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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4865


Senator LIGHTFOOT (3:20 PM) —I find it rather sad that there is no bipartisanship on this particularly important issue of defence. Generally speaking, those decent people on the Labor side have agreed—quietly perhaps but have agreed— that this is the one issue in the federal parliament on which we should have bipartisan agreement that we do not criticise Defence to the degree that the previous speakers on the other side have done. I do not think that this does any credit for the Labor Party. The Labor Party seem to want to instil in the people of Australia some insecurity, whereas the coalition parties have gone out of their way to demonstrate clearly and manifestly that they care about defence. Under the coalition, in terms of a percentage of GDP, spending has not fallen like it did under the Labor Party. You will recall under Mr Hawke—not the Hawke in question, but the former Prime Minister—and Mr Keating defence occupied a secondary role in their tenure in this place.

This government, through its very effective ministers that Senator Cook, unfortunately, denigrated a moment ago, has done an excellent job. For instance, it produced, with the Defence 2000 white paper, the biggest spending in the history of this nation. It is a shame that the ALP do not recognise that a job is well done. I am not going to criticise former Labor governments on the spending on submarines and other issues that I think were a mistake and which I hope are never, ever emulated again. Such spending on defence equipment like that should only ever happen once, and it is a pity that it happened at all. But let me get back to the thrust of the take note debate. Dr Hawke, as I understand it, was not sacked. In fact, Senator Cook admitted that. He said that his three-year contract was up and he chose to do something else. The government recognised the contribution that Dr Hawke has made. In fact, after a short time off, Dr Hawke is going to resume his public service in a key diplomatic role overseas. So he was not sacked. Yet you find such terms as, `Hawke axed', `knifed' and `brutal performance'.


Senator Ferris —I think they mean Bob Hawke!


Senator LIGHTFOOT —I think there were certainly some brutal performances by the former Prime Minister and perhaps that is where some confusion lay. But, as the Labor Party has already publicly acknowledged, Dr Hawke's replacement with Mr Ric Smith is a step in the right direction. Mr Smith is a fine man. I have met him on many occasions. He comes from a very senior diplomatic position—one of the most important that we hold in the world—in Jakarta. Mr Ric Smith understands and speaks Bahasa, the language there. I am simply saying that when a man knows that his time is up, no matter how important he may seem to be to this nation, no-one is irreplaceable. We have Mr Ric Smith coming in, and there is not going to be a blip on the horizon. You will not see a blip on the diplomatic or secretarial horizon with respect to the changeover.

That is the way that this government operates. Look at what the government has done in East Timor. Look at the government's white paper. Remember the old maxim: those deserve peace who are prepared to defend it. This is no way to defend peace in Australia or to let Australia contribute to those important roles that it plays overseas. Australia is a country with 20 million people, far outweighed by the contribution that it makes to world peace. No doubt we will continue to contribute in Afghanistan. No doubt we will contribute in Iraq when, and if, that case arises. And no doubt we will continue to hold a high profile throughout the world, no matter that we are only a small country in terms of our population. On the issue of defence, it is a good lesson here this afternoon that this should be a bipartisan issue. What the government has done with respect to defence in the years that it has been here and in this third election period is little short of outstanding. Criticism from the other side rings hollow. We should face this together. (Time expired)