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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5198

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (21:42): I rise to provide some comment on the various appropriation bills before the House. Whilst many have spoken in wider terms, I will restrict my comments purely to defence. It is instructive to look back at the history of Labor's defence policy. It came to the election promising a three per cent real increase in the defence budget and a white paper that would structure a force for the next 20 years. If we look at what has been delivered, to say it is appalling does not come close. The promised three per cent real growth was only 1.3 per cent as at the end of last year. Because of this budget, we now see growth at the lowest level since 1938. Our defence budget has now dropped to 1.6 percentage GDP; it was 1.55 per cent in that fateful year before the war. Close to $18 billion has been stripped from the defence budget over the last four years and projects have been pushed to the out years—to the never-never. Force 2030, which included a suite of capabilities, is now no more. The government has admitted failure by announcing a new white paper for 2013, citing a range of changes from the global financial crisis. Yet that crisis has not changed the strategic outlook in our region at all.

The current budget has stripped $5.5 billion, including $960 million next financial year, from the defence budget. The chiefs of all three services—Army, Navy and Air Force—put out a communique to their respective commanders and senior service staff to make the point, which I will read from what General Morrison said:

While some recommendations have been hard to make, I stand by the decisions upon which we have advised.

They certainly have been tough decisions to make. The Chief of Army said:

As Army commanders you have a key role in assisting me to explain the budget to our people, but I ask that you reiterate to them that I am Army's only public spokesman on all Budget related issues.

The Chief of Navy in his communication reinforces, on the last page, the same thing:

I remain the only Navy spokesman on budget related matters.

In the House of Representatives I am the coalition's spokesman on defence matters and, whilst the government is not allowing anyone outside of three-star generals to make any comment, let me comment on behalf of 50,000 uniformed men and women. Let me make a very sound comment regarding the disastrous budget that, in terms of its funding as a proportion of GDP, has put our Defence Force back more than 73 years.

Let me make a definitive statement that our capabilities have been substantially reduced and that that is being felt by the men and women in our Defence Force. In fact, the instruction by the Chief of Air Force makes this point:

I understand many of you who have spent a long time in the Air Force feel that entitlements have been eroded as a result of the Strategic Reform Program. I want to reassure you that changes will not impact entitlements underpinning Defence service …

The point is that men and women are feeling the pinch from what this government is doing. But it is instructive that we have a look at the actual result on the ground.

Every single bit of evidence leads me to the conclusion that up to two or three weeks before the budget was announced the Defence Force was none the wiser on the brutal cuts that would eat into our capability in the foreseeable years. Defence, to use an analogy, is like the Queen Mary II: if you wish to turn the ship it is going to take you four nautical miles to get that ship around. It starts slowly, it stops slowly, it turns slowly. You cannot turn on and off the most advanced weaponry the world has ever seen. Yet this government treats defence budgets and defence capability as some sort of plaything to meet whatever budget requirements it needs.

Let us look at what has happened to Army, and this is straight from General Morrison's defence budget brief for his commanders. Let us look at the impact these cuts have had, which is what General Morrison has briefed in relation to his entire force. There is the removal of recreational leave travel for single members over the age of 21. They were entitled to go back to their next of kin once or twice a year but that has now been cut. They cannot travel back to see their next of kin because these guys in Labor cannot stop spending. The gap year program for Army, Navy and Air Force, to give young people leaving year 12 the opportunity to go into the military for 12 months, has been scrapped. There is a 10 per cent reduction in Army Reserve training salaries, so 10 per cent of our Army Reserve is being cut. What will that do to our regional communities, to our men and women who have put together their lives to help serve their nation? That has now been cut.

There is a 20 per cent reduction in Army's minor capital equipment expenditure—that is, expenditure under $20 million which is being cut. A squadron of main battle tanks has been cut or, more importantly, put into temporary storage. A squadron of 113AS4 armoured personnel carriers is being put into storage. Our armoured reconnaissance helicopters, our Tigers and MRH90s, have had their work rate reduced. We are not able to fly our military helicopters as much because of what this budget has cut into. Explosive ordnance, deployable local area networks and clothing are being cut, and that is being achieved by drawing down on current inventory. That current inventory will have to be redrawn back up again but, heaven forbid, not in 2012-13, this hallowed year where there is a $1.5 billion surplus—except when you add in the clean energy fund and the NBN it is suddenly an $8½ billion deficit. This whole thing is complete smoke and mirrors. And it is the men and women in uniform who will feel the pinch because of this disgraceful and deplorable budget.

There is a delay in the procurement of field generators and combat load carriage equipment. This will be achieved by drawing down on current inventories. We are going to reduce our combat load carriage equipment inventories. We have a 10 per cent reduction in postings and relocations. Our self-propelled gun, an artillery piece that is fully armoured, fully protected and can move under its own steam, is being cut. The combat identification of ground forces, LAND 146 phase 2, is being rescoped. This is a project that was delivering a digital close air support capability for LAND forces. It has been rescoped back into another project. Twelve additional Army projects have been slipped by one year and some by two years. AIR 9000 CH CAP, the capability to align our CH47Fs to US built standards, is being deferred. Our REDFIN special operations capability, which is replacing our special operations vehicles and battle management systems, has been deferred, even though this Prime Minister stood at the Chicago summit yesterday and committed our special forces to at least another decade of kinetic activity in Afghanistan and, in the same breath, said, 'We are actually going to defer your main operating special force capabilities by a little while on the ground, but we still want you to spend a decade in theatre.'

The tactical unmanned aerial vehicle, Shadow replacement, JP 129 phase 3, is being delayed. Shadow has just been implemented into theatre. Our soldier enhancement version 2, which is enhancing our F88 Austeyr weapons, LAND 15 phase 3C, is being delayed. Like the infantry can do without their weapons! The integrated soldier system version 3, which is the next generation of our soldier combat system covering lethality, survivability, mobility and command and control, LAND 125 phase 4, is being delayed. We are at war and I cannot think of many things more important for our next generation of soldiers—those in special forces and other enabling areas who will be in Afghanistan for the next decade—than their combat system covering the lethality, survivability, mobility, command and control.

But what really annoys me, what really angers me about this bunch of lightweight Labor hacks in government—and I have chosen my words deliberately and carefully—is that JP 154 phase 2, the counter IED, improvised explosive device, the force protection ECM and weapon technical intelligence capability, has been delayed. Half of our deaths in combat have come from improvised explosive device blasts. Whilst General Morrison tells me that combat operations through to 2014 will not be impacted by the decisions of this government, we are in Afghanistan for the next 10 years. We will be fighting and deployed against an enemy that is learning quickly about IEDs and the capacity to command, control and detonate them. And the project that is looking into the future of countering those IEDs is having to be delayed because these clowns cannot sort their budget out. I cannot think of anything more disgraceful than Army being forced to defer projects like that.

JP 3011 phase 1, non-lethal weapons, enhancing the ADF's non-lethal capability, is being deferred. The next time these clowns on the government benches complain because kinetic force has been used on future operations, the next time the raving Left in this country and its supporters in the Labor Party and the Greens complain about the use of lethal force, let me remind them that the government they supported, voted for and, in the case of the Greens, formed coalition with, forced Army to defer JP 3011 phase 1, non-lethal weapons enhancing our non-lethal capability. There is a price you pay for this type of fiscal irresponsibility. The problem is that the Labor Party is not going to pay the price, except perhaps at the ballot box. Our men and women are the ones who will have to pay the price in capability. Twenty Army major capital facilities projects have been delayed by up to three years. The relocation of 17 Construction Squadron, the Holsworthy Barracks redevelopment, the Larrakeyah base redevelopment, the Enoggera redevelopment, the Randwick Barracks redevelopment, the Lavarack Barracks upgrade, the Edinburgh multi-user depot, the Enhanced Land Force stage 2C, the Oakey redevelopment and further projects at Watsonia, Bindoon, Anglesea, Singleton, Kapooka, Robertson Barracks, Puckapunyal, Victoria Barracks Sydney and the A Company 41 RNSWR new Tweed Heads depot have all been delayed by between two and three years. Why? Why is this happening? Why are these projects part of the $17 billion over four years that is to be ripped out of Defence?

It is not hard to work out why. This is the Labor government that came to power in 2007 promising to take defence and national security seriously. They promised they would have a national security statement every year—every year—to properly frame the national security debate, our position and our strategic environment, and how Defence operated within those boundaries. And how many national security statements have we had since 2007, since Labor came to power? One. What happened to having a statement every year? What happened to the foreign affairs white paper that was promised? What happened to our strategic positioning? What happened to our defence white paper in terms of Force 2030, a defence posture for the future? What happened to supporting our region in terms of the fundamental US defence pivot back towards the Asia-Pacific? What happened to all of that? What happened to the great rhetoric, the lofty tones and various prime ministers standing on board warships and submarines? What happened to that? What happened to the fundamental importance of national security?

If we look at the Navy, we see that a range of major capital facility investment programs have been 'rebalanced'—the Chief of Navy's nice way of saying they have been pushed out by two to three years. Navy has a significant reduction in fuel funding. I am not too sure what Navy vessels run on, but I would suggest fuel is fairly important! The Chief of Navy has asked the fleet commander to review his plans for the fleet over the financial year 2012-13 and to advise the Chief of Navy on activities which should be afforded the highest priority, given his stated focus. What the Chief of Navy is saying is that he does not have the fuel or the capability to move his ships as he wants to. His most pressing capacity is Exercise RIMPAC 2012, involving two ships and a submarine, and of course he has to support our operations in the Middle East and elsewhere. Other than that, the fleet commander has to justify every ship movement—this at a time when we desperately need more and more of our vessels in our Asia-Pacific region, especially since we have now had two of our military vessels engaging with our Chinese friends and furthering cooperation.

All of this tells me that the Labor Party are not serious about defence and national security; they cannot be, because you fund what you value. You fund what you value. You fund what is important to you. You find what you think the nation needs. They have shown that defence has zero importance to them in the grand scheme of things.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 21:58