Minister for Defence - Interview with Lyndal Curtis, Capital Hill

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence

Release content

30 July 2014


David Johnston welcome to Capital Hill.

You put a lot of weight in a speech yesterday on getting the Air Warfare

Destroyer programme right saying it was a test case for the industry.

The Australian newspaper says you’re thinking of taking it away from ASC,

what was the Australian Submarine Corporation, and giving it to BAE

Industries, a British company with facilities in Australia. Is that the option

you’re looking at?


We haven’t made a decision in that regard but let’s just examine where

we’ve been. This will be the third or fourth iteration of a remediation on the

programme, now we can’t go on, what has been happening here is a coverup.

When we came to power I realised very quickly that this project was

completely off the rails.

Now some of the contractors have done very well and some of them have not

done very well. I’m not going to get into naming names but we do need to

change out some management, that’s an important, significant step for all of

the participants whose interests must be protected.

BAE as one of the candidates have an exceptionally good track record in

manufacturing the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, a 65,000 tonne

vessel, in the UK and of course they’re in charge of the Astute-class

submarine programme, a 7,000 tonne submarine programme.

So they’re one of the candidates, they appear to have the credentials. I can’t

go into who’s who in the zoo, but we do need some competitive tension in

there. This project is probably our most complex ever.


Given that BAE Industries has performed well in the past, given that it would

mean keeping the jobs in Australia because they have Australian facilities, it

does look like your best option doesn’t it?


It may do, but I couldn’t comment at this stage because we have a

competitive process unfolding, albeit a very brief one because we’ve got to

get on with the job.

What’s on offer is a further eight, 7,000 tonne vessels. Now to anybody

who’s in any doubt as to my commitment to the Australian shipbuilding

industry let me just say I want to build those eight ships, out to 2035, in



But you did say yesterday ‘a shipbuilding industry in Australia, not at any



Correct and that was the next line I was about to give you Lyndal, not at any

price, it’s not a blank cheque.

We must meet those international benchmarks, we set them at 80 man-hours

per tonne, the international average is 60 so we thought we’d put some

flexibility into the programme. We’re currently doing 150, now that is not



Where are the problems? Is it the way it’s being managed? Is it the way the

industrial conditions are set?


The problem is largely management. Our blue-collar workforce is very

skilled, I think they’re fine, I don’t have an issue with them necessarily.

Productivity is low and wages are high compared to the South Koreans, but

that’s not something we didn’t foresee.

Management has not been able to come to terms with the way we schedule

the blocks, their assembly, etc.

So integration is not a problem. Some of the block builders have been very

good, others not so good, but management has fundamentally been the issue.


Given the timeframes you’re making decisions about the new submarine

project, which is a much bigger spend, will this test case for Air Warfare

Destroyers determine whether the submarines can be either built or

assembled in Australia?


Well of course that’s an ongoing consideration and may I say we’ve inherited

virtually nothing done in the last five to six years, so we’re virtually starting

from scratch.

We’ve got two options on the table, neither of which appear to be that

satisfactory in terms of their development as a plan.

So we’re trying to put together what we see as the most risk-averse, viable,

capable – that is providing the most capability to Navy as they require – sort

of plan that is going to take us forward for a very long time.

Now what Coles taught us with sustainment is you want an enterprise, you

want an industry that’s ongoing. If you start to bookend things you then end

up with the problem we’ve got with AWD, that is green labour and green

management which is very expensive.

The Brits have shown me with the Astute programme and with the Queen

Elizabeth programme that that is the initial hurdle, and they’ve said to me

often that ‘if we had to start the Astute programme again we probably

wouldn’t succeed’, so they’ve come through that.

We are now going through exactly the same problems with AWD and I’m

saying we’ve got to get this right, we’ve got to hurry up, we’ve got to get

back on schedule and get our productivity up and then we’ll be in a position

to do the sorts of work in Australia that we must do if we can achieve a

reasonable premium on the international benchmark.


One final question on a slightly unrelated topic. The Assistant Employment

Minister raised an option when talking about older job seekers finding work

or having to meet an activity test that joining the Defence Reserves could be

part of that, would Defence be happy about that?


Well people have varying skills and I am amazed at the length and breadth of

the skills that we require in Defence. From event planning, to running

funerals, to technical scientific work, to facilitating research, to managing

grants, all peripheral to fighting and winning.

Now I always think that there’s an opportunity for anybody who has

reasonable skills that is prepared to contribute and so I’m excited as a

Defence Minister by a Reservist capacity that brings unique and varied skills

to the game.

We never shut the door on people having some positive input into the way

we do our business.


David Johnston thank you very much for your time.


Thank you Lyndal.

Other related releases