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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1570

Mr FEENEY (Batman) (10:35): I am very pleased indeed to rise to speak to this motion and to rebut that farrago of nonsense which the parliament was forced to endure. While those opposite like to present themselves as the champions of Defence, it is plain from the last contribution made that they would do well to enliven themselves with some facts.

This motion begins by congratulating the government for its improved indexation arrangements for the DFRB and DFRDB retirement schemes and the legislation that passed this place with the support of both sides of the House. But let us just remember the precise dimensions of this promise made by the other side. After 11 long years of John Howard doing absolutely nothing to improve these pension schemes, we then saw the then Abbott opposition on the eve of the previous election make a commitment to improve the indexation arrangements. Indeed, upon coming into government, their government kept their word—one of those very rare occasions when the government kept a promise. They kept a promise and improved the indexation arrangements around these two schemes. Bravo! Well done! But let us remember a couple of key points.

The first key point is that both of these schemes have not accepted a new member into their ranks since 1991, so they are schemes that cater to fewer than 60,000 persons. They are schemes that have not admitted a new member for a generation. The vast bulk of the men and women serving in the Australian Defence Force today are not members of those schemes. In order to pay for this, however, the government then embarked upon a series of measures which has left the ADF and our veterans community absolutely aghast. While the government improved the indexation arrangements for those 60,000 persons, it then proceeded to cancel the current military superannuation scheme, the MSBS—cancelled, no announcement, no pre-warning. The current men and women of the Australian Defence Force found that the scheme they were in was cut and that, henceforth, members of the ADF will attract a superannuation rate of 14 per cent as opposed to the 28 per cent that previously prevailed—a dramatic change in the circumstances of our ADF. Of course, it goes right to the fact that retaining the men and women in the ADF—people who are highly trained—and their services has just become that little bit harder.

But not to be undone, the coalition's wrath and havoc was not finished there. What we then saw them do was cut the indexation arrangements for 280,000 veterans—some 310,0000 payments. Some 280,0000 persons had their indexation arrangements changed so that those arrangements became less attractive. We will now see those pensions slowly but inexorably decay against the living wage.

While the government has now leapt to its feet and congratulated itself on improving the DFRB and DFRDB, when you tell the whole story you can see that literally hundreds of thousands of people are worse off and the future ADF will find itself working with an inferior superannuation scheme to that which this government inherited when it came to office—so a truly scandalous set of arrangements. The fact that a government backbencher has had the sheer front to get up in this place and try to turn it into a positive is a remarkable thing. And it will echo through the veterans community even as I speak, because I am sure there will be absolute astonishment that anyone from the government would get up in this place and try to pretend that they have improved the circumstances of the ADF.

But the resolution was not concluded there, with that particular rhetorical point. The member for Ryan went on to the next impossible cause—defence spending. The motion seems to be suggesting that defence spending under the former Labor government fell to the lowest level since World War II. I think the member for Ryan may be confusing which government she is seeking to talk about, because for six of the 11 budgets handed down under the coalition from 1996 to 2007, defence spending fell to the lowest level since 1938 as a percentage of GDP, whereas in 2008, under Labor, spending rose to 1.94 per cent of GDP—the closest we have come in a generation to spending two per cent and much closer, I might say, than those opposite have done or will ever do.

In the 2013-14 budget Labor provided Defence with a record $114 billion across the forward estimates and a further guidance for over $220 billion to be spent over the subsequent six years. These were the greatest commitments made to Defence in the history of the Commonwealth. The previous Labor government was the first government in this land to commit more than $100 billion over the forward estimates. By the time we left office, we were the 12th largest spender on defence in the world. How did the then opposition respond to this fine and outstanding record? They went to the last election promising to spend the same as we spent. They said that an Abbott government would commit to spending the same amount of money on Defence as Labor. That was their great contribution to the debate and now, of course, they have the front to get up in this place and insist that our record does not do this nation justice, a record which they pinned themselves to at the last election. To add insult to injury, they insist that Labor cut the defence budget by $16 billion. I invite the member to nominate where that $16 billion exists. The number is a fantasy. We spent between $25 billion and $30 billion on defence year in year out—every year—and I challenge the member opposite to tell me in what year $16 billion suddenly disappeared. It never happened. It is a made-up number.

In relation to job losses resulting from budget cuts, those opposite are experts in this field. We have seen a succession of defence ministers over the course of the Abbott government achieve precisely nothing. We have seen in the shipbuilding space and future frigate program this government assiduously make no decision for 18 months. On the submarine project, I would need another 10 minutes—suffice it to say those opposite have made a shambles of it too.

Regarding the LAND 400 project, the modernisation of our Army, again, we have seen 18 months of delay and dissembling. These major projects that go to the modernisation and future of our services have withered on the vine under this government. The cost has been jobs and the cost has been investment. I invite the member opposite to read the occasional newspaper where he will find Australian industry bleeding and haemorrhaging on the street and jobs being shed from our shipyards week in, week out while the government fiddle like Nero and do absolutely nothing. Your excuse for the last three months of doing nothing has been a new minister who, in his defence, knows nothing about defence and, prior to that, 18 months of absolute gridlock.

Yours is a scandalous record. But then, not content to shine a torch on those two atrocious defence policy failures on your part, you then have the temerity to come in here and talk to us about defence training days. Under Labor and Plan Beersheba, we saw the Army reserves develop a level of capability that is simply unprecedented in this nation's history. We were deploying 1,000 Army Reserve personnel every single year on operations—operations in the Solomon Islands, Timor, Afghanistan and a range of others—that saw reserves achieve a level of operational experience that is simply unprecedented since the Second World War. But you would know nothing of that.

We saw changes to the Army Reserve. They became an operational reserve. The Army's force generation cycle integrated them with our regular brigades. There was the application of new capabilities and, I might say—the honourable member opposite had the temerity to talk about morale—an Army Reserve in this country whose morale had never been higher. They had never been better equipped. They had never been more utilised by their government. It has always been us on this side of the House that have understood the capability of the Army Reserve. We have always sought to enshrine their role in the defence white paper. It was, of course, a Labor government many years ago that introduced the Ready Reserve concept and, of course, it was the Howard government that swept that aside and cast our reserves back into the abyss. We saw Labor in the last term of office bring the reserves back to centre stage because we understand that they can provide a real capability, and we deploy them at a level that is simply unprecedented.

Lastly, I turn to the War Memorial. Again, the member opposite had the sheer effrontery to suggest that the War Memorial had suffered under the previous government. Again, the real villains sit opposite. It was their most recent budget that cut the War Memorial's budget by $800,000. We saw Brendan Nelson, the Director of the War Memorial, come out and immediately have to cancel the popular travelling exhibition program. Again, resources, people, and travelling exhibitions were cut. Hundreds of thousands of Australians across regional Australia are no longer able to see those important exhibitions because of your budget cuts.

How does Labor's record stand in contrast? We built the budget of the War Memorial. We built the budget of the Anzac Centenary. Even in our final months in office we provided an additional $7 million to the War Memorial so that it could renovate its World War I gallery. So, on every single measure of this rather remarkable motion, we say that the government should look at its own record and it will find nothing but embarrassment and humiliation. (Time expired)