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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9482

Senator HOGG (6:01 PM) —I rise to continue my remarks from yesterday on the Performance audit: retention of military personnel follow-up audit because of the importance that I believe it holds for the Australian Defence Force. Recommendation No. 5 of the audit report relates to the problems being faced by the sons and daughters of military personnel who are transferred around Australia as part of their duty and the fact that there is inconsistency between the various state and territory education systems. The recommendation mentions ongoing discussions with the state and territory education departments and says:

With the Department of Education, Science and Technology, Defence has funded a study of mobility and its impact on learning outcomes.

Really, that is a bit over the top. The problems with the education of children of Defence Force personnel were recognised a long time ago. It seems to me that it is begging the question now to be funding a study on its impact on these young people. The impact is known, the impact is there; it is the solution that is the hard part—and the solution is getting some sort of consistency between the various state and territory education departments. They all have their own dung heap and they are not going to move. They have their own little place in the sun and they want to keep it. Until one can get the various state and territory departments of education to move, one can have as many studies on mobility and its impact on learning as one likes. The reality is that the reports I listed yesterday, going back as far as the Hamilton report and the Cross report, in 1986 and 1988 respectively, identified these issues, as did the report that the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee put out in October 2001.

When one sees these types of recommendations, along with the other recommendations that I commented on yesterday, advocating that things will be done by late 2003 or 2004, one becomes gravely concerned, because these are not issues that have just lobbed onto the doorstep of the Department of Defence; they are issues that have been there for a long time that the defence department have failed to address either because of inertia within the department or because of structures that exist within the department. I do not see how these ongoing reports that make these recommendations to Defence, which Defence have seemingly ignored for a long time, help our Defence Force in any positive way whatsoever.

The other recommendation that I wanted to comment on, which I think I started to comment on yesterday afternoon, was recommendation No. 8, which states:

The proposed Retention Research Decision Guide will apply a systematic approach to the issue of retention by optimising the use of research to guide retention policy and planning.

That, in theory, sounds very nice—it sounds wonderful. But again, given Defence's experience of a large number of reviews over a long period of time, one would have thought this issue, which has been so central to many of those reports, would have been addressed. Retention is absolutely paramount to giving us an effective and efficient military force, a force that can operate for the best defence of Australia. I am not in any way denigrating the job that is done by current serving Defence Force personnel. But it should be noted that, in the inquiry that was conducted by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee in 2001, many defence personnel came before that inquiry and quite freely and openly—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Order! I wonder whether senators on my right could have the circumspection to whisper. It is obviously an important meeting! I do apologise, Senator Hogg—please proceed.

Senator HOGG —Thank you very much, Mr Acting Deputy President; that is very kind of you indeed. The Senate committee made a very detailed study. They had a number of very frank and open discussions with defence personnel and found that the problems that were confronting defence personnel in terms of retention—that was the issue that was before those people, as they were acting service personnel—were just not being addressed. They never had been addressed, but they could have been and should have been addressed.

It is disappointing to see that the ANAO treated Defence so mildly—and I thought they were very mild in the way they treated Defence. I know it was a follow-up audit, but I thought there could have been a little bit more of a sting in the tail to get some real action within Defence. If Defence keep pleading that they have to sit down and identify, analyse—and whatever else—these issues every time they are brought up by the ANAO or a committee of this parliament, whether it be the joint committee or a Senate committee, one will find that they will prevaricate. In the end I have grave concerns about how that may impact on the defence forces of this country.

One of the areas where there is an identified deficiency within the audit report is in respect of pilots. I am led to believe that the cost of putting a pilot into the level of experience they need within the Air Force is in the order of $6 million, which is a huge investment. One should not underestimate what happens when that pilot becomes disenchanted with our defence forces and walks out the door. Someone might challenge that figure but that is the figure that I have been given. Even if it is not $6 million, even if it is $3 million, it is still a very substantial amount of money and a substantial investment that has been put into our Defence Force personnel.

In conclusion, Defence as usual have agreed to the recommendations of the audit report, although I understand there is a qualification to one of those recommendations. That raises the question of what Defence are doing. That is what they do all the time: they agree with you and then do nothing. What we want to see from Defence is some action.

What is disappointing to me personally is the fact that the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee report tabled in October 2001 has still not been responded to by the government. It contains many recommendations and identifies many of the concerns that have been identified by the Audit Office over a period of time—and there are other reports as well. It would be very good indeed to see a detailed response forthcoming from the government on that particular Senate inquiry and, hopefully, the government will give Defence a good kick up the you-know-where and get them into action to solve some of the problems that have been identified in both the audit reports and of course in the report of the Senate references committee. I think the report should be read closely by those interested in defence. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.