Questions Without Notice: Comments from Rex: Australian Defence Force

30 July 2019

Senator Patrick: My question is to the shareholder minister for ASC, Senator Cormann. Minister. Did you not tell the Senate FPA legislation committee on 23 May 2018 that no decision had been made to shift Collins class submarine full-cycle dockings from ASC, in South Australia, to WA? If no decision had been taken by government, why then did Admiral Sammut, head of the submarine program, write on 29 September 2017 to advise Naval Group that in designing the Future Submarine construction yard, at Osborne, they should assume, 'The land occupied by ASC submarines would be made available to Naval Group following this 2024 FCD to allow for further development of the submarine construction yard, inclusive of access to the Port Adelaide River'? Minister, is ASC aware of Admiral Sammut's written advice that the land they occupy for Collins full-cycle dockings has been promised to Naval Group from 2024?

Senator Cormann (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance): Firstly, I'm not personally aware of the quote that you've just read out, but, I will ask ASC whether they are aware of the quote that you've just read out. What I can say substantively is that I absolutely stand by what I said at Senate estimates at the time, and that is that no decision has been made in relation to full-cycle docking for the Collins class submarine.

The government is seeking expert advice, which is, I think, something that I've confirmed during Senate estimates as well, to inform options associated with full-cycle docking—given the significant additional workload and the 12 Attack class submarines that will, of course, be built in years to come as a result of decisions, the $90 billion in additional investment, that we are making under our government. So no decision has been made and I've, again, discussed these matters with Senator Reynolds in more recent times. We expect that this is a matter that will come for a decision to government later in the year.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, a supplementary question.

Senator Patrick: Minister, if no decision of government has been made, how is Admiral Sammut promising the site to Naval Group for its construction yard? I mean, this is a serious move. There will be significant costs involved. There will be the depletion of corporate knowledge. Don't you think that this move can be simply ruled out on the basis it'll harm national security?

Senator Cormann (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance): Because we are so focused on our national interests and making the right decisions by the Australian people, the public interest and our national security interest, we are going through a proper process. That why we are seeking and obtaining appropriate expert advice. Again, I substantively stand by what I've previously said, and that is that no decision has been made. Ultimately, this will be cabinet-level decision taken in the national interest in the context, of course, of a historic record investment in our defence capability as a nation moving forward.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, a final supplementary question.

Senator Patrick: Minister, in an FOI asking for the incoming government brief relating to shipbuilding for Defence, there's a secret sealed section that hasn't been released to me entitled 'Western Australia'. What secret deal has been done? I know that Minister Price, Minister Reynolds and you are from WA. Has a promise been made to the WA government that full-cycle dockings will go to Western Australia?

Senator Cormann (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance): The answer to the last question is no. In relation to the other matters, I'm not the Minister for Defence, so it won't surprise you to hear that I haven't had access to the secret sealed section either. But I can also inform the senator that the great state of Western Australia is part of the Commonwealth of Australia and that, thankfully, our defence forces are quite focused on defending the great state of Western Australia as part of their commitment to our national defence and our national security. So I'm very relieved that our defence forces are focused on what is required to be done to keep Australians in Western Australia safe and secure, in the same way as, of course—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick on point of order?

Senator Patrick: It is a simple question: have you done a deal with the government of Western Australia to shift full-cycle dockings there?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, you restated the last part of your question. The minister, I understand, had addressed that at the start and was being directly relevant to the remainder of the question.

Senator Cormann: I could not have been more explicit and more unequivocal. There has been no deal. We are making these judgements based on the national interest. No decision has been made. We will make the decision not on political grounds but on national security and public interest grounds.