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03 December 2014

Union says defence minister David Johnston should quit and 'die of shame'

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union calls on the government to give local shipbuilders a chance to tender to build submarines

Collins class
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has rejected the government’s claim it does not have time to put out an open tender on replacing the Collins class submarine fleet.

The president of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) has pilloried David Johnston’s performance as defence minister, calling on him to quit and saying “he should basically crawl off and die of shame”.

Andrew Dettmer rejected the government’s claim that it did not have the time to put out an open tender on replacing the Collins class submarine fleet.

“Of course there is time. Of course there is capacity on the part of companies based both in Australia and overseas to have properly constructed submarines well before the Collins class is phased out,” Dettmer told reporters on Tuesday. “This is yet another furphy, another excuse from this government.”

Johnston drew the ire of shipbuilders over his criticism of Adelaide submarine maker ASC. Last week he told the Senate that he would not trust ASC to construct a canoe. The Senate censured Johnston over the comments, the first time the chamber has passed a motion against a cabinet member since 2005.

Dettmer called for Johnston’s sacking, saying:

“We think he should basically crawl off and die of shame.”

On Tuesday the Senate passed Labor-initiated legislation forcing the government to undertake a competitive tendering process before awarding contracts for Australia’s future submarine fleet.

The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it’s likely to be shot down by the Coalition.

Earlier on Tuesday the treasurer, Joe Hockey, said there wasn’t enough time to complete a tender process for the future fleet.

Johnston said the contracts would be awarded fairly even without a tender process.

“The government will conduct its acquisition … in the ordinary course of events,” he told the Senate chamber. “The auditor-general would be looking over the government’s shoulder and everything will be above board.”

Speculation is mounting that the government has promised to award the lucrative contract to a Japanese shipbuilding company.

The government would not confirm the speculation, but Johnston said: “we will follow due process”.

The AMWU was disappointed with the government’s linking of free trade agreements and the ending of subsidies for the manufacturing industry.

During question time, Hockey said: “Ending the age of entitlement for industry was a hard decision, but it needed to be made because as a result of that decision, we were able to get FTA with Korea, Japan and China that the Labor party could never deliver.”

Dettmer said FTAs will not benefit manufacturing workers. “Unfortunately what we’re seeing is this government is only in a hurry to send jobs offshore,” he said. “They’re only really in a hurry to give manufacturing workers a kick in the guts.”

Dettmer warned that the FTA signed recently with Japan would only give “illusory benefits” and would cost thousands of manufacturing jobs.