News National Defence minister who doubted shipbuilders will now spruik exports

Defence minister who doubted shipbuilders will now spruik exports

David Johnston has got a new job spruiking Australian defence wares overseas. Photo: AAP
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He once declared that he wouldn’t trust Australia’s government-owned shipbuilder to build a canoe — now former defence minister David Johnston has been appointed to sell Australian defence products to the world.

Mr Johnston has been appointed as the nation’s first Defence Export Advocate by Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne.

“As a former minister for defence, Mr Johnston brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of Australian defence industry to this significant role,” Mr Pyne said.

“I work tirelessly to advocate for Australian industries looking to sell their world-class defence materiel to our friends and allies but I can’t be everywhere.

“Our Defence Export Advocate will help connect Australian industry to overseas governments and defence forces, build relationships in our key markets and act as a focal point for long-term campaigns.”

As defence minister in 2014, Mr Johnston raised the ire of Australian shipbuilders after declaring he lacked confidence in the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) during a Senate debate about where Australia’s future submarine fleet should be built.

“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?” the former senator said.

Mr Johnston was sacked as defence minister weeks after making the comments and lost his seat in Parliament at the 2016 federal election.

He later changed his tune on ASC’s performance declaring the shipbuilder’s performance had dramatically improved.

Christopher Pyne
Christopher Pyne said he “can’t be everywhere”. Photo: AAP

Mr Johnston also advocated on the company’s behalf, questioning why ASC and fellow Australian shipbuilder Austal had apparently been locked-out of negotiations to win work on Australia’s $35 billion Future Frigate program.

“We have a world-class shipbuilder in Austal, teaming with ASC who has come out of the doldrums – it had a lot of problems when I was the minister, a lot of problems, and now it’s doing world-class work,” Mr Johnston said.

“Why are we not getting them to participate in this?

“I find it very, very curious.”

The federal government is set to announce the successful tenderer for the frigate program within months.