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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11695

Mrs SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (12:40): Everyone knows that the world we live in has increasingly become an area of concern. Australia needs to have a continuing program of investment in our defence resources. This is of significance in terms of both personnel and equipment. Over time, some governments have chosen to see the defence budget and forward estimates as a revenue piggy bank and have cut allocations to shore up growing debt levels, removing $16 billion from the defence budget. This, however, is not the action of a responsible government. The former Labor government's cuts to defence led to 119 projects being delayed, 43 downgraded and eight cancelled. The wheels, the wings and the propellers of our defence force—that is, strategic equipment—can be up to 10 years in the planning and execution phases. It really is an ineffective government that chooses to ditch essential strategic planning for our defence capability. Whilst personnel in defence are always extremely reluctant to put their opinions forward in terms of policy advice, unless in a formal setting, many less formal conversations have indicated a level of frustration that could and should be avoided by a strong level of bipartisanship. After all, defence should be separate from politics and not used as a policy football or a debt reduction piggy bank.

The coalition government's investment of $7.2 million for defence equipment, with some specific projects worthy of note, needs to be outlined to reflect just how seriously the coalition views the need to build and maintain our capability. On 5 August 2015, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence announced that the Australian government will purchase 1,100 locally built Hawkei protected vehicles and over 1,000 trailers to strengthen that force. Under the $1.3 billion agreement, the vehicles will be manufactured at Thales, Australia's production line in Bendigo, creating 170 jobs there and another 60 also in Victoria. The Hawkei will improve the protection of our soldiers, and the relatively lightweight construction will enable them to operate in high-risk areas. It is the only protected mobility vehicle in the Australian Defence Force that can be transported by ADF helicopters. The coalition government continues to invest in the skills and knowledge base of the defence industry. This long-term investment has helped secure this important industry's future here in Australia

In April, this year, the coalition announced the decision to acquire two additional Boeing C17A Globemaster III aircraft, taking the total size of the fleet to eight. The aircraft purchase and the associated equipment and facilities represent a $1 billion investment in Australia's security and our ability to respond to events rapidly. Some $300 million dollars of this investment will be spent on new and upgraded facilities at their home base at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, generating significant opportunities for local industry. The C17 is a heavy transport aircraft that allows the RAAF to rapidly deploy troops, supplies, combat vehicles, heavy equipment and helicopters to anywhere in the world. They have a maximum carrying capacity of 77 tonnes, or three times as much as the C130 Hercules.

The aircraft can carry an M1 Abrams main battle tank or four Bushmaster vehicles or three Black Hawk helicopters operating medical evacuation capacity or deliver a significant amount of humanitarian aid. C17s were the backbone of the air link for Operation Slipper in Afghanistan, delivering supplies and equipment to our troops. The versatile aircraft is capable of operating to and from relatively short dirt airstrips. Together with the Super Hornet and the Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter will ensure Australia maintains a regional air combat edge. It will also provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. These first two aircraft were delivered late in 2014. Australia's first Joint Strike Fighter pilot completed training in April this year and has now been joined by Australia's second pilot, who commenced F35 flying training in June.

The next eight joint strike fighters are due for delivery in Australia in 2018. By 2020 Australia's current fleet of 71 classic Hornets will be over 35 years old, and the coalition government will not allow a capability gap to occur. Around $1.5 billion in new facilities and infrastructure will be constructed at the RAAF base at Williamtown in New South Wales and the RAAF base at Tindal in the Northern Territory. Australian Defence Industries has been awarded over US$480 million as at April this year and stands to win in excess of another $1.5 billion for joint strike fighter-related production and support work over the life of the program, creating long-term advanced manufacturing and engineering jobs. We need to ensure this continuity of defence expenditure from both sides of government and be truly bipartisan. The coalition has a vision for long-term defence capability and the political will to allocate and confirm investment to give confidence to our essential personnel to do their best.