Johnston says he 'regrets' submarine canoe jibe

DEFENCE Minister David Johnston has told the Senate he "regrets" saying that he did not trust the government-owned Australian Submarine Corporation "to build a canoe" in the Upper House yesterday.

Senator Johnston made the comment after a series of experts told a Senate inquiry the ASC could build the multi-billion submarines to replace Australia's ageing and controversial Collins class fleet.

After Sen Johnston's remarks, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten this morning led an attack on Prime Minister Tony Abbott, urging him to enter the House of Representatives to express confidence in the Minister, or sack him.

Mr Shorten said Sen Johnston's comments were an "insult" to the workers at the corporation, and "trashed" the ASC's international reputation.

Mr Abbott did not turn up during a fiery debate this morning on the issue, sparked Mr Shorten to say Sen Johnston's position as Defence Minister was "abandoned" by the government.

As debate ensued, Sen Johnston made a brief statement to the Senate, saying he made the comments as a "rhetorical flourish" in expressing his "frustrations in the past performance of ASC".

He said he never intended to cause offence and he regretted "that offence may have been taken".

"And I of course was directing my remarks at a legacy of issues and not the workers of the ASC whom I consider to be world class," he said.

In the House, Mr Shorten and Labor pressed ahead with moves to suspend normal parliamentary debate, in an effort to censure Mr Abbott for his failure to defend Sen Johnston in his Cabinet position.

However, the government used its majority numbers in the lower house to defeat the series of Labor motions.



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