2GB with Ben Fordham – 12 March, 2015

BEN FORDHAM

Kevin Andrews, good afternoon.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Good afternoon Ben.

BEN FORDHAM

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about it. You can understand why John would be upset about this and his workers would be annoyed about this because they were told they had the job.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well Ben most of the work that is done on the patrol boats is undertaken in Darwin. If you look at last week for example, the Ararat, Bathurst and Maitland, I’m advised, were all in Darwin for work. In addition to that the Glenelg and Maryborough were having some maintenance work done in Cairns. But from time to time, particularly where deep maintenance work has to be undertaken, from time to time, a boat does go to Singapore.

BEN FORDHAM

But John’s company was told they had the job. I’ve got the documents in front of me. The ship will dock of Friday the 6th March. Could you please have your team on site on for the commencement of work on Tuesday the 10th.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well under the contract for the maintenance services, which is with Serco/DMS Maritime, they decide where the maintenance is done. Usually the standard maintenance is done, as I said, in Darwin or sometimes in Cairns. But there is some deep maintenance works, some more involved maintenance work, which sometimes can’t be undertaken in Darwin, or in Australia, and that does go to Singapore. But under that contact, no more than 20 per cent of the annual maintenance work goes offshore to Singapore.

BEN FORDHAM

Ok, so up to 20 per cent of this maintenance work goes overseas?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Up to 20 per cent can. And usually, as I said, that’s the more deep or significant maintenance work. The standard maintenance work is undertaken in Australia. And as I’ve advised there were three ships in Darwin in the last week, the Ararat, Bathurst and Maitland.

BEN FORDHAM

Ok, this deep maintenance work, it can’t be done satisfactorily in Cairns or in Darwin?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Apparently Darwin lacks some of the infrastructure and the capacity to undertake the full scope of the work.  That’s one of the problems we face in maintaining these ships in Australia, but there is a provision, as I said, that no more than 20 per cent go off shore.

BEN FORDHAM

It isn’t ideal when you’ve got Serco sending documents to people saying the ships will dock on Friday the 6th  March can you please have your team on site for the commencement or work. You can understand why these workers would be annoyed.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look I understand that and it sounds to me Ben, like there has been so misunderstanding or break down in communication between Serco and the gentleman who contacted you.

BEN FORDHAM

So Serco, they’re the same mob that run the detention centres?

MINISTER ANDREWS

This is Serco/DMS Maritime. I’m not sure of the exact corporate structure, but presumably it is the same Serco.

BEN FORDHAM

Ok, when we first asked about this you said in a statement that Darwin lacked the infrastructure and industry capacity to carry out the full scope of work. Further risks were identified from recent cyclonic activity in the area. You were worried about cyclones?

MINISTER ANDREWS

As I’m advices there was concern about the cyclones that have been in the area. As you know, there was a very major cyclone that went through the Northern Territory not that long ago, about the same time as the one in Queensland. So there was concern about that. But as I said, just last week, three of these patrol boats, the Ararat, Bathurst and Maitland, were actually in Darwin for repair work.

BEN FORDHAM

Is there a cost factor to this. Is it cheaper to do it in Singapore?

MINISTER ANDREWS

I don’t believe so, because this is under a contract with Serco and as part of that contact on a certain amount of that work can go offshore to Singapore. So if they were going to take more work off shore it would be in breach of the contract.

BEN FORDHAM

Out of interest, that clause in that contact has been around for some time has it?

MINISTER ANDREWS

I understand it has been, yes.

BEN FORDHAM

And that states that only 20 percent of this repair work can be done offshore, everything else has to be done here in Australia.

MINISTER ANDREWS

That’s right.

BEN FORDHAM

Ok. Would it be your preference for it all to be done in Australia, considering we’re talking about Australian navy patrol boats?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look, if we got the capability to do that, but from time to time we simply don’t have the capability to do that and my first priority as Defence Minister is to make sure that these boats are ready for operation, so we got to take that into account when making these decision.

BEN FORDHAM

Well I can tell you that the workers contacting me are telling me that we can do all of the work and more and we’re hungry for it and that’s why we were waiting on the dock ready to go on Tuesday the 10th and that we had the documents sent to us say we had the job and then all of a sudden it doesn’t turn up and its going to Singapore. So you can imagine why they would be concerned about the whole thing. But what you’re saying is there is a limit on how much of it can go overseas and you’re not particularly concerned about Australian navy hardware going off overseas to be repaired.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well what I’m concerned about is that when the Navy needs these boats for operation they’re there, available, ready to work. And that’s our number one priority. Consistent with that we’ve got provisions that effectively, at least 80 per cent of this work is undertaken in Australia.

BEN FORDHAM

Ok, I’m trying to work out is why a contact like that would have been entered into with this company. Can I hazard a guess that they said look we want to do a certain amount of it off shore? Because we’re more than equipped to be able to handle this work. Were they keen for a certain percentage of work to be conducted off shore?

MINISTER ANDREWS

These contacts were entered into long before I was the Defence Minister, but as I understand Ben it simply reflects the capability of doing the work. There are some limitation of on what can be done I understand, in Darwin, and for that matter in Cairns. We have to be realistic; we need the vessels available to do what the Navy is required to do.

BEN FORDHAM

Minister I appreciate you coming of the program this afternoon.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Any time Ben, thank you.