Australian Defence Minister: 'I Wouldn't Trust The Australian Submarine Corporation To Build A Canoe'

Let's face it, Australia's submarine fleet isn't the best. After getting through almost two decades of problems with the Collins-class submarine fleet, the government's shipbuilder is coming under attack again, this time by the Government minister responsible for Defence, who says he wouldn't trust them to build a canoe.

Image: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

The Australian Submarine Company, or ASC, is a government-owned shipbuilder which is working out of Adelaide to build new Air Warfare Destroyers for the Australian Navy. Previously, the ASC won a multi-billion dollar contract to build the issue-laden Collins-class submarines and continues to maintain them.

Now enter the Defence Minister, Senator David Johnston, who launched into a spirited attack on the ASC yesterday in the Senate which today has the Abbott Government backpedalling.

After outlining a series of delays and budget blowouts by the ASC, the Senator shouted across the Chamber as part of his remarks: "You wonder why I'm worried about ASC and what they're delivering to the Australian taxpayer, you wonder why I wouldn't trust them to build a canoe?!"


In the Senator's defence, Australia's voyage towards having a world-class submarine fleet has been a troubled one, with a series of delays, shoddy builds and poor decisions plaguing the Collins-class fleet back in the early-2000s. Check out the video that Hungry Beast put out a while ago for a look at the big picture on that one.

Still, it was a stupid thing for the Defence Minister to say out loud.

Senator Johnston has been lashed for his comments, both by Senators opposite him in the Chamber and members of the South Australian government where the ASC is based.

The Prime Minister today issued a statement in support of the ASC< saying it plays a "vital role" in Australia's naval activities.



    It's one of those cases where everyone is thinking it but, nobody's saying it.

      Everyone except Shorten and Labor who, as usual, like to pretend that there is no problem.

        Generalized, unrealistic cheap shot. Mainly the reason posts like this always have red attached to them. You know, people don't just disagree politically, i'd say half of these are for the inabilty to present arguments in lieu of vague insults and generalisations. How just arbitrarily insulting one side consistently with no deviation or stop for consideration builds credibility, i will never know.

      "...I wouldn’t trust them to build a canoe?!”

      To be fair I wouldn't trust them to build a canoe either, just like I wouldn't trust a canoe-building company to build me a submarine :)

      On the other hand, it's an apples-to-space-shuttles comparison...

      Edit: clarification

      Last edited 27/11/14 7:46 pm

        Any bozo with an ax and hammer can build a canoe. And people importing drugs do so on home made submarines that are capable of traveling into US waters undetected by US sonar systems designed to detect enemy submarines trying to attack the US.

        The fact that ASC can do neither says a lot.

          Why do we need subs? We can build drones that crawl across the sea floor, harvest minerals, and use them to three-dee print a nuke in the deepest ocean. It just requires we remove people from the machine. If we want to stop other subs around our coasts we can build a sea wall with all that mining spoil and create a causeway from sydney to aukland just deep enough to require they travel on the surface to avoid it. Lets build one linking queensland to new Guinea and shut down movement across northern Australia.

    Actually the Collins class poor reputation is largely undeserved. Yes they had problems early on, but what major new piece of technology as complicated as a submarine doesn't? Unfortunately they're a spectacularly simple straw man to beat up or use as a political football.

    The minister's comments are outrageous. Unfortunately by the time the new boats, wherever they're from, are in service and the inevitable delays and teething troubles appear he'll be long gone and completely blameless while the shipbuilders and Navy take the blame as usual.

      i remember the "mess" that was the Collins class. but as usual it was a media beat up mostly. they took it out for a shakedown like they do for all Navy vessels, found some issues, fixed them.
      haven't heard anything about them for over a decade now. the joint strike fighter has been a bigger debacle IMO. the Howard Gov agreed to purchase them and we are still waiting. that is a bigger military spending blunder than the Collins class hands down

      Most of the problems that weighed on the Collins submarines were caused by the Howard government; stupidities like attempting to buy "off the shelf" systems that did not exist and actually buying torpedoes that were too big to fit into the torpedo tubes. Also, the first one, the Collins, was built in Sweden and many of its welds were substandard. This did not occur with any of the Australian built submarines.

      The Collins class subs are amongst the best in service now, incredibly quiet and able to defeat virtually any opposing navy. There are just not enough of them (6) in service.

      ASC has estimated that a fleet of 12 new Australian built submarines would cost between $18 billion and $24 Billion. The Japanese have said that 10 Soryo class submarines would cost $80 Billion. I am well aware that within the Abbott government a cost of 80 Billion is less than 24 Billion but I don't actually believe it. Abbott claimed that 10 Japanese could be built for $40 Billion but the Japanese navy does not agree with him and in any case they don't want Australia to have their subs. And $40 Billion still does not represent a saving over $24 Billion.

      I have no doubt that any submarine project, whether built in Australia, Japan, Germany or Spain, would wind up costing significantly more than the original estimates, so we might just as well take the cheapest and home grown estimate and design and build Australia's subs in Australia.

      Indeed, he'll the US has even lost subs during sea trials, thresher springs to mind. That's generally why build is staggered get the first one in the water and testing while the others are being built, so any changes made during trials can be built into the ones still under construction.

      Yes. I've spent a lot of time on various navy ships. I was once on a ship where there were Army and Navy personnel (which of whom used to serve as a submariner). The Army guy was slagging off the Collins, the Navy submariner was the first to come to the Collins defence. It they were really crap, he would've said so, and he'd be the most qualified to pass comment/judgement, wouldn't you think?

    His perception of the ASC is 15 years out of date, like every policy the government has.

      Crap, this is the same lot of works who implemented a Go Slow on the Canberra because they didn't get the subs

      Still the seem poor work habits Union run team to me

    From knowing about how poor the whole project has been managed, I see no controversy in this. Sure politically, not the smartest move...but not entirely untrue. They really aren't a great submarine.

      They really aren't a great submarine.
      I used to think this too, but actually they are really quite good submarines. Just check out their wikipedia entry:

        They are if the technology in them is current, even in this day and age Australian Collins subs still use vaccum tubes and glass circuit amps

        The U.K. version is considered a threat even by the Swedes, not ours tho!

      It was a media beat up, they are actually pretty decent now.

    Given that anyone who might invade us would squish our military like bugs, submarines or not. Why do we need them?

    what part of 'the first model is always the shit one' dont people understand.
    you need that first one to then lead the way for better, more polished subsequent models. happens in every industry.
    its just more of an impact when the item you are building is millions upon millions of dollars.
    they'll iron it out and make it better. stress less tess.

    Playing a "Vital role" and being completely shit at your job are two different things.

    The prime minister plays a "Vital role" in the running of our country.

      Vital roll ?

        It's the new thing at Subway.

          It's either a light sprinkling of lettuce leaves, OR EVERYTHING IN THE FUCKING TRAY ON THAT SUB.

    "Let’s face it, Australia’s submarine fleet isn’t the best."
    Yeah we may not be the best, but have a look at the actual operational history of our submarines; we have a well earned reputation around the world for our very capable submarines, and the people who operate them. Dont knock them because of problems associated with how they were constructed, instead look at how well we performed in war games.

    Australian Defence Minister: 'I Wouldn't Trust The Australian Submarine Corporation To Build A Canoe'

    They build submarines, not canoes. Did you even read their name?

    I reckon they could bang out a great canoe.

    This government just wants to do the same thing as all liberals...privatise everything!

      Corporatisation and privatisation were started by the Hawke-Keating government. Do you actually know anything about the political history of Australia?

      Last edited 27/11/14 8:32 am

        Only what they see on a current affair.

        Good point. And I think many Labor supporters disagreed with that at the time and still do. Personally I think some privatisation is a good thing. But when you look at core party principles it is clear to me that the Liberals are ruthlessly in favour of deregulation and privatisation. Privatising and deregulating health care seems to be the current agenda of one term tony.

    Even though he is the defense minister he has never served, he has been in politics most of his life and previously he was a lawyer for various mining companies. So a lot of what he has to say will be more on policy and economic grounds than anything else.

      It would actually be unusual to have a defence minister who HAS served.
      The 3 previous Defence Ministers in the Labor Govt. were Stephen Smith, John Faulkner and Joel Fitzgibbon.
      I don't believe any of them ever served in the armed forces either.

      Last edited 27/11/14 1:33 pm

        It is unusual, and it generally comes down to how good there staff underneath them are at supplying the relevant information, but ones like Smith worked, foreign affairs and for the attorney General of wa. So some experience there.
        Faulkner, previous minister for veteran affairs. and minister for defense science And personnel.
        And Fitzgibbon well no experience but then again he thought the joint strike fighter was a good idea.

    From what iv heard from someone who works on one of the collin class submarines the problem isn't the sub's its getting enough people to fill them. When I last spoke to them a year ago apparenlty they only has one sub crew at the time. As no one is willing spend half their life on the sub's. I don't even know why we are investing money on things we can't even use/fill

    True - We can't fully crew our existing Collins class subs and the Government wants to expand the fleet????

    I would like to see the Exec`s at ASC actually build a canoe, post it to Canberra and have a media covered opening of the canoe box on Lake Burley Griffin.."So, we seem to have proven we CAN build a canoe..what do you need next??"

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