Submariners fear nothing more than an unexpected explosion when submerged, particularly when it is an own goal.
Such was the fate of the Russian submarine Kursk, sunk in the Barents Sea with all hands in August 2000 when leaking, cheap, rogue torpedo fuel discovered the perfect conditions to combust spontaneously.
As also happened in recent days when it was revealed an advisor in rogue, combustible South Australian independent Nick Xenophon’s office was the source of leaked classified, technical details of India’s acquisition of French submarines, also sourced from DCNS, and the Senator himself did his best to embroil a mission to France and the United Kingdom seeking investment in the local defence sector by Christopher Pyne in domestic controversy.
Xenophon, who wants to control the whole country supposedly for the benefit of his economically failed mendicant home state is the master of political stunts.
It’s hard to embarrass South Australians given the range of social, sexual, criminal and legal activities which permanently seem to entertain them, yet even they have been abashed at Xenophon’s endless stunts which ultimately led him to a senate seat and national exposure.
While Australia gritted its collective teeth at his apparent determination to impose his rule on the rest of us, most South Australians grudgingly admitted he seemed to have his heart but mostly his mouth set on improving their miserable lot.
Once the powerhouse of Australian automotive manufacturing South Australia now resembles the US rustbelt states which overwhelmingly supported Trump, economically if not politically.
The former Tonsley Chrysler site struggles for contemporary relevance.
The iconic Holden plant at Elizabeth will cease production next year.
With a reliance on renewable local energy production and electricity supplied from Victoria, South Australia can no longer even guarantee to keep its lights on.
It’s simplistic to blame the 1991 government guaranteed multi-billion dollar State Bank collapse for South Australia’s economic woes.
It’s undeniable however its economic collapse began then nor that the state has ever properly recovered from those disastrous political and managerial decisions.
Successive inward looking parochial state governments have lacked a wider vision, with the latest Jay Weatherill Labor government opportunistically suggesting the rest of Australia pay to keep South Australia’s lights on and its economic future secure.
It’s not as if national governments of all persuasions haven’t tried to help South Australia given there are votes to be had.
The Australian Submarine Corporation secured the lucrative contract to build and maintain the RAN’s Collins class boats, which after a chequered career are to be replaced.
French consortium DCNS secured that contract this year after a bitter bidding process involving rival bids from Japan and Germany.
Awarding the new submarine construction contract to Adelaide based ASC may have just saved the Turnbull government by limiting the Liberals’ local losses to two seats in the July poll.
Given Xenophon’s strident pro-South Australian rhetoric, the political loose cannon should have been supportive of the decision.
Since August there have been rumours that extensive, classified details of India’s DCNS sourced submarine acquisition have been stolen and leaked.
Allegedly these leaked documents include sensitive details about the boats’ design and capabilities.
Despite his vocal criticism of the leak and denials of any involvement, Xenophon milked the issue for all its personal, political worth.
Xenophon told the Adelaide Advertiser he denied any involvement and fully backed the project.
“It takes a lot to get me riled. But I am really riled about this. Any suggestion that I am not 100 per cent behind an Australian build is disgusting and defamatory,’’ he said.
Well that was then.
Last week as defence industry minister Christopher Pyne made a triumphant visit to DCNS facilities in France it was revealed the leak came from within Xenophon’s inner office.
The source of the leak was allegedly a former RAN submariner now employed as a Xenophon advisor.
The Xenophon attacked alleged “secrecy” surrounding the contract.
As a political stunt, it was both curious and seemingly pointless.
The timing was appalling.
Not only did the revelation derail Pyne’s visit, it totally overshadowed the launch of the second Hobart class warfare destroyer HMAS Brisbane constructed in Adelaide by ASC.
Launched last Thursday, HMAS Brisbane is the third of a $9 billion project on which ASC and, by extension, South Australia banked its intermediate economic future.
Previous Liberal defence minister David Johnston infamously declared in 2014 ASC couldn’t build a canoe.
Revelations over Xenophon’s involvement in leaking sensitive documents may reduce them to that pathetic future.
It is hard to imagine what self-serving interest Xenophon hoped to gain by leaking the documents.
He has certainly stolen Pyne’s and the government’s thunder but for what advantage?
He has damaged Australia’s but more particularly South Australia’s reputation as a reliable client in the highly classified not to say competitive world of defence material procurement.
Indeed, he has damaged his own state’s standing as a business destination by seeking to embarrass a company set to potentially undertake billions of dollars of work there over the next generation.
And he has spat in the face of the government that has showered economic welfare on SA. There are only 11 electorates in the state. Perhaps, future Canberra calculations may decide, naval spending should go on states with more marginals, Victoria and Western Australia.
It’s certainly damaged his own political reputation.
Perhaps the narcissistic political powder keg should be given a box of matches and encouraged to play with them in his own space and time.
Ross Eastgate is a Queensland based commentator on political and military affairs
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