Bill's Transcripts

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW: Adelaide - Labor’s announcement on Australia’s Future Submarines; Germanwings Flight 9525

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

ADELAIDE

WEDNESDAY, 25 MARCH 2015

 

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s announcement on Australia’s Future Submarines; Germanwings Flight 9525; Department of Defence.

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:  Today on behalf of the Labor Party, I have made it very clear that Labor supports a procurement program for Australian submarines which will see the submarines built, maintained and sustained in Australia. We are offering the Government a bipartisan path to the future submarines of Australia. We believe the Government should keep its word from before the last election, but beyond that, there should be bipartisanship about the biggest procurement defence decision in a generation for Australia. It is most important for our national security and for advance manufacturing and the skills that go with it, that we have bipartisanship on the question of submarines. Submarines is too important to be left to internal Liberal Party wrangling. It is too important to be left to controversy. Labor in goodwill has outlined a process which will see the decision about submarines being made which will give Australians certainty that we'll have the best performing submarines, that Australia will have the full ownership of intellectual property and that the submarines are built and maintained in Australia.

 

Before I just take questions, it would be remiss of me not to just briefly acknowledge the tragedy of Germanwings flight 9525, with a report that 150 people have perished in southern France. I understand that there are 2 Australians amongst the victims of this plane crash. I feel for their families and their friends but I also acknowledge that there are citizens of France and Spain and Germany and possibly elsewhere. We all fly in aeroplanes in the modern world. A disaster like this I think hits home to all of us and our thoughts with the victims of this terrible plane crash. Happy to take questions about our announcement about policies for future Australian submarines.

 

JOURNALIST: The Defence Minister has pretty much already ruled out working with you on this so where does that leave you?

 

SHORTEN: It would be so silly of the Liberal government in Canberra to just take their bat and ball and go home and say they won't work with Labor. What Australians are desperately crying out for, not just in submarines, but across a whole range of issues, is Liberal and Labor working together. I am not cut from the same cloth as Tony Abbott. I'm interested in rolling up our sleeves and how we work together. A decision of $20 billion going indeed longer than that amount and further over the next 30 years does not require some sort of political argy bargy. What Australians want from the Liberal Government and from the Opposition is that on the big questions, the intergenerational questions, where we can find common ground, we should. Today I’ve offered common ground to Tony Abbott. You can't just make a decision about tens of billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, most importantly, our national security, on some handshake deal with one tender bidder. We need to get to the bottom of what's happened. The best promise for this Government to restore confidence in their defence credentials, their manufacturing credentials, their national security credentials is go for our two-stage process of request for proposal and request for tender - that is the way to handle it. Tony Abbott should not jeopardise a generational security decision thousands of jobs just because it's not his idea. And what I say very clearly is, if Tony Abbott and his team in Canberra are willing to go down a transparent path inviting four tenderers where we get the best proposal possible, the best technology for our men and women in the Defence Forces, the best chance for advanced manufacturing, the best chance for Adelaide dockyards, Melbourne, Newcastle, right around Australia, we will work with him. He shouldn't play political games.

 

JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t you have announced this policy when you were in power? The Government's been critical of the fact that you didn't act on the submarines when you had the chance?

 

SHORTEN: Well lets be really straight here. There’s a proposal on the table from Labor. Tony Abbott, I think everyone thinks they have done some sort of deal with Japan about the submarines. Then that hit obviously heavy water. He has thrown his defence minister overboard for his disparaging and arrogant comments about the Australian Submarine Corporation.

 

JOURNALIST: But shouldn’t Labor have acted when you were in power?

 

SHORTEN: I’m answering the question, but a decision of $20 billion, I’m not just going to give you a glib one liner or a zinger on this one. Your question is important and I’m going to go deal with it with the respect it deserves. Tony Abbott though has done a U-turn on his policies. Here is just the history -  1. Before the last election there was bipartisanship between Liberal and Labor, there was bipartisanship.  It wasn't us who asked the Liberal Party to stand in front of the gates at the Australian Submarine Corporation and guarantee to build 12 submarines in Australia. So they go to the election, everyone votes for whoever but that’s the policy, then they change their policy. Now, what’s happened is that when Tony Abbott's realised that he is losing his own job and that there’s a massive backlash against his captain's pick of a deal without a tender, then what happens is to save his own job, he goes through some half process to see what can be done where he tries to keep his votes in Caucus and he also tries to keep his promise he has made to the Japanese Government. The truth of the matter is $20 billion initially. A 30-40 year life span for submarines. It deserves to be done properly. Labor’s offering a bipartisan approach on this question. I am happy to have Stephen Conroy talk a little further about some of the detail of the history to which you’re inquiring.

 

SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, SENATOR STEPHEN CONROY: Sorry can I answer the rest of that question. Let me be very clear, this claim by the Government that Labor did nothing is simply false. It’s become popular to repeat it. We set aside over $200 million, we whittled it down from 4 options to 2 options. We’d actually narrowed down and selected the weapons system, we’d narrowed down and selected the torpedoes and we’d set aside land for a testing facility. So this argument that we had done nothing is simply false. It’s a cover because this Government wanted to give the submarines to Japan because the Prime Minister has done a handshake. The National Security Committee agreed to give this contract to the Japanese. They actually drew up press releases in the Department to announce when Prime Minister Abe, was here for G20. That’s actually what happened. So, the denigration of both the ASC, the denigration of the previous process was a convenient political line to support a decision that they have agreed to take. Now, because the Prime Minister got into desperate trouble, he’s had to take 10 days after an announcement of what the process was - it took 10 days before they could even explain what the process was because they were still writing it. But this argument that we did nothing is simply them trying to rewrite history. Did it go as fast as everybody would have like, no clearly there were processes underway, money was set aside, decisions were taken.

 

JOURNALIST: Isn't your new policy though different to the one you took to the election in that you had narrowed it down to an evolved Collins or a brand new design and now you are looking overseas just like the Government?

 

SHORTEN: Your question would seem contradict the previous question that nothing has happened. But we are where we are with this Government. The problem that we now have with submarines is the Government said one thing before the election and we got to not let them off the hook here. They said before the last election, they are going to build 12 submarines in South Australia. That’s what they said. Now we got this problem where Tony Abbott seems to have done some sort of arrangement, back of the envelope arrangement with Japan about just one option to build our submarines. If you talk to the third party experts, talk to the retired submariners, talk to the people who are experts in submarine construction, they are desperate to have a transparent process. We know that if it hadn't been for the spill motion against Tony Abbott, we wouldn't even be discussing any sort of confected process the Government's offering. But today's announcement is the Labor Party offering bipartisanship to the Government. We are not telling the Government not to purchase submarines from Japan or Germany or France or Sweden, but for goodness sakes, this is a decision that will go well beyond our generation. It is a decision which goes to our national security, our prime naval deterrent for the next 30- 40 years. Let's do it right.

 

JOURNALIST: Is it a case now that if the Abbott Government likes part of what you are saying but dislikes another part, where do you draw the line in terms of the bipartisanship with this?

 

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, let's see what the Abbott Government says. I hope the Abbott Government doesn't say ‘ oh no we’ve got this all under control everyone, nothing to see here,  we're not interested in what the Opposition says". That will make Australians really frustrated. We’re proposing a process which resolves within 12-18 months, we’re proposing a process which has the criteria outlined in Labor's policy. We want best capability. We want to make sure Australia owns the intellectual property and we want to make sure it’s built in Australia. They should be the requirements for tender. It is clear there is four nations who can potentially build this submarine. What Australians want is the best technology available for its service people. Australians want to see advanced manufacturing in this country. Let's put out the clear requirements. What we are saying though, to the Federal Government, the main issue is we want the subs built in Australia and the Government's never given us a good reason why they shouldn't build it.

 

JOURNALIST: Are you saying it is all or nothing of your plan, or if they accept part of it, is that all right?

 

SHORTEN: I’m saying they should build the submarines in Australia and today Labor’s announced that policy, we’ve outline a cogent case. We’re saying that the Federal Government should keep its promises. We’re saying it should be built in Australia in the interests of our national security. The interests of advanced manufacturing and because we can do it, we’re saying let's have a transparent process, let’s work with the Government. This is a bipartisan path. Does the Government seriously want to have a political debate about them breaking their promise, not building subs in Australia? The Labor Party is happy to take this issue off the political table and put it in the bipartisan category. We just need a Government capable of working with an Opposition rather than just throwing rocks.

 

JOURNALIST: The Australian is reporting plans to restructure the Department of Defence. How extensive should this be?

 

SHORTEN: Well we haven’t been briefed yet, I’ll ask my colleague to add a few words.

 

CONROY: Look, all we’ve seen is the leaks in 'The Australian' today. We’ve got no briefing, we’ve been offered a briefing this afternoon, so we’re not in a position where we can make a judgement on it because we simply haven't seen the document yet and we haven't been briefing on it yet.

 

JOURNALIST: Have they got far to go on it since Labor cut so much from their budget?

 

CONROY: We’ll see what the report says. We’ve been offered a briefing this afternoon and we’ll be in a position where we can make a comment after that. But at this stage, all we’ve seen is speculation in the newspapers. We’ll be able to make more of a comment after we get briefed this afternoon.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the fact that the Minister has outright rejected your proposal literally within minutes, what hope is there of bipartisanship and does that harden your resolve against working with the Government?

 

SHORTEN: Well I think there were 2 ministers who spoke today, and I don’t know if you heard what the South Australian Minister said, the South Australian Minister said he was pleased. If you're referring to the current Defence Minister who, if he’s just rejected an idea within a number of minutes, well I don't think that shows a particularly open mind. The issue here though is not what Kevin Andrews thinks, the issue here is what’s in the best interests of the Australian people. People want more bipartisanship. It is really disappointing if as soon as Labor offers bipartisanship we get a kneejerk reaction from a Government who is more interested in politics than policy. It’s very straigt forward what Labor’s saying here today – sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt your question with an answer, but my proposition here is this - build the subs in Australia, let's own our own intellectual property. Let's make sure that we’ve got the best capability in our submarines. That’s a very straightforward proposition and Australia can do it. I have more confidence in Australia's capacity than some of the Abbott Government.

 

JOURNALIST: How is it bipartisan to offer a different policy position and then say the Government must match that position?

 

SHORTEN: Well, let's be very straight here. We and the leadership spill and Labor and I think the outcry of people who know a lot about building submarines, had seen the Federal Government dragged kicking and screaming away from their captain's pick of a deal reputedly done between Australia and Japan, to having some sort of process. If the Government is being straight with the Australian people, what’s wrong with them saying to the people, to the Germans, to the Swedes, to the French and to the Japanese, who’ve all got submarine design and building capacity, to tender for our work, what is wrong with that proposition? What we’re saying to the Government is that if they go through that process and they put in the tender requirement Australian build, Australian-owned intellectual property, best capability, we’ve got a deal, ladies and gentlemen. Let's have an argument about something else. But I don't think any fair-minded Australian, having a look at a genuine competition, competition in the market place - this is the Government who claim to be the party of competition in the market. What is wrong with seeing this process we’re outlining. We’re offering the Liberals a process, we’re offering them a sort of get out of jail card on their policy flip flops and broken promises and we’re saying to Australia we’re on the side of doing things in Australia.

 

JOURNALIST: If the Government reaches a contract with someone and you come to power at the next election, will you honour the contract if they have signed it?

 

SHORTEN: That is a very important question, thank you. First of all, this is a multi-tens of billions of dollar contract. I do not believe that the Government is seriously saying that they are going to conclude $50 billion, two generations of Australians, and wrap it all up before the next election. Let me be very straight though, if they do conclude a contractual process and if they do sign contracts, the contracts they sign we will honour. But what I’m also saying is I think this Government, who’s made - it is beyond controversy that they have made a botch of this submarine process. I mean they’ve lost a Defence Minister, that’s evidence they’ve made a botch. They made a promise before the election which they're not keeping, that’s a botch. They’ve had to change what they said and were going to do a deal with Japan and then they’ll put in some other tenderers even though they have managed to insult Sweden on the way through, let’s face it, they’ve botched it so far. If you are saying that you think that this Government is in the next 12 months or whenever they hold an election, are going to have it all tied up in a bow, that wouldn't be tended to be evident based on the process so far. But if they make a contract we will sign it, but what I’d also say to this Government is please, this is a 2 generation decision, this is a decision of tens of billions of dollars, it is a decision most importantly of national security, why not work with the Opposition? Our process doesn't tell them who to buy or what to do, it just says let's do it in a way that all Australians and experts are comfortable and confident with the outcome.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you think DMO and Defence have said in Senate Committees that the open tendered process could take 5 years. How have you established your terms of reference.

 

SHORTEN: Let me get my colleague Stephen to deal with this.

 

CONROY: We’re not, the only person who’s talked about an open tender is Senator Edwards and the current Prime Minister. They announced in a press conference, Senator Edwards, many of you probably covered it, (inaudible). We’re not proposing an open tender process, we’ve absolutely from November last year when I outlined in Perth at the submarine conference in Perth, we’ve outlined our process. It’s not an open process, so don’t be distracted by this argument about open, the only person who’s advocated an open process is Senator Edwards. We’re proposing a very, very straight forward process – for 4 countries with companies that are acknowledged as able to this, we invite them to participate and so that is what we are proposing. There’s no suggestion of an open tender process.

 

JOURNALIST: Isn’t likely you’ll have to adjust that policy before the next election, depending on how far the government’s gone?

 

CONROY: Well look, we’re making a genuine, bipartisan offer to this Government. This is too important, this is our most lethal defence asset. It’s going to be around for 20 or 30 years and we should make sure that we get the process to select it right. We do not want this mired in more controversy. It is this Government that has mired this in controversy. It’s this Government that has broken its promise, we’re offering a way through and we hope that the Government take it on in good faith and will consider this and we’ll look at amending their processes because it’s too important for all of Australia to have a debacle like this go on.

 

JOURNALIST: Quickly on another topic, I understand a man made their way on to army barracks in Townsville overnight?

 

CONROY: I haven’t seen a report on that at all. We flew on a plane from Adelaide this morning, I’ve got no details.

 

JOURNALIST: Sure, I understand, he made it on site with a replica gun and it was some time before he was apprehended. Have you got any comments about that?

 

CONROY: Well look, I’d need to see a full report on that to be able to comment, I’ve got no details on that at all.

 

ENDS

 

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