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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7552

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (3:17 PM) —The Labor Party make a point of saying that there have been four coalition defence ministers in six years. I make the opening point that they have not had one defence minister in the last six years. We have had four very good defence ministers. The present Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, is an outstanding minister. As somebody who is very interested in these matters in this chamber, I have a great deal of confidence in Senator Hill. I have confidence in his administration of his department. Furthermore, I have confidence in the Department of Defence. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Labor Party might have forgotten that. When the Department of Defence and the ADF are asked to do something, they do it. They give the government options and they carry out its tasks. That must be the most important thing for any military force anywhere in the world.

When we came to power—our proceedings are being broadcast, so it is nice to remind people of this—we had a $10 billion black hole and a momentum of Labor deficits of $96 billion that had been run up over the previous eight years. We were determined that, whilst we might manage the economy and balance the books in a way that allowed the government to do the things that needed to be done, one area of government expenditure that was going to be protected was defence. We have done that and we have stuck to our word on that. In recent times since the defence white paper we have increased defence expenditure in real terms— forced, I know, and quite appropriately so, by the commitments in the war against terror—because we happen to believe that protecting the nation, its citizens and its international obligations is probably the most important priority of any government. The government take that priority seriously and will continue to do so. The people of Australia recognise that the government have taken that stand and that it is the right stand for Australia.

Australians have always expected their defence forces to play a useful and, dare I say it, modest role in world affairs. We are in a position to help our neighbours and our friends. We have done so in peacekeeping around the world—for example, in East Timor, which was a particularly courageous and appropriate role. When the history of this government is written, nobody, friend or foe, would say that the commitment made by the Prime Minister and the government in doing what needed to be done in East Timor was not one of the very best things that the government has done. The commitment that we have made in the war against terror and the role that our SAS troops have played in Afghanistan have added to the tradition of Australian troops being regarded as some of the most courageous and best in the world. The SAS company in Afghanistan—T1 troops that they are—showed that in training, equipment and leadership they were probably some of the best troops ever to leave Australia. I think I speak for all Australians in acknowledging the job that they have done in Afghanistan and welcoming them home to their families this Christmas.

The government have been determined that our defence effort be appropriate and proportionate to what the Australian people demand, in line with our military tradition of not imposing our will on people but providing the proper military response when international affairs get out of balance. In the very short time left to me, I will mention some of the places where our ADF are still serving. They are in the Middle East, where we have over 600 troops in the war against terror and to impose the United Nations sanctions against Iraq. We have a Middle East commitment where the UN Truce Supervision Organisation is supervising the truce agreed at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war. We have troops in Bosnia and in Sierra Leone. We have peacekeepers in the Sinai, Eritrea and Ethiopia. We have the Navy in the Southern Ocean doing the very important job of fishery protection. The ADF supports the Australian Fisheries Management Authority through Coastwatch to enforce Australian sovereign rights in fisheries in the Southern Ocean. We have the continuing commitment to East Timor, where we still have 1,100 personnel as part of the UN mission to support the East Timor administration—(Time expired)