Radio Transcript: Interview With Ian Henschke, 891 ABC Radio Adelaide on the Future Submarine Project

IAN HENSCHKE: The Australian today reported that Tony Abbott is coming to town tomorrow for a Federal Cabinet meeting and it’s believed he’ll be announcing the building of nine frigates in South Australia, however in the report in the paper today there was no mention of submarines and it does appear the Federal Government could be backing away from its promise to build 12 submarines in South Australia. I spoke to Sean Edwards just before we came on air … and asked him if he was concerned about this?

SEAN EDWARDS: There’s been a lot of mischief about the number of submarines or indeed the submarines and what have you but … the competitive evaluation process is a very rigorous process … it’s a secret process by the very nature of security and of … the most potent defence weapon in our defence arsenal, submarine, and obviously the commercial rigour in it, we want some competitive tension in there so that we get the best possible price for the best possible submarine. This is a process which is playing out now, so I don’t think that anybody’s resiling from anything, I think everybody in Adelaide should have the confidence that this process is working and working well.

IAN HENSCHKE: You said that it will be a secret process though, so how do we know that ultimately we’ve got a fair process if it’s secret?

SEAN EDWARDS: These are matters of national security and of course the infrastructure which goes in developing a cutting edge submarine is such that it by its very nature is secret … I would like to think that, you know, if waters around this region are going to become busy over the next 30 or 40 years … we would have a competitive advantage over anybody that would seek to do us harm.

IAN HENSCHKE: Is there a possibility though that if you have a number of tenders and the come in and there’s a few hundred million there or whatever, that you could still say from an economic point of view that it would be better to build in South Australia … even if it was several hundred millions of dollars because the alternative is to have thousands of people out of work?

SEAN EDWARDS: We shouldn’t even give up on the premise that we’re going to be able to attract a world-class price right now … I don’t think we should be talking about … cost overruns and we should have it here anyway by virtue of that, what we’re hearing anecdotally out of this whole process is that the French, Germans and Japanese, which we necessarily need to partner with because we don’t have that kind of design capacity here, are all talking about in pretty reasonable terms about a local build, so let’s hope that we get the best possible submarine at the best possible price and we do it locally … that’s what I’ll be very focused on over the next weeks and months in the lead-up to the decision on who is going to be the successful tenderer.

IAN HENSCHKE: If you don’t get the submarine project it’s going to affect votes in South Australia … there’s talk about the loss of four seats in this state and there is a general feeling … amongst voters that the Abbott Government has gone back on its promise to build the submarines and that we have been put on the backburner economically. Are you picking that up from people when they talk to you?

SEAN EDWARDS: Well Ian, you’re running that commentary about that. I’m seeing a competitive evaluation process …

IAN HENSCHKE: No … I’m just saying that there could be a backlash in South Australia … I’m just pointing out that this is what people are saying, a lot of people are saying, “I don’t think the Abbott Government likes South Australia otherwise they would have stuck to their commitment on the submarines”.

SEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, well, there is a commitment on the submarines to get the best possible submarine at the best price and my contention is that we can do it here in South Australia. It’s always been my contention since October the 14th last year, so nobody’s backing away, nobody’s resiling from it, it’s a very important electoral issue, I know how important it is, it’s a lightning rod out there, however the process is such and it has an oversight of some very prominent Australians who are not by any way, shape or means foolish in governance … they’ll ensure that we do get a very good shot at it … if we play this right, if we get this right, there’s no reason why Australian workers and the people running the commentary on the electoral backlash in South Australia are … mischievous unions and populist politicians and people looking to get elected on platforms … which try and expose us as … not competent, which is clearly not right, we’re the only ones that are actually getting on with the shipbuilding program in Australia by virtue of the fact even Joel Fitzgibbons … a former Defence Minister in a former Labor Government, admitted today in his own local paper on page six of the Mercury that they didn’t commission a single project in their time in Government. We’re actually getting on and doing that.

IAN HENSCHKE: Okay … Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is also arriving in Adelaide today and is going to announce that there’ll be a need to train 400 workers with the NBN. Can you tell us much about that?

SEAN EDWARDS: The Minister’s here talking about employment prospects in South Australia … that’s been flagged in the media this morning … I’m very grateful for him coming and I’m sure that the 400 people that ultimately finish up in those positions will be very grateful for the initiative as well.

IAN HENSCHKE: Can you give a guarantee then that we will see jobs here in South Australia to build submarines and you’re also apparently going to be building frigates as well, so is it likely that there has been a change of heart, that the Federal Government is now looking at building not only submarines but also frigates?

SEAN EDWARDS: I welcome any positive comments but I’m not the Defence Minister, nor am I in Cabinet … I can’t guarantee anything and nor can any of those people. We’re in the middle of a Defence White Paper process which is identifying our defence needs and that’ll be balanced with a budget imperative and that’s how sensible Governments go about governing sensibly and methodically and diligently … however, I’m advocating separately and solely and individually and along with my South Australian colleagues the importance of a defence industry and having it here and growing it in Adelaide, never resile from any of that … what I’m hearing, the words coming out of the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister’s office and indeed themselves personally is that they are focused on frigates and submarines and a process which identifies the best way in which to deliver those and if that’s through an Australian build … that would be a sensational result.

IAN HENSCHKE: Thanks very much for your time this morning, Liberal Senator Sean Edwards.

SEAN EDWARDS: Great to be with you Ian and have a great day.