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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5672

Mr GRIFFIN (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel) (6:09 PM) —Yes, but as the member pointed out, there are some issues which we will need to get back to you about. A number of issues have been raised. Given the time lines that we have got available to us, I will try and address all of them to some degree. I would also say to members that—the member for Paterson is now not listening to me—if you are of the view that you want any follow-up beyond the answers that I give today, and I suspect on some matters you will, please feel free to get back to me. I am happy to do that on a verbal basis or a follow-up in order to get you some additional material, if that is of assistance.

Firstly, I will try to assist in that process with the member for Lyne. He raised some very serious issues around the question of a personnel issue relating to the Defence Materiel Organisation. As he understands, this is a very sensitive matter and it relates to both an individual’s circumstances and their employment and a range of matters which in some respects, as I understand it, are ongoing. I am happy to take it on notice and to get back to him. I know this is a matter that he sees as being very serious and I want to assure him that I also view it as being a very serious matter. That is with respect to that particular issue.

With respect to the member for Paterson, he raised several concerns and I will endeavour to address them quickly in the minutes that I have left. As I said I am happy for him to come back to me and say if he wants further information on those particular issues subsequent to today.

Mr BALDWIN (6:11 PM) —The questions I asked are specific. If you can’t answer them now—and I appreciate the time frame—you can take them on notice and respond.

Mr GRIFFIN —I am happy to do that. The points I would make in relation to JLTV are that the government is happy with progress with respect to this particular initiative. The shadow minister outlined a process that had been undergone with respect to developments in this area. The points that I would like to focus on in particular are that in 2008 when the then Minister for Defence announced our participation in this program, he stated that parallel to the joint light tactical vehicle program, Defence will also engage with Australian industry to explore other options to provide protected light mobility vehicles.

In March 2009 the government announced that the Defence Materiel Organisation would release a request for a proposal for a manufactured and supported in Australia option, which following subsequent consideration by government was released by the DMO on 12 June 2009. Last month my colleague the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science announced that as a result of the DMO evaluation of responses received to the request for proposal, three companies will be asked to continue the development of the manufactured and supported in Australia option for government consideration in mid-2011. The parallel process of US and Australian options will ensure that all viable options available for the delivery of light protected mobility vehicles have been considered. This approach is consistent with Mortimer review recommendations and will ensure that taxpayers receive value for money and that Army and Air Force personnel receive the best equipment and protection possible.

The three companies funded under the manufactured and supported in Australia option will be given around six months to produce two test drive-ready prototypes each. These JLTV prototypes will be delivered in the second half of this year. The 2009 public Defence Capability Plan has details of LAND 121 phase 4 and it indicates that the acquisition costs of this project will be in excess of $1.5 billion.

The next issue that was raised by the member for Paterson relates to the question of defence family health care. This is obviously a key priority for government. The government originally made an election commitment to deliver 12 defence-specific clinics to provide services to approximately 33,000 Australian Defence Force dependants. This was estimated to cover about 47 per cent of the ADF dependant population at a total cost of $33.1 million over four years. The model and funding for this commitment was revised. In May 2008 the government revised the original election commitment to allow for a more flexible healthcare system which provided better access and choice to Australian Defence Force families. The current ADF Family Health Trial model provides eligible dependants with unlimited access to a range of medical practitioner services at no cost. Services are accessed from doctors from within their community. Eligible dependants will also receive $300 per calendar year towards non-cosmetic dental treatment. These services can be accessed by registered dependants anywhere in Australia. In revising the commitment, the government has committed approximately $62 million over four years to the ADF family healthcare trial. Under the trial approximately 16,000 dependants or 22 per cent of the ADF families are eligible to access basic health care in some of the most rural and remote locations in Australia. That trial is ongoing and an interim evaluation is currently being conducted. (Extension of time granted)

With respect to the issue of gap years, from the 2010-11 financial year the gap-year intake will be reduced as follows: for the Navy, a reduction from 267 per year to 100; for the Army, no change and maintained at 317 per year; and the Air Force has suspended participation in the program. This reduction in gap-year targets from 700 to 417 from the 2010-11 financial year reflects the need to ease the pressure currently being experienced as to the training and operational capability of the ADF. When the gap-year program was originally proposed there was greater spare capacity in the recruiting and training systems. With strong recruitment achievement for all three services, continuing to conduct the program meant recruiting more people than Air Force could accommodate and it was adversely impacting on core training for both recruits and other personnel in the Navy and the Army.

The gap year program is not intended to be a direct recruitment program but there are some participants who have continued with some form of ongoing service. As at May 2010, 406 of the 1,328 participants from previous years’ programs were serving in the permanent force and 433 were in the Reserves. The reduction of the gap year intake does not reduce Defence’s commitment to engaging with young Australians. It is important that young people be aware of the career possibilities available in the ADF. Offering a smaller number of high-quality places will do more to promote ADF careers than a larger number of positions that cannot be well supported. I am rushing because I am conscious of the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for my stilted and stunted delivery in that respect although some members would say it is better than normal!

Reserves and the associated circumstances was the subject of the question raised by the member for Fadden. He raised a number of concerns with respect to that. There are a couple of points that I would make for starters. He mentioned, I think, options around the question of rebalancing the Army and that the review in relation to the Reserves was with government and awaiting decisions. I am advised that it still with Defence and actually has not come to government. That is what I have been told but I am happy to seek further advice with respect to that if his view is that it is otherwise.

Mr Robert —The minister, to a question on notice, says it was with government.

Mr GRIFFIN —Please say that again.

Mr Robert —The minister announced, to a question on notice, that it was with government.

Mr GRIFFIN —Then I stand bemused and will look further into the matter with respect to that. The point I would make in the context of the Reserves is that the Reserves play an incredibly important role within the modern ADF in terms of what they provide as part of the overall matrix of service provision across the ADF. That is acknowledged quite clearly in the Defence white paper. The government has committed to a better integration of part-time and full-time service in the ADF and to removing the factors which can impede the contribution that part-time forces can make to ADF capability. There have been some reports—and I think this was mentioned by the member for Fadden—about funding cuts to the Reserves. They are, in my view, misleading. In fact, the Reserves salary funding for 2009-10 has increased from 2008-09 for all three services. It is true though that in the past the Reserves have been able to exceed their allocated training budgets due to a necessity to backfill permanent roles. Due to improved recruitment to and retention in the permanent ADF—outcomes that I am sure the House is very pleased with—there are in fact fewer opportunities to do this. As a result some of the Reserves have had their training budgets limited. But the government is committed to ensuring that every reservist deployed overseas undertakes all the required training prior to the deployment, and we do not apologise for prioritising funds for this purpose. The government considers the Reserves an essential element of defence capability and is committed to ensuring effective funding for the Reserves into the future.