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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2168

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (17:03): I am a bit taken aback. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am unused to seeing you there. I welcome you in your new capacity.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Windsor ): This is my first occupation of this chair.

Mr DANBY: Very elevated it is too, and I am sure you will fill it out very well. This report, Review of the Defence annual report 2009-10, looked at issues of the strategic reform program personnel, including the people in defence strategy; ADF pay remediation and mental health reforms; and justice and security, including military justice, security of our vital national assets in north-west Australia, Border Protection Command, ADF security, the Defence Materiel Organisation and others.

I am reticent to steal some of Dr Jensen's thunder on this because he is doing the official report as the deputy chair of the Defence Subcommittee but, as chairman of the overall Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I want to share some of the concerns I know he will express about some of the evidence from defence department officials. I got the feeling from the people on the subcommittee that perhaps they could have been better prepared and more articulate. They seemed poorly briefed on a couple of occasions and their lack of preparedness was compounded by the delay in the provision of answers to questions taken on notice. We have very many active members of that subcommittee—Senator Furner in another place and Dr Jensen, who often do have very detailed questions. I am concerned that the strategic reform program seems to be a nice title for a reconsideration of some of the department's ways of looking at things, but I am afraid it is going to need deeper cultural reform. We have some very big procurements coming up, such as the joint strike fighter and particularly the submarine program. I am very concerned that the parliament, all members of political parties from both sides, as well as the department and whichever government is in office—because the plans of the defence department will take place over a very long period of time—are involved in making some of the big decisions that need to be made. There has been a great deal of public criticism of previous decisions, including the purchase of the Collins class submarine and some of the problems that have taken place because of, as the defence minister has said, insufficient planning beforehand. But we now have a projected $30 billion program, particularly with the submarine program, that I am most concerned about.

I want to use the occasion of this general review of the defence annual report to signal those concerns. We are sending a group from the defence committee together with the senate committee to the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain soon. I expect Dr Jensen and a number of other members—led by Senator Furner, Senator Bishop, Senator Stephens and Senator Johnston from the opposition—to make serious inquiries into the projected purchases of equipment, submarines, the joint strike fighter and many other military pieces of kit that the defence department is seeking to acquire.

I am particularly concerned about the submarine program in the light of the report ASPI made just recently. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has indicated that there are other ways of approaching the necessity for protecting Australia's northern approaches other than the very expensive program that will come at the cost of other expenditures that the Australia government can make and other defence expenditures that it might make. Therefore, I am very pleased that this group is going overseas. It is a very serious investigation. I see the parliament as having a particularly important role in ensuring that these defence purchases, and the defence reports, are considered very seriously, as this one has been considered.