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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1634

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:12): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to defence spending.

I rise to take note of answers to my questions to the Minister for Finance, representing the Treasurer, Senator Cormann. In the last 30 minutes we have been focusing on government spending and one of the most obvious examples of that spending is an extra $30 billion which was outlined in the Defence white paper. Senator Cormann said that he was not sure what the Parliamentary Budget Office assumptions were, but I would like to highlight for Senator Cormann that they are in the white paper and that is what the Parliamentary Budget Office used. On page 178, at 8.6, it outlined what the 2015-16 budget was and then at 8.7 it said:

Defence will be provided with $29.9 billion more than was previously planned in the period to 2025-26.

So that is over the 10-year model and that is where the $30 billion comes from.

I think it is a fundamental point to make that every extra dollar we spend on military hardware, weapons companies, warships or weapons is a dollar that needs to be funded. Every single dollar is a dollar which could have been spent on something else—something that is productive or that employs people or that makes people more prosperous or that helps our communities— which helps our nation. We should be having a national debate, but unfortunately it is only the Greens who are asking the questions in parliament about Defence expenditure increases—only the Greens. We have not heard a peep out of Labor. So we are happy to be the opposition on this and ask this chamber to have a debate on whether we need to be spending an extra $30 billion over the forward estimates on our defence expenditure, taking it to an arbitrary level, with no justification, of two per cent of GDP. Where did that two per cent of GDP number come from? It is absolutely crucial that as elected representatives of the Australian people we debate and discuss and ask the hard questions about where their taxpayer dollars are spent.

This is industry policy dressed up as defence expenditure. If it is going to be industry policy, spending money on the military industrial complex, then we should look at where else we could spend that money. I asked a question on infrastructure today—we have a huge infrastructure gap in this country, we all know that—about what added benefits could we see from expending money on education, health care and all the other things that are important to our country. Where is the cost-benefit analysis of these kinds of expenditures? For some reason defence has been quarantined. As I have said in this place before, it strikes me as odd that somehow there is a political culture amongst elected representatives in here of silence and perhaps even fear about asking questions on defence strategy. There are a lot of questions about where the money is going to be spent—how many jobs are going to be created, which states are going to get the industry and who is going to benefit the most—but where are the questions on whether this is the right strategy? Where is the scrutiny of that?

It is clear from the Parliamentary Budget Office analysis that we asked them to do that this $30 billion wipes out a return to surplus in this country. We have just had a debate in this chamber for the last 20 minutes about where are we going to raise more revenue and where are the cost savings coming from. As I said in my supplementary question, the Treasurer, Mr Morrison, has clearly said that his budget rules are that any new spending must be fully offset by savings. We have $30 billion in extra spending—I must say Senator Cormann was very agile and nimble in question time today and would not quite admit that there was an extra $30 billion but I am telling you that that is what the defence white paper says—so where are those cuts going to come from? Where are those savings going to come from? Will the Labor Party support that detail when it has been made clear?

If we are to get some structural reform around negative gearing or super concessions, is that then going to go on spending more on warships and weapons? These are questions that average Australians would like to know more about. I think all Australians support having a Defence Force, with the operative word on 'defence'. There is a lot of stuff in this defence white paper that spells offence to me—it spells more meddling in foreign wars, developing hardware like drones for foreign operations and submarines and frigates that can go to the South China Sea. We need to have a mature debate about this, and that needs to start now.

Question agreed to.