November 26, 2014

Submarine issues placing Australia's Defence Minister Johnston under pressure

Australia's embattled Defence Minister, David Johnston.


The extreme nature of Australian Defence Minister, David Johnston's "canoe" comments on November 25, 2014 (see in article below) reflect that he is under pressure on 4 main fronts:

1. Although Johnston is dedicated and knowlegable about the military content of his Defence portfolio he is assessed by his ministerial colleagues and Prime Minister Abbott as being unsuited to the political wheeler-dealing, spin-doctoring skills needed of a senior Cabinet Minister. Perhaps Johnston is also not as submissive as Abbott would like. 

2. Johnston is politically vulnerable over the cost over-runs and lateness of the not yet delivered Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWDs) which are being built by ASC (see below) in Adelaide, South Australia. Johnston is concerned the AWD fiasco will be the trigger for his removal from his senior Cabinet position - perhaps by February 2015. It is notable that Prime Minister Abbott did not support Johnston's "canoe" statements today. If Australia's Future Submarines were built in Australia it is likely that ASC would build them - again in Adelaide - as ASC earlier built the Collins Class (over-budget and late).

3. As Johnston is extremely reluctant to have the Future Submarines built in Australia all the South Australian and other regional union and industrial development interests want Johnston's desire reversed and if necessary his removal. These interests include some politicians in Johnston's own Liberal-Nationa Coalition Party. 

4. Johnston's and probably Abbott's preference that the Future Submarines be built (as Soryu submarines) in Japan is at risk due to the uncertainties of the Japanese General Elections to be held very soon on December 14, 2014. If the elections weaken the Japanese Parliamentary ("Diet") majority controlled by Japan's Prime Minister Abe, then Abe's support will be weakened for Japan's unprecendented policy of large defence exports that mainly center on Soryus for Australia. 

Also see widespread opposition in the Australian submarine industry and Australian Parliament to the Soryu option.


Jonathon Gul for Australia's ABC News reported, November 25, 2014, on statements made by Australia's Defence Minister Johnston in the Australian Senate, Canberra, on November 25, 2014. 

"Defence Minister says he 'wouldn't trust' Australian Submarine Corporation to build a canoe"

"Defence Minister David Johnston has warned he would not trust the Government-owned defence builder, the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC), to build a canoe.
Senator Johnston launched the scathing attack on the ASC in the Senate during a debate about where Australia's next submarine fleet should be built.
The Government is under pressure to build Australia's next fleet of submarines locally, rather than opt for an overseas design.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has since released a statement saying the ASC plays a vital role in supporting the Royal Australian Navy.
But the ASC does not have the confidence of Senator Johnston.
"You wonder why I'm worried about ASC and what they're delivering to the Australian taxpayer, you wonder why I wouldn't trust them to build a canoe?" he said.

Senator Johnston said the ASC was at least $350 million over budget in building three air warfare destroyer ships.
"I'm being conservative, it's probably more than $600 million, but because the data is bad, I can't tell you," he said.
"ASC was delivering no submarines in 2009 for $1 billion."
Mr Abbott's statement said the ASC had changed its submarine maintenance program and had exceeded the Navy's target for submarine readiness over the past year.
"This has improved the availability of our Collins Class fleet to defend our national interests," the statement said.
"Whilst ASC has had challenges meeting the Government’s cost and schedule expectations of the Air Warfare Destroyer programme, we are working closely with ASC on a reform strategy to improve shipyard performance and productivity.
"It is early days, but the Government is confident that ASC and its partners will successfully turn the corner on this important build."

[article continues] Australian Submarine Corporation worker 'disgusted' by comments

An ASC worker said he was disgusted by Senator Johnston's comments.
Pipe fitter Andrew Daniels said the Adelaide workers would never compromise on safety.
"We're being trashed. When I go home to my family and this guy is telling me I'm useless ... I don't feel useless and that's pretty gutting to 3,000 workers in South Australia and Western Australia," he said.
"It's not a great feeling to have your Defence Minister, you're out there doing your best job for the country and he's trashing you."
SA Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said Senator Johnston's comments made clear the Federal Government was planning to break its promise to build the next generation of submarines in Adelaide.
"We are outraged as a State Government and I think it is a clear signal that the promise to build 12 submarines in South Australia was disingenuous at best, some would say a lie," he said.
Earlier this month ASC general manager Stuart Wiley said it would cost between $18 billion and $24 billion to build 12 submarines in Adelaide.
The Federal Government had suggested it would cost up to $80 billion.
The Coalition's Commission of Audit recommended it consider privatising the ASC."


Vigilis said...

Hi Pete. Have to say it is more entertaining reading about such controversies half way around the globe than the perpetual flak we are often bombarded with in the states.

Hate to be a little sadistic, but am enjoying this one much more than ours.

On a more serious note, Japan's recent Nagano earthquake follows my cautionary post about the sourcing of even great subs there.

Australia's final sourcing issue will be very interesting no matter what is ultimately decided. I of course am nuetral except in hope the outcome turns out best for Australia.


Pete said...

Hi Vigilis

Glad you enjoy the change of scenery with Australia's defence problems. It certainly is less exposed and written about than Chuck Hage's resignation and Iraq etc.

Thanks for the reminder about the Nagano earthquake.

Australia's final sourcing decision may take a while - mauybe years.