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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17150

Mr BEVIS (1:00 PM) —I join with colleagues on both sides of the chamber in commending the report undertaken by the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled Report of the 2003 New Zealand Parliamentary Committee Exchange and by thanking those involved with the arrangements for the Defence Subcommittee's recent visit to New Zealand.

There is no country on earth that Australia shares a closer historical link with than New Zealand, nor is there a nation on the planet with which we share a more closely aligned strategic analysis and future. It was, therefore, very appropriate and timely that the Defence Subcommittee went to New Zealand, given the changes that are happening in the world around us.

At the outset, I thank our New Zealand hosts for the way in which they assisted us. Their most senior people—the Chief of the Defence Force and the secretary of their defence department—were willing to give significant amounts of their time, the best part of half to three-quarters of a day, to ensure that we were fully and properly briefed on all of the issues that were of interest to us. It is an indication of not just the closeness of the ties between our two nations and our two defence establishments but the importance which we and the New Zealanders place on the relationship.

At the outset, I place on record my thanks to Stephen Boyd from the secretariat; to Max Simmons, who was an excellent emissary of the New Zealand government and looked after us remarkably well; to their defence minister, Mark Burton, along with other senior officials who gave of their time; and to my colleagues. It was a good delegation to participate in.

The New Zealand government in recent years have been forced to make some difficult decisions about the broad structure of their three services. We have seen in recent times their decision to end what amounts to their attack air wing and to maintain, effectively, aircraft only for transport and reconnaissance purposes. As you can imagine, that was a very difficult decision for any government to take. But we learnt of the benefits that decision provided, particularly in the rejuvenation of Army and in the planning for new acquisitions for a naval fleet that by New Zealand assessments will better suit their future needs and, I am sure, enable us to work closely with them in the years ahead.

It was interesting to see the way in which they have committed to an entire new structure in Army, to an entire new mobilised brigade with brand new LAVs, similar to the ASLAVs that we use in our cavalry in the Northern Territory. The New Zealand acquisitions, being more recent, will be a new generation and improved, although there will be significant compatibility between the two. That will provide our New Zealand colleagues with a capacity to integrate both with us and with a range of European and NATO forces should the occasion arise.

The fairly experimental work that the New Zealanders have undertaken with unemployed people has been commented on by my colleagues. It certainly has provided positive outcomes for many of the young people who have been through it. As a person most interested in defence matters, I should say that, were we to look at those sorts of activities, I would want to be assured that defence dollars were not being siphoned off for the purpose. I have a fairly dogmatic view that defence dollars are hard to come by at the best of times and they need to be allocated with some strict adherence to the security interests of the nation.

That said, if defence has an ability to provide this service and others cannot—and it was an impressive display we saw in New Zealand—it may well be that, from a whole of government perspective, there is a need for defence to be supplemented to undertake that sort of activity. I commend the recommendations in the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Maranoa wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?