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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1348


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:42): I want very briefly to congratulate the minister, Senator Payne, the previous minister, Senator Johnston, their departments, the service chiefs, and, indeed, all in Defence on the production of this white paper. Can I suggest to Senator Whish-Wilson that if he were interested in these things, perhaps he should join the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, where we get some briefings about the need for various upgrades to defend our country and to bring peace and stability to our region. Ministers of course get far more sensitive and in-depth briefings than the joint standing committee but attendance at that committee would answer some of the concerns that Senator Whish-Wilson raised.

I want to indicate publicly my appreciation for the importance shown in the white paper of Defence as it relates to Northern Australia. Quite clearly any attack, unexpected and unthought about as it should be, would come from the north. The areas where our Defence forces would play a smaller but important role and even a humanitarian role are in the north of the country. I think it is important that the white paper has recognised that and has, as a result, announced quite a deal of immediate and longer term spending across the north of the country. I am disappointed that there has been no commitment made by the Navy chiefs to move the capital ships out of Sydney Harbour and put them a bit further north in Townsville, Cairns, Darwin and Broome, where I think they will be better located. That is a battle I have lost so far, but it will not stop me.

I also recognise the emphasis in the commentariat and in many debates here about building naval ships in Adelaide versus Western Australia and Melbourne. I am just hopeful that the case for building the Pacific patrol boat fleet in Cairns has the merit that I believe it has and that the government will very seriously consider a return of patrol-boat building to Cairns, supporting a shipbuilding industry that regrettably failed because of deliberate decisions by the federal Labor government and the Queensland state Labor government.

Across the north, the white paper details at some length very significant capital expenditure on the Defence estate, improvements to any number of airbases and army bases, the setting up of unmanned surveillance units in Townsville and, indeed, far too much for me to go through in the very limited time I have. But there is considerable spending in the north which will—and this is not the purpose of it, of course—significantly help local economies across the north. Even if the principal contract is not given to northern firms, but I hope it will be, certainly all the subcontracted and ancillary support for the quite significant spending that has been announced across northern Australia will be a real boost to the economies of Townsville, Cairns, Darwin, Mackay and all the places in between.

That is so very important at the moment because of the downturn in the mining industry, which has affected so many who support small businesses. While the Greens are opposed to and the Labor Party are ambivalent about encouraging sustainable mining operations in the north, the unemployment problem which we currently have in the north has been exacerbated in my home state of Queensland by the absolute inaction of the current Queensland government. This defence spending will be a real fillip to the local economy.

So all congratulations to Senator Payne and her team on this white paper. I do think it sets the way forward in a very constructive, positive and, as far as Australia is concerned, safe way that will mean that our defence forces are well provided for and well supported into the future.