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APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (No. 2) 1988-89
- Parl No.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT
- Question No.
- System Id
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Table Of Contents
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- Start of Business
- SHADOW MINISTRY REPRESENTATION
- IMMIGRATION POLICY
- PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
- NATIVE FORESTS
- CHINOOK HELICOPTERS
- PASSPORTS REGULATIONS
- PRESENTATION OF PAPERS
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITOR
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
FOREST AREAS OF SOUTH-EAST NEW SOUTH WALES
(Senator CHILDS, Senator COOK)
(Senator PUPLICK, Senator WALSH)
PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
(Senator CROWLEY, Senator GARETH EVANS)
CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT
(Senator STONE, Senator WALSH)
PERSONAL INCOME TAX REVENUE
(Senator MAGUIRE, Senator WALSH)
HOUSING: INTEREST RATES
(Senator MacGIBBON, Senator BUTTON)
CHILD SUPPORT AGENCY
(Senator GILES, Senator BOLKUS)
CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT
(Senator ALSTON, Senator BUTTON)
IMPORTATION OF USED CARS
(Senator McKIERNAN, Senator BOLKUS)
STATE TAXES AND CHARGES: INCREASES
(Senator BISHOP, Senator WALSH)
NORTH PACIFIC MILITARY EXERCISE
(Senator VALLENTINE, Senator RICHARDSON)
(Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN, Senator RICHARDSON)
(Senator COLSTON, Senator BUTTON)
PHARMACEUTICAL BENEFITS SCHEME
- FOREST AREAS OF SOUTH-EAST NEW SOUTH WALES
- SNOWY MOUNTAINS HYDRO-ELECTRIC AUTHORITY
- RESOLUTIONS OF THE 131ST MEETING OF THE AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURAL COUNCIL
- AUSTRALIA AND THE PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION CONFERENCE
- SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE EDUCATION OF GIFTED AND TALENTED CHILDREN
- ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
- AGREEMENTS ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JOINT SPACE RESEARCH FACILITY: PINE GAP AND NURRUNGAR
- INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF NEW VARIETIES OF PLANTS
- GRAND OPERA CONCERT: PARLIAMENT HOUSE
- ASSENT TO BILLS
- PATENTS AMENDMENT BILL 1989
TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1989
TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT (SUPERANNUATION) BILL 1989
INCOME TAX AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1988
INCOME TAX (FUND CONTRIBUTIONS) BILL 1988
INCOME TAX RATES AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1989
INCOME TAX RATES AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1988
- RESOURCE ASSESSMENT COMMISSION BILL 1989
VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1989
DEFENCE SERVICE HOMES AMENDMENT BILL 1989
- DEFENCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1989
- DAYS AND HOURS OF MEETING
APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (No. 2) 1988-89
APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 3) 1988-89
APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 4) 1988-89
SUPPLY (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL 1988-89
SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1988-89
SUPPLY BILL (No. 2) 1988-89]
- APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (No. 2) 1988-89
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
(Senator Dunn, Senator Cook)
Indonesia: Mr David Blenkinsop
(Senator Jones, Senator Gareth Evans)
International Agreements Implemented by Federal Legislation
(Senator Macklin, Senator Gareth Evans)
United States Journalists: Visits to Australia
(Senator Macklin, Senator Gareth Evans)
Cambodia: Khmer Rouge
(Senator Jones, Senator Gareth Evans)
Parliamentary Review of Treaties
(Senator Macklin, Senator Gareth Evans)
Australian Customs Service: Drug Seizures
(Senator Jones, Senator Button)
Department of the Treasury
(Senator Archer, Senator Walsh)
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
(Senator Archer, Senator Gareth Evans)
Artificial Limbs for Veterans
(Senator MacGibbon, Senator Reynolds)
(Senator Short, Senator Richardson)
National Safety Council of Australia: Victorian Division
(Senator Lewis, Senator Gareth Evans)
Maralinga Nuclear Test Site
(Senator Dunn, Senator Cook)
Canned Dog and Cat Food
(Senator Sanders, Senator Cook)
Department of Social Security: Gold Coast Telephone Number
(Senator Colston, Senator Bolkus)
Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Senator NEWMAN(9.15) —We are debating the Appropriation Bills, and inevitably my special interest is in how the Government is finding and spending money in the defence area. Sadly, it is clear once again that the Government expects to do the `loaves and fishes' act with the defence budget. Clearly it has failed in its management of Australia's economy.
Senator Walsh —We all know about your views.
Senator NEWMAN —Senator Walsh, who seems to have come alive in the last moment, is very heavily responsible for the failure in that he, having identified 200 programs, has so far been unable to find the knife to wield in order to get the economy back on track. Our external debt, our high inflation, our high interest rates and our low dollar are all clear evidence of how this Government, in its management of the economy, has failed the Australian people. Sadly, that goes to the heart of the problems in respect of the defence budget. Defence funding is static, and although Mr Dibb's recommendation that 3 per cent real growth was necessary to enable the job of defending this country to be done was accepted by the Government when it accepted his report, that recommendation has never been met. Since this Government came to power in 1983 we have had a total real growth of 1.7 per cent in the defence budget, and no real growth whatsoever is planned for the coming financial year. A static budget cannot meet the growing expectations, let alone the vital needs. It is not made of elastic, and the defence of Australia is the poorer as a result.
Let us look at some of the expectations and inefficiencies in regard to the defence dollar-where it is being spent, and where it is not being spent effectively. Let me turn first to Namibia. During the hearings of Estimates Committee D it was very clear that the Government has not seen fit to provide any extra funding whatsoever to enable the commitment of the force that has been sent to Namibia by the Australian Government to be met. We have sent 300 engineers as part of the United Nations force in Namibia. We have been prepared to treat them as flag-carriers for the Australian people, doing their bit for the peace of the world. The Government has been very ready to get involved in the media coverage and to take the credit-although, of course, this has been supported on a bipartisan basis-but it has failed to provide the $28m that that commitment is going to entail. The Defence Department expects that that amount will come out of the existing budget for clothing, operations, training and recruitment. The Government has found no extra funds for that force in Namibia. It is disgraceful.
The funding of the Namibian force will therefore be at the expense of tasks that are already expected to be undertaken by the Defence Force in the defence of this nation. It will result in cuts in training and in other operational cuts. When officers were questioned during the Estimates Committee hearings they were unable to tell us where exactly these cuts would be made. Yet we know that this Namibian force has been on the drawing board for 10 years. Surely to goodness, when the decision was finally in the offing and once it was under way, the Government could have told us how the money was going to be provided and where cuts in what the Defence Force is expected to do would be made.
The training and operations votes in the defence budget have already been cut severely over the last year or so. It is quite disgraceful that, when productivity trade-offs are meant to be undertaken in the Defence Force-and if ever there was a nonsense, talking about increased productivity in the context of the Defence Force is one-training and operations were cut in the last year or so in an effort to find the money to pay increased wages. I do not know whether Australians are aware of just what this Government has done in the way of cuts in our defence capacity. There is no other way to describe it. When it is cutting down on the manpower and the training of the people who are there, inevitably the defence of Australia must suffer.
The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) had the nerve to tell those fellows who went off to Namibia that they would all do Australians proud. Of course they will, but it is no thanks to the Government. In passing I just mention that in the last couple of weeks I have had a series of complaints from families of the men who have gone. They say that the Australian Government has not even been able to get mail to the troops or get mail back to the families in under four weeks nor have they been able to get copies of Australian newspapers in under a month of their having been sent from home. That is quite unacceptable. It has very much to do with the fact that the Government was not prepared to send postal specialists, who are in the defence forces, with the force in order to see to their comfort and the conditions of service. Once again, it is typical of this Government's lack of concern for the individuals it expects to fight for us.
I turn next to the decommissioning of equipment. We all know that if the family budget is tight we do not contemplate buying a new car or getting a dishwasher; we make do with washing up or we get the old car fixed up. But of course the Government and often the Defence Department do not think in those terms. Certainly Dr Strangelove, alias the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, does not think in those terms. Even the Prime Minister was on television last night telling us how the Defence Minister likes his toys. That is a major problem that we now face after six years of this Government. The capital equipment program has run ahead at such a rate that it has taken over and gobbled up the defence budget. Little or no attention seems to be given to the need to retain some of our equipment and do better with what we have.
Let me give some examples. Only yesterday the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, announced that the Chinook helicopters would join the ranks of redundant equipment. He said it was an economic decision and that the Government could not afford to upgrade the Chinooks. Let the position be clearly understood. The United States Government considers those helicopters of such vital importance to its defence program that it is prepared to upgrade 500 Chinooks. Australia could have joined its 11 Chinook helicopters onto the tail end of that upgrading program. We would have achieved an extra 25 to 30 years of life for those helicopters for less than $10m per aircraft. It would have halved the maintenance costs that are currently having to be met. It would have increased their capability with stronger transmissions, et cetera. As Mr Beazley said, the Black Hawks would now be doing the job. I do not believe that he is so ignorant. In fact, I think that was a deliberate attempt to mislead. The Black Hawks do not have the same capacity to transport medium or heavy artillery and heavy engineering equipment into an area where the forces need support. The result of that decision-a bad decision on economic and defence terms-is to downgrade our capability and the mobility of our forces.
We have also had Centurion tanks mothballed since 1978 when they were replaced with the German Leopard tanks. At the time it was cheaper to upgrade them. The upgrading cost per tank was in the region of $230,000-odd plus shipping costs from the United Kingdom, or $217,000 with labour costs provided in Australia. Each Leopard tank cost us approximately $540,000. The Leopards are now already outdated. Germany has now developed Leopard II. The replacement costs of those will be enormous. Yet, the Israeli Army, which we regard as an efficient, effective force, is still using more than 1,000 upgraded Centurions. I believe there is still an argument for upgrading. The tanks are useful for training purposes and they are useful for ready expansion of capability in an emergency.
We have recently had the ridiculous situation with the Skyhawk aircraft. We sold them to New Zealand for $28m. New Zealand estimated the package was worth $70m. We are now leasing back the Skyhawks for $6m for Navy anti-missile and anti-aircraft training. Why, for goodness sake, did we sell them? Think again too of the Grumman S2 Tracker aircraft. Nineteen of those were withdrawn in 1984. Sixteen were offered for sale and there were no buyers. They were stripped. One wonders whether they could still be used. When we bought them from America we had to put them together. Surely we could do it again. They are still worth approximately $50m. Again, look at HMAS Yarra. It was decommissioned in 1985. It still had operational capability then. Like the Chinooks, it too was sacrificed for economic reasons: the defence repair and maintenance budget was too limited. The directive at the time was to remove 2,000 billets from the naval establishment.
I now turn to another matter which from time to time comes up when we are considering the appropriations for the Department of Defence; that is, the hoary old problem of the payment of defence accounts. The salaries of those people processing accounts in the Department are over $50m. This is after 189 positions were abolished as a result of the Block Efficiency Scrutiny. Even now, after the changes that took place at that time, there are still seven stages to the account payment process. The Department is rightly worried about it. A pilot scheme has been introduced in South Australia and Victoria for a new accounts system. I, for one, will be keeping a close watch on that.
I also turn to the question of defence procurement. It is a matter which is at present under a cloud. The whole matter of defence procurement and the accounts and tendering system has a number of question marks hanging over it. Project DESINE is the latest example of doubtful and questionable practices in awarding contracts. I remind the Senate that in October 1987 the Australian Federal Police (AFP) estimated that $800m was lost in fraud against the Defence Department. So it is not only a matter of concern but also a matter of vast cost to the nation if these figures estimated by the AFP are correct.
I draw your attention, Madam Acting Deputy President, to the report of Estimates Committee D, which was tabled in the Senate just recently. There is an item on page 2 of the report entitled `Questions on Notice: Outstanding responses'. The report states:
Delays in responding to questions has been the subject of critical comment by a number of Estimates Committees on previous occasions.
The report goes on:
The Committee notes that undertakings have been made by departments to provide outstanding responses before the appropriation Bills are debated in the Committee of the Whole. This situation will be closely monitored by the Committee.
Madam Acting Deputy President, I am sure you would be as horrified as I have been to discover that there are still 120 answers outstanding from the Department of Defence as of now when we are debating the Appropriation Bills. Over 30 of those questions relate to this project DESINE, which has been the subject of public concern. It was also raised and detailed questioning has taken place in the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. One has to wonder why it has taken the Department over a month to answer those questions. I have to put the Government on notice that the Opposition is not prepared to support the passage of the defence appropriations while 120 questions remain unanswered.
I also have questions that I think will be of interest to Senator Walsh. I am glad that he is in the chamber because he will be able to take them on board. I wonder whether Senator Walsh has been briefed on Defence's DESINE contracts? Does the Minister's Department have a representative on the defence computer acquisition council? Did the Minister's representative at the acquisition council meeting approve DESINE? If not, what external scrutiny was undertaken to ensure that all costs, as well as benefits, were identified? Does the Minister's Department have any reservations or objections to DESINE and the way it is being implemented? Has the Minister been informed of the additional costs to the taxpayer resulting from the implementation of DESINE? Does the Minister agree that he has some responsibility to ensure that for any acquisition in government the lowest cost effective solution should be sought by open tender? Does Senator Walsh express any concern? No, he ignores the question. Let the Senate take note of the fact that the Minister for Finance is not prepared even to listen to questions of such major importance.
The DESINE matter raises great concerns in the Department of Defence, certainly among uniformed people. They want to know, for example, why they cannot upgrade the equipment they now have in service. The understanding is that existing equipment cannot be upgraded by the previous supplier. They are being told that they must convert to IBM rather than upgrade the existing systems. Calculations from within the armed forces suggest that purchases under DESINE will cost the taxpayer at least 47 per cent more than equipment bought previously. Industry observers consider that this figure may well be conservative. It appears that there is an interesting clause in the contract with IBM which says that, in effect, the Department of Defence will buy equipment from IBM unless the delegate is satisfied that the solution offered by `big blue' is inadequate. Is the Department of Defence using the word `exemption' in the correct way, or is IBM being advantaged by the Department's definition? There is a belief in the industry that the Department is using the term `exempt' differently-that is, if a particular piece of equipment is exempt from DESINE it can be supplied by IBM from non-DESINE products. Thus, other suppliers are being kept out in the cold. One asks: since when has IBM been outside the Commonwealth's purchasing rules?
The argument can run that there will be an overall cost advantage in future by having compatible systems purchased under DESINE. There are a number of compelling arguments against that. For instance one has to ask: has a study been conducted which shows the cost advantage of having every system compatible? If not, how does the Government know? If so, can the Senate obtain a copy of that? Certainly the Senate has been kept in the dark on these matters. Many questions are still to be answered about that, quite apart from the 30-odd which the Department has had for more than 30 days and to which it refuses to provide answers to the Senate.
There are numerous other areas where I am concerned about the expenditure of scarce defence dollars. An example that came before the Committee was the question of the Federal Airports Corporation (FAC) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) land at Townsville. On the RAAF land was a dog compound used for security for the RAAF base. The Department of Defence handed over that piece of land to the FAC without any recompense of any kind being given to the RAAF. A sum of $600,000 is to be expended in providing a new dog compound on land which the RAAF already has and no compensation whatsoever will go back into the RAAF's budget for land which was given to an organisation which the Commonwealth Government is always telling us operates, and has to operate, on a commercial basis. That is quite unsatisfactory and has not otherwise received the scrutiny of this Parliament. It highlights the value of the Estimates committee processes whereby something as ludicrous as this can be brought to the light of day. There is no way that defence land should be handed over to anybody for free, especially when it is not just a gift of land but will also incur extra expenditure of this nature, let alone that it be handed over to a body which is supposed to operate as a commercial organisation.
We also saw what I believe to be a gross waste of money, although Senator Walsh defended this recently, in the expenditure of $215,000-although he said in the answer he gave in the Senate recently that it was in excess of $100,000. Mr Uhrig was appointed to oversee the transfer to Westpac. Senator Walsh admitted that it was something over $100,000, yet it was $215,000. Senator Walsh either knew it or should have known it. This was the private sector input that was apparently needed to hand over the defence service home loan scheme to Westpac. The Opposition supported the proposal to privatise the scheme. But I find it quite objectionable that for $215,000 we got six months of odd-jobbing by Mr Uhrig. Despite questioning, the Committee was not given any details as to how that money was arrived at. We wanted to know the hours worked and the job that was done and got no details whatsoever. That is not acceptable.
Another peculiar treatment of the defence budget by this Government was revealed in the Defence Housing Authority questioning. The Government has made much political capital in the last couple of years by saying that it has provided $750m to improve housing for defence forces. The situation is that the Government has not given the defence forces $750m. It has provided a loan which is at a commercial rate of interest, currently believed to be about 13.5 per cent. The Department tells us that there will be a supplement for the interest which is being incurred by the Defence Housing Authority and I understand it is already up to about $13m. I have a copy of the appropriations of the Department of Defence. They show an additional estimate of $9.124m, but do not show any detail about an interest supplement. I do not see how it can be proved that the Government has provided $13m extra. Quite apart from that, at the end of the 10-year period is that $750m returnable to the Commonwealth or not? How is it intended to fund the supplement, and what is to happen to the loan at the end of the 10-year period?
We are in the ridiculous position of this country having been run down to its knees. It is suffering at every level. Small business people are suffering a rate of 23 per cent on their overdrafts, and I do not know how they can operate in business these days. Families are trying to get homes on 16 per cent to 16.5 per cent mortgages. All of this is due to the mismanagement of the economy by that Minister over there, who likes to scream and yell and not deal with the substance of an argument. To me, with my responsibilities for defence force personel, the impact falls first on the defence budget and, secondly, on the budgets of all those little families, young wives, young husbands and their babies, which this Government sends from one end of the country to the other. The Government is not prepared to give those people proper recompense for their service to this country.
Senator Walsh —How can we do that with your double dipping?
Senator NEWMAN —Those people serve this country with their whole hearts and all they get is a rabble rouser like the Minister opposite. They do not deserve it.
Senator Walsh —How can we do these things with double dippers like you sponging on it?
Senator MacGibbon —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. The Minister cannot reflect on personalities and personal attributes of speakers in this chamber. I ask that the Minister be requested to withdraw.
Senator Walsh —Withdraw what?
Senator MacGibbon —The Minister was reflecting on the character of the senator who was on her feet at the time. I find it quite unparliamentary and inpermissible under the Standing Orders.
Senator Walsh —I was stating a fact-that Senator Newman's husband is double dipping through the Commonwealth parliamentary pension and the defence forces retirement benefit pension. If Senator Newman were to meet with a fatal accident tomorrow, he would be triple dipping. I find the degree of humbug and hypocrisy in Senator Newman purporting to speak for ordinary defence personnel when her husband is a double dipper and has the possibility of becoming a triple dipper rather offensive. However, if Senator MacGibbon believes I am reflecting personally on Senator Newman in doing so, I am quite happy to withdraw.
Senator NEWMAN —I am very interested that the Minister is prepared to try this stunt on again. He tries it about once a year. I would also like to have it on the record that my husband served his country and fought for his country in Vietnam, which is more than the Minister did. My husband contributed to any pension that he has earned and he has served this country long and hard. If the Minister does not like the system, he has been in government for six years and he could change the law. If he believes that wives who work should not be entitled to their husband's pension if they survive their husbands, let him tell the women employed in the Public Service that they are not to inherit their husband's pension if the husband is also on the Commonwealth payroll. If that is what the Minister intends, let him announce it and let him change the law. He would not dare. I challenge the Minister; I challenge him to change the law.
Senator Walsh interjecting-
Senator NEWMAN —I draw attention to the fact that this Government does not give a dash about the defence forces of this country.
Senator MacGibbon —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. The position is becoming intolerable, where allegations of lying and fibs are made. The word `bludger' was used a little while earlier about the spouse of the honourable senator. If we are going to carry on in this way we ought be look at one of Senator Walsh's colleagues, Mr Duncan, who I believe really got into the jackpot on superannuation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Zakharov) —Senator MacGibbon, I do not think that is relevant to the point of order.
Senator NEWMAN —Briefly, in concluding, because the Minister is trying to take from the time I have left, this Government cannot provide sufficient funds to feed our troops properly. If you remember, Madam Acting Deputy President, last year I brought it to the attention of the Senate that there was a $3.1m shortfall in rations for the troops. This year and next year there is a $28m shortfall in clothing for the troops. That is what a good manager this Government is! That is how much it cares for the people it sends to defend this country. Yet, it struts the world stage telling the world, `We will send a brigade to Kampuchea; we will send engineers to Namibia; we will send somebody to Vanuatu and we will send some more to Fiji'. Government members are great ones for making big fellows of themselves overseas, but they will not feed and clothe the troops properly back home in Australia.
Senator Walsh can sling all the mud that he likes. If he does not like the kitchen, he can get out. When it comes to the defence of this country your record is rotten, rotten and rotten. The defence forces of Australia know that you are no good and your golden boy, Dr Strangelove, is no good either.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Newman, will you address your remarks through the Chair.
Senator NEWMAN —I am sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President. I quite forgot you were there for the moment. I was so busy making sure that I taught this Minister a lesson. If the Minister is so interested in the fine print of accounting, let him see that his own Government does a much better job of accounting with the nation's resources, because this Government is a rotten manager of the national Budget and an even worse manager of the defence Budget. If it were a better manager, we would be able to achieve more with the scarce resources we have. But it is failing on every level. If the Minister for Defence got cleaned out in the next election and we got into government, we would show those opposite how to make the defence dollars go further and defend Australia better. The Government has a lot of lessons to learn and at the very next election the people of Australia, including all those Defence Force families which have been neglected, will show the Government there is a better way.