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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4866


Senator BOLKUS (3:25 PM) —I do not know what Senator Lightfoot is on, but it obviously gives him a very positive and cheery view of the world. Maybe he should pass it around. Unfortunately for this debate, he is wrong. My understanding is that Dr Hawke was not happy to have been removed from the position and would have liked to have stayed on. That is something that the government has to contend with.

A number of important issues arise out of the removal of Dr Hawke. It is an ill-timed and unfair decision. In terms of timing, this is a government that is, one way or another, preparing for war. What does it do? It removes the Secretary of Defence from a very important position—a position requiring continuity. The decision was appalling, dangerous and ill-timed. No matter how good Ric Smith may be, it takes months, if not years, for an incoming secretary to get on top of the portfolio. Ric Smith has to embark upon a very quick, steep learning curve. He has not run a department before. The challenges of the Defence department, at a time when war is being prepared for, are going to be virtually insurmountable.

It is not good policy to change the head of the Defence department when we are in the situation that we are in now. It is appalling management. Not only is this government preparing for a war situation, but the department is also in the middle of a reform agenda—one that was steaming along, if one was to believe the information from the government and the bureaucracy. Instability is being instilled by this decision, and it is a decision that is, in many ways, probably reckless to the national interest. What this government and this country needs at the moment is stability at the top during the preparation over the next few months for the tussle with Iraq. As we embark upon this mission, it is becoming more and more apparent that this government's planning is not adequate. It is inadequate and has been exposed as such in Australia. There needs to be planning. We can see from the US perspective that they have been spending months at it. What about here? The fact that there is no cohesive statement of this government's position is evidence that the planning has not been adequate. There are many signs of this government being all over the place. The public does not have confidence in the government's preparation for the Iraq challenge, and this decision will increase community fears as to how stable and prepared this government is.

Internationally, the public is not prepared to go all the way with G.W. At home, there is no confidence in the meanderings of Foreign Minister Downer and there is concern at the fact that the Prime Minister has been absent from the public debate, particularly in parliament. They are all signs of the government being all over the shop, and this decision of removing the head of the department is one that will further undermine public confidence. Why make Dr Hawke a scapegoat? What for? It is being claimed by the government that finances are out of control, but no-one fixes a department like Defence, particularly in a short period of three years. There has been recognition of the good work that Allan Hawke has done and was continuing to do. His administration should have been given a real chance to fix some of those problems. If they were concerned about finances being out of control, they should have remembered that finances are not just the responsibility of one department. For a start, they are the responsibility of the ministers and cabinet. They are also the responsibility of departments like Finance and Treasury, which have a critical role in the preparation of budgets. I do not think that you can make Allan Hawke the scapegoat for this without you, Minister, and this government taking the blame for it.

Let us look at the record of instability— four secretaries in six years and four ministers in six years. That is not a recipe for stable administration. As Senator Evans said just a little earlier, only three out of 15 top administrators have been there for more than one year. The reality here is that this department has been used for political purposes by this government—the kids overboard affair and some of the problems they are facing in Senate estimates committees. It is also on the public record that this department, the Department of Defence, has been driven to distraction by the continual interference of this minister, a practice that he showed continually in his previous portfolio of Environment and Heritage. Basically, this minister has taken a dummy spit and sacked a secretary who should have stayed in the job in terms of both his competence and the national security requirements of this country at this particular sensitive time in our history.

Question agreed to.