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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10088

Defence Equipment


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (15:27): My question is to the Minister for Defence Materiel. How has the government improved the capabilities provided to our troops over the past 12 months? What is it doing to strengthen the skills of the Australian defence industry?


Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Defence Materiel) (15:27): I thank the member for Newcastle for her question. In the last 12 months we have delivered a lot of equipment for our soldiers in Afghanistan. That includes the upgrading of our Bushmaster vehicles. Our troops in Afghanistan now also have new combat body armour and are wearing a new combat uniform. We have also rolled out a new counterrocket system that warns our troops of rocket attacks at the base at Tarin Kowt as well as a number of our forward operating bases. They are all part of the $1.6 billion Force Protection package that the government is implementing.

I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to talk to our soldiers about this new equipment, and their feedback on the ground was very positive. That said, there is still more work to do. There is always more work to do particularly in the area of IEDs. Earlier this year we made the decision to purchase an additional 101 Bushmaster vehicles to replace those that had been destroyed, as well as supporting current and future operations. On Monday, the Minister for Defence and I announced an agreement with the Canadian government for a number of ground-penetrating radar systems to help to clear the roads of IEDs in Oruzgan province.

In Air Force in the last 12 months, 20 of our new Super Hornets have been delivered and the next four Super Hornets will be delivered in the next month. In March, members may remember, we made the decision to purchase a fifth C17 heavy-lift aircraft, and it will arrive in Australia in the next few weeks. Work is also well underway on the first air warfare destroyer and I know some of that work is occurring in the member for Newcastle's electorate. Work is also underway on the two new landing helicopter dock ships. The Largs Bay, which we have purchased from the UK government earlier this year, will arrive in Australia in December where it will be commissioned HMAS Choules, after Claude Choules who died in May this year and who, members will know, served in the Royal Navy in World War I and then migrated to Australia and served in the Royal Australian Navy in World War II.

The question also asked about the Australian defence industry. The Australian defence industry does a lot of work for Defence, about $5½ billion worth every year. Over the next decade that will increase to about $7½ billion in today's terms. There is a reason for that. Over the next 10 to 15 years we will replace or upgrade 85 per cent of our military equipment, and that is a big challenge. It is important that we get it right and a key part of that is making sure that we have the skills that we need to do the job. The biggest mountain we will have to climb is the future submarine project, potentially the biggest and most complex defence project Australia has ever undertaken. It will potentially involve hundreds of companies, thousands of workers and a lot of skills that we do not currently have in sufficient numbers today. Some of the skills will come from overseas but many will need to be grown here in Australia. That is why I have asked Skills Australia to work with Defence and the defence industry on the range and depth of skills that we will need over the next decade and the best way to build them. This will help us to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Ultimately, that is what government is all about: meeting the challenges of today and the challenges of the future. Whether it is climate change, building the National Broadband Network, increasing the superannuation of Australian workers or providing our troops with the equipment that they need, this government is delivering now to meet the challenges of the future. (Time expired)

Ms Gillard: Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be place on the Notice Paper.