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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4851

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:18 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. Can the minister explain why the government has decided not to renew the contract of the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dr Allan Hawke? Was the decision taken by the Prime Minister or by the defence minister? What are the reasons for the government's decision, reasons it must have considered to be so strong that they justified yet another change of leadership of the department during a time of great international uncertainty and, to use the words of the Acting Prime Minister, `exceptionally high operational tempo'?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Decisions relating to the employment of departmental secretaries are made by the Prime Minister, in consultation with ministers.

Senator Robert Ray —Why didn't he announce it, then?

Senator HILL —Because he is overseas; the Acting Prime Minister made the announcement. Government has a responsibility to put into the office of secretary the person who it believes is best suited for the role during an ensuing period of office. We recognise and appreciate Dr Hawke's contribution during the three years of his term in office. It has been a time of significant change in the department—with the development of the white paper, the defence capability plan, organisational renewal and the like—with a background of intense operations. Nevertheless, in this next phase of consolidation, it is believed that the talents and experiences of Ric Smith are better suited for that objective. Contrary to what some in the opposition have been saying, this is the completion of a contract of a term of office. We thank Dr Hawke for his contribution during his term of office, and we have appointed somebody else for the next term of office.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, why was Dr Hawke given only a three-year contract in 1999, when the standard contract for departmental secretaries was five years? Why has the minister decided to appoint the new defence secretary, Mr Ric Smith, for just three years? Won't another short-term appointment as secretary exacerbate the discontinuity and instability suffered under the Howard government by Defence, which has had four defence ministers and four departmental secretaries during this time? Can the minister confirm that only three of Defence's 14 top offices are now occupied by a person who has held that office since before September last year?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not think there is a standard term, and the term of three years for Mr Smith was presumably decided by the Prime Minister.