any member of this parliament, the media or the public to ask. But let me say what my view is: I expect that the Statement of Ministerial Standards will be adhered to by all members of the executive. In this case, I do not believe that that expectation has been met.

      These issues are serious. Last night, after Senator Johnston's comments in question time, the Prime Minister felt that it was necessary for him to issue a supportive statement about the vital role of the ASC. No-one else has said this today in this chamber, but let me say that I am very pleased the Prime Minister did that. The Prime Minister should have done it, it was the responsible thing to do and I am glad that he did make that supportive statement, which I am sure made a difference to the management and, particularly, the workers at the ASC. Senator Johnston has, as we know, been criticised by state and federal politicians from both sides of politics and also from crossbenchers. I acknowledge that, in this chamber this morning, Senator Johnston made clear that he regretted making his statement, and, like others, I am pleased that he did so. But let me say this as a reluctant starter in this debate, courtesy of Senator Brandis: I believe it is critical that Senator Johnston, as defence minister, now assure the parliament that he has sought advice about all possible implications of his statements yesterday in question time on the submarine procurement processes. I want to know also, and I think we need to know, that that advice will be shared with the Australian parliament and that the parliament can also be assured that these processes have not been compromised in any way. It gives me no pleasure as a former Minister for Defence to say that I think, on this matter, the facts are clear. Senator Johnston made a serious mistake for which censure by this chamber is warranted. (Time expired)

      5:10 pm

      Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

      I rise to contribute to, and support, the censure motion put before this Senate by the opposition against the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston. I congratulate the Australian Labor party for standing up for Australian jobs, Australian shipbuilding and Australian national security and I urge all senators to support this censure motion. I agree with all five points of this censure motion. I agree that the Minister for Defence has insulted the men and women of ASC by stating he 'wouldn't trust them to build a canoe'; undermined the confidence in Australia's defence capability; threatened the integrity of Australia's defence procurement project; broken his promise made on 8 May 2013 to build 12 new submarines at ASC in South Australia; and cut the real pay and Christmas and recreational leave for Australian Defence Force personnel.

      This is now a serious credibility and leadership crisis for the Abbott government, which is best described by this important question: how can any Australian believe any promises that this minister and, indeed, his Prime Minister make? The public record shows that this government, through the defence minister, Prime Minister and other Liberal Party ministers, has broken promises and deliberately misled ordinary Australians and the men and women of the Australian defence forces.

      The government created the crisis surrounding Australian shipbuilding because of a failure of leadership by the defence minister and the PM. The defence minister should be sacked or, even better, should have enough integrity to resign for his incompetence and lack of honesty. That might buy the PM some time; however, we should not have to remind government members how vitally important it is for Australia to be able to manufacture ships and weapons. The government of Australia should have followed the advice that the new Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, gave in 2013 as the former Chief of the Defence Force. The now Sir Peter Cosgrove said:

      Whenever I am asked why we should build submarines in Australia, my short reply is that we can't afford not to

      Yesterday, I met with members of the AMWU who represent proud Australian skilled tradesmen. They build ships and submarines to defend our nation. I was proud to support those men and their families in their campaign to guarantee that $250 billion worth of shipbuilding over the next 12 years, for the service and defence of our nation, is carried out in Australia.

      We are an island nation and I come from an island state. We should be able to build ships and submarines in order to defend Australia. Anyone who undermines our capability to build naval vessels should be charged with sedition or treason. They are obviously dangerously stupid, or working for Australia's enemies, and they certainly should not be allowed to hold high office or the position of minister in this parliament.

      I have had my differences with the union movement in the past, and I do not believe the union movement gets it right every time; however, in this matter, the AMWU has got it absolutely right. Paul Bastian, the National Secretary of the AMWU, has given four good reasons why every Australian, including Tasmanians, should support Australian shipbuilding. Firstly, it is vital for national security, and he said:

      Australia is an island nation dependent on maritime trade across our surrounding oceans. If our shipbuilding industry is allowed to die, we will lose the skills required to design build and maintain naval ships and submarines, skills that have been recognized as crucial throughout our history and in the recent Defence white papers tackling future strategic risks.

      Secondly, it is good for our economy—and I quote: 'Commissioning a one-off build from overseas is sometimes cheaper than building at home in the short term. But this ignores the long-term economic benefits.'

      Thirdly, 'Australian workers are productive and competitive'. That headline speaks for itself; however, I remind the Senate again that the only way we can become more productive and competitive is to guarantee that our power and electricity prices are the cheapest in the world. While our competitors in America and the UK have power three times cheaper than ours, undue pressure will always be placed on Australian wages and conditions.

      Finally, it is good for employment and nation building—and I quote: 'The Australian government has identified the need to build around eight warships at a cost of $100 billion over the coming decades. Adding maintenance across the ships' lifetimes, the outlay is closer to $200 billion.' I want Tasmania to have a share of that $250 billion worth of Australia's shipbuilding. I want to remind this parliament that Tasmania can also play an important role in Australian shipbuilding for our ADF.

      If this defence minister is allowed to have his way, if he is allowed to remain in this high office, undermining national security by his lack of credibility, leadership and respect for the truth, then my state of Tasmania will lose all hope of ever contributing to that $250 billion national defence building program.

      Tasmania has a maritime network taking the world by sea. Like other states, we have world-class maritime engineers, designers and shipbuilders. We have Incat, APCO Engineering, Australian Maritime College, Cawthorn Welding, Revolution Design, Plastic Fabrications, Richardson Devine Marine Construction, Sabre Marine & General Engineers, and the list goes on. Tasmania has world-class skills training and research: Australian Maritime College, Asia Pacific Maritime Institute, CSIRO, Skills Institute, and the list goes on. Why shouldn't Tasmanian designers, shipbuilders, tradespeople, apprentices, trainers and small-business owners share in the work and the wealth that is generated by ships and other equipment for Australia's defence?

      I am sure that all my fellow senators from Tasmania, no matter what political party they are members of, will have to agree with my argument. I am sure that Senator Abetz and Senator Colbeck are just as angry as I am with Senator Johnston for denying our shipbuilders the opportunity to contribute to the national defence.

      Australia's leading defence writer Ian McPhedran recently reported:

      A wave of anger has erupted from the ranks of the Australian Defence Force and the community following the government’s decision to cut pay and leave entitlements for military personnel.

      I have said this before but this censure motion gives me an opportunity to say it inside this Senate chamber: I am not going to stand by silently and fail to act as this Liberal-National Party government steals money, holidays and entitlements away from those who are ready to fight and die to protect us from our enemies. Our ADF heroes did not die so that selfish politicians could take what they please from the public purse while soldiers who risk their lives to protect our freedoms are treated like dogs and thrown scraps from the nation's table.

      It is possible to honour the dead and at the same time fight like bloody hell for the living. All Australian politicians must live up to the Anzac legend and not off it. What we have in the case of the Minister for Defence is a politician who is prepared to arrogantly live off the Anzac legend, a defence minister who is prepared to make a big-noting, self-serving, hypocritical speech on Remembrance Day or Anzac Day while being part of a Liberal Party plan to cut real pay, and Christmas and recreational leave for our Australian diggers.

      Senator Johnston, shame on you. How could you enjoy the luxuries and the perks of high office while forcing a real pay cut on our defence families? How could the defence minister allow his chiefs of defence on salaries of almost $800,000 to do his dirty work? Doesn't he know what harm it does to the diggers' morale when the top brass—on $700,000 a year plus, and who have just received tens of thousands of dollars of annual pay rises—tell the troops that they are expected to take a pay cut and lose Christmas leave? The defence minister was MIA, or missing in action, when it came to delivering the bad news about the ADF pay cuts.

      I have received from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel a first draft of a private members' bill, which will link Defence Force pay to the pay of politicians or the CPI rate, whichever is higher. Will the defence minister, once this censure motion has been passed, make amends and agree to support my private members' bill? This piece of legislation, if passed by the Australian parliament, will forever solve the Australian Defence Force pay crisis created by the minister and Mr Abbott.

      Members of our Defence Force do not have a union. They do not have a strong voice in the room when their pay and conditions are negotiated. Our diggers cannot go on strike if their government forces them to take a pay cut, and to lose holidays and entitlements. Yet our diggers are expected, as part of their normal work conditions, to be killed or terribly wounded. The latest wage offer by the Abbott government—which effectively means a 1.5 per cent pay cut, and loss of up to six days of leave and important travel allowances—is further proof of why politicians, especially Liberals, cannot be trusted to manage ADF pay. It is also proof that ADF salaries should be automatically linked through legislation to the salaries of politicians or the CPI, whichever is higher. Who could reasonably argue against the proposal that our diggers, who are prepared to shed blood in war for us, should have their remuneration linked to those who send them to war?

      My critics in the past have said that I will just be a lone voice in parliament, that I would have no effect on this debate. But what they fail to understand is that a lone voice armed with the facts, passion and the truth, in our parliament, a great chamber of democratic debate, can influence and change the course of history for the better.

      The Parliamentary Library background research I commissioned for my private members' bill shows that in one year alone, 2012, Australian politicians were awarded a 34.3 per cent pay rise, from $140,910 to $190,550. This was an increase in one year of almost $50,000 for an Australian politician, while an Australian soldier received a pay rise of 2.5 per cent, or approximately an extra $1,900 per year. Sadly, the Parliamentary Library research reveals for the first time that the average yearly rise in Defence pays over the last 10 years has been approximately three per cent. This stands in stark contrast with the average yearly rise in politicians' pay, which since 2004 has been almost seven per cent. The politicians' pay rise included the 2012 pay rise of 34.3 per cent.

      One of the important messages I have received from legal experts at the Office of Parliamentary Counsel is that my private member's legislation does not breach any provisions of Australia's Constitution. Therefore, anyone who says otherwise is simply trying to muddy the waters and let the Abbott government off the hook with regard to its appalling management of the Defence pay crisis. The national ex-service organisations, made up of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association, the Australian Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex Servicemen and Women, the Australian Special Air Service Association, the Defence Force Welfare Association, the Legacy Australia Council, the Naval Association of Australia, the Partners of Veterans Association of Australia, the Royal Australian Air Force Association, the Royal Australian Regiment Corporation, the Vietnam Veterans' Association of Australia, the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia and the War Widows' Guild of Australia,have released a media statement which offers extraordinary criticism of this Defence minister and his government. They did not make this statement, as the Attorney-General would have you believe, because of a slip of the tongue. They have put out these damaging statements because of a prolonged period of dysfunction and incompetent management of the Defence and Veterans' Affairs departments.

      The national ex-service organisations have said:

      The recent pay decision which purportedly “in no way reflects the value that the Government places on ADF personnel” is but one of a number of decisions in the ‘employment package’ for ADF members which have the effect of reducing the value of their total remuneration in a time of rising living costs hitting those in the lower ranks disproportionally.

      We ask the Prime Minister to personally intervene recognising the unfair impact of these decisions;

              During the course of this censure debate, I am also offering the government and the Defence minister a chance to give a guarantee that his government has not entered into a secret deal to put more troops on the ground in Iraq. Today my office received numerous information to suggest that this Defence minister, along with the PM, has given a secret commitment to the United States to put more Australian boots on the ground in Iraq. I understand the seriousness of this allegation but, given the history of public deception that this minister and government has, now is the perfect time to stand in this Senate and tell me that the people who have contacted my office are wrong—because the Defence minister is not here.

              In closing, it is obvious that this Liberal Party decision to favour overseas ship and submarine builders over Australian companies smacks of self-interest rather than the national interest. If we really want to guarantee an Australian shipbuilding industry, must we also be forced to guarantee that the Liberal Party can get a kickback from the process? I support the men and women of our ADF and I support the men and women who build our ships and other Defence machinery. I support this censure motion before the House.

              Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

              The question is that the motion to censure moved by Senator Wong be agreed to.

              5:35 pm

              Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

              Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on notice.