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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18537

Mr LINDSAY (9:58 AM) —I would like to take this opportunity to speak to the House on an issue which affects a large proportion of people in Townsville and Thuringowa in my electorate of Herbert. Many of you will know that within my electorate I have Australia's ready deployment force. It is my people who go when we need to go quickly, and we are very proud of that. It also happens to be the largest defence base in the Commonwealth of Australia, and of course Townsville is widely known as a garrison city. It has enjoyed that reputation since the time of World War II when there were 100,000 Americans based in Townsville in relation to the Coral Sea battles.

There are units in Townsville which are exceedingly interested in the Defence Legislation Amendment (Flexible Career Practices) Bill 2000. Apart from 3 Brigade and 11 Brigade, we have the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, 3 Brigade Administrative Support Battalion, 4 Field Regiment, 3/4 Cavalry Regiment, 5 Aviation Regiment—the celebrated Black Hawks who will be in the forefront of maintaining security at the Olympic Games—10/4 Four Support Battalion, 103 Signal Regiment and so on. We have a very large concentration of members of the ADF, and of course we cannot forget the 500 men and women at RAAF Townsville.

In accordance with the government's intentions to introduce flexible practices for members of the Australian Defence Force, this defence legislation amendment bill amends defence legislation to extend the limited tenure promotion scheme to the promotion of officers of the Army to the rank of lieutenant colonel and to the promotion of officers of the Navy to the rank of commander. The legislation also allows the rejection of a resignation of an officer of the Army or Navy which is tendered during an initial minimum period of service, and there have certainly been some difficulties associated with that, and this legislation will clarify that within the ADF. Finally, this legislation allows members of the Army and the Navy to change the nature of their appointment, whether they be officers or soldiers and sailors, from open-ended to fixed, and I think that that will certainly be welcome.

These amendments are part of a strategy to develop flexible employment practices to provide service chiefs with an enhanced ability to shape the defence uniformed workplace. I think that it is Defence following what is happening in the private sector. It is Defence making sure that it is up with modern business practices and certainly, in this sense, we will go forward to achieve those goals. I certainly know from my direct dealings with the ADF at Townsville's Lavarack Barracks that this sort of legislative amendment will free up the bureaucratic process of progress. More broadly, the bill supports the process of creating a more flexible employment environment in the Australian Defence Force.

I see the Navy has now joined us, and I welcome Townsville being made a home port base for the Navy where we can put the Tobruk, the Manoora and the Kanimbla—move them out of Sydney and up to where they are really needed. Instead of having a forward base in Townsville to support the 3rd Brigade, I think we should have a home port base. And to the Army, which have just joined us now as well, the ADF at Lavarack Barracks do a wonderful job for Australia out of Townsville, and it is great to see.

The bill has its origins in the 1995 Personnel Policy Strategy Review—the Glenn review. This report noted that the changes in the demographic and social trends needed to be matched by new personnel strategies in the Defence Force. The coalition government has delivered on its 1998 election undertaking to increase standards within the Australian Defence Force. We have maintained defence spending in line with forward estimates in the 1999-2000 budget. Indeed, Defence was the only element in the coalition's first budget which escaped any cuts to cover the deficit that was left by the previous government. That was warmly applauded by members in Townsville and Thuringowa.

I see too, Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, as you will have seen, yesterday's announcement by the government in relation to the consultative process that we are now going to go through in the lead-up to the white paper. The Prime Minister has said—and he has said this now on a number of occasions—that, in his view, we need to significantly increase funding in the defence forces. I see in this morning's press an amount of about $500 million was flagged for the next budget, and that will be welcomed by officers and men of the Australian Defence Force. Not many people will know that we gave an undertaking in 1998 to create an Office of the Revolution in Military Affairs, the RMA, and to provide $10 million to the Defence, Science and Technology Organisation to conduct research into RMA.

The government also indicated an undertaking to invest in chemical, biological and radiological defence, as well as addressing the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar and Collins class submarine projects. It is a matter of history now that the Defence Minister, John Moore, who I think is probably one of the best defence ministers this country has had, has faced up to the problems with those projects and, in a proper businesslike manner, has indicated quite clearly that it is the government's intention to get those things back on the rails, to get them fixed and not let them bump along the bottom as they had been doing. It was a breath of fresh air when the minister looked at the Collins class submarine project and indicated that he was not going to take any nonsense on what was going on. He wanted to know what the situation was and he wanted to get it fixed. The government is certainly going in that direction.

It is interesting that, in 1996-97, we were able to redirect $125 million of Labor's administrative waste towards capability related initiatives, including the acquisition of night fighting equipment, additional Harpoon missiles and air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. I believe $125 million is quite a bit of money to do that; and that was in relation to our vision that the resources of the ADF had to be where the action was. An efficiency review of defence was commissioned and led to the announcement of the Defence Reform Program in April 1997. On maturity, the DRP will realise ongoing efficiency in excess of $900 million every year and a one-off saving of $500 million to be redirected to combat capability.

I know that there was some cynicism about that in the ADF, but currently the DRP is ahead of schedule in its task of achieving those savings and those savings are being redirected to the sharp end. By the end of 1998-99 there were accumulative achieved ongoing savings of something over a quarter of a billion dollars per annum and that was ahead of the schedule that the government expected.

Under Labor, Australian Defence Force personnel numbers were cut and little was done to increase combat capability. In fact I think it is fair to say, and any reasonable person would draw the conclusion, that under the previous government combat capability was certainly run down. That is the advice that I received time after time. The Army's self-assessment after the previous government was that units were not adequately prepared for combat, the Army lacked sufficient combat power and, with some exceptions, units were understaffed, poorly equipped and had a low readiness level. Of course, that is not taking into account where the morale was.

This bill addresses some of the fundamental problems that were created and it is good to see that the government is moving forward in being proactive in relation to the ADF. Commonwealth expenditure on defence, of course, was steadily reduced in the time of the last government. Defence outlays as a proportion of total budget outlays declined from 9.4 per cent to eight per cent. I think that that was noted by the ADF and, of course, administrative inefficiency was rife. Not wanting to be unkind, many used to say that the most bureaucratic organisation in the country was the ABC. That has certainly changed these days. Some have then said that it is CASA. I have just been with Mick Toller and I think that his organisation is changing—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Order! I am reluctant to interrupt the flow of eloquence of the member for Herbert but, apart from one glancing reference to the subject of the bill, he has spoken now for 11 minutes and has not mentioned flexible career practices. I encourage him to spend some of his time at least on discussing the subject of the bill.

Mr LINDSAY —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will conclude on that point, with your indulgence, by saying that perhaps the most inefficient organisation may now be the Australian Defence Force. In relation to the issues we are speaking about today, they will enable the ADF to get the efficiencies that they need. They will allow for flexibility in the nature of appointments to the ADF. They will prevent the problem which arises where an officer wants to resign from the service during the initial minimum period of service. The extension of the limited tenure promotion scheme to officers in the Army must also be commended. This bill has the support of members of the ADF in my patch. They have asked me to relay that to the parliament. I indicate my strong support as well.