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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1344

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:25): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to respond to the release of the 2016 Defence white paper. I wish to thank the Defence minister, Senator Payne, for graciously providing Labor with an advance copy of the Defence white paper on the day of its release. I also wish to thank Senator Payne for her agreement at Senate estimates a few weeks ago, which she has reconfirmed to the chamber, to convene a Senate committee hearing in the coming weeks specifically on the white paper.

After two prime ministers, three defence ministers, three assistant ministers, two parliamentary secretaries and a 12-month delay, we genuinely welcome the release of the 2016 Defence white paper. As senators will be well aware, Labor is committed to bipartisan approach to national security and defence matters. Based on our initial review and in the spirit of bipartisanship, we are broadly supportive of this Defence white paper. We welcome its strong support for our alliance with United States as a foundation of our national security and defence arrangements. We also welcome its focus on increased engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, building on the work of Labor's Defence white papers in 2009 and 2013. We agree with a strong emphasis that the 2016 Defence white paper places on the importance of the rules based international order and, although it must be said that the government continues to avoid questions about whether it will act to support the international system in the South China Sea, Labor also supports in principle the government's decision to deliver on its promise of raising Defence funding to two per cent of GDP, but we will examine the specifics of the government's spending plans in more detail over the coming days.

We are pleased that the government is acknowledging and maintaining Labor's hard work on cyber security, especially our work in establishing the Australian Cyber Security Centre. We are broadly supportive of the decision to increase ADF personnel to 62,000, because we believe that the men and women of Defence are our single greatest asset, but we remain concerned that the deep cuts this government has made to Defence's civilian workforce. These cuts mean that ADF personnel could increasingly be forced to backfill civilian staff positions. We also call on the government to live up to the commitment in the white paper to retain people by paying personnel properly and maintaining their conditions and entitlements, after this government shamefully cut the pay and conditions of our serving personnel just over 12 months ago. We welcome the white paper's commitment to ensuring that Defence Housing Australia continues to provide high standard housing that delivers the best outcomes for ADF members and their families, but we again call on the government to make a firm commitment to retain Defence Housing Australia in public hands now and into the future.

While we are broadly supportive of the Defence white paper, it is not a perfect document and it fails to deliver on key Abbott-Turnbull government promises. The government has finally admitted that Labor was right in our 2009 and 2013 Defence white papers that Australia needs 12 submarines, but it has still not lived up to its promise to build them in South Australia, notwithstanding that the government is currently running ads—Senator Whish-Wilson, you will be amazed by this—on radio, saying, 'The Liberal government has delivered 12 subs in South Australia.' They are running them today—how extraordinary! Notwithstanding that the Defence white paper says no such thing, it has not lived up to its promise to build them in South Australia. The government is proudly trumpeting its continuous shipbuilding plan but the reality is that this government has failed our strategically vital naval shipbuilding industry. Under this government over 1,500 shipbuilding jobs have been lost across the country, with shipyards in Victoria and New South Wales now on life support. The government has also failed to make a decision on whether the submarines will be built in Australia and refuses to reopen the supply ship tender for Australian companies to compete, despite not making a decision after 20 months—and this one was urgent! It has walked away from Mr Abbott's promise to build the first few offshore patrol vessels in South Australia, putting at risk a further 1,300 jobs. I know that Senator Fawcett is very concerned about this, but I cannot believe he has put his name to these ads making the claim that they have already delivered the subs in South Australia. I have not known him well for that long, but that is barefaced even at his blush.

It is disappointing that in releasing the defence white paper the Prime Minister has chosen to revert to discredited claims about former governments. I simply make the point that the ABC's Fact Check has rebuked the claim made by Mr Turnbull that under Labor defence spending dipped to its lowest level since 1938. That is the statement. That is what they keep saying over and over again. Indeed, Fact Check found that defence spending dipped to 1.62 per cent in 2002-03, under former Prime Minister Mr John Howard. So all of these claims about 70 or 80 years are complete rubbish.

As I said at the start of my remarks, Labor is committed to a bipartisan approach to national security and defence matters. In the spirit of bipartisanship we are, as I have said, broadly supportive of this defence white paper. I again thank Senator Payne for her willingness to provide Labor with an advance copy of the 2016 defence white paper and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the white paper in more detail in coming weeks at the Senate committee hearing that Senator Payne graciously agreed to recently during estimates.