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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12609


Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (18:43): Let me provide some brief comments back to the members of the cross benches. I thank them for their contributions and I understand some of their concerns—and from where they are sitting, some could say that things seem a little odd.

Let me refute the issue that there is some grubby deal between the government and the opposition. I think question time would leave the nation in no doubt that it is very difficult for the government and the opposition to agree on some very large issues, and the idea that we could do some backroom deal is, I think, a little silly in the extreme. However, there is no question and there is no doubt that the government and the opposition share an enormous bipartisanship when it comes to defence, and no-one can argue that I have shown anything other than bipartisanship in the key areas of defensive matters, including combat operations, troop dispositions, the welfare of our fighting men and women and, of course, our alliance structures.

The amendment last night in the Senate was moved in good faith. The government raised a range of concerns they believed were legitimate. They raised them forcefully, and they raised them in the spirit of bipartisanship. On the basis of that I was prepared to give the government the benefit of the doubt. Having dealt with this government now for four years as part of the shadow defence team, I have worked out when the government is dealing with issues that they truly believe are significant in the national interest and when they are dealing with issues that suit political interests. I must say, the government expressed this in very clear national interest terms—clear enough for us to say: 'We understand it. We respect your position. We will provide a degree of benefit of the doubt.' That degree, of course, is encompassed within a two-year 'cooling off period', for want of a better expression. That gives the parliament the opportunity within that space to assess, with very clear eyes, what—if any—impact there is.

Be under no doubt that if the research sector or the university is being fundamentally impacted the coalition will champion their cause vigorously. But right now the key issue in terms of defence and the trade treaty, which has been around for a long time—in the absence of overwhelming support or overwhelming evidence that the university or research sectors will be harmed—is to provide the government the support they need, and that is what I will be doing.