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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4864

Senator COOK (3:15 PM) —I just want to pick up from where Senator Sandy Macdonald finished, because he made some very valid points that need to be emphasised again. There is huge pressure on the Defence department given the commitments of our troops overseas and the unstable international situation. At the same time, Defence is going through a refurbishment program that is huge and there are other responsibilities in reorganising the department. As he says, Dr Allan Hawke, the now sacked chief of the Defence department, has done a fantastic job. He has done a terrific job and that is acknowledged on both sides of this parliament. What he has not explained, with the greatest respect to Senator Sandy Macdonald, is the attitude of the government here: `Thank you, Dr Hawke, you're sacked. You have done a terrific job, but you're out. Your contract comes up after three years; you're gone.'

You do not have to take a partisan view about this. Let us do a survey of today's headlines in reporting this. The Herald Sun reports, `Defence reformer shown the door'. The Australian Financial Review reports in the headline of their article, `Defence head loses his post'. The Canberra Times says, `Defence chief axed', and in a feature by their Public Service reporter, Verona Burgess, there is the headline `Rumours had foreshadowed knife'. Of course the Pryor cartoon does encapsulate it all. It has a drawing of Senator Hill throwing the secretary of the department, Allan Hawke, overboard—Defence chief overboard. There is that `overboard' again that keeps haunting the government. The Sydney Morning Herald says, `Hawke axed after defence blow-out'. The Daily Telegraph says, `Plain speaking defence chief loses his job' and the Australian has, `Defence gets fourth boss in five years'—all of which points to the instability and to the surprise and shock. All of which shows the damage to the morale of the Defence forces, the instability at the top continues and that a minister, who appears to be very difficult to get on with, has exercised a private whim on this occasion in order to get rid of someone who is a plain speaker, forthright and truthful, and accountable when it comes to dealing with his responsibilities.

What we can take from all of the newspaper reports—this is not the opposition; this is the media in Australia—are the following points: Dr Hawke is a highly regarded bureaucrat. He is regarded as a plain speaker with an excellent record of public service reform. His sacking was brutal. The Canberra Times says:

It was a pathetically short term to appoint anyone to such a senior job, and the brevity contrasts with the five comfortable years given to the Government's favourite secretaries.

It was a brutal performance in sacking Dr Hawke. The press also agrees that Senator Hill, in terms of the press's perception, was unhappy in having as his head someone who was so forthright and so accountable. Let me again quote from the Canberra Times which says:

Senator Hill had been obviously furious at the Senate Estimates early this year after it was revealed senior military officers had tried to tell the Government before the election that the photos being touted as showing refugees throwing children overboard did no such thing.

Dr Hawke had offered his resignation as head of the department. What we also see in all of the reports today is that Dr Hawke had a strong sense of duty and responsibility and, under the best traditions of the Westminster system, offered his head—to resign—although he directly was not responsible for the circumstances of the children overboard affair.

Now in short order, when Defence is under more pressure than at any time since the Vietnam War, we have had four ministers and four secretaries. We have discontinuity. We have instability. We have short-term decision making and a lack of consistency in top leadership, all of which is damaging to Defence morale. Why? Because this government has set out deliberately to politicise the Public Service, and this is an example of it. The three-year term for Dr Hawke is an example that, if you are not a loyal Liberal and a Public Service chief, out the door you go.

Secondly, the Defence portfolio has been a parking lot for failed ministers—John Moore, failed minister; Peter Reith, failed minister; Robert Hill, failed environment minister and applicant for the Nairobi post for the UN Environment Commission. Now he is being recycled as Minister for Defence at a time when Australia needs a more responsible, more capable, more visionary, more able minister than this pathetic example of a Minister for Defence. (Time expired)