Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21388

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:20 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. Minister, did the government consider the needs of Australian industry when it agreed to spend $550 million on second-hand tanks without a tender process? What local production arrangements have been put in place in terms of this acquisition? Is it true that the ammunition for the current Leopard tanks is manufactured here in Australia by an Australian company but all of the ammunition for the Abrams tanks will be imported from the United States? Given that there appears to be nothing in this deal for Australian industry and that delivery will not be until at least 2007, can the minister indicate why he refused to undertake a fully transparent and accountable tender process for this major acquisition project?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —You could ask the question: does Labor support tanks to protect our infantry or does it not? In the last two years of this government has Labor produced one single defence policy? No—just carping, whinging and whining but never anything constructive. This government is pleased that in a timely way it has acted on the advice of the CDF and particularly on the advice of the leaders of the Australian Army that our infantry need protection in the field from a modern tank, that armour is necessary to protect infantry from the consequences of shoulder-fired, man-held, anti-armour weapons and that it should be obtained promptly. In other words, the existing Leopard tanks are too vulnerable and need to be replaced.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, you know that shouting is disorderly.

Senator HILL —The next issue relates to why the Abrams tank was chosen, and I know the Labor Party does not like it because it is made in America. If the Leopard tank had been chosen, if the German manufactured tank had been chosen, it would have been a much more muted response. But the concept of the ADF getting the best tank available in the world—which is the American tank—is too much for this Labor Party, under the leadership of Mr Latham, to withstand. Why was it chosen? As I said, it was chosen on the basis of the professional advice from our military that the Abrams Eames M1A1 is the best tank available from anywhere in the world to do the job. The second issue relates to a comparison of the costs. The acquisition cost of the Abrams was the lowest of the three that were looked at. I would have thought that Labor would have applauded the fact that we could get a lower acquisition cost than for the German Leopard. The deal that was offered by the United States, through the FMS project, includes all the logistical support, training and ammunition, as I said yesterday, in a way that Australia gets exceptional value for money. Is that what Labor is knocking?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, you have asked your question. I reminded you yesterday that, when you ask a question, you are heard in silence and you are supposed to hear the answer in silence, so interjecting does not help.

Senator HILL —Why does Labor not want the best deal, a deal under the FMS? Because it is a deal, of course, with the United States of America. Why should we be embarrassed about the fact that our strategic relationship with the US gives us the opportunity to get a product such as this on an exceptionally good basis—not only the initial purchase price but the whole-of-life support cost? It ought to be something that should be applauded. Why is it not being applauded? Because the deal is being done with the United States of America. And we remember Mr Latham's personal attacks on the President of the United States of America. And what did he say? Does the Labor Party remember what he said or has all that been forgotten with the new Mr Latham? History is in the dustbin. The new Mr Latham is going to head off to America. Guess who he is taking with him. Mr Beazley. You would think he would take Senator Evans to help him with strategic policy. No, he is keeping close to Mr Beazley and Mr Beazley has to take him down the corridors of power in the White House, ease the way in and on the side, of course, apologise for the foul mouth of the new Leader of the Australian Labor Party. Here we have the best tank that could be bought at the best price, with the best support package—and that is something that should be applauded. (Time expired)

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister said that this was the best deal available to Australia. Can the minister explain to the Australian public why it is the best deal to pay new vehicle prices to buy 20-year-old second-hand vehicles from a dealer, who admits it is a gas guzzler, says he has wound back the speedo to zero and we know it is too heavy to drive up the driveway?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Would Mr Latham take Senator Evans, who is doing his best to discredit the best tanks in the world? The answer to Senator Evans's question is: the United States of America itself is refurbishing these tanks as front-line tanks for its forces. It was the M1A1 tank which led the American forces so successfully into Iraq that provided protection for US forces on the ground. It did that task superbly. These tanks will be a more updated version of that tank than what the Americans had in the most recent of all conflicts. So if it is good enough for the front-line troops of the United States of America, I reckon that is a reasonable case for saying that it is good enough for the ADF. That is certainly the view of the ADF. This is the tank they want and they are thrilled that they have a government that does not just talk about it for years but actually delivers the product they need. (Time expired)