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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17298

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the National Security Committee of cabinet be meeting over the next two days to finalise its latest military shopping list, of which one of the new potential purchases is tanks? Will the minister assure the Senate that we will maintain the current Australian policy of not using or purchasing depleted uranium ammunition? As the government has stated previously, the ADF stopped using depleted uranium ammunition some years ago for health and safety reasons, the risks it causes to our defence personnel and the dangers presented to civilians long after hostilities cease. Can the minister assure the Senate that if we buy tanks such as the American Abram tanks we will not purchase American depleted uranium ammunition to go with them?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As I have said, and I think it was acknowledged by Senator Bartlett, we do not use depleted uranium ammunition and we do not have an intention to do so. In relation to the review of the Defence Capability Plan, following the strategic update that I referred to in answer to an earlier question, we believed it was time to look at the DCP again to take into account changes in the strategic environment that have occurred over the last three years and also to take into account our operational experience, in particular from Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor. That is being done on a whole-of-government basis, and if there are any changes to be made to the existing Defence Capability Plan they will be announced at the appropriate time.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Defence Capability Plan is around $50 billion plus, shouldn't there be a much more open public debate about such significant amounts of government expenditure before decisions are made rather than simply doing it through a fait accompli announcement, particularly if we are shifting our approach to incorporate changes such as tanks? If we buy tanks as heavy as the 70-tonne American tanks, what are the implications for their usefulness in our own region? Are such tanks too heavy, for example, to cross bridges in Papua New Guinea and Pacific island nations around us? How would we transport them and, if we were to buy such tanks, is there any question of their not actually being based in Australia but being based in some overseas country for operations in countries such as those he mentioned in his initial answer.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —We base all of our equipment in Australia. As I said, in the current DCP there is not funding for a replacement tank. It is true that the Australian Army's tanks are old—I think the Leopard 1s are over 30 years old. If the government decides to update them, that is a decision the government will make. It would obviously update them with an alternative that can be operated according to our strategic guidance. I think the process has been quite transparent. I have read quite a lot about it in newspapers and I have been asked about it in the Senate and in Senate committees. Ultimately, it is a decision for government, and the government stands by its decision. That is what governance is all about.