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Thursday, 24 November 1988
Page: 2749

Senator NEWMAN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. I refer to the answer that the Minister gave to a question I asked yesterday concerning Army rations.

Senator Puplick —The non-answer.

Senator NEWMAN —The non-answer; thank you, Senator. In that answer the Minister completely ignored the implications that the shortage of ration resources would have on dozens of Army exercises, and he claimed it was only an internal matter for the Army itself to work out. Apart from the cancellation of dozens of Army exercises due to a lack of ration resources, is it also a fact that due to a lack of money for repairs and maintenance, replacement of stores and equipment, travel and subsistence, freight and cartage, petrol, oil and lubricants, training in Land Command will cease at the end of this month? Is it also true that in addition to these current problems the Government has directed that $300m is to be lopped off the logistic vote over the five-year defence program and, of this, the Army's share is $105m? Is it also a fact that this inability to do the job through a lack of funds is a major cause of soldiers quitting the forces? And will the Minister now admit that these severe financial strictures will gut land forces capability?

Senator RICHARDSON —No, I will not admit that they will gut the land forces capability. I apologise for running in late and trying to get down some parts of Senator Newman's question. I might say that, fortunately, today's question is somewhat shorter than those that I have been getting lately, which have gone on at some length. The question of wastage in the defence forces or indeed the Army, to which Senator Newman just referred, has, I think, received quite considerable publicity in recent days, particularly since the publication of the Cross report on Personnel Wastage in the Defence Force. In answering the question yesterday I think I covered the matter of rations about as far as one could cover it, and I do not really believe that I need to go into that question any more.

In so far as the rest of Senator Newman's question is concerned, all I can say is that over the past few years the Government has provided very considerable sums for logistics support for the defence forces. There is no suggestion from the forces themselves that they are unable to function or that their capability has been gutted.

Certainly there have been problems with wastage, but it should be pointed out that wastage is a problem for peacetime armies around the world: it is by no means restricted to Australia. Nonetheless, in addressing the concerns expressed in the Cross report the Government will give a considered response and I am sure it will come up with at least some solutions to the difficulties faced by not only Australia but all Western countries with respect to their peacetime armies.

Senator NEWMAN —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. The Minister, amongst a number of platitudes, said that there has been no suggestion from the forces themselves that they are having any problem in this area. I ask the Minister: Is it not a fact that the questions which I have put to him now are based entirely on the evidence and advice which the Army has supplied to the Government?

Senator RICHARDSON —I have not suggested that no-one in the forces has been unhappy at times with some government decisions. I do not know an area of government where that does not happen. I said that the forces themselves have not suggested that their logistical capabilities have been so impaired that they cannot function. I repeat that: they have not suggested that that is the case. Certainly, people in the forces have suggested that we could do more in this area or that. Indeed, that is suggested across the range of all portfolios that all Ministers represent. I only wish that we could do everything that everyone wants on every occasion but, in a period of restraint, which this Government has shown over the last few years and which the honourable senator's Party at least preaches is proper, we have done what I believe is the best possible in this area.