Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Future Submarine Project; Order for the Production of Documents
(1) That the Senate notes that the following orders for the production of documents have been directed to the Minister for Defence, and as the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Industry, Senator Payne:
(a) on 9 November 2016, for documents relating to the Future Submarine Design and Mobilisation Contract – while a redacted version of the contract was provided on 1 December 2016, on 8 February 2017, the Senate rejected the public interest immunity claim made in relation to contractual intellectual property rights and the documents remain outstanding;
(b) on 4 September 2017, for documentation relating to the Future Frigate tender process – the Senate rejected the minister’s claim of public interest immunity, but the documents were later released under freedom of information legislation;
(c) on 12 February 2018, for documents relating to the Australian Industry Capability Plan, submitted by DCNS to the Department of Defence in its response to the Future Submarine Competitive Evaluation Process – the minister was required to attend the chamber on 10 May 2018 to make a statement, and the documents were later released under freedom of information legislation; and
(d) on 20 June 2018, for documents from the Final Cost Estimate Template that DCNS submitted in response to the Future Submarine Competitive Evaluation Process – the Senate rejected the minister’s claim of public interest immunity on 28 June 2018 and the documents remain outstanding.
(2) The Senate orders that:
(a) the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Industry be required to attend the Senate on 17 September 2018, at 10 am, to explain why the minister has not complied with the order numbered 862 for the production of documents; and
(b) any senator may move a motion to take note of the minister’s statement and any such motion may be debated for no longer than one hour, and have precedence over all government business until determined.
(3) If, at the completion of the debate any senator is not satisfied as to the explanation, and noting the minister has consistently defied the will of the Senate in respect of its rulings on public interest immunity, the senator may move a motion in the following terms: That the Senate resolves that, until such time as the Senate resolves that it is satisfied that the order for the production of documents numbered 862 has been complied with, the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Industry shall be prohibited from sitting on the frontbench seats reserved for ministers, and be allocated a seat by the President in another seat.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
My motion relates to a $100 billion expenditure on submarines that has had very little scrutiny. I have moved the motion in circumstances where there have been three orders for the production of documents and the Senate has insisted on the provision of the documents but the minister has refused to do so. On two of those occasions, I then went and got an FOI whereby the documents were released to me as a regular citizen. That tells you there's something very, very wrong going on here.
This motion provides an opportunity for us to debate the minister's latest explanation and to impose a modest sanction if the Senate is not satisfied. This is a lesser motion than a censure but one with symbolic and practical effect. I understand Labor may move to separate this motion. I just ask Labor if they could provide some explanation as to why they wouldn't support enforcing the orders of the Senate?
On behalf of the Labor Party, I seek leave to separate the motion so that section (3) be voted on separately. In doing so, might I explain that the Labor Party's view is that the orders for the production of documents should be taken seriously and that the proposition as advanced provides for the minister to provide a proper explanation to the Senate as to why this has not been complied with and whether or not additional information can be provided that has not been provided to date, particularly given that the minister is representing a minister from the House of Representatives and that material has been provided to the financial review which hasn't been provided to the Senate. As a party of government, we don't support actions being taken as outlined in section (3) of this motion and we will be voting against it. We would ask that the government take note of that, because what comes around goes around in these circumstances.
The government maintains its public interest immunity claim on the basis that the final cost estimate template prepared by DCNS, now trading as Naval Group, as part of its response to the Future Submarine competitive evaluation process contains material that is commercially confidential, including fee and price details and special terms unique to the Future Submarine program. The disclosure of this may adversely affect the Commonwealth's ongoing contractual negotiations with Naval Group and the future supply of information or services to the Commonwealth. The release may also affect Australia's international relations, specifically with France.
The Greens will be supporting this motion for an order for the production of documents. There is already too little transparency around defence spending in this country. In the last two years, we have seen from this government a record increase in defence expenditure since the Second World War. We've seen a new plan for Australia to become a top 10 global weapons exporter. To use a submarine analogy, it's not a good enough excuse for the Labor Party to come into this place in lock step with the Liberal Party under silent running, not being able to be scrutinised because you're going to be a party of government. That's the whole problem: being in lock step on national security when we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars on critical projects that the Australian people need information about. The more transparency the better, and we applaud Senator Patrick for bringing this motion forward today.
Following the wish expressed by the senator, I will be putting paragraphs 1 and 2 of motion No. 981 separately to paragraph 3. So the question is that paragraphs 1 and 2 of motion No. 981 be agreed to.
Question agreed to.
The question is that paragraph 3 of motion No. 981 be agreed to.