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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7543

Senator KIRK (2:53 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. Can the minister confirm that over the last three years the number of Defence bureaucrats increased by 1,500 while the number of ADF personnel fell by more than 2,000, so now there are more bureaucrats and fewer troops? Given the personnel shortages in the ADF, why are you employing more civilians? How is it that this government can outsource many functions, pay for many more consultants and yet still increase the numbers of civilians in Defence? Doesn't this show that the so-called reforms flowing from the Defence efficiency review have simply not delivered?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I have to say no. But I do applaud this new found interest in defence on the part of the Labor Party. The next challenge of course will be to write a policy. They tried one in relation to a coast guard. The best they could do was pick up what Mr Beazley had written before the last election so they suggested spending another $600 million. But was it on defence? No. They said, `Create a new tier of law enforcement.' We would have Customs and we would have Defence—the Navy—but that was not good enough. They wanted a new level of defence and they would call it a coast guard. They said they would give it three ships and helicopters and say that it could cover the whole of the Australian coastline. A whole new system of administration and bureaucracy— $600 million, three ships—and it would have achieved next to nothing in terms of added value. If the Labor Party were really interested in defence, they could have said, `We will raise an extra $600 million and give it to the Navy.' They could have given it the extra three ships. But no, that would require creative thinking. It was much easier—

Senator Chris Evans —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President: there is a question of relevancy. The minister was asked a question about the employment of large numbers of civilians and fewer troops in the ADF. He has now had three minutes discussing the coast guard. I am happy to discuss the coast guard with him, but that was not the question he was asked. If he is unable to help, he ought to take it on notice and get back to the senator.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, Senator Evans. I remind the minister of the question and that there are two minutes and 37 seconds left in which to answer the question.

Senator HILL —Anyway, now that the Labor Party has found the Defence portfolio and it has decided that adopting Mr Beazley's former policies which did not gain favour with the Australian people was unsuccessful, it may well now sit down and try for the first time for a long time to actually write a defence policy. Within that, it might wrestle with the issues of the appropriate size of the Defence Force and the appropriate size of the Defence bureaucracy necessary to support the Defence Force.

I said the honourable senator is wrong of course because the Defence Force now is increasing in numbers. I am pleased to say that recruiting is going exceptionally well, particularly in relation to Army and Air Force but Navy as well—and that was set out in the white paper. The only thing that is wrong in relation to the white paper is that recruitment is running ahead of the timetable set out in the white paper. In terms of increasing the sharp end of the Defence Force, which was the objective of this government, that is proving to be successful.

Senator HILL —But it is true that if you are going to build greater capability and you have a major new acquisitions program then that has got to be serviced by Defence personnel. In some instances, it will require specialist consultants as well, Senator—you are learning what this is all about—and that has happened to some extent as well. I am sorry if the Labor Party believes that we are employing too many bureaucrats. I always thought that the Labor Party claimed to be on the side of the bureaucrats. If the Labor Party is now suggesting that we should take the knife to the bureaucrats in the Department of Defence, we could look at doing that. But we believe that employing those who are necessary to achieve the objective, which is a very capable Defence Force, is appropriate, and I am pleased to say we are succeeding in achieving that objective.

Senator KIRK —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, why has the government sacked 3½ thousand civilians from Defence over the last five years at great cost only to refill the positions a few years later? Why is it that mismanagement in the portfolio remains an ongoing problem when the numbers of senior executives have jumped by 64 per cent in the last three years to an all-time high of 123?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I guess only the Labor Party could talk on the one hand about sacking 3½ thousand civilians and on the other hand about employing an extra 2,000 civilians. It is very difficult to know just what the Labor Party is seeking through this particular question. What we are about on the government side is employing the labour force that is necessary to best achieve our outcomes. In relation to defence, that outcome is a military that can achieve the goals that we set for the Defence Force and a civilian bureaucracy that is able to support them in their necessary tasks. We believe— and you only need look at the record in terms of the operations of the ADF—that the department and the military personnel are working exceptionally successfully. Mr Deputy President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.