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- Start of Business
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (IDENTITY CRIMES AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- FEDERAL COURT OF AUSTRALIA AMENDMENT (CRIMINAL JURISDICTION) BILL 2008
- DEFENCE LEGISLATION (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL 2008
- TRADE PRACTICES AMENDMENT (CARTEL CONDUCT AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008
- Mr William Marshall OAM
- Franklin Electorate: Health Services
- HMAS Voyager and HMAS Melbourne Collision
- Page Electorate: Workplace Relations
- Hume Electorate: Telstra
- Victorian Bushfires
- Start of Business
- Fadden Electorate: School Leaders
- Charlton Electorate: Nation Building and Jobs Plan
- Barker Electorate: Millicent North Primary School
- Gallipoli Memorial
- Pearce Electorate: Food Labelling
- Blaxland Electorate: Primary Schools
Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises
- Dobell Electorate: Toukley and District Senior Citizens Club
- Gaza Strip
- Petition: Central Coast Radiotherapy Unit
- Pearce, Christopher, MP
- Shorten, Bill, MP
- Hunt, Gregory, MP
- Vamvakinou, Maria, MP
- Costello, Peter, MP
- O’Connor, Brendan, MP
- Johnson, Michael, MP
- Thomson, Kelvin, MP
- Moylan, Judi, MP
- Cheeseman, Darren, MP
- Irons, Steve, MP
- Melham, Daryl, MP
- Jensen, Dennis, MP
- Kelly, Mike, MP
- Wood, Jason, MP
- Dreyfus, Mark, MP
- Secker, Patrick, MP
- Marles, Richard, MP
- Gash, Joanna, MP
- Burke, Anna, MP
- Vale, Danna, MP
- Tanner, Lindsay, MP
- Byrne, Anthony, MP
- Procedural Text
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Mr IAN MACFARLANE (5:30 PM) —As we have just heard, the Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008 is in three parts. I thank the member for Eden-Monaro for a very enlightening history lesson on both the red cross and red crescent and the reason that today, as part of this bill, we are amending the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the Criminal Code Act 1995 to incorporate the third additional protocol to the Geneva convention to establish the universally distinctive emblem of the red crystal.
It is very appropriate at this time that our minds are drawn to the history of the Red Cross. As we have seen in the enormous tragedy that has unfolded in Victoria and, to a lesser extent, the devastation in North Queensland, the Red Cross is always to the fore. However, in a world of great diversity and many different cultures, it is singularly important that we have a symbol that will not be wrongly perceived as having a particular religious, cultural or political affiliation and that will guarantee, as much as ever can be guaranteed in the field of battle, the safety of those people who work under it. The emblem will only be used with the consent of the Minister for Defence. It is an emblem which will universally signify people who are coming to the aid of the injured, whether it is in a military conflict, as a result of terrorism or—more commonly these days, it seems—as a result of natural disaster.
The second component of this bill will amend the Defence Act 1903 to explicitly enable the making of regulations to cover the provision of medical and dental treatment, including pharmaceuticals, to ADF members or cadets or a member of an ADF member’s family. This was an election commitment. We hear at great length from those who sit opposite, even when they sit on this side, the promises that they lay out about what they will do when they gain the Treasury benches: how they will never cut back on defence spending and how they will preserve the rebuilding of the defence forces which the coalition did under the Howard government. Yet again we see with this part of the bill a reneging on an election commitment.
The coalition supports the government in this provision to provide extra support to defence personnel. However, the opposition is concerned that Labor has broken a key election promise to our defence personnel. It promised to spend $33.1 million over four years on 12 defence family healthcare clinics. And yet, as we saw in the budget, all the budget delivered was an amount almost a third of that, some $12.2 million, for a trial, with care provided in only five locations. So early in its term of government, this government has broken an election promise with a $21 million shortfall from its election promise. Five months after the fact, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel—that is, the member for Eden-Monaro, who has just spoken—belatedly included three more locations, adding Townsville, Darwin and Puckapunyal to the trial, such must have been his embarrassment, as an ex active soldier and someone who I am sure holds deep pride in the ADF, at the reneging of the government in a key area of election policy.
I am sure his embarrassment would have been accentuated by the fact that, at this time, in a world that we now find so challenging, when given an opportunity to show their commitment to the ADF, the Labor Party failed. They failed as they have in the past and as they no doubt will in the future. The message that sends to the ADF personnel who are affected by this cut is that the Labor Party not only do not keep their promises but do not fully, 100 per cent, support the proper provisioning of the members of the ADF and their families. On that point, it has an effect on the morale of the ADF and an effect on the recruitment ability of the ADF, and the government should be held in condemnation for both of those points.
We hear too often from people standing at the dispatch box on that side under this government of their commitment to the ADF and what they will do and how important the personnel in the ADF are. But, given the opportunity, they cannot even keep the most basic of election promises. We are not talking about $21 billion; we are talking about a sum of money that was promised to the personnel in the ADF, a sum of money which could easily have been allocated as it was promised, a sum of money just under $21 million, and yet they are unable to keep that election promise.
The failure to fully deliver this promise means that defence personnel in the RAAF in Edinburgh and Elizabeth North, and at RAAF Base Amberley and RAAF Base Williamtown are to miss out on this service altogether. Instead of extending the free health care currently provided to ADF personnel and their dependent spouses and children, Labor has committed only to a trial of the free provision of basic GP services and limited dental care to the families of the ADF, and only at limited locations.
This is a disgrace. But it underlines a lack of commitment by the Labor Party to the ADF. I can be as sure as I stand here that that lack of commitment is being felt in my electorate at the two Defence Force bases there—the one at Oakey and the other at Cabarlah. Already, as I move around my electorate I am asked—in fact, almost immediately after the election I was asked—whether or not this government would maintain their commitment to fund the ADF in total, and I have to be honest and say that, on the basis of their past experience, I said I would be watching them closely. I did not condemn them straight up—although I should have; my instinct was right—I gave them the benefit of the doubt. That benefit of the doubt has been betrayed. Not only have they failed to deliver on this election promise item but also we now see that the federal government was planning to cut $1 billion from the ADF.
Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, I ask you if those in government fully understand the message that that sends to those men and women who, in some cases, make the ultimate sacrifice in the service of this country. I wonder if the government understand the message that that sends to those people. It sends a message that demoralises them. It sends a message that these brave men and women will again have to wait for a coalition government to rebuild the defence forces to the level this nation requires.
In my electorate, as I have mentioned, I have two defence installations. The first is at Oakey, which is a premier helicopter training base, which trains men and women to fly helicopters in all sorts of scenarios and situations. I have flown with the ADF in Timor and admired the skill that those men and women displayed in handling these wonderful pieces of equipment. I will watch them as they now embark on the training with the new Tigers, and I look forward to seeing the MRH90s grace the skies around Oakey. But it is important, as we go forward with the defence budget, that those sorts of training facilities are not threatened.
Of greater concern to me, though, is the installation at Cabarlah, known as the signals base—though I am sure they do much more than signalling. That base plays an extraordinarily important role in virtually every peacekeeping operation and theatre of war that Australia is involved in. It also plays a very important role, though, in the economic and community makeup of my electorate. The people who come to that base are highly skilled men and women. They are men and women who come there to take their careers on, to learn extra skills—and also to perform certain tasks that we do not speak of in public. Those tasks are done to fundamentally underwrite the personal security of each and every Australian. Yet this base is under threat from this government and its budget cost-cutting. This base now sits there with an axe over it, with those in it wondering whether or not it will remain intact after the defence white paper.
I took certain action when I was a member of the Howard cabinet to ensure that the base was not considered for closure and, on the change of government, I spoke personally and wrote to the defence minister, asking him to recognise the significance of the Cabarlah barracks, and to secure its future. I have to say that it concerns me greatly that, to date, I have only received a non-committal response and a referral to the process of the white paper. That process is now becoming way overdue. It is a process which does not give any comfort or security to the men and women of the Cabarlah base, nor give any comfort or security to the community that surrounds it.
As I said, the defence personnel, both in the electorate of Groom and nationally, require a government that is prepared to stick to its commitments in relation to its election promises and to the ADF.
Mr Craig Thomson —Was it a core promise or a non-core promise?
Mr IAN MACFARLANE —The member opposite should answer that question, and I am happy if he wants to do so, because I understood from the Prime Minister that all his election promises would be carried out, and on that basis I suggest that it is a core promise and on that same basis I suggest that he has broken it.
I think that the government need to seriously consider exactly what message they want to send to the Australian defence forces, to those who are serving overseas, to those young people who are considering service in the ADF, and whether or not they are going to, as a government, provide the level of funding that they need. They should immediately reverse this decision, or enhance this decision, and take it back to the $33 million over four years for the 12 defence family healthcare clinics they promised.
There is a third component to this bill, on which I will only speak briefly. Again I find myself, twice in one speech, acknowledging the comments of the member for Eden-Monaro. It is in relation to the amendments of the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952, to provide that the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is a special defence undertaking and a prohibited area. I, like the previous speaker, certainly agree that people have the right to demonstrate, but this is an important establishment in the defence of Australia and our allies and, whilst demonstrations should take place, they should not take place in a way which interferes with its operation.
This is a bill in three parts, each of which is quite different. In speaking on this bill today I also take the opportunity to wish those in the ADF every success and every safety in their endeavours and again extend the gratitude of my electorate for their efforts. I commend the bill to the House.