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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11131

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (16:46): I rise to note the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in their Review of the Defence Annual Report 2010-11 and put on record my thanks to the committee secretariat for all their work and assistance, including the Defence adviser, Wing Commander Ashworth.

It is interesting that this discussion of the Defence annual report is being held in the shadow of the fact that, this morning, the fourth Secretary to the Department of Defence in four years announced his resignation. At least it complements, I suppose, having a third Minister for Defence in four years and 15 ministerial reshuffles in the Defence portfolio in four years, considering in the early days of the Department of Defence, over the last 100 years, secretaries stayed on average seven or eight years. Their terms are five years, but in the last four years rather than the one secretary staying for the five years we have had four in four years.

But the government said that there is nothing to worry about here. There is nothing wrong here. There is no way that you can look at four secretaries in four years and say that there is anything other than a significant egregious problem in the Defence Force precipitated by the minister's action and the minister's interrelationship with the Defence Force. It is not hard to see how and why this has built to this point.

Whilst the annual report covers it in detail, in the last four years $25 billion have been stripped from the Defence budget. Twenty-two thousand single soldiers, sailors and airmen and women had their return trip home cancelled—a condition of service dispensed with. If it were not for the coalition's disallowance motion, about which the government rolled over and caved into last Thursday, that entitlement to fly home for Christmas would not have been re-established. If it were not for the coalition's disallowance motion, 22,000 of our finest would have a condition of service taken away from them.

The cut of $25 billion includes $5.5 billion over this year and the three-year forward estimates, a 10 per cent cut in the Defence budget this year. The Defence budget as a proportion of GDP is the lowest since 1937 and next year it is purported to be lower again. This year it is 1.56 per cent of GDP, when it should be up towards two per cent. That is the expectation of NATO partners and NATO countries.

The Defence annual report speaks glowingly about Plan Beersheba and the closeness between regular and reserve forces in terms of the fourth generation cycle being introduced. Yet these budget cuts produce cuts of 35 per cent to the reserves and something like 30 per cent to cadets. We have 11,000 cadets. The cadet leaders were paid 48 days a year to train those cadets; it is now being cut to 33.5 days. So the work in the forward projections from the Defence annual report 2010-11 are now meaningless because of these substantial budgets cuts. In a fourth-generation cycle where a battalion task force sized group is required to rotate around with a regular brigade, with 35 per cent cuts in reserves it will be difficult to see how a reserve unit will force generate that task group.

The Defence Capability Plan, which is the plan that outlines the equipment procurement and purchases, has been cut because of this budget, with 46 per cent of projects having been impacted, either deferred or cancelled. The electronic warfare aircraft Growler—the additions to the F/A18 Super Hornet—has been announced but not budgeted. It is $1½ billion, and no-one can yet articulate where that money is coming from. The answer is the DCP must be cut again because there are no other funds for the government to pay for it from. The future submarine, $214 billion worth, is an announcement four years too late and puts our submarine force replacement in a perilous situation. Land 121 phase 3, which was announced as Rheinmetall MAN trucks as the preferred vehicle at the end of last year, has had no announcement from the government that that contract is complete. Ten months to do a contract to buy trucks? Is there any greater example that this government is making it up as it goes along?

A new white paper was announced because apparently the security situation in our region has changed. The changes since 2009 would seem to be linear and not egregious. The issue is that the government has cut the budget, so with a reduced budget the 2009 white paper is now universally considered to be irrelevant and deserves its place in the wastepaper bin. The new white paper is now being rushed through, which is odd, with the secretary's departure today having an unknown impact on the white paper. The coalition will simply scrap the 2013 white paper if elected. You cannot rush through a white paper. You cannot situate a strategic appreciation based on the paucity of funds that you are prepared to allocate and say that this is a sound, holistic, well-thought-through defence strategy. It is simply farcical.

There is no industry policy to speak of—certainly not one that will actually survive contact with the Labor Party. The $5½ billion worth of cuts include a 30 per cent cut to expenditure for industry this year. Companies will go to the wall. Hundreds, if not thousands of employees will lose their jobs. R&D in the Defence space will suffer. Whatever industry policy the government said they had for Defence is now worthless. The priorities of industry capabilities and strategic industry capabilities are now universally considered to have no funding attached to them and no relevance with them.

The question is what the government's response is. It is great that the member for Moreton is here on the other side of the table. He did a press conference this morning. Reading through the transcript I see that he was asked about the Defence cuts and what impact they were having. And what did the member for Moreton give us? He gave us an introduction to Australia's commitment to the Boer War at the time of Federation. He then spoke of changes in the last 20 and 30 years and then tried to weasel his way out of it. He could not explain succinctly the reason for the cuts. He could not outline the national security implications of the cuts. He could not outline the effect on the Queensland economy, especially in his electorate, because of the cuts. All he could give us was an expose on the Boer War, and apparently Campbell Newman is responsible for that as well! It was an appalling justification from a member of parliament trying to explain the Defence cuts.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr ROBERT: Then I will table your press conference transcript tomorrow, sir, because it is frankly one of the most appalling press conferences I have seen. A member of parliament could not even articulate the reason why the government has cut the guts out of the military. It was more embarrassing than anything else.

So, as we discuss the Defence annual report, as we look forward to the future, I say that the future is incredibly bleak in terms of this government's cuts to defence. The future of our fighting men and women is not a strong future. It is not a future of capability development. It is not a future of capability investment. It is the same old Labor future of cuts, cuts and cuts, robbing 'Fighting' Peter to pay 'Social Welfare' Paul. In the words of the Treasurer, you seriously should be condemned for it.