Remember how, back in April 2016 then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull breathlessly announced that all 12 of Australia’s next fleet of submarines would be built in Adelaide from Australian steel, with France winning the hard-fought global race for the $50 billion contract – and shutting out the Japanese to whom Tony Abbott had already given a wink and a nod?
It was, of course, all part of a political game for Malcolm to cement his position as our newly minted PM and on 8 May, judging the political climate to favour him, he announced that he had visited the Governor-General, who had agreed to a request for a double dissolution of both houses of our parliament for an election to be held on July 2 2016. His rationale, you may recall, for calling a Double Dissolution election was that his legislative program was being hampered by a recalcitrant Senate: well, that didn’t work out too well did it?
Now we learn that the hastily crafted French contract hasn’t actually been signed and Defence Minister Chrissy Pyne this week spat the dummy and won’t even talk to or meet the visiting French delegation. It’s taking on the characteristics of a Monty Python sketch and we can probably expect the French to respond to Pyne with a classic French insult along the lines of :
“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal-food-trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.”
Be that as it may, the ABC have reported – News Corp seems to have missed it again – that :
“The Government has grown so frustrated with the French company selected to build Australia’s next fleet of submarines that Defence Minister Christopher Pyne refused to meet top officials visiting the country this week.”
Naval Group was selected in 2016 to build 12 submarines for the Australian Navy, in the country’s largest-ever defence contract worth $50 billion.
The ABC understands Mr Pyne will only meet the chief executive of the majority French state-owned company once a crucial document, the strategic partnering agreement (SPA), has been signed.
Negotiations on that document have stalled and it is feared they may not be resolved before next year’s federal election.
Defence and industry figures have told the ABC that France and Australia will not be ready before 2019 to sign the document, which is needed before detailed design contracts can be finalised, and submarine construction begins. Defence Minister Christopher Pyne pulls a face as he listens in the House of Representatives
Sources familiar with the process say a goal to sign the vital SPA during a visit to Adelaide this week by French Minister Florence Parly has slipped off course, with fundamental differences that may not be reconciled before early next year.
Concerns over warranties and technology transfer are believed to be the main sticking points in the tough negotiations between the Australian Commonwealth and French-owned Naval Group.
The knock-on effects of delay on the SPA, which covers the guiding terms and conditions that govern the submarine program, and the likelihood of a federal election being called in the first quarter of next year threatens to create a “perfect storm” of uncertainty, with some risk that it could ultimately sink the French project entirely.”
It is worth remembering that the first of these submarines is not due to come into service until 2030 and that’s only if everything goes to schedule.
I’m thinking that it may well be appropriate to start preparing an apology now for delivery to our children and grandchildren for a political decision made in 2016 to save a prime minister’s scalp – who has since been decapitated by his own colleagues – and for which they will have to pay.