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Credit: USAF / Kamaile O. Long
understand the risks associated with a bespoke
submarine design program, it is clear they understand
the cost. It’s $36 billion, or six Gonski Budget Units
(GBUs). When faced with the choice of proceeding
with the plan, noting failure to do so would be a
backflip, they have done what politicians generally
do in these circumstances; procrastinate. Probably
no-one will ever know, but there are certainly some
folk about the place that suspect the $214 million
spend announced last year was the direct result
of ASPI’s ‘Mind the [submarine] Gap’ paper and
the media exposure and commentary that followed,
coupled with continual attention of the Shadow
So, what is the Government’s submarine game
First task; roll back the prescriptive nature of the
submarine solution in the Defence White Paper
(check – done). The next step depends on whether
they win the September 14 election. Either way, to
assist their polling prospects in SA, they “suspend”
words carefully chosen – the MOTS options such
that the South Australians get a good feel about
future economic and job prospects in the Defence
State (check – done).
If they win the election, they wait until the studies
are concluded – while they implement other promised
policies (e.g . education reform, disability funding
reform etc.). When the study results come in and
they see that the program costs far too many GBUs,
and the Treasury worries about the surplus have
materialised, “suspended” submarine options will
have to be “un-suspended”. As they advise the public,
they’ll direct them to the 2013 Defence White Paper
that has de-emphasised the Chinese threat.
If they lose the election, they may at least just
preserve a few seats in South Australia through their
announcements. And for Minister Smith, the problem
will no longer be with him.
The reader should pause
briefly and imagine
what new capabilities,
and improved inputs to
existing capabilities, could
be purchased for the $27
billion differential between
an off-the-shelf design and
a new, bespoke design.
A CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT
What of the Coalitions plans?
Will things change if there is a change of government?
Almost certainly, yes !!!
It is difficult for oppositions to garner information about current, and particularly, future programs
of government. This is even more so for the Defence portfolio. As such, it is hard for them to make
informed decisions about exactly what they might do if they get the opportunity to govern.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition has been coy about what it might do with respect to future
submarines. Nonetheless, the Shadow Minister, Senator Johnston, has said a number of things in
response to the recent release of the Defence White Paper, a summary of which follows.
Whilst the Coalition is happy to go along with the current set of announcements, it would revisit
all decisions thus far made and back out of them if there was any “fantasy” involved. They have
expressed caution with respect to the evolved Collins Class option, but have not ruled it out.
They have clearly stated that the submarines will be built in Adelaide and both the Senator and
his leader, Tony Abbot, have promised that the alternative government will make a decision on the
submarines within 18 months of assuming power.
Whatever happens with submarines under a Coalition, it will happen sooner (which should give
the South Australian Government solace).
RISK OF DECISION HAS PASSED
For those who are thinking that the writer is being a little harsh on the current Government, they’re
probably right. But remember that they have been in a position to make a commitment to move
forward on our future submarines, but have not.
The decision announced on 03 May 2013 was no decision at all.
In answers to a question on notice by Green’s Senator Ludlum at October Estimates the spend
profile for SEA 1000 studies was laid out. All of the money allocated for option one and two was
allocated for this financial year. These tasks have been completed and there is no more off-the-
shelf money in the forward estimates. The only FY13/14 and 14/15 submarine money was for the
option three and option four studies described at the top of this article, and the DSTO funding.
Nothing has changed.
For the last six years, no decisions have been made. Nothing was decided recently, no down
selection has occurred and, if the Government survives the election, nothing will be decided in
short time; leopards don’t change their spots.
CONCERN AT THE TOP?
And so what of the questions posed throughout the article on the thinking of our most senior
Rear Admiral Moffitt is not stressing, Vice Admiral Griggs isn’t pulling his hair our and General
Hurley is in an alert but not alarmed state - they are simply rolling with the political punches (as
they are bound to do).
Noting the current Government has avoided a decision on Australia’s new submarines, their
only true submarine worry at this stage is the current Collins spend and pending capability gap.
They have had other national security battles to worry about, in particular, the overall Defence
budget. Whilst the submarine status quo unfortunately remained in the May announcements, at
least they clawed back some of the cuts to their budget. ¢
Whilst the Coalition is happy to go along with the
current set of announcements, it would revisit all
decisions thus far made and back out of them if there
was any “fantasy” involved.
7/06/13 10:04 AM
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