Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014; In Committee

12:32 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment on sheet 7635 moved by Senator Dastyari on behalf of the opposition be agreed to.

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

As the chamber continues its consideration of this bill, I invite all honourable senators to reflect on the solemn task and great privilege given to us by the Australian people. I know all senators take their role seriously. I also know the Australian people want us to be positive and, therefore, they will not smile upon us if they get a whiff of stunts or deliberate attempts by senators to cause chaos and disrupt proceedings or lay down unrealistic ultimatums to each other.

This is the last week of parliamentary sittings, and there is a list of urgent legislation that still needs to be considered. While leaders and whips were meeting—a meeting where we seek to allow the proceedings of this place to be undertaken in an orderly fashion through the rest of the week—Labor, regrettably, pulled a stunt to bring on another bill not on the urgent list. The Australian people expect us to get on with the real business of restoring our nation's economic future fortunes; restoring the sustainability of various sectors, such as the tertiary education sector; and allowing the ACT government to proceed with remediating the issues of Mr Fluffy victims.

I also suggest to honourable senators that there should be some respect for the conventions and precedents of this chamber. A cause that people might feel passionately about does not necessarily justify the means by which it is pursued. The Senate has a range of procedures available to prosecute an issue without resorting to what some might consider a breach of trust for the benefit of a by-election in a state.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like South Australia!

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

Senator Gallacher interjects. He was the one who was first on his feet last night, bringing on a stunt so early that he got his procedure incorrect—which is, I might say, one of the other pitfalls of doing such things in these circumstances.

I invite the chamber to consider its position. I think people have made their comments clear in relation to this Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014. We can read the numbers in this place. We dare say that we can foretell what will happen with the amendment to this omnibus bill and then the consideration of this bill. But this is a bill that was not on the government's urgent list; there are other matters that the Australian people actually do expect us to deal with. Mr Chairman, on that basis, I move:

That the question be now put.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that the question be now put.

12:42 pm

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

I will be very brief because the opposition is keen to bring this bill to a conclusion—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Order!

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

I will save my remarks about the broader issue of Senate management, or lack thereof from the government, for a debate later today in the interests—

Government senators interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Order!

It is interesting, isn't it? Even when you try to make a short speech, they want to blow it up. Who wants to get their legislation program through? I will make some comments later—

Government senators interjecting

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

Precious Penny. Precious.

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

I will take that interjection from Senator Macdonald, who called me 'Precious Penny' again. He is very good at personal insults. As I said to him a number of years ago, my mother always did tell me I was precious, so I suppose he might be right—but I suspect she meant it in a different way. I want to make a few points. The opposition is keen that this come to a conclusion prior to question time. The second is that it was described as a stunt by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Let everybody understand that this legislation is about—

Honourable senators interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: There is a lot of noise coming from both sides of the chamber. I call the chamber to order.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Macdonald, I have just called the chamber to order and I would appreciate your assistance in that request.

The few points I want to make are: first, that the opposition is keen to bring this to a conclusion prior to question time; second, that the bill that Senator Abetz describes as a stunt is about holding the government to a promise it made to South Australians and to workers in Western Australia and in the 2,200 companies across Australia who have contracts with the Australian Submarine Corporation that it would—

A government senator interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: Order! Again, I call the chamber to order.

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

Now you know how it feels to have someone interject constantly during question time—constantly!

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Macdonald: I have called the chamber to order and you immediately interject. I would ask you to desist from doing so. Senator Wong.

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

Thank you. A promise was made to South Australians and Australians that the submarines would be built in Australia. That is what this bill and the opposition's amendment are about.

The second point I did want to put on the record at this point concerned the comments by Senator Abetz about the Mr Fluffy asbestos demolition. I did want to make very clear to anybody listening: the opposition have already indicated to the government that we would facilitate passage of that and I think four other noncontroversial bills in the normal time for—

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

We don't believe you.

Government senators: We can't trust you.

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Wong, ignore the interjections. Again, I—

She's just so precious.

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

So we won't be hearing a word from you?

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Wong has the call, and I would ask other senators to cease interjecting. Senator Wong.

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

Thank you. I will start again. I would like to place on record in relation to the ACT Government Loan Bill 2014, which is the legislation that deals with the Mr Fluffy asbestos demolition issue, that the opposition have already placed on record that we would facilitate passage of that and—

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

Because it's helping your mates in the ACT.

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

we will—

A government senator: You're so precious.

The CHAIRMAN: Again, I will ask for the chamber's cooperation to cease interjecting. Senator Wong.

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

We have nothing but constant interjections from this senator all the way through every day—

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Macdonald, this is the third occasion I have called the chamber to order and you immediately then interject. I would ask you to cease doing so. Senator Wong.

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

Thank you. I would like to indicate, again, that the opposition has expressed to the government, as I think all parties have, a willingness to facilitate passage of that legislation and three other noncontroversial pieces of legislation in the normal noncontro time on Thursday. It is important that the chamber be made aware of this—that is, we have already indicated agreement to that—given that was used as a basis to argue against the debate on this bill.

12:47 pm

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

It is important that people appreciate what it is that is being debated in the chamber at present. The bill before us is about red-tape reduction. This is a bill about ensuring—

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

You don't want the bill?

Government senators: Point of order!

The CHAIRMAN: No, I just called Senator Wong to order—

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

She's an inveterate criminal—

The CHAIRMAN: I have not given you the call—

Senator Wong interjecting

The CHAIRMAN: I was talking; I did not hear that. But if the—

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are a hypocrite!

The CHAIRMAN: You will withdraw that, Senator. Senator Macdonald, I did not hear what was said, but if—

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He didn't say a thing!

The CHAIRMAN: If you want to take the opportunity to withdraw, I will give you the opportunity. I did not hear it—

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

Does this concern 'you're the criminal'? If she objects to that, from one who constantly interjects during question time, then I withdraw.

The CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I would ask all senators to be mindful of the standing orders. Senator Birmingham, you have the call.

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

I was emphasising to the chamber that this is a bill about reducing red tape. This is a bill about making government more efficient. This is a bill about tidying up the legislative agenda and tabling of the nation. This is a bill designed to ensure that our country can operate with the least amount of intervention from government as possible. And yet what we have had is a complete distortion of this bill by those opposite, a complete distortion of the government's agenda in relation to the legislation before this chamber, and it has all been done quite transparently for base political purposes.

I too will be brief because I spoke on this last night, but it is important in the light of day to ensure that this chamber and those listening understand what has happened here. Last night, in an ambush move, those opposite came into this chamber and plucked a bill that was not even scheduled for debate this week, put it on the agenda to disrupt the orderly process of what the government is seeking to achieve, to disrupt the orderly decision-making we hope to have through this place, and they did this so that they could run a stunt—a stunt of inserting into this bill an amendment that is completely unrelated to the legislation before the chair, an amendment that has no bearing on it and an amendment that, frankly, is a gross overreach in terms of the actions that the Labor Party is seeking to pursue.

It was acknowledged last night by Labor senators that the submarine contract is Australia's largest procurement decision, and yet they want to try to guide it through this place in a stunt, an ambush. That is not the responsible path for decision-making in this country. We have committed to following the well-established proper processes that have been in place since 2003 for defence procurement decisions—a two-part process through cabinet and based on sound advice of the defence chiefs. That is the type of process we have committed to doing, something that successive governments have done, when they have had the courage to make defence procurement decisions—something that those opposite sorely lacked on most occasions. That is the process we are committed to upholding, not the type of stunt driven process that those opposite are seeking to deploy.

The truth is the Labor Party are more interested in stunts than they are submarines. The Labor Party are more interested in gestures than they are in jobs. Last night they wanted to bring to a vote matters around this stunt to put a submarine clause into unrelated legislation. But then we just had them vote against having a vote on this matter, with Senator Wong standing up and saying in her own special pious way, 'We want to get this matter over with and bring it to a vote.' If she wanted to bring it to a vote, Senator Wong had her chance. The Labor Party had their chance. Instead, they all lined up to vote against having a vote. Why did they do that? Of course they did that just so that Senator Wong could grandstand. Senator Wong and everyone else had 2½ hours last night in which there was ample time to grandstand. But Senator Wong chose not to grandstand last night, because that would not have suited the media cycle as well as it would for her to come in at the time that she did.

No amount of stunts, no amount of clever tactics or gestures from those opposite can get away from the basic facts. The basic facts around submarines are that in 2007 the Labor Party promised that if they were elected to government there would be action starting in 2007 around the procurement of submarines. Six years on and nothing was accomplished in that regard—six years of inaction based on a promise they took to the 2007 election and to the 2010 election, and promised repeatedly during their two terms in government. Six years of inaction is what has created the capability gap that this government confronts in relation to our most important and valuable defensive asset: our submarines.

Six years of inaction is what has put jobs at risk in Australia's shipbuilding industry, because it is six years of inaction that has created the so-called valley of death that the shipbuilding industry currently faces. It was not just inaction, it was not just that Senator Wong and Senator Conroy and those around the Labor cabinet table sat on their hands and did nothing for six years in relation to this major defence procurement; it was that they undertook damaging actions in that time. They cut the defence budget to the lowest level of GDP since 1938. How on earth did they think they were ever going to procure submarines with a defence budget cut of that level? They stripped the future submarine procurement program of hundreds of millions of dollars. How on earth did they think they were going to make a multibillion-dollar procurement decision while stripping the forward budget for that very program? It was those budget decisions that further added to the risk of a capability gap that we now face in making decisions about submarines. It was that slashing of the budget that created the situation of the potential valley of death and put jobs at risk.

Our government went to the last election committing that within 18 months we would make decisions about the future procurement of submarines. We went to the last election with a policy—a publicly released, written policy—something those opposite did not bother to release during the election campaign. That policy made clear that shipbuilding work would centre on South Australia's shipyards, that the Australian work in relation to submarines would centre on South Australia's shipyards. That is absolutely what will happen. We have stated time and time again that, as a result of the largest procurement decision in Australia's history in relation to submarines, there will be more jobs in the future at the South Australian shipyards. That is what everybody should take heart from. They should take heart from the fact that they now have a government in place, unlike the previous one, that will work through the proper processes, the established processes, the cabinet processes and informed by the advice of the defence chiefs, and make decisions in a timely and orderly manner—decisions to ensure that Australia does not face a capability gap in our defence assets, decisions to ensure that Australian taxpayers get the best value for money out of this multibillion-dollar procurement decision, and decisions that will preserve and protect for decades to come the jobs of South Australians employed in naval and submarine shipbuilding and maintenance work.

Let us cast aside the stunts of those opposite. They may have the numbers in this place to run around with their silly stunts, but on this side we are serious about getting submarines, filling the capability gap, protecting jobs and protecting what is important for taxpayers in terms of getting value for money. We will not be distracted by those stunts. We will not be distracted by the silly game-playing of those opposite. We will simply get on with the job of delivering the best possible outcome for all Australians.

12:57 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I indicate that I do support this amendment. I know that the—

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

You are part of the stunt, aren't you?

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I know a thing or two about stunts, but I regard this as a very important issue. The fact is, prior to the last election, the government in opposition made an unequivocal commitment to build submarines in South Australia. On 8 May 2013, the then shadow defence minister Senator David Johnston said during a visit to Adelaide, 'We will deliver those submarines from right here at ASC in South Australia.' Why ASC South Australia? There is only one place that has all of the expertise that is necessary to complete one of the most complex, difficult and costly capital works projects that Australia can undertake, and it is ASC in Adelaide. He went on to say:

The Coalition today is committed to building 12 new submarines here in Adelaide. We will get that task done, and it is a really important task, not just for the Navy but for the nation.

And we are going to see the project through, and put it very close after force protection, as our number priority if we win the next federal election.

Senator Birmingham did make some valid criticisms of the former government in terms of not advancing the issue of submarines more expeditiously. I think that is a valid issue. But Senator Birmingham also said—and as a fellow South Australian senator he understands the importance of this project, its strategic importance and its economic importance to the people of South Australia, and indeed the nation—that we need to have appropriate processes and good processes.

I have been part of the naval shipbuilding inquiry. I heard the evidence a number of weeks ago from Dr John White, a man who was retained by this government because of his credibility in terms of preparing the Winter White report—with Don Winter, a former US secretary of the navy—on the AWD program, the problems with that program and what needs to be done to fix that program.

Dr John White is a man who is held in high esteem by the coalition, in my view because it was Dr White who was responsible for fixing up the mess of the Anzac frigate program—taking that project over and bringing it in on time and on budget. In fact, it might have been under time and under budget. That is the turnaround that he achieved. We need to listen to him. The evidence that he gave to an inquiry of the Senate economics committee was very clear. He said that we do have time, if we get on our skates immediately and ensure that there is a competitive project definition study so that we can use the best of the best. We can get the best expertise, the best ideas from around the world, in order to build a submarine, and it ought to be built right here in Australia. Abandoning a competitive process, abandoning that due process that Dr White has recommended, would be both a strategic and economic disaster for our nation. So there are issues that we need to consider.

I agree with Senator Birmingham. We need to have due process. That due process appears to have been abandoned, judging by the remarks made by the Treasurer, the Hon. Mr Hockey, earlier today on the Fran Kelly program on Radio National, where he said that there will not be an open tender. It appears that there will not be any tender and that the deal has been done. There is an argument that the government has been effectively backfilling as a result of what appears to be an arrangement, an agreement, a process, that will guarantee that the subs will be built in Japan. I think that that is not the way that we need to go forward.

This is an inelegant mechanism—this amendment to this bill—but I think it indicates the importance of this issue to not just South Australia but the nation. If we end up exporting the manufacture of our subs to another country, effectively we will see something like $20 billion-plus of jobs being exported overseas. We are seeing a situation where we will ignore the ongoing economic benefits, the multiplier effect, of having the subs built here, let alone the issue of skills being retained here.

There is no reason why we cannot have the best design, even an overseas design. Those designers can be part of the project here in Australia. TKMS, the German submarine builder, which has a credible record of building submarines overseas, on time and on budget, has said as much. Indeed, in Greece, as troubled as that economy has been, it has managed to build subs, while dealing with communist unions. It built the subs on time and on budget. So I think that indicates its expertise. And there are other submarine makers that have an expertise in relation to that.

We need to listen to the experts. We need to listen to Dr John White. We need to ensure that the submarines are built in our nation. In terms of the economic benefit, we know that, for every dollar spent here locally, there are significant flow-on economic benefits. We know, from the Royal United Services Institution of the United Kingdom, that, for every pound spent on defence procurement in that country, 37 per cent goes back into general revenue. Obviously the figure would be different here, because of different taxation arrangements and the like, but there is a significant economic impact in respect of that.

It is also the issue of the promise. One of the reasons why I think people are so disillusioned with all of us as politicians is that, if you break a promise as fundamental as this, it just chips away at the credibility of those that break the promise and it affects all of us as politicians. I re-read a piece by Hugh Mackay from 1 August 1998. He is a social researcher, psychologist and writer. He made the point:

With trust in the political process being eroded with every bent principle, every broken promise and every policy backflip, the level of cynicism has reached breaking point for many Australians.

That was back in 1998, during the time of the GST debate. But John Howard, to his absolute credit, had the courage, had the tremendous political will, to argue an election on an unpopular measure, namely the GST. He got through, and, for that, I think John Howard needs to be acknowledged as one of the great prime ministers of this nation—for pushing through a change, a reform, and going to the electorate to seek that mandate. For that, I have enormous regard for John Howard.

Breaking this promise on submarines is not the way that the government should operate. If they believe that the ASC is not up to the task, which contradicts what was said by the Minister for Defence as shadow defence minister, back in May 2013, then they need to look at the structure of the ASC. I do not necessarily accept those arguments, but, as the owner of the ASC, the government have the wherewithal to fix any problems with the ASC. We need to do this as a nation. As inelegant, clumsy and messy as this mechanism is, I am obliged, on behalf of my constituents in South Australia, to support this measure. If we do not build the submarines in South Australia, if we do not build them in Australia, because of the flow-on benefits to other states, then we are making a massive strategic and economic mistake.

1:05 pm

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

It is a pleasure to contribute on the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014 and associated amendments. I will focus my comments on the opposition's amendment which guarantees that the Future Submarine Project tender process is accountable and carried out with Australia's national interest in mind, which will be in complete contrast to the way the Abbott government have proposed to carry out the build of our future naval shipping. The government have given every indication, through their Minister for Defence and Prime Minister, that they are prepared to abandon and betray Australia's defence shipbuilding industry and Australian designers, engineers, apprentices and tradespeople.

This Senate has censured the defence minister, who is responsible for Australia's naval shipbuilding industry. It is timely to remind this chamber of the points of that recent successful censure motion. I agree that the Minister for Defence has: (1) insulted the men and women of ASC by stating he 'wouldn't trust them to build a canoe', (2) undermined the confidence in Australia's defence capability, (3) threatened the integrity of Australia's defence procurement project, (4) broken his promise made on 8 May 2013 to build 12 new submarines at ASC in South Australia and (5) cut the real pay, Christmas and recreational leave for Australian Defence Force personnel. And, despite a clear message from this Senate to the PM, he has arrogantly refused to listen. Mr Abbott has refused to stand up for the men and women who build our ships. He has failed to stand up for the generation to come who will build our ships.

This has now become a matter of leadership and the fact that the defence minister has not been ordered to step aside following a successful censure motion by the Senate is a poor reflection on the Prime Minister. The people of Australia have stopped listening to him now. Broken promise after broken promise by the Prime Minister and his defence minister have destroyed their credibility and the willingness of the people of Australia to listen or trust. The fish rots from the head down, and this Liberal government is on the nose with ordinary Australians and the men and women of our naval shipbuilding program and, of course, our Australian Defence Force personnel.

Again I remind this chamber that the government of Australia should have followed the advice of the now Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. As the former Chief of the Defence Force Sir Peter said:

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

Again I remind this chamber that the Australian government has identified the need to build about eight warships at a cost of $100 billion over the coming decades. Adding maintenance across the ships' lifetimes, the outlay is closer to $250 billion. I repeat that I want Tasmania to have a fair share of that $250 billion worth of Australia's shipbuilding. I remind this parliament that Tasmania can also play an important role in Australian shipbuilding for our Australian Defence Force. 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 others states, we have world-class maritime engineers, designers and shipbuilders. We have Incat, APCO Engineering, the Australian Maritime College, Cawthorn Welding, Revolution Design, Plastic Fabrications, Richardson Devine Marine, Sabre Marine & General Engineers and many more. Tasmania has world-class skills in training and research. We have the Australian Maritime College, the Asia Pacific Maritime Institute, CSIRO and Skills Tasmania. 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 built for the Australian Defence Force?

I am for Australian workers and building Australian ships and other machinery to defend our nation; this government has shown that it clearly is not. I support this bill and the amendment put before the chamber by the opposition, which will ensure a fair go for Australian workers and companies.

1:10 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 speak about the amendment circulated in my name. The Minister for Defence's disgraceful slur against the ASC last week has cast a shadow over the entire Future Submarine project. The Senate needs to urgently address this issue and ensure that the ADF get the best possible submarine and that taxpayers' money is efficiently spent. Those are the two criteria, and they should be the only criteria when it comes to this Future Submarine project. The chamber must adopt this amendment because this project is too important to be left to this incompetent minister. The efficient conduct of government and the efficient allocation of resources should be at the forefront of every minister's mind, but that is clearly not the case with this minister.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said he wanted 'a really effective submarine at a fair price'. I have good news for the Prime Minister: we know how to make sure that that happens. Expert after expert told the Senate that the only way to get the best capability for the best price is to hold a competitive tender process with a funded project definition study. If the Prime Minister is serious about the Future Submarine project, he will tell his senators to support this amendment. He will tell his senators to help the minister to keep his promise to build 12 submarines in Adelaide. I do not have high hopes, though, as this government has been breaking and walking away from this promise since the day it got into government. I say to those opposite that you do not have to listen to me, but listen to experts like Dr John White, who told a Senate inquiry:

There are significant technical, commercial and capability gap risks invoked by prematurely and unilaterally committing to a preferred overseas, sole-source supplier.

Retired Rear Admiral Peter Briggs told the same inquiry that the only way to pick the best submarine:

… is to conduct a competitive project definition study where you can get the answers back to your top-level requirements …

In fact, the report of the Senate inquiry recommended:

The government … not enter into a contract for the future submarine project without conducting a competitive tender for the future submarines, including a funded project definition study.

This is what my amendment seeks to ensure.

All that we are looking to do is to ensure that the government uses the best process so that we can make sure that we get the best possible outcome. How can you oppose a competitive tender process? How can the Liberal Party—the party of free enterprise and competition—oppose an amendment like this? The government is standing in the way. We learnt earlier today that, despite all the evidence about the benefits of a competitive tender and despite knowing that there is still time to hold a competitive tender and avoid a capability gap—and that is what the experts said—the Treasurer of Australia, Mr Joe Hockey, has ruled out holding a competitive tender process. The party of free enterprise and competition and the chief spruiker of competition in this country, the Treasurer of Australia, say there is to be no competitive tender, despite the defence minister's frequent announcements that no decision has been made. The defence minister says there has been no decision but the Treasurer says there will be no competitive tender.

Let me make it clear: it would be an absolute scandal to award this contract without a proper, fair dinkum, competitive tender process with a funded project definition study. Do not take the weasel words we are hearing from the minister at the moment and do not take the weasel words we have been hearing from various officials. This amendment to the legislation would ensure that we get a proper process. Frankly, companies from around the world which are trying to be involved in this tender process are absolutely stunned by the behaviour of this government, the champions of free enterprise and competition. They have had to resort to putting in unsolicited bids from the big submarine companies telling the government that they can build 12 submarines for a very competitive price here in Australia.

French companies, German companies and Swedish companies have been so shocked by the conduct of this government that they have, publicly in some cases, put a bid into the public sphere saying, 'We can do this.' But is this government listening? No because it is becoming increasingly clear that they are hell-bent on their sweetheart deal with Japan. They are absolutely determined to deliver this contract to the Japanese submarine companies. We know this because we asked the minister just yesterday. His office, the Prime Minister's office and his department prepared press releases, talking points and information to announce the Japanese had won the bid. No-one in this chamber, when they vote on this, should think that there is a fair dinkum process being undertaken. This government has already made up its mind. It has already made its decision. Only this amendment will hold this government to account.

The government's outrageous bias against Australian manufacturers is getting in the way of good, sensible government. The defence minister's colleagues know this. That is why, when the minister announced to the Senate that he would not trust the ASC to build a canoe, they dropped him like a hot potato. They walked away from him. His colleagues told the media that the defence minister's statements were 'some of the most stupid words ever heard from a senior minister'. They knew he had blown the whistle on the scam, the pretence that they are going to hold a process. The Japanese have this in the bag. The Japanese know it. The Japanese President knows it. The American President knows it. The Prime Minister knows it. Those three people had a meeting just a few weeks ago at an economic summit where they discussed putting American war systems into the Japanese submarines to be built for Australia. This is a done deal. Only this amendment can give the best possible chance of getting the best submarine at the best price and built here in Australia.

This amendment should be supported because it will ensure that a proper and fair tender process is gone through before selecting a design and construction partner for the submarine project. This is not some new process we are talking about; this is the established process, the established best practice to get the best outcome for projects like the future submarines. Unfortunately, given the clear bias shown by the minister and the Treasurer's statements earlier today, it is clear the government will need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing . That is why this amendment should be supported and I commend it to the Senate and that is why any South Australian senator who comes into this chamber and votes with the government is betraying the people of South Australia who elected them. They were elected on the votes of people who believed that Tony Abbott and David Johnston would keep their promise to build 12 submarines in Australia.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that opposition amendment on sheet 7635 be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

1:20 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 7642:

(1) Schedule 3, Parts 1 and 2, page 16 (line 2) to page 17 (line 19), to be opposed.

I wish to speak briefly on the remaining amendments on that sheet, which I will have to move separately, given that some of them are phrased differently from the others. Just to explain, the purpose of these amendments is to oppose the abolition of a handful of advisory councils which are currently serving a very useful function of providing expert advice to the minister and to the Department of the Environment, particularly about hazardous waste issues. We are opposing the abolition of the Product Stewardship Advisory Group, the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council and the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee, all of which have successfully provided expert policy advice in highly complex areas.

We are also opposing in the later amendments, which I will move shortly, the weakening of the hazardous waste regime, which reduces transparency and reduces safeguards for the environment and for local communities. Far from perhaps a harmless-sounding red tape reduction we are seeing a reduction in environmental standards and a reduction in community participation in important decisions that have real impacts. The government appears to be blindly implementing the recommendations of their earlier commission of audit but the fact remains that these environmental programs have been an absolute excess story.

The aim of the Product Stewardship Advisory Group is to advise the minister on products for accreditation under the Product Stewardship Act. The government says, 'It's fine; we don't need this advice any more because the department can do this in House.

Our advice from the experts is that the department may well have the will, but they do not have the capacity because this government has cut their staff. They also do not currently have the expertise, which is precisely why this expert body was established in the first place.

What we are seeing here, which is perhaps not unusual from this government, is a stepping away from evidence based, science based decision making. Instead, the government intends to put more pressure on an already under-resourced department which, in these particular examples, lacks the skills and the resources to properly fill that gap.

Moving now to the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council: similarly, it is an advisory body which advises the minister on matters related to the Product Stewardship for Oil Program. This encompasses things like product stewardship, recovery, recycling, benefits, the state of oil production and oil recycling industries. Having this advisory body has been a real success story. The advice from experts is that there are two meetings per year with some very fair sitting fees per member and that the advisory body provides a very useful function to the government of the day.

The Total Environment Centre and the National Toxics Network have opposed the abolition of these bodies. The Total Environment Centre said:

By abolishing the Product Stewardship Advisory Group (PSAG) which has performed an essential function of investigating and recommending products like waste batteries and paint to be subject to recycling instead of being dumped into landfill …

The federal government is effectively taking other harmful wastes off the national recycling agenda.

It argues the department can still do this on an ‘as needs’ basis but the department does not initiate such action and it is under a clear government direction to resist new regulation.

Clearly, industry and the department are being sent a message here: 'Just keep on approving things; we do not value expert advice; let's just tick and flick.'

The fuel quality standards amendments are along a similar vein. They seek to abolish the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee. They insert a new consultation process which applies to the grant process and the variation of approvals process for fuel standards. The government says that the department will carry out that advisory role; but, again, this is why we have expert advisory bodies: when you have slashed the department down to so few staff, and particularly when the staff who remain do not have the relevant expertise in these areas, that is precisely when you need expert advice.

I will flag that there are some parts of this bill that we do not oppose in schedule 3, and some of those are genuinely duplicative. We have structured our amendments in a way that we think is fair and that does not object to the abolition of particular parts which genuinely seem to be superfluous and do not have an actual on-ground impact. We are taking a reasonable approach here, but you simply cannot abolish three expert environment advisory bodies and somehow charge the department with those new responsibilities when you have sacked hundreds of those people who are already under pressure from an existing workload.

I will finish up by speaking to the hazardous waste amendments. The government is planning on gutting the hazardous waste regulation regime. They, of course, describe it as streamlining and simplifying. In fact, it is reducing the ability of local communities to keep track of what is going on and to be able to protect their health and their local environment. In particular, the government are seeking to remove the requirement for the particulars of an export application to be specified in regs before a decision is made to grant an export permit. They are also seeking to reduce the matters that must be included in import and export permits. They are removing the publication requirements of our permits from the Gazette and they are removing the requirement for a transit permit as well as introducing a new tenure limit on the Hazardous Waste Technical Group, which is somewhat perplexing and raises suspicions as to whether that is designed to hasten a particular person out. We are opposing the repeal of these hazardous waste provisions because this government seems intent on reducing environmental protection, as it is intent on reducing staff at the environment departments who are under an incredible amount of pressure to do valuable work. We need these expert advisory committees. They are performing a valuable role and assisting government in making positive decisions—if, of course, that advice is followed. We will, therefore, be opposing their abolition.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that: schedule 3, parts 1 and 2, page 16 (line 2) to page 17 (line 19) stand as printed

Question negatived.

I move amendment (2) on sheet 7642:

(2) Schedule 3, items 9 to 23, page 18 (line 3) to page 20 (line 10), to be opposed.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that: schedule 3, items 9 to 23, page 18 (line 3) to page 20 (line 10) stand as printed.

Question negatived.

I move amendment (3) on sheet 7642:

(3) Schedule 3, item 25, page 20 (line 14) to page 21 (line 2), omit subitems (1) to (4).

Question agreed to.

I move amendment (4) on sheet 7642:

(4) Schedule 3, item 25, page 21 (lines 6 to 22), omit subitems (6) and (7).

Question agreed to.

I move amendment (5) on sheet 7642:

(5) Schedule 3, items 28 to 37, page 22 (line 12) to page 24 (line 30), to be opposed.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that Schedule 3, items 28 to 37, page 22 (line 12) to page 24 (line 30) stand as printed.

Question negatived.

I move amendment (6) on sheet 7642:

(6) Schedule 3, item 41, page 25 (lines 6 to 24), omit subitems (1) to (5).

Question agreed to.

The CHAIRMAN: The question now is that the bill, as amended, by agreed to.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.