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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7064

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (16:50): I present the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on the review of the Defence annual report 2010-11 and move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator FURNER: On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade I have pleasure in presenting the committee's report entitled Review of the Defence annual report 2010-11 and in doing so may I acknowledge Captain Chris Smallhorne, Australian Defence Force exchange program participant who is with me in the chamber today.

The review of the Defence annual report is an important task and an opportunity for the Defence subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into a broad range of Defence issues as part of the process of accountability of government agencies to parliament. The subcommittee takes this responsibility very seriously.

The subcommittee took evidence from senior Department of Defence officials at a public hearing held in Canberra on 16 March 2012.

The committee also took evidence from a range of other organisations as part of its review. The subcommittee selected a broad range of issues for examination during this review. In broad terms, the focus areas were: the strategic reform program; personnel; operations; sustainment; the Joint Strike Fighter; and reviews of Defence culture.

When it tabled the Review of the Defence annual report 2009-2010 the committee commented on the lack of preparation of some Defence personnel, and delays in receiving responses to questions on notice. I am pleased to say that this was not an issue in the conduct of this review, with Defence officials being well prepared and the responses to questions on notice being received in a timely manner.

The committee has previously commented on the difficulties of obtaining an overall picture of the progress of the strategic reform program within Defence. During the course of its review, the committee again noted this fact, particularly given the current Defence annual report format. Therefore, the committee has recommended that a summary chapter on the strategic reform program be added to the Defence annual report to provide greater transparency of this program, including whether it is achieving targeted savings.

The committee noted that Defence is still reporting difficulties in increasing its Indigenous, gender and multicultural diversity in line with planned targets, and is continuing to employ strategies to increase these numbers. The committee will continue to monitor progress in this area.

The committee noted Defence's continued engagement with operations across the world, including in Afghanistan, and I pause to express my condolences to the families and friends of the Australian Defence Force personnel who were killed in the service of our country on 29 and 30 August this year—Private Nathaniel Gallagher, Sapper James Martin, Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald, Lance Corporal Stjepan 'Rick' Milosevic, and Private Robert Poate. These soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women of our Defence forces continue to serve their country in dangerous locations with professionalism and distinction.

As part of its review, the committee spent significant time on the issue of sustainment. The committee welcomes indications that Australia will have a greater say in the future structure of foreign military sales arrangements between Australia and the US, and encourages continued progress in this area. However, the committee also believes that Defence should work collaboratively with industry to develop compromises on how elements, such as intellectual property clauses, are included in sustainment and procurement contracts. The committee will continue to monitor progress on this issue.

The Joint Strike Fighter program was extensively reviewed and the committee received evidence not only from Defence but also from a range of organisations and individuals with views on this program. The committee notes that some submitters to the review were fundamentally opposed in their views to the cost, schedule and capability of the Joint Strike Fighter. In light of the conflicting perspectives presented, the committee resolves to maintain a focus on the Joint Strike Fighter in order to ensure it provides Australia with regional air supremacy. Recent decisions to bring the next Defence white paper forward to 2013 and delay Australia's purchase of these aircraft will provide an opportunity for further scrutiny.

Finally, the committee received an update on a number of cultural reviews being conducted within Defence, and will monitor progress on the implementation of recommendations from these reviews. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.