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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4862


Senator CHRIS EVANS (3:07 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to a question without notice asked by Senator Evans today relating to the Government's decision not to renew the employment contract of the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dr Allan Hawke.

The Minister in his response clearly did not wish to engage in too much debate on this issue and seemed to be suggesting that it was all the work of the Prime Minister. I thought that was an interesting observation. I raise this matter today because it reinforces concern in the community regarding this government's politicisation of the Department of Defence and the instability that they have brought about to the leadership of the defence department and the military in this country. With respect to the treatment of Dr Hawke, we have seen that, in February this year, he had offered his resignation from his position as Secretary of the Department of Defence to the minister, Senator Hill. When asked what the minister's response was he indicated that he was not sure. The minister had not accepted his resignation, but equally the minister had not endorsed his leadership. Since that time we have effectively had a Secretary of the Department of Defence swinging in the breeze, with the minister refusing to endorse him in his role as the Secretary of the Department of Defence.

The end result of this is that Dr Hawke's contract was not renewed and so we will be having the fourth Secretary of the Department of Defence appointed since 1997. There is serious concern about the instability and changes in leadership in the Department of Defence, particularly, as the Deputy Prime Minister indicated yesterday, at a time of very high operational activity. Our Defence Forces are as committed now as at any time since the Vietnam War. We are dealing with not only the increased threat of terrorism but also a range of other issues confronting the Department of Defence, including the much heralded Howard government reform program which has lurched from one crisis to another, the strategic review, and of course the problems with defence procurement.

Under the Howard government we have the administration of the Department of Defence in this country characterised by political interference, the changing of directions and the removal of senior leadership at very critical times. The history of the Howard government's management of the Department of Defence sees them with a record of four ministers. In six years we have had four Ministers of Defence, three whom have gone on to retire from politics. I do not know whether there is a message there for Senator Hill but clearly it has become a bit of a retirement lounge. There have been four ministers in a very short time. We now see the appointment of Ric Smith, the fourth Secretary of the Department of Defence since 1997, so in a very short period of time we have had four secretaries.

I gathered information today that shows that, of the 15 top jobs in the Department of Defence, including the Minister for Defence, the Chief of Defence Force and the senior non-military positions, only three of the occupants have been in those positions for more than the year or since at least September last year. Of the 15 top jobs in the Department of Defence, only three have been occupied by a person who has held that job continuously for more than a year. It is a sign of the turmoil in the Howard government's administration of the Department of Defence and it is a sign of the instability that is beginning to impact on the effectiveness of the department and the role they play in supporting Australia's fighting forces.

It is a very serious concern. It is leading to instability and a lack of continuity and it results in a lack of follow-through in what is allegedly the Howard government's reform agenda. It sees a constant shuffling of people through very important jobs that does not allow for follow-through, does not allow for delivery and results in the terrible circumstances that we have seen with outcomes in our procurement program. It has got to the stage now where people in the Department of Defence do not bother having their names put on the door because they are not going to be there long enough to make it worth while. The minister may well fit into that category. Certainly, there have been four ministers and four secretaries in a very short period of time and increasing concern among defence personnel about the politicisation of the Department of Defence, which of course was brought to head with the quite despicable activities regarding the `children overboard' affair. We have seen the politicisation of the Department of Defence by the Howard government— (Time expired)