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Kim Beazley: not a good Defence Minister.

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MEDIA RELEASE The Hon. Peter Reith, MP Minister for Defence


11 Oct 2001 MIN 425/01





I attach herewith my article published in today’s Age.

The article highlights several reasons why Kim Beazley was not a good Defence Minister.

It seems that my views have been well supported by defence journalist Brian Toohey, who wrote in the Australian Financial Review on 8 October, 2001.

Under the heading "Beazley ill advised to stand on Defence" Mr Toohey wrote:

"Beazley’s experience as defence Minister belongs to a bygone era".


"He helped forge a close relationship with the Soeharto dictatorship during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor."


"To pay for his fascination with high tech equipment such as the Collins Class (submarines) Beazley cut back on the army. The decision now looks a strategic miscalculation in the light of the army’s deployment in East Timor and the possible SAS contribution in Afghanistan - neither of which requires the Collins class."

Brian Toohey is correct about Kim Beazley. His period as Defence minister left a legacy of poor decisions, expensive mistakes and an Army unprepared for the challenges of East Timor.




For further information contact: Ross Hampton 0419 484 095



11 October 2001



When Australia faces significant security and economic challenges, it is vitally important that the Australian Government can provide stability and consistency. To provide stability and consistency a government needs to know what it stands for.

According to Robert Ray, the ALP Defence Minister in the Gulf War, Kim Beazley would have been the wrong person in Defence then because his colleagues didn’t trust his judgment. Mr Ray told Mr Beazley’s biographer:

"I’d have to say it was better that I was in the Ministry at the time of the Gulf War than him, because everyone in Caucus thought that he was ‘gung-ho’, while everyone knew I wasn’t. It meant that it was much easier for me to bring the Party with me to secure actual overseas commitments for our forces, than it might have been for him."

John Howard’s Government has consistently provided good judgment, strength and leadership, and has consistently fought for even unpopular measures in the national interest.

Kim Beazley has had five-and-a-half years to work out what he stands for and yet he is still indecisive and vacillating on key issues.

Recently he promised Labor would not be a whingeing and carping Opposition and would support the Government’s actions on illegal boat arrivals, but later voted against the Government’s border protection legislation. A few weeks after that he changed his position again, thus demonstrating he had had three positions on the same issue.

Last weekend he called for regional security dialogues but then criticised the Prime Minister for doing exactly that by proposing to go to APEC.

Because he stands for nothing, he can’t stand up to his own supporters. On key economic reforms, such as labour market changes, which are vital for job creation, Kim Beazley has been pushed around for years by the ACTU.

Australia’s strong economic growth has been underpinned by record productivity which would be jeopardised if Labor were to win office federally, thus allowing the unions to run State and Federal Governments simultaneously. Only a weak leader would give a free hand to the wharfies’ union, as now proposed by Mr Beazley, by abolishing the secondary boycott provisions of the Trade Practices Act.

On tax reform, the Government steadfastly pursued significant reform, which had previously been supported by key members like Kim Beazley, in the Keating ALP. Labor has opportunistically opposed the GST, but will keep the GST if they are elected.

One of the key election issues will become clear when Mr Beazley reveals the details of rollback. The challenge for Mr Beazley is to reconcile his public campaign against the GST and his commitment to keep it. He says the GST should be simpler administratively, but he wants a raft of exemptions which will add complexity.

Rollback, if it is to mean anything more than the usual Beazley"wind-baggery", will have to spell out where the GST will be cut and what income tax increases will be required to pay for it.

He never stood up for Defence when he was the Minister either. As Defence Minister, he said that we needed 2.6-3% of GDP to be allocated to defence. Yet when he left his position as Defence Minister in 1990, that figure had dropped to 2.1%. By 1996, that figure had dropped to 1.9%. The Coalition’s White Paper is the biggest boost to defence spending in 20 years.

When Labor was elected in 1983 there were nearly 73,000 full-time defence service personnel but by 1996 had dropped to 58,000. Under Kim Beazley, Army Reserves dropped from 28,920 to 23,747, a drop of 17%. Under the Coalition, defence recruiting has increased by 30% in the last year.

The Beazley legacy to Defence was the trouble-plagued Collins Class submarine, a project that was years behind schedule and will cost Australian taxpayers a billion dollars and more to fix.

Now Mr Beazley wants to visit upon Defence his Coast Guard policy, a US-style Coast Guard, which will gut the Australian Navy of personnel and leave it with no patrol boats.

In 1984 he opposed the concept, but today he is supporting it. On his own figuring at that time, his proposal would now cost around $2 billion and its creation will undermine the Royal Australian Navy and reduce the effectiveness of Australia’s border control.

The Government has demonstrated its ability to manage defence and security. The deployment of our forces (the biggest since Vietnam) to East Timor has been a success, and the management of counter-terrorist activities for the Olympics was the biggest such operation in Australia’s history.



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