March 17, 2015

Abbott's February 2015 Submarine Promise Juggling Again Controversial

Australian Prime Minister Abbott's juggling of promises on the new submarine selection has again become controversial. Most of this controversy is old however what is new is:

- the lack of communication and joint decision-making between Abbott and his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop (and presumably with her Department (DFAT)).

- that the Australian "Cabinet's top secret National Security Committee (NSC) met in October [2014] and supported a move that would allow the bulk of Australia's submarine fleet to be built offshore."

Abbott has made two conflicting promises:  :

1.  in 2013 - mid 2014 to South Australia that 12 new submarines would be built in South Australia, and

2. Abbott's request-promise in mid 2014 with Japanese Prime Minister Abe that Australia wishes to buy 6-12 new submarines from Japan (and built in Japan).

When Abbott's position as Prime Minister is threatened (as in February 2015) he quickly needs to juggle Promises 1 and 2. This juggling may occur again.

On March 16, 2015 Australia's ABC aired a 4 Corners program called "House of Cards" (video and transcript here) that recalled Abbott's juggling of Promises 1 and 2. See shorter report of ABC program (below). This juggling occurred on February 8-10, 2015 when Abbott told Liberal-National Party Coalition politicians that he would allow ASC to participate in an "open tender". This appeared to be a decision moving in the direction of Promise 1, as it would make it possible for Germany, France and Sweden to win and then "build in Australia".

By February 10, 2015 Abbott had apparently forgotten the "open tender" promise and had replaced it (or returned it) to "competitive evaluation proces" generally assumed to mean ASC could play a small part of "build in Japan". "Despite press speculation at the time, the [Australia's National Security Committee (NSC)] did not make any final decision to build the submarines in Japan." However it was assumed by many in the Federal Government and the South Australian Government that the build would occur in Japan (see article below).

This is a March 17, 2015 ABC article about the submarine issues that were brought to the surface in "House of Cards" (March 16, 2015 : 

"Tony Abbott changed submarine tender policy overnight when faced with leadership spill

Prime Minister Tony Abbott took less than 24 hours to agree to re-examine the Government's policy on the $20 billion future submarine project, in an effort to shore up votes against a leadership spill last month.
The ABC's Four Corners program can reveal that Cabinet's top secret National Security Committee (NSC) met in October last year and supported a move that would allow the bulk of Australia's submarine fleet to be built offshore.
The sensitive decision was not announced at the time, although a press release had been drawn up for then defence minister David Johnston.
In February, the weekend before the spill motion, South Australian senator Sean Edwards told Mr Abbott his vote would depend on whether local shipbuilders, including the Australian Submarine Corporation [ASC], would be given the opportunity to participate in a tender for the contract.
"He rang me at 6.30 on Saturday night and I heard from him at ten past three the following Sunday, the next day," Senator Edwards told Four Corners.
"He said he'd had a discussion with the defence minister and they'd come to a position on this, which obviously I was seeking."

Policy change not discussed with Bishop

Mr Abbott did not raise the submarine discussions that weekend with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, a spokeswoman for Ms Bishop told the program.
This was despite Ms Bishop being a member of the NSC.
Mr Abbott's agreement with Senator Edwards again revisited the previous outcome of the October NSC meeting, which had broken an election promise to construct the submarines in South Australia.
Details of the highly confidential October [2014] NSC meeting were based on accounts from sources closely involved in the submarine project.
Despite press speculation at the time, the NSC did not make any final decision to build the submarines in Japan.
However, it did decide to open the way for their construction overseas because of time and cost constraints.
South Australia's Minister for Defence Industries, Martin Hamilton-Smith, told [ABC's 4 Corners] his State Government "kept receiving feedback ... that the Japan option was very much the option".
"In fact, I was told we may as well give up," Mr Hamilton-Smith said.
Following the leadership spill, Mr Abbott reconvened the NSC and Defence Minister Kevin Andrews announced on February 20 that the Future Submarines Project would involve a "competitive evaluation process".
Under that process, the Minister said the Defence Department would seek proposals from partners that included "options for design and build" of the submarines "overseas, in Australia and/or a hybrid approach" ENDS
In my article of September 8, 2014 "Australia's Future Sub Likely to be Japan's Soryu, outsider is Germany" I indicated that it was likely Abbott had decided on buying Soryus built in Japan. I felt then and feel now that a foreign build is advisable. In that article I also raised some risks of Australia being Japan's first major defence customer as well as the Soryu's short range compared to what Australia wants.
The US may have put pressure on Japan and Australia to rush a Soryu deal but many details and issues (including substantial Australian participation) need to be ironed out first.   


Anonymous said...

Although I disagree with selling Soryu technology as a Japanese taxpayer, I think, as a friend who considers about Aussie submariner’s life, that the hybrid construction scheme of Soryu or her analog may be one of the best ways.Welding of Soryu hull consist of NS80 and NS110 (equivalent for HY157 steel) is extremely difficult. As US does not achieve welding of HY130 yet, you can imagine how Soryu hull welding is difficult. Minimum requirements are as follows; qualified welding technicians who can achieve upward welding of NS110, special welding equipments, optimized procedure, welding material, NS80 and NS100, and management which can timely realize products in a controlled manner, etc.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Thank you for your informational act of kindness and concern for Aussie submariners. I will add your steel comments to a previous article .

I plan to do a future article on little known Soryu facts. Your steel info will form part of that.