Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2923

Senator KILGARIFF(8.38) —I have a few comments on the Defence estimates. I thought that before the suspension of the sitting for dinner we had some interesting discussions. The Minister made some very honest observations. At that stage he was speaking of the problems that are now before the Parliament and the Estimates committees. He indicated he had some sympathy with honourable senators who were not receiving answers to questions that fulfilled their requirements. He did not say as much but perhaps we could take from what he said-it is certainly my feeling-that there is now a resistance developing towards questions that honourable senators ask in relation to the Defence Department or many other departments. It is almost a game when members of parliament, who are elected by the people in the various electorates, ask questions. It is felt that they should not be given full answers. There is a definite resistance.

I think the Minister went on to say that he had looked at the role of the Estimates committees and questioned whether in the present situation they were of advantage to the Senate, the Parliament and the people of Australia. I would go along with the Minister in questioning whether they are of advantage. I have been involved with Estimates committees for quite a while now and I think that the situation is deteriorating. The Estimates committees are not working as they used to work. For some reason or another there is a resistance by departments to answering questions asked by senators and I think that is very regrettable. Senator Grimes, who is the Minister in the chamber responsible for these estimates at this time, has pinpointed some of the problems. All this indicates an illness that is developing, if it has not already developed, within the system.

Senator Hamer, speaking from his experience as a member of the defence forces and now as a senator, indicated the incredible overheads being created by the bureaucracy in the Department of Defence. This is not a question of the Opposition against the Government or the Government against the Opposition; it is a question of facing problems which exist within Australia and within the economy, problems associated with Australia endeavouring to find sufficient money to develop a reasonable defence system. I think Senator Hamer indicated very clearly what a ridiculous situation has developed within the Defence Department. Of course, this did not happen this year, last year or the previous year; we have seen this incredible situation develop with bureaucracy and the Services, I suppose, from when the Defence Department was created and the three Service departments were done away with. The way in which the Defence Department operates now places an incredible load of debt upon the nation.

I do not single out the Defence Department in saying that there is an incredible waste of money in administration. I have had much to say about the administration of other Federal departments, such as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent but nothing gets down to the Aboriginal people, to the nitty gritty. Let me compare the situation within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs with the situation within the Defence Department. Money for Aboriginal affairs does not get down to the nitty gritty, down where the Aboriginal people themselves require it. I believe wholeheartedly that the incredible overloading in the bureaucracy involved in administration within the Defence Department is gulping up the funds that should go into our defence system. The administration of Defence in Australia is far too costly. Irrespective of whether there is a Labor government or a Liberal government, our problem these days is to find sufficient money to develop a defence system that can reasonably defend Australia.

I have gone through this before, of course, but I say again that, as a senator for the Northern Territory, I am aware of defence. In the north we see a great need for a strengthening of defence, be it in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy or whatever. The development of Tindal is extremely good. The development of the patrol boat base in Darwin is extremely good. A new airstrip is being built in Derby for the F18, and that is extremely good too. However, I have sympathy for whatever government is in power now because it has to find sufficient funds to service those bases. It is all very well to have a Tindal base, a naval base, and airstrip in Derby; my concern is finding the money to meet the operational expenditure which will encourage young Australians to go into the defence forces. More importantly, my concern is that insufficient money is going into the operational part of the defence forces of Australia.

People who are already in the Air Force are unable to have sufficient flying hours. Do not let anyone try to tell me that flying time within the Royal Australian Air Force, be it general training or operational training, is sufficient. Let anyone who claims that tell me how we compare with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries. Let them tell me how the flying hours of our fighter pilots compare with the flying hours of those of our allies. I suggest that they do not compare very well. I wonder too about the training of fighter pilots, the pilots who are to be part of our future defence forces. It seems to me that our pilots who are going to fly the F18s, the Orions and whatever are very limited in numbers. In fact, I wonder whether there are sufficient of them to fly the aircraft we have today.

My only comment at the moment is that I am very concerned. Flags are being flown about northern surveillance and about the number of hours that are being flown around the coast of northern Australia. The length of the Northern Territory coastline is some 6,200 kilometres. I suggest that surveillance there now is just a case of flag waving; surveillance of the north is insufficient. Aircraft are unable to fly sufficient operational hours for proper surveillance of the north.

I have sympathy for what the Minister said before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, but I think it would be a very brave government or a very brave cabinet these days that said to the Federal departments-the Defence Department, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or whatever-that, in order to provide better security for Australia, we have to look at spending more effectively the very little money that is available for defence. One of the first things we must do is to review the Defence Department and bring about economies, by way of cuts in the Department. The amount of money that is now available for defence is pretty mean, but the money that would be saved within the administration of defence in Australia would trickle down into the operational expenditure which is so necessary.

Senator Newman discussed the resignations that have occurred within the defence forces-within the Army, Navy and Air Force. I used to be in the Army. I, like some other senators, have some realisation of the necessity of keeping the numbers in our defence forces up. It is a crying shame to see the number of people within our defence forces who are leaving those forces. They have cost Australia so much to train, yet we are losing those very expert people. They are leaving the defence forces before they are due to retire. I do not think I am imagining it when I say that we have a sickness as far as the defence of Australia is concerned. I think that we have within our power the ability to bring about a remedy. I think the Minister, if one notes what he has said, in his heart, realises the problems in bringing about the adequate defence of Australia.

In closing, as I have said, there is a necessity to cut out the malaise within the Defence Department. The malaise, as I see it, is the gulping up of so many funds within the administration in order to keep in operation the incredibly numerous bureaucracy of the Defence Department system in Canberra. I served in the Army some time ago. I regret what I see happening now, because it is ridiculous for Dibb to say that there will be no danger to Australia in 10 years' time, or whatever. No one can know what will happen tomorrow, next week or next year. My experience is that one cannot imagine what is around the next corner. Australia should be prepared tomorrow, not in ten years time.