Former submariner set to shake up Defence and Parliament

Senator Rex Patrick.

Former Royal Australian Navy (RAN) submariner and newly minted senator for the Nick Xenophon Team, Rex Patrick, is making his mark in Australian politics, with Defence set to come under more intense scrutiny in the Senate.

Senator Patrick had the opportunity to briefly showcase the approach the NXT representative will take when Parliament resumes this year, putting Defence Minister Marise Payne and other Defence officials under the microscope at the December 2017 supplementary Senate estimates.

The former project manager, who specialised in sonar and acoustics for the Navy, took less than 10 minutes during the most recent estimates to request a private session with the Senate committee, citing privilege resolution No. 10, after Minister Payne and Defence officials refused to answer questions around when Defence decided to choose Lürssen as the preferred designer for the $4 billion Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) project and bring in Austal as a teaming partner for the project, despite the German designer choosing ASC and Forgacs as its build partners for its bid.

Senator Patrick has since suspended negotiations with the federal government on Senate human services legislation, citing the Defence Minister's refusal to answer questions asked of the department.

The hardline stance would come as no shock to those who listened to Patrick's maiden speech, where he called for more accountability and transparency from the Department of Defence, as well as more timely responses.

"Questions on notice tabled in this chamber are often not returned within the 30 days required by the standing orders," Patrick said in his maiden speech. "The same is true for estimates, where answers to questions are often returned to committees at the eleventh hour. This is disrespectful of the Senate, and more so of the citizens for whom the questions are asked, and should not be permitted if we are seen to be taking our job seriously.

"I've seen departments refuse to give evidence for shallow reasons ... Defence refused to discuss whether the use of Australian steel was a requirement in an armoured vehicle. Let us be clear: we don't have to accept denial, obfuscation or spin from executive government and its servants. To do so is copping out, selling out or wimping out of the oaths that we have taken. It's time we stood up for ourselves and used the numbers we normally use so effectively in enhancing legislation to enhance this critical oversight role."

The senator has since placed the same OPV question notice, along with several other questions relating to major Defence acquisitions like LAND 400, the SEA 1000 Future Submarine and SEA 5000 Future Frigates projects.

Patrick and the NXT team, along with Labor's Kim Carr, have been furiously lobbying the government for months to change the tender conditions for the SEA 5000 project to ensure Australian shipbuilders ASC, Austal and Civmec are used in the project.

Mid last year, leaked tender documents revealed "the Commonwealth is not mandating that the successful tenderer uses the workforce of ASC Shipbuilding Pty Ltd".

Patrick and the NXT team said the recent OPV decision shows Defence's hypocrisy for being quick to change the tender arrangements of build partners for the SEA 1180 project, while refusing to reconfigure the SEA 500 tender.

"The final shipbuilding configuration announced ... which is different, proves the government can change tack even very late in the piece to give Australian shipbuilders a prime role," Senator Patrick said after the announcement of the OPV contract.

"There is now no excuse for the government to maintain its stubborn course to not allow Austal and ASC to play leading roles with the Future Frigate build.

"If the government doesn't stand up for Australian shipbuilding and create a sovereign capability, it will undermine national security and compromise export markets and, in the process, cost thousands of local jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity."

 

Former submariner set to shake up Defence and Parliament
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