Australian Defense Minister David Johnston is backing off Tuesday comments in which he said he didn’t trust state-owned shipbuilder ASC to “build a canoe,” according to local press reports.
Before the Australian Senate, Johnston lambasted ASC over cost delays in the construction of the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) planned Hobart-class guided missile destroyers.
“You wonder why I’m worried about ASC and wonder what they’re delivering the Australian taxpayer? You wonder why I wouldn’t trust them to build a canoe?,” Johnston said before the Australian Senate.
Again before the Australian Senate, Johnston issued a regretful apology to ASC calling it a “rhetorical flourish,” according to press reports.
“Regrettably, in rhetorical flourish, I did express my frustrations in the past performance of ASC. In these comments I never intended to cause offence and I regret that offence may have been taken,” he said on Wednesday.
“And I of course was directing my remarks at a legacy of issues and not the workers in ASC, whom I consider to be world class.”
Australian opposition leaders have called for Johnston’s removal.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in response to Johnston’s Tuesday comments gave public support to ASC saying the shipyard “plays a vital role supporting the Royal Australian Navy and our key naval capabilities,” according to press reports.
Johnston’s comments and walk-back come at a difficult time for ASC as the $7.4 billion Hobart-class program maybe as much as almost $700 million over budget and two years late.
Australia’s defense establishment is also weighing options to replace its aging class of six Collins-class diesel electric (SSK) submarines.
The Abbott government pledged to build the submarines domestically but has distanced themselves from the initial commitment.
Germany, Sweden, France and Japan have offered options for the class of 10 to 12 ships.
Australia is reportedly most interested in the Japanese Soryu-class SSK — now available for export since Japan loosened military export restrictions earlier this year.