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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7550

Senator FERGUSON (3:07 PM) —I am amazed that Senator Evans would choose today to attack this government's record in defence, particularly as he quoted ASPI's view when speaking to his motion that the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence. He has suggested that ASPI's view confirmed things. I tell you that ASPI's view is just that: it is a view. There are a variety of views within ASPI. They do not all concur, so to say that ASPI's view confirms something is simply beyond imagination. I wonder if Senator Evans has ever taken the time to have a look at his own party's record in defence. We heard Senator Kirk talking about a decrease in the number of personnel in the ADF while the money being spent on consultancies and bureaucrats was increasing.

Let us have a look at Labor's record. Its record on defence showed a lack of commitment to personnel, to funding, and to capability and management over 13 years. Over 13 years in office, the Labor Party cut 15,000 ADF personnel, including the disbanding of two full-time Army battalions made up of some 3,000 personnel. They have the hide to get up here today and talk about a lessening in the numbers of some 1,500 people in personnel. Two battalions were scrapped. It is just as well that Senator Evans is leaving the chamber because I am quite sure that the last thing that he wants to be reminded of is the record of Labor when they were in government and their attitude towards the funding and management of our Defence Force. Combat capability was run down; the two battalions that were scrapped to pay for a Ready Reserve initiative were nothing more than a financially flawed cost cutting exercise which was only designed to operate for 50 days. That is Labor's record on defence and yet we have Senator Evans standing up here today criticising this government's attitude towards Defence priorities. Combat capability was run down with deficiencies identified by the Army's own self-assessment which stated:

... units are not adequately prepared for combat ... Army lacks sufficient combat power ...

... ... ...

... units are understaffed, poorly equipped and have low readiness levels.

That was the state of the Defence Force under the Labor government. This happened as a continuing process over 13 years. Defence spending under Labor was reduced from 9.4 per cent of total budget outlays before Labor to eight per cent in 1994-95, and inefficiency and mismanagement were rife. This is Labor's record on defence and they have the hide to get up here in this chamber and question the efficient manner in which our Defence Force is being conducted today. The coalition has delivered the biggest increase in Defence funding for more than 20 years. Labor's record was to decrease funding; the coalition's record is to deliver the biggest increase in Defence funding for more than 20 years.

The white paper is a blueprint for the future security of Australia and for building a stronger and more reliable Defence Force. Look at what the coalition has achieved since it has been in government. It has helped to restore peace and security to East Timor under the United Nations operations that achieved very set objectives. It has tightened border security to address concerns such as illegal immigration, terrorism, drug trading, illegal fishing, piracy and quarantine infringement. It has improved pay and conditions for ADF personnel and it is committed to increasing Defence funding by an average three per cent per annum over the coming decade.

Labor try to criticise this government for what it has achieved in Defence. They made a flippant remark about having four ministers for defence since 1996. I am not sure whether my figures are entirely accurate but I seem to remember the Labor government having 11 ministers for immigration in 13 years. Immigration is the most important issue that has been confronting Australia for a long time. We have had one minister for immigration for all of our period in government, and what an outstanding job he has done in conjunction with the Defence Force in making sure that we have secure borders and that we have a policy of border protection that is the envy of much of the world.