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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26329

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (2:04 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Will the minister advise the Senate of the steps the government has taken and will continue to take to protect Australia's national security and also to boost our defence capabilities? What can the minister say of possible alternative policies that could impact on our national security?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I will start with the second part of the question. Labor has a new defence spokesman; he was defence minister 20 years ago. Labor decided it was time to return to the old days, to return to its era of 20 years ago, to sack poor Senator Evans and bring Mr Beazley back into the tent. But of course it was grossly unfair on Senator Evans because we on this side of the chamber thought he was doing a pretty fair job.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HILL —Well, we are a generous lot. We all know he did not get sacked for not doing his job; he got sacked because Mr Latham had got himself into such a mess with the United States over the Australia-US security policy that he had to bring Mr Beazley back in order to present a different image. So here we have Mr Beazley suddenly having the opportunity to present Labor defence policy. I have to say that we had not heard a lot of defence policy from Senator Evans. We heard about the chocolate bars out of the ration pack policy but we had not heard a lot more. So we listened yesterday in great anticipation as Mr Beazley headed off to the Press Club, as he used to do year after year as Leader of the Opposition, to hear what was new. Do you know what he said he was going to do? His new policy is that he is going to sack defence officials across the country.

Senator Lundy —That's not true.

Senator HILL —That was interesting, Senator Lundy, coming from the Labor spokesman on his first day at the Press Club. His answer is to sack the bureaucrats. But what has happened that he does not understand—

Senator Lundy —Don't misrepresent what he is saying.

Senator HILL —No, he did say that. And he said `across the country'. He said there were 3,000 too many bureaucrats, Senator Lundy.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Hill, ignore the interjections and address your remarks through the chair.

Senator HILL —What Mr Beazley does not understand, because it is a long time since he was involved in this area, is that under this government more of Defence has moved to the sharp end, defending Australia. We moved the military from behind the desks. That obviously meant that there had to be some officials to do the desk jobs. What are we going to do? Does he want to go back to the old ways and put the Defence Force back behind the desks? I would not be surprised by that at all. The policy we anticipated—and this is why I would not be surprised—was the policy he leaked to the press: that he was going to argue for a new Army battalion. We thought we were going to get that yesterday. That surprised us because when he was finance minister the Labor Party dumped two Army battalions—they went from six down to four—but yesterday he was going to argue for Labor to buy a new infantry battalion. Where was the policy? We did not hear a word of it. What did he say? He said, `Wait; it'll come later.' How long have we been hearing that from Labor? `Wait, the policy will come later.' So here we have a new defence spokesman, and he doesn't have any policies either.

What is the contrast with the policy of this government? We have increased the size of the Army. We have put back the two battalions. We are growing our special forces and our commandos. We are upgrading the ASLAVs and the M113s. We are buying new infantry mobility vehicles. We have purchased the Javelin missile for the Army. We have ordered new tanks for the Army—and Labor hate that. They hinted they would get rid of the Abrams but Mr Beazley did not even have the nerve to say that yesterday at the Press Club. (Time expired)

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, do you have any further policies to boost our defence capabilities?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Our first policy is to respect defence officials who have been doing a fantastic job. The ADF would not have been able to perform in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor or the Solomon Islands without the support they got from defence officials. What does Labor say? They say, `We'll sack them.' Senator Lundy, have you seen the press release today? It says, `CPSU concerned over Beazley's Defence jobs comment.' The Labor Party's own union is attacking Mr Beazley in his first attempt.

What is the contrast? Twenty years ago Mr Beazley left us with ships that were not armed and submarines without combat systems. Is that why he has been brought back—to return the Australian Defence Force to the old ways? The ADF is performing better than ever under this government. The last thing it wants is a 20-year-past recycled defence minister.