Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to Minister Payne, representing the Minister for Defence Industry. I refer to documents released to me under FOI on Monday, two days after the South Australian state election, that revealed that your department contracted ASC in June 2016 to undertake a study for the relocation of Collins submarine full-cycle docking, work that involves 700 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs from South Australia to Western Australia. Is it not the case that ASC's Adelaide based full-cycle docking work has been applauded by Minister Pyne as 'remarkable and exemplary'? Is it not the case that, following inquiries to your office by The Advertiser in August 2016, ASC was directed to suspend the study because of what the department described as 'current sensitivity'? What was that sensitivity, and was it political?
I thank Senator Patrick very much for his question. It is certainly the case that the work of ASC in South Australia in terms of the work they are doing in sustainment of the Collins class submarines is remarkable and exemplary. I absolutely agree with my very good friend and colleague Minister Pyne. What is actually much more interesting is some of the early writings of Senator Patrick in the Asia Pacific Defence Reporter. The government will make decisions about the location of the Collins class and the future submarines sustainment, including full-cycle docking, in due course.
As I've made the point on numerous occasions, where questions have prefacing statements, assertions and references, ministers are entitled to address those in answering the question. I can't direct a minister how to answer, nor what part of a question they may answer. The minister was being relevant.
Those decisions won't be required for some time, and what we'll do in that process is to ensure how the efficient and effective construction of the future submarine fleet can best proceed concurrently with ongoing sustainment activities for a Collins fleet. That's a perfectly reasonable position for a government to take.
But I would note, in passing—or 'en passant', if we want to talk about matters French and submarines—that Senator Patrick has a completely different view. Let me quote: 'Finally, the sustainment operations must be moved to Western Australia, where the submarine force operates from. And if and when we have submarines home based in the east—Sydney or Newcastle—supporting submarine sustainment out of the Adelaide site, 2,600 kilometres from where the submarine force operates, isn't smart. It is disruptive to the crews, time consuming, costly to the Navy and against the recommendations of Cole, who found that ASC in the west was much more outcome focused.'
Now, Senator Patrick might have made up his mind about Collins class sustainment, but the government will consider the requirements of sustainment, of capability and of the development of the future submarines and make decisions in due course, because that's the wise and smart thing for a government to do.
Minister, Defence officials told Senate estimates in September 2016, whilst the study suspension was in effect, that with regards to Collins sustainment:
There is no work currently ongoing to consider moving to WA.
Shortly after that they unsuspended the study and later told the Senate that not much work was being done on the study. Why has your department been evasive about a study moving hundreds of highly-skilled submarine sustainment jobs from SA— (Time expired)
Thank you very much, Mr President. The premise of Senator Patrick's question is completely incorrect. But that doesn't surprise me; he has changed his views so often that he doesn't even have the consistency of former Senator Nick Xenophon.
Frankly, what I have said sets out the approach that the government would take in relation to sustainment. There are a range of issues: how we would meet our operational requirements and how we would get the best capability outcomes. But, ultimately, the reality of the government's decision to double the size of our future submarine fleet, as well as to design and to build our future submarines domestically, means the size of the submarine workforce in Australia, in Adelaide, will need to increase dramatically—dramatically. And the senator is well aware of that.
Indeed, as we know, the future submarine program is expected to create an annual average of around 2,800 jobs in Australia, even before we consider the sustainment needs of the fleet that will transition between two classes and that will double in size. Now, they are the facts of the position— (Time expired)
Minister, is it not the case that ASC has been directed to provide its study on Collins Full Cycle Docking's relocation to your department this month or next month? Why has Minister Pyne repeatedly claimed that there are no plans to shift Collins Full Cycle Docking from SA and that any decisions relating to future sustainment arrangements are some years ahead? Why did your department delay the release of FOI documents on this matter until after Saturday's SA election, when the FOI decision was actually made prior to the polls? Were you consulted, and was Minister Pyne consulted— (Time expired)
I was not consulted. I'm not aware of whether Minister Pyne was consulted or not. I will take that on notice.
This is slightly bemusing for a government minister who is trying to ensure that we are delivering a capability to the Royal Australian Navy that will enable us to have to have a regionally superior submarine and that will deliver thousands of jobs across Australia, as I just indicated to you in my previous answer—and you know that very well, Senator. You might have held the view that you had when you wrote in the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter that it should definitely be moved. You might have held that view. You might hold that view now. Perhaps you are just choosing a different position on a different day of the week. But we will make up our minds based on capability, based on sustainment, based on what is best for the Royal Australian Navy and based on what is best for jobs across Australia.