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Thursday, 29 March 2007
Page: 117

Mr FAWCETT (4:26 PM) —I rise to address the matter of public importance which has been raised by the opposition. I note that my time will be limited to about four minutes, which is unfortunate, because the opposition have done their research well in the newspapers; it is a shame they have not done their research well on things such as the Defence Capability Development Manual 2006, which outlines the processes by which the defence department and the government work together on major capability acquisition.

One of the key criticisms in the MPI is the budget, and I would like to address the budget, as well as the process, for the benefit of the House. The opposition talk about mismanagement of the budget. But to put it in some context, under this government we see a commitment to a three per cent growth in the budget, which has enabled us to increase real spending on defence, increase the size of the Defence Force to meet our current needs, as opposed to what the opposition did in government where they decreased defence on a number of occasions from 68,000 people to 50,000. In fact, in the Defence Efficiency Review of 1997 it was even purported to go down to 42,500 full-time personnel. Currently, the budget is around $19.6 billion, with additional funding for current operations, as well as funding for capability needs to be identified, such as the C17 to meet the very real need to transport groups of ADF personnel to operations.

Members opposite also talk about projects and they refer to the fact that projects are delayed. I am disappointed to see their focus on that negative aspect. They obviously do not compare similar capabilities in the industry sector—for example, the A380, which is also late by a number of years and has nothing to do with defence planning—nor do they overlay the complexity of the integrated systems in defence aircraft. If we look at things like the Apache Longbow Program in the UK and similar programs around the world we see that our Defence Force actually compares very well to both industry and other defence forces.

Finally, in terms of the capability, development and procurement process, it is interesting to note that the key principles that underpin the Defence Capability Development Manual not only look at the longer term planning process but also look at flexibility. It states in there:

Notwithstanding the usually long-range view that is needed for effective capability planning, the capability development system also needs the agility to respond to short notice change in the operational and strategic environment by reordering capability development priorities and by rapid acquisition to fill newly revealed gaps. The core role of that organisation is to make sure that a thorough analysis is done of options so that government has the ability to respond in a timely manner to threats and opportunities that arise.

So it is quite false of the opposition to claim that defence has essentially been cut out of this process and that the minister has made a decision on his own. The whole defence planning process—whether you are talking about the joint military appreciation process that informs tactical and operational activities or whether you are talking about the procurement process—is around analysis of information that provides information for government to make timely decisions to meet opportunities or threats.

There are many other things that I would like to speak of on this bill but, in the remaining one minute, I think it is important to point out Australia’s ability to maintain a balanced force structure which gives us options to defend Australia, to have forward operations in our immediate region or to work in collaboration with partners in other parts of the world. The future security of Australia comes down to the fact that this government has strong economic management which enables us to restore the size of the Australian Defence Force to one which is operationally capable, as well as fund its operations for the benefit of Australia.

Debate interrupted.