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Pyne and Xenophon brawl over "threat" to SA defence industry

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Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne has accused Nick Xenophon of threatening the future of defence projects in South Australia, with the independent senator firing back that this was a "disgusting lie".

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The verbal battle came after Xenophon’s Senate team joined with other crossbenchers to reject the Federal Government’s omnibus bill which ties an overhaul of childcare subsidies to a raft of welfare cuts.

“I can tell you what they can go and do with their omnibus, they can stick it where it fits,” independent Jacqui Lambie said defiantly.

The Nick Xenophon team, which has three of the nine crossbench votes the government needs in the Senate, wants the government to explore other spending cuts to fund its $1.6 billion plan to improve childcare subsidies.

And it’s not impressed the government has tried to win over crossbenchers by promising to quarantine $3 billion in net savings to fund the national disability insurance scheme.

“As a negotiating tactic, this is as subtle as a sledgehammer,” Xenophon said.

Xenophon nominated defence spending as a possible target for savings, prompting a fierce exchange with fellow South Australian Christopher Pyne who accused the senator of wanting to cut shipbuilding in South Australia – one of Xenophon’s signature causes.

“… There is waste in defence and what Christopher Pyne tweeted not so long ago that somehow I want to reduce the number of submarines and ships built is a disgusting lie,” Xenophon told ABC Adelaide today.

“What I have said is that we know from the history of defence there have been a number of cancelled defence projects where billions of dollars have been wasted of taxpayer funds. All I am saying is that we can do defence more efficiently.”

Pyne responded that Xenophon’s proposed budget cuts would threaten South Australia’s shipbuilding program – which includes the critical future submarines project.

“It’s at no risk from me and it’s at no risk from the Labor Party but it seems to be at risk from Senator Xenophon who this morning nominated cuts to defence as a way to pay for $5.8 billion of savings in welfare,” he said.

“Now, you can’t just find that in the bottom drawer of the Defence Department. That is a massive cut to capability and operations and obviously defence industry and we’re just getting South Australia back on its feet in terms of defence industry. People like Simon Birmingham and I and Matt Williams and others, we sweated blood and tears to get those programs and now Nick Xenophon is putting them under threat. I’m absolutely shocked and surprised.”

Xenophon again accused Pyne of lying.

“The fact is the point I made is that there are savings to be made in respect of defence waste,” he said. “That is something that has been the subject of much commentary of parliament inquiries, not to cut the local content, not to cut any of the programs that are going to be implemented in terms of naval ship building, but I have said not all the cuts of course should come from defence.”

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the government was not prepared to use more borrowings to fund the childcare changes.

“The main issue here is finding a way to fund a very serious $1.6 billion investment in child care which parents and families and mums are screaming out for,” he said.

Porter insisted “no-one is threatening the NDIS” and the government was committed to the program even though it hadn’t been properly funded by Labor.

Cabinet minister Steve Ciobo warned there was not an endless supply of government money.

“There is no secret money tree in government,” he told Sky News.

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said while Xenophon wanted to give away more of other people’s money he was of an opposite mind.

“If it doesn’t go into reducing the budget deficit I’m not going to vote for it,” he said.

Newly independent Senator Cory Bernardi said while the previous incarnation of the bill raised about $4 or $5 billion worth of savings the government is now putting the money into another big spending program.

“I think that is the wrong approach,” he told ABC TV.

“I am reconsidering my support for it as well (as Senator Xenophon). It looks like it is dead in the water.”

– with AAP

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