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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 156

Mr GIBBONS (12:37 PM) —I want to express my disappointment with a decision by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation not to televise any home games of Bendigo Spirit in the Women’s National Basketball League. It has been a great achievement for Bendigo to get a team into the WNBL—in fact, the Spirit will be the only Bendigo based team competing in the national sporting competition and there has been significant community support to make this happen. Local furniture manufacturer, Jimmy Possum, is the team’s major sponsor, and several other local businesses have also chipped in support. The City of Greater Bendigo has made a major contribution, and the Victorian state government has provided an initial $100,000 over two years to help the team get established.

Just when all was looking positive for the opening of the new season, the team was told that the ABC will not be broadcasting any games from Bendigo. The ABC has traditionally been a terrific supporter of regional sport, women’s sport and so-called minority sport, so it is pretty clear this decision has come because of a lack of resources within the corporation. Bendigo is less than two hours from Melbourne, and the ABC regularly covers Victorian Football League games from the city. It is extremely disappointing, therefore, that regional women’s sport is not to be given similar coverage, especially as this is a national competition.

The Commonwealth has the responsibility to fund the ABC so that it can provide all Australians, including those in rural and regional Australia, with quality broadcasting services. Yet the Howard government’s contribution to the corporation’s operating revenue has declined in real terms, from $642 million in 1997 to $606 million in 2007. I urge the government to investigate this matter and provide sufficient funding to the ABC so that they can reverse this decision and continue their broadcasting of regional sport.

Phase 3A of the Department of Defence LAND 121 project starts the replacement of the current fleet of field vehicles of the Australian Defence Force. High-readiness units, including units currently deployed in war zones overseas, will be the first to get the new equipment. I understand that the tender evaluation process is now complete and that the government is in a position to announce the successful suppliers. This announcement was originally scheduled for June this year, and there were expectations that it would be made at last month’s Defence and Industry Conference 07, in Adelaide. But it now appears that the Prime Minister is playing politics with the Australian defence industry. He is holding back any announcement until the election campaign is formally underway, when he will no doubt try to use it to shore up support in marginal Liberal-held electorates. This is an outrageous political tactic that risks damaging the Australian defence industry and delaying the ultimate delivery of the best available equipment to our fighting men and women.

Australia’s defence manufacturers spend an enormous amount of time and millions of dollars tendering for these large defence contracts. They are entitled to, and deserve, more certainty from the Howard government so they can plan their investment in the manufacturing facilities needed to meet the ADF’s required delivery times. Instead, all they are getting is more of John Howard’s political games designed to save his own skin. Thousands of jobs in the defence industry are hanging on the outcome of this tender, including the 400 workers at Thales Australia that produce the world-beating Bushmaster armoured personnel carrier in my electorate of Bendigo.

Existing ADF contracts for Bushmaster will run until 2010, but after that the future of the Bendigo plant is uncertain. It is made more uncertain because of the Prime Minister’s refusal to use his special relationship with the United States to ease the entry of Australian defence products into the lucrative US market. Our American allies are more than happy to take orders from Australia for more than $25 billion of defence equipment, but they are not the slightest bit interested in giving Australian defence products any consideration—even world-beating products like the Bushmaster.

Unfortunately, we currently have an Australian government and a Prime Minister that are too timid to demand a fair go and reciprocal trade in defence contracts with the United States. Thales Australia has made a considerable investment in the Land 121 tender process and it deserves the courtesy of a prompt decision—a decision that should have been announced months ago. John Howard must announce the result of the tender now and stop playing around with people’s lives and jobs for selfish political gain.

I also place on record my sadness that the CEO of the City of Greater Bendigo, Mr John McLean, has announced today that he is stepping down from that post. John McLean has been an outstanding public servant and an outstanding community leader in Bendigo. I know he is experiencing some health difficulties and I sincerely regret that he has had to make the decision to stand down from his position. As I said, he has been a first-class servant of the Bendigo region. I wish him and his family well in the future.