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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 977

Defence


Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (14:06): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston. I noticed in recent media reports that Defence has been weakened by the previous government's budget cuts. Can the minister please explain how the government plans to restore Australia's defence capabilities to rectify the unsustainable mess it inherited?


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:06): I thank the honourable senator for his question and acknowledge his longstanding interest, and commitment as a former serving member of the ADF, to defence. This government has made a commitment to restore spending on Defence. First and foremost we have acknowledged the necessity to say that there will be no further cuts to Defence. This previous Labor government left Defence in an unsustainable mess.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Johnston, resume your seat. Order! When there is silence on both sides, we will proceed.

Senator JOHNSTON: Financially wrecked and plundered. Once we have steadied this budgetary disaster, we will restore defence spending to two per cent of GDP within a decade.

The PRESIDENT: I remind honourable senators on my left that, if you wish to debate the issue, the time is after three o'clock. When there is silence, I will give Senator Johnston the call.

Senator JOHNSTON: Once we have steadied this budgetary disaster, steadied the ship, we will restore defence spending to two per cent of GDP within a decade. On 22 November this year, the shadow defence ministers, including Senator Conroy, released a statement saying that we had not yet shed any light on how the government plans to match Labor's commitment to increase defence spending to two per cent of GDP. Let me remind the Senate that this year they delivered a white paper, with chapter 7 entitled 'Defence budget and funding' and there were 1½ pages with not a single dollar figure mentioned, now or ever. This government is committed to achieving a two per cent of GDP target in a time frame, not just an airy-fairy, long-term splash of a political objective. (Time expired)






Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (14:09): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister please detail what defence capabilities the government is committed to delivering?


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:09): This government is committed to ensuring that Australia's Collins class submarine force continues to be regionally superior in terms of conventional capability. We are currently working with Defence to determine the most appropriate procurement strategy, with a decision to be announced within 18 months with respect to the new submarine.

Senator Conroy: When did that start?

Senator JOHNSTON: In 2008, under you, and you did nothing for six years. The final decision will ensure that work will centre around the Adelaide shipyards. The government is also committed to acquiring the joint strike fighter to bolster Australia's air combat capability. In addition, the government is closely considering the requirement for unmanned aerial vehicles in the context of broad-area maritime surveillance. Of course, we know the success of the opposition in government in managing our borders in the maritime sense. We are also committed to providing— (Time expired)




Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister please explain what would be the impact of not delivering these capabilities?


Senator JOHNSTON (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) (14:10): As I stated earlier, the previous government has left the current Defence budget in an unsustainable mess. The constant and repeated cuts to Defence under the previous government have left the portfolio reeling. Sixteen billion dollars, in just a few short years, was ripped out of the portfolio—treated like an ATM. Labor slashed 10.5 per cent from the 2012-13 budget, the largest single cut since the Korean conflict. The cuts and uncertainty around the Defence budget led the Australian defence industry to slash more than 10 per cent of its workforce. That is at least 5,000 jobs you are responsible for that have gone because defence industry has had no work. Without restoring defence spending, the capabilities outlined in the previous government's white paper are simply not able to be met. Despite this, the Labor Party continue to boast of their so-called achievements— (Time expired)