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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6437

Mr BALDWIN (4:05 PM) —I was hoping to put questions today to the newly appointed Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, who is also the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Water, but I guess he is just too busy acting out the other half of his ministerial portfolio to be here. I am rather surprised by the approach of this government towards defence. We started off this term of government with two ministers and two parliamentary secretaries. All that has now been reduced to one full-time minister, half a minister and half a parliamentary secretary. While they might be quite talented people in their own individual right, this is a huge portfolio. The Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support has just outlined some issues that need addressing, and surely those issues need full-time ministers and personnel applied to them.

I will give a classic example. I point out that the much-heralded defence white paper was supposed to have been released at least six months ago, before last Christmas. Instead it dragged on until just before the budget. When the defence white paper was announced, there was little or no funding detail. In fact, the amount of space attributed in that document to funding was but a page and a half. It was not until during Senate estimates that a document called The strategic reform program: delivering Force 2030 was dropped on the table. From politicians you would expect attack, but consider this from Mark Thomson from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who said of the defence white paper and budget papers:

… there is a glaring absence of substantive information on funding, investment and reform.

What I say to this parliamentary secretary, to take back to his portfolio minister, is this: when are real details going to be released particularly on spending cuts? There has been an allusion to the need for reform. In fact, so sneaky is this government that, prior to the white paper, they talked of funding cuts of $10 billion over 10 years. Then, with much sleight of hand—and take this on board, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support—with the white paper they snuck in another $10 billion. They doubled it overnight to $20 billion worth of cuts over 10 years. That is $2 billion a year or just under 10 per cent a year of budget cuts. So whilst you talk about growing the budget by three per cent, the fact is you are cutting the budget by nearly 10 per cent. This is having a grave effect and one can see the stingy way in which that is being played out.

Perhaps equally as stingy is the ADF gap year, a program that was introduced with 700 start-up places to go up to 1,000 places, but they did not reduce it back to 700 places; in the forward estimates for 2009-10 you see 600 places will be available. Not only has your government destroyed the gap year aspect through the other side, through the youth allowance changes; your government has cut the ADF gap year program back and actually destroyed perhaps one of the greatest recruiting tools that was ever designed to give young people an opportunity to experience being in the Australian Defence Force and then to make a conscious decision as to where they wanted to commit the next few years of their life. According to an email that we have received from within Defence, you have also cut back 1,000 full-time Australian Defence Force Reserves personnel. These are people who enlisted in the Defence Force Reserves and were seconded to full-time placement to carry out jobs. But your government has decided you are going to cut 1,000 people from the full-time active reserves. That is a disgrace. At a time when we have the greatest pace of operational tempo Australia has ever seen, with fighting on more fronts than ever before, your government is cutting back the number of people in uniform doing essential jobs.

If those jobs disappear from the reserves, who is going to step up and do them? Are you going to take people away from the sharp end? You must realise as a former serviceman that the people on the front line need these support positions to do what they do. It is a holistic team effort. Cutting a thousand people out of the logistic supply chain is going to have a massive impact. It is short-sightedness. It is being tight with the wallet. You talk up a three per cent real increase at a time when you are cutting the budget by over 10 per cent. This document, The strategic reform program 2009: delivering force 2030, is so short on detail that not even ASPI can properly assess what is in there. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr MJ Washer)—Before calling the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support, it would assist the chair that, if you seek the call to continue—and, again, the time is fairly flexible—the people in the other party acknowledge that and vice versa.