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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7551

Senator LUDWIG (3:12 PM) —I want to take note of the same issue. Firstly, Senator Hill's answer to my question, which was specifically in relation to consultants, missed the mark completely. We were looking for an answer from the government about what they have been doing with the Department of Defence. We found that they have not been able to support the troops on the ground at all. When you look at the Defence annual report to 30 June 2002, Defence held $835 million in cash—$800 million of which was held in interest bearing term deposits and was not available to pay off current debts, as claimed by the minister. This is well above the $313 million projected in the budget papers released in February this year.

So, in the five months from February to June, there was a $520 million increase in the projected cash holdings in the department. The department have been squirreling away their money; they have not looked at how they are going to support or help their troops on the ground. When asked about this massive jump, they could not give a valid reason and so they said nothing. They were completely at sea in trying to explain where they were going to spend the money and how they had accumulated that much cash. They admitted that the $835 million was over the needed $600 million, so there is a credibility gap.

The leaked report earlier this year about ammunition shortages in the Army noted that the government was saving approximately $80 million a year by not buying ammunition. If I have any idea, the troops on the ground would be sick of walking around saying `bucketful of bullets' instead of using a machine gun. They would be fed up with it. When you look at the justification that $280 million went to consultants, that money could have been used to buy ammunition. Dry firing is no fun. Dry firing does not help train soldiers. It is a tool and an instrument, but it is not effective at the end of the day when you need experience on the ground.

The ammunition shortage was acknowledged in the latest Defence annual report, which noted that the readiness of many Army units has been compromised because of the shortage of ammunition. In addition, the annual report notes that many units are struggling to retain their capacity because of ageing equipment. The government was given an opportunity today to explain to the Senate why it was holding massive cash reserves, why it has been able to increase payments to consultants from $84 million to $280 million and why it has 30 per cent of the total civilian salary, but it was unable to explain satisfactorily. When we look at what is happening on the ground—the minister must be turning a completely blind eye to the issue—we find that the troops are not getting a fair go at all.

I recently visited 6RAR at Enoggera. I am sure that you, Mr Acting Deputy President Brandis, have been there as well. We find that there is a lack of IT training. We find that computer training for soldiers to help our field soldiers is lacking—it is not being provided for. That $800 million could have been used to support them. We know without doubt that they are keen, professional soldiers. There is no criticism directed at their keenness, their professional attitude, their ability to accept training or their ability to work effectively. But what they are lacking is a minister with some vision to ensure that they get the training and equipment that they need. When we look at even some of the basic issues—

Senator LUDWIG —Yes, we will talk about basic issues. Why don't you go and find out what field equipment they need?

Senator Hill —I do.

Senator LUDWIG —If you knew that, you would be able to say, `If you're going to mechanise an infantry battalion, you don't want webbing at the back when you sit on a chair; you need front pouches and front webbing.' Are you providing that? I don't think so. You are making soldiers go out and buy their own equipment so that they can utilise it, sit in their seats and be an effective fighting force. Look at even some basic issues. Instead of ensuring that, say, 6RAR has maintained its operational capability—(Time expired)