February 8th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Sensible environment policies can counter extremists

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Bushfires: Never let a good crisis go to waste

CANBERRA OBSERVED Submarine build gives us a sinking feeling

RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION Bill Mark II a shade better but still faulty

OBITUARY Wilson Gavin: Requiescat in Pace

WORLD AFFAIRS Central banks move to dictate climate policies

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump impeachment will end with a whimper

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Australia considers a Magnitsky-type law

SOCIETY The optimist vindicated? Er, no!

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

ASIAN POLITICS Changing of the guard: Taiwan votes

HUMOUR Legal X-clamation points and that

MUSIC Is there a way to virtue via the sublime?

CINEMA The Authentic Mr Rogers: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

BOOK REVIEW How little, low-tech militias stay under the radar of huge, high-tech armies

BOOK REVIEW First novel dips into depths of medical murder-suspense genre



FOREIGN AFFAIRS Coronavirus: China must answer hard questions

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Submarine build gives us a sinking feeling

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, February 8, 2020

The latest revelations about Australia’s bedevilled new submarine contract highlight judgement calls made by former prime ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull that have enormous repercussions for Australia’s defence for decades to come.

When Tony Abbott was Prime Minister he decided to push for an ambitious and historic plan to build a submarine partnership with Japan, both to assist Japan in its efforts to bolster its military capacity and to ensure regional security.

However, under pressure from South Australians, the then Abbott government widened its tender process to replace Australia’s Collins Class submarine to include French and German contractors.

Subsequently, the Turnbull government awarded the contract to build Australia’s new submarine fleet to the French – a decision that is proving a mistake of monumental proportions.

The Attack Class submarine project – the largest defence acquisition project in Australia’s history – is in deep trouble, with revelations that the program’s viability has been questioned to the extent that it should be ditched entirely and the tender be started over again.

A damning Australian National Audit Office report last month raised a number of questions about the French consortium’s ability to complete the project that is aimed at replacing the Australian Navy’s six ageing Collins Class submarines, which itself was a shockingly poor procurement project and a money pit for the Australian taxpayer.

But problems with the Collins Class submarines pale into insignificance compared with the latest project, which is expected to cost $80 billion but which could cost much more before it is completed – if it ever is.

So bad has the project been that the Naval Shipbuilding Advisory Board has warned Defence top brass that they should consider walking away from the project.

Mr Turnbull signed off on the contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group, and one wonders how much the decision was influenced by doing the opposite of what his predecessor wanted to do.

Only last year, just after the May federal election, Mr Abbott gave a speech at the Japanese Embassy where he was an honoured guest in which he conceded that the submarine project was a regret from his time as prime minister.

“The world of 1945 is not the world of today. The world of 1989 is not the world of today. The world of 2003 is not the world of today,” Mr Abbott said.

“I regret to say the world today is in some ways a more dangerous and more threatening place for democracies under the rule of law. Now it’s not for me to give advice to the Japanese Government, or indeed any other government.

“But if in the years to come the strength and reach of Japan were to grow, if Japan were to choose to take a bigger role in the security of the region and the wider world, I think that would be good for Australia and the wider world and the rule of law.”

Following the revelations in the ANAO report, The Australian newspaper reported the extent of the ongoing concerns about the handling of the contract.

Opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles said government “mishandling” of the nation’s biggest-ever defence acquisition posed major risks.

“On all three measures of this program — on time of delivery, on the cost of the project, and on the amount of the Australian content — the numbers are all going the wrong way,” he said.

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick, who served in the Navy himself, said the ANAO report was “one of the most concerning reports I have ever seen”.

“The alarm bells are ringing. If the minister is not hearing them, they need to be turned up,” Senator Patrick said. “Defence’s view that they can recover the schedule is naive at best.”

The enmity between Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull has been a strain and dysfunction on federal politics for many years, but the submarine debacle shows that its effects extend to Australia’s future defence capability in the decades ahead.

In this case, Mr Abbott’s deeply symbolic and geopolitical vision for an Australian-Japanese submarine project may prove to have been the correct one.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm