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Will the submarines sink Abbott

  1. Justis

    29,788 Posts.
    24
    Oh dear, could this end before it starts. Media are all over this latest Captain's Call

    If this is day one of government, Abbott will turly be the shortest lived PM

    Will Prime Minister Abbott's colleagues overlook the possibility that, even as their chastened leader promised to make no further bungles, he'd already made another that was about to blow? Annabel Crabb writes.

    It's Back To Work Tuesday, again. And it's only the Second Day of Good Government. But already, a barnacle-encrusted monster from the deep has surfaced, sending ministers and Government MPs gibbering and scrambling for cover.

    Here's the core issue: During his round of imploring phone calls to colleagues on Sunday afternoon, when the Prime Minister found himself on the phone to mutinous South Australian Senator Sean Edwards, did the Prime Minister:

    a) Tell Senator Edwards that the Government would now allow the South-Australian-based company ASC to tender openly for the job of building the nation's new submarine fleet? OR
    b) Tell Senator Edwards that the Government's position was unchanged, and that it would buy the new subs using a hazy "competitive evaluation process", which sounds a bit like a tender process but somehow isn't?

    What's the difference? Well, Senator Edwards heard version a). He immediately punched the air and pledged his undying fealty to the Prime Minister, and got straight on a plane to go to Canberra and vote for him.

    The next morning, Senator Edwards told ABC radio in Adelaide jubilantly that the Government had "now made a commitment to actually get on and build these things - I'm pleased to say that this government has changed its position from a closed tender to a now an open competitive tender. That's significant!"

    Now, if Mr Abbott did in fact change the Government's policy on the biggest defence procurement deal in Australia's history to shore up the votes of cross South Australian colleagues, the news certainly would have come as a surprise to a range of other personages.

    Treasurer Joe Hockey, for instance, who said as recently as December last year that the Government "didn't have time" for a full competitive tender process for the new subs. "Buying submarines is not like going down to the parking lot and buying a whole lot of new cars," Mr Hockey said back then. "We do not have time for people to suggest they can build something that hasn't been built. We don't have time for that because Labor failed to make decisions."

    Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister who negotiated one-on-one with Mr Abbott the extremely mutually delicate matter of Japan supplying some of its own submarines, would also find the Sean Edwards Declaration slightly discomfiting.

    As would the French, the Germans, several defence multinationals and everyone else who has been assured that Australia won't be cooking up its own subs in Adelaide.

    Liberal colleagues who heard Senator Edwards's triumphant announcement, similarly, were stunned that the PM would hand out a bronto-bauble like that to save his own skin; some immediately began considering requests they could make on behalf of their own electorates.

    This is a massive deal for South Australians, who have lost a lot of manufacturing business of late and were personally stung by former defence minister David Johnston's declaration - of the ASC - that he "wouldn't trust them to build a canoe".

    Now, I'm from South Australia, and we are a defensive people. No-one is allowed to tease South Australian subs, pie floaters, serial killers or WHATEVER, except us.

    So you'll understand what I mean when I say the issue - even beyond the rather major consideration of $20 billion-plus worth of work - was already an extremely vexed one.

    Labor, it should in fairness be pointed out, had rather comprehensively pre-ruined the whole process while it was in government; Kevin Rudd swanned through in 2009 announcing that he would build 12 new Australian submarines, possibly with his own bare hands, and Labor - unable to honour the commitment, unable to face the eviscerating political task of breaking it - simply avoided the subject year after year.

    The Abbott Government last year bit the bullet, acknowledging that it was now too late to build the things domestically, whereupon Bill Shorten skipped smartly to Adelaide to remind workers that Australian subs were better than Japanese ones, going within the barest whisker of mentioning that our forefathers fought in the war.
    In other words, this procurement process has been a lengthy, embarrassing, expensive, opportunistic stink-bungle. Codename: Situation Normal.

    Attempting to bring the escalating controversy under control, the Prime Minister this morning deployed his close ally Kevin Andrews to Adelaide to explain everything.

    Now, Kevin Andrews was in many ways a good man to send on a sensitive procurement mission. He is the Defence Minister, to begin with. He is naturally blessed with a glossy black helmet. He is unerringly loyal to the PM, having flown suicide missions for Mr Abbott before - most notably his attempt to spill the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull five years ago. And the fact that he recently swore fealty to "Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard" should not - in a country like this one, where we honour tolerance and natural justice - necessarily debar him from speaking in public.

    But Mr Andrews was woefully under-resourced for the mission. He was equipped only with three words - "competitive", "evaluation" and "process" - and no matter how often he rearranged them, it could not disguise the fact that nobody in Australia seems to know what they mean. Here's a section of the press conference, carried out by an impassive Mr Andrews in front of a sardine-packed fleet of blue-tie-wearing Liberal colleagues.

    REPORTER: Just a yes or no, is it a tender process or not?
    ANDREWS: I will use the words I choose to use. What we are doing is a competitive evaluation process. We have to evaluate this, we have to do it in a way which is methodical, cautious, that is, a process that goes forward into the future and obviously there has to be a competitive element to that.
    REPORTER: But it's not a tender process?
    ANDREWS: It's a competitive evaluation process.
    REPORTER: Why did Sean Edwards say it was a tender process and he was mouthing the words of the PM?
    ANDREWS: There were various reports in the media using all sorts of different words.
    REPORTER: That's what he said.
    ANDREWS: I am the Defence Minister. I am deciding the way in which we go forward with this and the way which we're going forward with this is a competitive evaluation process.
    REPORTER: What have you actually promised today that is any different from what has been promised or not promised here before?
    ANDREWS: Well, as the new Defence Minister I have spent the last few weeks looking at this in detail and decided the way in which we should go forward with this, particularly following my last visit here to Adelaide, was to ensure that there is an evaluation process and one which is competitive.
    REPORTER: Just confirming what Sean Edwards said on Sunday about an open tender process is incorrect?
    ANDREWS: I'm not a commentator. What I'm doing is saying to you, and to everybody who may be listening to me now, that the process that we are going to undertake is going to be a competitive evaluation process.

    It made for transfixing television. What will happen next? Will Senator Edwards be harmlessly detonated somewhere far from shore? Will the hopeful manufacturing workers of South Australia - once they establish what a competitive evaluation process is - not mind about it meaning perhaps not quite such good news as seemed likely at the weekend? Is this an early insight into what Mr Abbott meant yesterday when he promised "socialised" decision making? Will everything be forgiven, since technically the whole exchange happened on Sunday, the day before Good Government? Will Mr Abbott's colleagues overlook the possibility that, even as their chastened leader promised to make no further bungles, he'd already made another that was about to blow?
    Perhaps they'll just overlook the whole thing. After all, as we all know: Ship happens.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-10/crabb-good-government-offers-few-tender-mercies/6083556

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