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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4456

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (3:20 PM) —I appreciate this opportunity to follow that tripe presented to the Senate by Senator Trood. What has been discussed today by members of the opposition amounts to nothing more than scaremongering to divert attention from the critical issues of the day. We saw in the questions asked during question time that the scaremongering from this opposition, which is trying to divert attention from the debate around the CPRS and from its problems in other areas such as the OzCar scandal, is aimed at an area we should not be politicising at all.

Defence based security should not become an area for a cheap political point-scoring. I was brought up on Defence Force bases and I can tell you that the cheap point-scoring I heard today about security of and access to Defence Force bases is outrageous. It was suggested that there were emails coming to the opposition about the quality of that security, when every Defence Force officer knows these are not issues for public debate. They understand that security is compromised if details such as those raised by Senator Johnston about random searches or the method of operating security become matters of public debate. Defence Force personnel understand the issues that the opposition clearly does not in this area.

Let us look at the credentials of what they have put forward today. The defence security committee visited Holsworthy shortly before the current incident. On entering Holsworthy on 5 June, we did not hear concerns from Mr Baldwin about the problems and the issues he believes should be addressed. No, we only hear them now, opportunistically raised after the recent incident. What is worse is the suggestion that the opposition is receiving emails from people highlighting these problems—but of course no clear substance at all is presented.

What the public also does not know is that the opposition cannot reach a consensus in its views about the issues associated with Defence Force base security. We had the opposition defence, science and personnel spokesperson, Mr Baldwin, quoted in the Australian on 5 August saying:

Now is the time to be proactive. Events overnight have shown that now is the time to introduce armed defence personnel to guard our bases.

But then we have the shadow defence minister, Senator Johnston, saying to Ten News on the same day, ‘I don’t want to see defence personnel running boom gates.’ The shadow defence minister and the shadow defence personnel minister clearly need to get their act together, and they need to get their act together before they try and politicise this issue in the way they have in the chamber today. It is clearly cheap political point-scoring in an area it is critically important we do not politicise. National security and dealing with terrorism are indeed areas that we cannot afford to politicise in the way this opposition is seeking to do.

Let me deal with the substance of the matters about defence base security. Defence has acted appropriately and initiated an immediate review into defence base security, which will report quickly and identify whether any changes need to be made. It was the case that soldiers used to man the gates of our bases. This changed during the period of the Howard government. The view reached then was that our soldiers could be better used doing the work of soldiers, not opening and closing entry gates. Defence started contracting out base security from 1997 to 1999. The move stemmed from the Defence Reform Program initiated in 1997 to implement the recommendations of the Defence Efficiency Review, which investigated market testing and outsourcing as one means to increase the proportion of military personnel employed in the sharp end of combat and combat related positions. The Commercial Support Program proposed the contracting out of support functions where this was operationally feasible, practical and cost-effective. Let us remember that we have 1,200 contractors guarding our military establishments, freeing up defence personnel to train and deploy; in contrast, Australia currently has just over 1,300 troops in Afghanistan. Those troops deserve our support. They do not deserve cheap politicising of issues around defence base security, and this is what this opposition has been doing.