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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21402

Senator FERGUSON (3:22 PM) —The one thing that is quite evident from the debate today is that the contributions from Senator Chris Evans and Senator Ludwig serve to highlight the fact that the minister and this government have made a sound decision, have made the decision to purchase, and that for all of those years in government Labor refused to make decisions. We are left now making acquisitions and decisions that should have been made some time ago. There is no defence acquisition made at any time or in any place that is not questioned by some of these so-called experts of defence capabilities and defence commentators. There are always questions raised by the so-called experts, and it would appear that Senator Chris Evans and Senator Ludwig have done their best to look at all of the negative aspects that have been raised by some of the commentators about any potential purchases and set up some straw man or argument.

Senator Chris Evans in his contribution said, `Despite all the problems ...' In fact, not one cent has been paid for these tanks yet. We will have the chance to go and select those tanks to make sure that whichever ones are provided to the Australian Army are suitable. We will know what we are buying because we will be able to see for ourselves exactly the condition and state of these tanks and to make sure that we only purchase defence equipment which is in the best interests of this government and the defence of our country.

Senator Chris Evans talks about assessing the purchases against the requirements of the Army. That is exactly what took place. Our professionals, as the minister has said, say that the Abrams is the best tank to suit our purposes. It is the best tank that is currently available in the world to suit the purposes of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force. For him to question the ability of the professionals in this area to provide us with the most suitable tank bears some questioning. He talks about heavy second-hand tanks. He says that there is a question as to whether these tanks will be the right tanks for us to have and asks why we are going the way of second-hand Abrams tanks. The minister has answered those questions and he answered them very adequately again in the debate on taking note of answers. While the Chief of Army might have liked to have had a lighter tank there is simply not one available. Because there is not one available we have to choose the best available at the best price. Their role is to protect our infantry and if that role is to protect our infantry then in fact this is the best purchase we can make.

Senator Chris Evans asks whether we have the right tank at the right price. The judgment of the professionals is that yes, we have got the right tank at the right price. He questions the influence of the minister in making sure we get this view. This is the view of the professionals, and that is what is most important.

We also need to remember that over the past 2½ years that this defence minister has been in charge of this department and our armed forces he and the government have made some enormous decisions. Each of those decisions concerned instances that, at the time of his taking over this portfolio, he could have reasonably expected would not have been likely to occur. The decisions that have been made by this minister have stood the test of time in every way. We have a government that, through the minister, has decided that this is the best tank for our operations and that we are getting the right tank at the right price. We have not paid one dollar yet. We will be able to inspect these tanks to see for ourselves, and the experts will be able to see for themselves, what condition they are in.

Senator Ludwig —What if they are duds?

Senator FERGUSON —We know they will not be duds, Senator Ludwig. Most of the duds in this place are over there, not over `there' as in the USA. Senator Ludwig says that we get only half the story. I can tell you that Senator Hill and those professionals within the Defence Force who made this decision are some of the few people that do know the full story. When you allow professionals and the minister, in the full knowledge of what they are buying, to make the decisions then you will get right decisions. You may want to criticise them from that side; you never made— (Time expired)