Amelia McMahon, Defence Connect
12 March 2018
As Parliament debates the pros and cons of having a bipartisans defence agreement, a South Australian Liberal senator has lamented his party's role in using the once maligned Collins Class project as a political tool.
At the first parliamentary hearing into the proposed agreement, senator David Fawcett opened up on the party's tactics to tarnish the project's reputation and that of then-opposition leader at Kim Beazley.
"I say this as a proud member of the Coalition," Senator Fawcett said at the inquiry. "The reason the Collins Class had so many issues was a lack of maintenance support, and that was partly because the Coalition saw it as a really good tool to beat Kim Beazley, as the leader of the opposition, around with.
"Lack of support led to huge cost and lost opportunity. Yes, it has recovered now, thanks to the Coles review. And we can point to either side of the political divide, but I make that point deliberately so that people don't think I'm just beating up on the opposition. There are decisions that are made for political reasons."
Senator Fawcett's admission of the politics involved in Defence comes as industry waits with baited breath for the official announcement of the LAND 400 Phase 2 winner, a project that has pitted Queensland against Victoria and led to accusations of political pork-barrelling in marginal seats.
Dr Andrew Davies, a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the decision to use Collins for political gain is not unusual, and a move commonly used by incoming governments.
"Let me just make a pragmatic point: a change of government is a great time to put a stake through the heart of bad Defence projects because the incoming government can look at it and say, 'No, this is a dud. We'll kill it and blame it on the previous guys'," Davies told the inquiry, going on to add such a decision ultimately added reputational costs to the project.
"Our parliamentarians can always make errors. Trashing the Collins was an error. Killing the Seasprite was the right decision."
Following the commission of the submarines in the 1990s, the Australian-built submarines experienced technical problems across its combat systems, periscopes and propulsion.
Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne has also come to the defence of the highly criticised platform, saying its poor reputation was somewhat unfounded.
"Unfortunately, the Collins Class submarine project has suffered from reputational damage over the years," Pyne told reporters at the Pacific 2017 maritime showcase in Sydney. "I think quite a bit of that was ill-informed."
The Collins Class submarines are now in the clear, having officially come off Defence's projects of concern list in October last year.