Defence’s claims of a two-year delay to the $35 billion Future Frigates project have been rebuked by a South Australian senator, who has labelled the excuse as “bureaucratic buck passing".
The SEA 5000 project has copped another blow, with answers given by Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne to Senate orders.
South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has been pursuing various matters relating to the $35 billion project on the back of leaked request for tender (RFT) documents that specifically told the foreign tenderers ASC Shipbuilding and its workforce does not have to be used in the project.
"In particular, the Commonwealth is not mandating that the successful tenderer use the workforce of ASC Shipbuilding Pty Ltd currently working on the AWD Program," the RFT reads.
The Senate committee running the inquiry into Australia's naval shipbuilding industry heard from Associate Secretary to the Department of Defence Brendan Sargeant that a new tender process, or any changes to the current process, could result in a delay to construction of up to two years.
"When I said a two-year delay, it was in the context of the tenders being restarted," Sargeant said.
"The answer to your question is that I don't know."
The Senate requested further details from Minister Pyne related to potential delays, to which he responded:
"The Minister for Defence Industry directs the Senate to the detailed evidence given by Mr Brendan Sargeant, Associate Secretary to the Department of Defence on September 8, 201 (sic) to the Senate economics references committee enquiring (sic) into this matter, which reflects the advice provided to the Minister for Defence Industry by the Department of Defence.”
Xenophon has slammed this response, saying it has exposed the two-year delay as a 'non-answer'.
"The level of bureaucratic buck passing and obfuscation here would make Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey Appleby and Utopia’s Tony Woodford puff with pride," said Xenophon.
“Translated into plain English, Mr Sergeant’s response is: ‘I dunno, I’ll get back to you'. Yet this non-answer is the very basis of the reason Minister Pyne has given why this project can’t be led by an Australian shipbuilder."
Xenophon said that he will pursue an answer to the “non-answer” in the Senate when it resumes next month.
Since the announcement of the Future Frigates Project, Defence has said 2,500 jobs will be created for Australians.
The nine vessels are scheduled to begin construction in Adelaide in 2020.
A decision on the successful tenderer is expected by April next year.
UK firm BAE Systems, Italy's Fincantieri and Spanish shipbuilder Navantia are all tendering to win the contract to design, build and sustain nine new anti-submarine warfare frigates to replace Australia's Anzac frigate fleet.