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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 78

Senator JOHNSTON (3:21 PM) —It never ceases to amaze me! Two speakers, two predominant performers on the other side with absolutely no knowledge of two subjects. Firstly, they have no knowledge of how to read an audit report—no knowledge and no understanding. I am giving Senator Evans the benefit of the doubt, because I am saying either he has not read the report, or the press coverage of the report, or he does not understand it. The fact is that the anomaly referred to is an error rate giving rise to a qualified Auditor-General's report. The $8 billion alleged to be misplaced or unavailable or accounted for is an error rate. It is not a real figure.

Senator Evans says that the tanks have been misplaced and the weapons are unaccounted for. When Senator Evans was shadow minister he made no bones of the fact that he had no real interest in the subject matter of this portfolio. This minister has done more than all his predecessors and contemporaries to fix Labor's appalling record of the administration of defence. Let us pause for a moment to address the issue of the real money—in excess of $1 billion—that senators on the other side, when they were in power in the early 1990s, simply could not account for in the Collins class submarine project. This was real money in providing one of the most important force element group's weapons systems, and it was presented to this government with no weapons system capacity. That was the length and breadth of the former government's ability to manage a project. I am talking about an idea, a concept, which is very good. The Collins class submarine—thanks to this minister—is now one of the most formidable weapons forces this country possesses, and I am extremely proud of it. But that is no thanks to the Labor ministers who administered the project. It was a shambles when we picked it up—real money gone, real money not accounted for and weapons systems not delivered with the project—all because Labor ministers were incapable of understanding what had gone on.

There are no tanks unaccounted for. There are no explosives or ordnances missing. Whilst it is disturbing that we do not have an accurate assets account, the facts are these: Defence has over 90,000 service men and women under its umbrella and in excess of $50 billion worth of assets, a $16 billion annual project, and $40 billion worth of projects currently being undertaken. That is due to the expertise of this government. Under Labor, defence was left to rot and when East Timor came along and it was our duty to do the right thing and engage our forces there, the Defence Force was stretched. That was largely because of Labor's 13 years of abject neglect.

There are over 315,000 individual classification items, in 500,000 different locations, in 21 warehouses just like Moorebank. Over 400,000 leave applications are processed every year—an enormous undertaking. Operationally, our service men and women have performed magnificently. The Labor Party, and the opposition in this place, should spend more valuable time acknowledging the exceptional performance of our Australian defence forces and the logistics that have been supplied to them. (Time expired)