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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17148


Mr PRICE (12:50 PM) —I too would like to speak on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's Report of the 2003 New Zealand Parliamentary Committee Exchange. I think it is very good that the two parliaments have this exchange program. I need to put on record that, for some years now, I have sought to have a similar program instituted with Indonesia, and I hope that one day I can stand up in the parliament and say that we have that program instituted.

The New Zealanders were exceptionally generous with their time. In particular, the secretary of the department, the CDF, the service chiefs and the head of joint forces devoted an exceptionally generous amount of time to our visit and patiently took us through all the changes that had been made.

I think it is fair to say that New Zealand has faced up to some very tough decisions and it is in the process of implementing those. I think that Australia is, in a sense, yet to face up to the difficult decisions that New Zealand has made. The most important thing, given that New Zealand has made these decisions, is that we ought to explore the opportunity to maximise cooperation between the defence forces of our two countries—hence the recommendation. It really is an appropriate role for the defence theologians from both countries to sit down and work our way through what may or may not be appropriate to consider. I certainly think it would be most inappropriate if Australia were to outline what we might or might not want in terms of closer cooperation. I think we really need a mechanism as proposed in the report or, alternatively, one that comes from the New Zealand side.

There were a couple of things that really appealed to me over in New Zealand. One related to acquisitions. New Zealand now tries not to have a 10-year program but to break acquisitions down into a committed five-year program and then a 10-year program. Given that defence requirements change so rapidly, I think it is very brave for a government now to outline a 10-year program, and we could borrow from the New Zealanders in trying to get it down to a smaller period. Defence have always been good long-term planners—and I do not want them to stop doing that—but I think to try to get beyond a five-year horizon with any degree of certainty is a little beyond them.

As the chairman of the committee has already reported, it came as a surprise to the delegation to see the way in which the New Zealand defence forces—in this case, Army—are involved in assisting the unemployed. For years all of us on both sides of the parliament have resisted the idea of conscription, but we came away totally impressed with what Army are doing, both through the Youth Life Skills program, which runs for about five days, and the Limited Service Volunteers program, which runs for about six weeks. The participants are subjected to military law during that six-week period. The outcomes have been quite good—indeed, quite outstanding—and I would certainly say, without wishing to take away from my colleagues in any way, that we were very impressed and will be very keen to see what opportunities there are within the ADF to pick up on this initiative.

Last but not least, I commend our chair, the honourable member for Maranoa, for his leadership of the delegation, and the secretary of the committee, Stephen Boyd. The protocol officer, Max Simmons, was sorely tested in a whole variety of ways during the delegation's visit, but he more than adequately retaliated, or got square, on the limited occasions he chose to do so. It was a memorable visit for us and certainly a worthwhile one. I commend the report to all honourable members.