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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9559

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (15:12): Haven't we seen a contrast today and yesterday in this place between the highly competent, measured, focused and hardworking Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, and those shrieking disgraceful attacks that have been visited upon him by Senator Wong and Senator Conroy! What a contrast it has been. Why would people make such attacks? We know that the best form of defence is attack. What is the best way of covering your own failure? Attack your successor and deflect attention from yourself. Haven't these two exhibited both of those traits of trying to deflect attention from themselves! In the time available to me today, I am going to refocus attention on them.

It is interesting that Senator Gallacher speaks about the biggest investments in defence in Australia's history when in fact the former Labor government, led from South Australia by the then finance minister, Senator Wong, a South Australian, oversaw the delay of 119 defence contracts, the reduction of 43 and the complete cancellation of eight. This was a finance minister who failed to stand up for South Australia, who failed to stand up for South Australian jobs in the defence sector. She now stands here holier than thou and tries to bring down the very person who is succeeding in filling the disgraceful gap that was left by the Labor government This was the finance minister at the time who inherited a surplus and who inherited a country with no net debt. Then, the lamentable circumstance of $200 billion of deficit, borrowing $1 billion a month, $33 million a day, two new primary schools every day, seven days a week, is what the failed then finance minister, Senator Wong, left us with. Does she apologise? No.

The other point of apology that Senator Wong has been very silent on is the second of the persecutors and that is Senator Conroy. When did she, as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, stand up and say to Senator Conroy, 'You will come in here and you will apologise for the disgraceful performance that you visited upon General Campbell during Senate estimates'? Our Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz, gave advice to Senator Johnston that he did overstep the mark. His hyperbole in the excitement of the moment was too much. And didn't we see the contrast of the two, Senator Abetz, through you, Deputy President? Didn't we see Senator Johnston come in here and say, 'Yes, I do apologise for the words I used'?

Before I get on to Senator Conroy—and it is a shame I only have a minute and 54 seconds left—what Senator Johnston was doing was firing a shot, not across the bows of workers at ASC, he was saying to the management of the Australian Submarine Corporation, 'Lift your game'. That is who he was talking about. How often do we hear Senator Cameron going on about poor leadership or poor management in this country and the fact that the workers of this country are held back by the management and the leadership. Yes, Senator Johnston may have overstepped the mark, yes, he may have use those words that he now regrets, but what he was doing was saying to the management of that company, 'Lift your game so that you will once again be credible, so that you will once again be able to ensure your workforce has work'. That is what I heard.

In the minute that I have left let's talk about Senator Conroy. It is not just that he rudely criticised a distinguished general of the Australian Army, it is that what General Campbell was referring to was the fact that he and this government were repairing the shocking demise that had been visited by the last Labor government in terms of the protection of our borders. It was General Campbell who was referring to the success of Operation Sovereign Borders, and Senator Conroy could not stand it. He could not sit there and hear how this man, led and guided by Minister Morrison, was actually redoing what Labor had undone. That is what that was all about, and when he refused to apologise his words were, 'I'll come into the chamber'. Well, we have been waiting nine months for him to come into the chamber. We saw Senator Johnston yesterday, a distinguished minister, stand up and apologise. I wait and I challenge Senator Conroy to come in here now and redress that imbalance. (Time expired)