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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5960

Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Defence Materiel) (16:31): I would like to take this opportunity to make some introductory remarks about the Defence budget. The first priority of the Defence budget is to support our servicemen and servicewomen deployed overseas. It is important to reinforce this message at a time when the ADF is coming to terms with the loss of four of our brave service personnel in the space of just two weeks. I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence and the member for Fadden in the House of Representatives today and I would like to extend my condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Sapper Rowan Robinson, as well as to those of Sergeant Brett Wood, Lance Corporal Andrew Jones and Lieutenant Marcus Sean Case.

The budget includes a total of $1.9 billion for ADF operations next year to fund our troops operating in Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. It also continues the government's total investment of $1.6 billion in force protection measures for our troops in Afghanistan, with nearly half a billion to be spent in the next 12 months. This new equipment includes the new TBAS lighter combat armour that will go with the Third Mentoring Task Force, which is deploying at the moment. It also includes heavier calibre weapons and extra protective armour for our Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, attaching of mine rollers to the front of those Bushmasters to roll ahead of the vehicle and take the impact of an IED explosion, as well as the delivery of the counter rocket, artillery and mortar early sense and warn system and new handheld mine detectors.

In addition to this, the Minister for Defence and I today announced that the government will contribute more than $9 million towards research for the protection of soldiers of the Australian Defence Force. Along with this government contribution, industry will provide around $11 million in cash-and-kind contributions. The project is a partnership between government, the defence industry and some prominent research organisations. The project aims to improve the protective equipment that our soldiers wear to combat a range of existing and evolving threats, including IEDs. It will develop, test and evaluate prototypes of new equipment in order to improve ballistic blast and flash protection, improve head, face and eye protection, decrease the weight and bulk of protective systems, reduce blunt trauma that can occur behind armour, reduce the risk of a soldier being detected and improve the protection from fire, chemical, biological and radiological threats.

The Defence Materials Technology Centre will lead the team, with the support of research organisations like the University of Wollongong and RMIT. Confirmed industry partners include Australian Defence Apparel, Ballistic and Mechanical Testing, Bruck Textiles, Tectonica, Pacific Engineering Systems International and the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing. In addition to this, a number of other companies have expressed an interest in participating in the program. The research team will also work with Army's specialist team of soldiers who have recently returned from Afghanistan, called Diggerworks.

The government's first priority is to support our troops on operations. The budget also recognises that Defence needs to play its part in the government's overall fiscal strategy to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13. This year Defence will return to government $1.6 billion in unspent funds for the budget bottom line. The 2010-11 underspend of $1.6 billion is a combination of slippage in major capital projects, savings in operating funds and a saving on the cost of the new C17 aircraft. In addition, Defence will deliver savings to government of $2.7 billion across the forward estimates. This includes savings of $1.3 billion from additional reforms and efficiencies such as increased shared services and other efficiency measures by reducing the growth of Defence's civilian staffing by 1,000. It also includes reprogramming of $1.3 billion in capital funding and $100 million savings from the cancellation of procurement of two additional C130J aircraft following the government's acquisition of a fifth C17 aircraft. (Extension of time granted) Some concerns have been raised about the impact of the budget on the defence industry, and I would like to make a few short points.

The first point I make is that most of the changes in the AMCIP are because a number of projects are behind schedule. This money is paid to companies when they meet certain milestones, and unfortunately some of those milestones have not been met yet. Examples of those are projects like the new air-to-air refuellers, the Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft and the replacement helicopter for our Blackhawks. These projects are behind schedule and, as a result, payments have not been made. That means that money is rolled over or deferred in the Defence budget into later years.

The second point is that over the course of the next decade we are going to spend more, not less, on defence here in Australia. Defence spending in Australia will go from about $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion per year by the end of the decade. The third important point to mention is that the majority of work that is done by Australia's defence industry is in sustaining our defence assets. Defence's maintenance budget is forecast to grow from $5.3 billion, as it is this financial year, to $5.6 billion next financial year, and it will grow to $6.1 billion in 2014-15. This means more work for Australian industry, because 70 to 75 per cent of that work is done by Australian companies.

Finally, I want to briefly address the issues that were raised on the Four Corners program last night. The allegations raised in that program are very concerning and will be investigated as part of the review of allegations of sexual and other abuse that are being undertaken by DLA Piper. The Secretary to the Department of Defence has engaged the independent legal firm DLA Piper to review each allegation raised to determine the most appropriate way for these complaints to be addressed and whether further independent action is required to deal with any such matters. It is important to note that anyone who wishes to raise concerns about sexual or other abuse should do that by contacting DLA Piper on the following number: 1800424991.