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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2931

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (15:50): I would like to rise on behalf of the Greens to also comment on this debate today and I'd also like to recognise, Senator Patrick, the importance of getting scrutiny. We just heard from Senator Macdonald about a $90 billion outlay on defence hardware. That is an incredible amount of money—$90 billion. Two years ago in budget week we heard that this government was ramping up defence spending to two per cent of GDP—the biggest increase since the Second World War—on the back of a white paper that said that there were no evident threats in our region. We've also heard in the last 12 months that this government is embarking on an arms export plan to put Australia in the top 10 exporters of defence military hardware in the world, including selling weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia.

Why is this occurring? I have my own theory. In fact, what I was going to say to Senator Patrick a little bit earlier was that I was in the same situation that he was in today—twice—three to four years ago, when the government refused, when ordered by the Senate under an order for the production of documents, to release information on the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Twice the Senate voted for the government to release those documents and twice the minister came in here and refused to release information. I sat down and I chatted with the Clerk of the Senate at the time, Rosemary Laing, and I said, 'What do you do?' She took out Odgersand she showed me. Hopefully I'm not oversimplifying it, but she basically said: 'The Senate needs to vote against all legislation in this area. You need to put up a fight. That's the only thing you can do. You can't demand a government release these documents, but the Senate, as a body, can continually make their life difficult until they come and play ball.' That's what I chose to do over the next four years over free trade deals that were done behind closed doors and taken outside of the scope of parliament.

The reason I raise these free trade deals is not just around the order for the production of documents; my theory is that the reason that we have this $90 billion industry policy—and that's just the start of it; our estimate is that this is going to be hundreds of billions of dollars—is largely to do with all these free trade deals we've signed in the last five or six years, which preclude us and governments directly subsidising industries like the car industry, which was ultimately killed by free trade deals, or other industries, because it is not allowed under state-to-state or investor state in all these deals we have been signing. The only thing that is excluded and carved out, funnily enough, is defence and national security industries. That's why this government, in the last four years, has gone down the road of making this an industry policy, not just a defence policy. I have no doubt about that.

I had a discussion with Senator Payne at last estimates about the jobs that the new arms export industry plan was going to create, because the Liberal Party said in its media release that this was a 'jobs plan'. They were their own words. I asked: 'How many jobs is this plan going to create?' And they couldn't name a single bit of work that had been done to try to forecast that or estimate that. Do you know what Senator Payne did?

Senator Payne came very close to doing this to Senator Patrick today, but she fell short. She played the patriot card—How dare you ask questions! Aren't you patriotic? Don't you support our armed forces? Don't you support our Defence personnel?—because I dared scrutinise a plan with $3.8 billion being given to companies to create weapons to sell overseas.

What we're seeing here today is on an even bigger and more disturbing scale, and I think it's just the beginning of it. So transparency is absolutely critical. It is the job of the Senate. The reason we're here is to scrutinise. If the government come in here with the attitude that Senator Payne shows—that somehow this is below contempt for them—then this is going to continue. I'm actually glad that it's taken something like this for this chamber to scrutinise an aspect of defence spending.

I will say, just to finish, that it's good to see scrutiny on how much content is going to be Australian made. That's a very noble and important cause and something the Greens no doubt will support. But I'd also like to see a lot more scrutiny on the decisions about whether we even need this kind of hardware in the first place—for example, 12 submarines or Joint Strike Fighters. I'd like to see a lot more scrutiny in this place around the actual decisions that lead to the procurement of these kinds of hardware programs.