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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 11029

Defence


Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (14:53): My question is to the Minister for Defence. Why is it important that strategic defence policy, including Australian Defence Force capability, be handled in a considered and responsible way that puts the national interest first? What are the adverse implications for future defence capability if this approach is not taken?


Mr STEPHEN SMITH (PerthMinister for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House) (14:53): I thank the member for his question and acknowledge his interest in defence matters and defence industry, particularly coming, as he does, from South Australia. One of the highest obligations that an Australian government can have is to protect and defend the national security interests of the Commonwealth. That goes hand in hand with the obligation on the part of an Australian government to protect and enhance the economic security interests of a nation's people.

To protect national security interests, one has to proceed with great care in strategic terms and proceed with great care in making judgments about capability. The mechanism the Australian government uses in that respect is, of course, the 2009 white paper, which is now subject to a commitment to be reviewed every year—so we are expecting a white paper in the first quarter of 2014. The white paper has what is described as the in-built Defence Planning Guidance, which is used on an annual basis to review strategic matters and capability. In the interim, of course, we have a $26 billion per annum budget for defence and the very important one- and two-pass capability mechanisms, which are considered by the Minister for Defence, the minister for finance and the National Security Committee. So these things are always done in a careful, considered and deliberative manner.

The member asked me what adverse implications there are if this approach is not taken. If you do not proceed in a careful, considered and deliberative manner you can send confused and confusing signals. You can send confused and confusing signals to the Australian people, you can send confused and confusing signals to the region and you can send confused and confusing signals to the local defence industry or the international defence industry.

Mr Hockey interjecting

Mr Robb interjecting

Mr Abbott interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition should not encourage the minister.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH: I notice that the shadow Treasurer and the shadow minister for finance are indicating that a $70 billion effort in terms of cuts will be made.

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister can talk about the subject matter, but—

Mr STEPHEN SMITH: I am, Mr Speaker. I am talking about approaching these matters in a considered and responsible way. It is entirely appropriate, if the opposition want to, to say that they are proposing to effect $70 billion worth of cuts. They have also made it clear that no area will be excluded from that. So we obviously need to understand what they propose in terms of an orderly way for considering defence in this context.

That is why I was very concerned yesterday when I saw on the front page of the Australian, out of the blue, 'Coalition to tear up defence blueprint—an exclusive interview with the shadow minister for defence'.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Fadden will resume his seat. The minister will now conclude the answer. The question as it stood was in order and the response can go to the subject matter but the personalising, debating and argument are, I believe, beyond what people on the outside think should happen in question time.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH: Mr Speaker, I am going to that part of the question which talked about the adverse implications for defence capability if a considered approach is not taken. We have discordant messages from the shadow minister for defence and the Leader of the Opposition and the Manager of Opposition Business on ABC radio this morning.

Mr Hartsuyker interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order, the member for Cowper! I am listening to the minister. Those interjecting are not assisting their cause at all.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH: We have seen the shadow minister for defence tearing up the white paper, we have heard the Leader of the Opposition saying they will not be and we have seen the Manager of Opposition Business saying that these were musings on ABC radio. You cannot muse about these matters. When you are dealing with national security issues, you have to deal with these matters in a considered and coherent way. You can take the path that the government takes—with the white paper and a considered, deliberative approach—or you can take an alternative approach.