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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7553

Senator MARSHALL (3:22 PM) —I also rise today to take note of the answers provided by Senator Hill, as Minister for Defence, to a range of questions asked by Labor today during question time. I rise to do that to focus on what can only be described as this government's failure to deliver Australia's defence forces with the necessary capital equipment that is strategically viable and at costs that fall inside the spending limits set out in the Defence budget. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an independent non-partisan policy organisation, recently released its 2002 strategic assessment in which a damning critique of Defence procurement is presented. The ASPI report identifies a series of problems that highlight the Howard government's mismanagement in Defence.

For the benefit of senators and others, I shall outline a number of these problems now. They include the government's decision to abandon the tender process and buy torpedoes that are too heavy for the Collins class submarines, forcing Defence to raid $200 million from other projects to cover the cost blow-out. As a result of the government's interference, taxpayers will pay $450 million for torpedoes that do not fit our submarines. Despite allocating funding, the government has not ensured that essential electronic warfare protection and long-range weapons have been delivered for our FA18s and our F111s. It was recently revealed that the government has spent $200 million on the long-range AGM142 missile, but it will take at least nine years to fit them to the F111s. The government rushed into a decision to buy the F35 US joint strike fighter without any thought as to how Australia will maintain its air combat capability until the likely delivery date beyond 2015. Our existing FA18s and F111s will struggle to fly past 2010. Any strategically viable interim capability to fill the gap will be prohibitively expensive, with ASPI estimating the cost at an additional several billion dollars. The $1.4 billion frigate upgrade project, started three years ago, is already running more than two years late. Some ships will now be upgraded with just seven years left out of their 35-year service life. We cannot forget the government's contract to buy 11 second-hand 40-year-old Seasprite helicopters, which are more than three years behind schedule. The government was even funding a maintenance facility for these helicopters which we do not have.

These bungles in defence equipment procurement represent a big black mark against this government's defence management capabilities and serve as a costly reminder to the Australian taxpayer of just how imperative strategic and careful management of the Defence portfolio is. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute states that, before looking for new Defence projects to fund, the government should concentrate on actually delivering what is already in the capability plan. In the words of the ASPI report:

We think that it would be best to consolidate progress on the already ambitious Defence Capability Plan before setting new goals.

This may be obvious, but the government must take heed. The ASPI review provides a clear analysis that Australia's long-term defence capability is most at risk from the failure of the Howard government to manage defence effectively. I quote the ASPI report again:

If the government simply bails out Defence every time costs escalate, it will remove any incentive for Defence to contain costs and seek innovative solutions.

The ASPI report follows comments from recently retired Lieutenant General Des Mueller that the management of defence equipment purchases needs a complete overhaul. In saying this, he clearly believes that the government's recent purchasing reforms have failed. The Audit Office and Defence's own Management Audit Branch have also raised serious concerns about the high likelihood of further capital equipment project failures over the next three to four years that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Given what I have just said, and what we have heard during question time today and in the motions to take note of answers moved by Senator Evans and Senator Ludwig, this government is failing our defence forces and, in turn, placing our country at risk.

These are testing times for Australia's security and, as such, Australia's defence forces. Australians deserve and require policies within the Defence portfolio that are carefully calculated and performed to precision. It is clear from what we have heard today that this current government is not in a position to fulfil that requirement.

Question agreed to.