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Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Page: 125


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Human Services) (8:47 PM) —I think it shows a remarkable audacity on behalf of a Labor Party senator to raise the issues of defence spending, Australia’s defence preparedness, the build-up of Australia’s defence readiness and the acquisition of materials by the Australian Defence Force. That is firstly because when Labor had the chance to be in power they ran down Australia’s defence preparedness, our defence capital and our defence forces in terms of their capabilities and of the size of the defence forces and, therefore, the contribution that those defence forces can make to securing Australia. Secondly, it shows an incredible lack of serious interest in defence for Senator Faulkner—who is now skulking out of the chamber, because he has more important things to do, no doubt—to raise the issue of defence in the adjournment debate at 10 minutes to nine on a Tuesday night.

I would welcome the Labor Party coming into this place and moving a serious motion on defence issues and debating defence on the floor of this chamber on any day. Let us have a serious debate. Let us talk about the defence budget. Let us talk about our defence preparedness. Let us talk about Australia’s contribution to the defence of the region, our participation in the Pacific region, our participation in the Middle East, our contribution in Afghanistan, our contribution to liberating the people of East Timor, our contribution to peacekeeping and, of course, the substantial increase in Australia’s defence preparedness through the contribution that the Howard-Costello team and the Australian government have made to building up Australia’s defence.

Australia’s defence was run down through the Hawke prime ministership and the Keating prime ministership; it sunk to the lowest levels. Yes, this Prime Minister, John Howard, has a very serious interest in defence. That is one of the few accurate things that Senator Faulkner said. Yes, our Prime Minister takes a serious and substantial interest in defence spending and Australia’s defence preparedness. He is acutely aware of it. He works very closely on it because he knows that the first responsibility of an Australian Prime Minister, the first responsibility of an Australian government, in a world that is very uncertain and threatened daily is protecting Australia and looking after Australia’s interests. And that is why the Prime Minister has—and why the coalition is so proud of him—ensured that we have rebuilt Australia’s defences. Yes, we have undertaken some of the largest defence contracts and defence procurement contracts ever entered into in Australia’s history. We are proud of that. They are very big projects, very big contracts, and they will contribute towards a safe and secure Australia.

What Senator Faulkner did—and I invite anyone to read what he said about the management of our procurement programs—is to put all of the blame on the defence minister and the Prime Minister for any contract that might go over budget. When he recognises, to his credit, that improvements have been made since Malcolm Kinnaird’s review, he gives all the credit to the personnel in the Defence Materiel Organisation, the DMO. I suggest to Senator Faulkner that when he criticises the defence purchasing arrangements of the Australian government what he really does is to criticise the entire defence organisation. He criticises the ADF and the DMO, he criticises the defence minister and he criticises the Prime Minister, but what he is doing—


Senator George Campbell —I raise a point of order, Mr President. I think it is one thing for Senator Campbell to wax lyrical about the issues in Defence and to challenge the issues that Senator Faulkner raised in terms of what is occurring in defence procurement, but it is another thing to impute a motive to Senator Faulkner, which Senator Campbell just did and which is contrary to standing order 193(2).


The PRESIDENT —So your point of order is on imputation?


Senator George Campbell —Senator Campbell is imputing a motive to Senator Faulkner which I think is not real.


The PRESIDENT —I do not believe so, Senator.


Senator George Campbell —Sorry, Mr President, what does that mean? Are you ruling against my point of order?


The PRESIDENT —I am ruling against your point of order. Senator Campbell has the call. Whilst I do not believe he imputed motives, I remind him that he should be careful in what he says when he is referring to other senators.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I always try to be very careful in what I am saying. Senator Faulkner is quite happy to attribute blame to the Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister, but when he does that he in fact criticises all of those responsible for acquisitions of major capital items. Can I put some facts on the record—


Senator George Campbell —Mr President, I raise the same point of order.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Why don’t you get up and debate it rather than raising a point of order?


Senator George Campbell —I am quite happy to debate it with you, Senator Campbell, but you are imputing a point of view that Senator Faulkner raised about one section of Defence to his views about what the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence are doing and to his views about other people in Defence. I think that is taking the point beyond the point of reason.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, but I draw the minister’s attention to the fact that he cannot impute improper motives to another senator. I remind him to be careful of his terminology.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Faulkner said—


Senator Marshall —He has ruled already.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Yes, he has ruled against the point of order. I will now go on with the debate. I will make it quite clear, as a debating point, that I am happy for Senator George Campbell to get up and debate this. I invite the Labor Party, rather than raising this at 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night, to have a real debate about the defence of Australia and multibillion dollar defence projects. Why not have a real debate about defence? We will debate them anywhere, anytime. We know that Labor’s record on defence is appalling. It is a disgrace. We remember the Collins class submarine project. Whenever you think about the Labor Party and defence procurement in Australia, you think about the Collins class submarine project. It has taken a decade to clean up the mess made by gurus like Senator Robert Ray and the other former defence ministers, which created a disaster for Australia’s defence procurement.

Senator Faulkner and the Labor Party cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that the defence minister and the Prime Minister are responsible for some failures in defence procurement but that DMO personnel are responsible for all the improvements. That is the point I am making. You cannot say the minister is responsible for all the failures but the public servants are responsible for the improvements. When you attack defence procurement you attack the people responsible for it, and you cannot get away from that. Senator Faulkner is attacking the defence procurement of the Australian government, and that is the responsibility of hundreds of very decent Australians who work their guts out to ensure Australia is well defended. They are the ones Senator Faulkner is attacking, whether he likes it or not and whether his comrade Senator George Campbell wants to accept it or not. That is the reality of what Senator Faulkner does.

The reality of our projects is that there are no cost blowouts. Senator Faulkner has the audacity to come into this place and say that we are stealing from the future of Australia’s defence capability, when this government has been increasing defence spending year after year and when defence spending under Labor went down and down. The Labor Party talks about stealing from future generations. What happened when we came to power in 1996 and found Defence in a hopeless state—morale down and defence spending slashed year after year? We realised Australia had to rebuild its defences and we looked in the Treasury coffers. How do you rebuild the defence of Australia when you have inherited a Treasury which has been robbed to the tune of $96 billion and when the interest on the debt that the Labor Party ran up is in excess of billions of dollars a year? What did we do? We said that defence is important. We started ramping up defence spending. We had to cut expenditure across every single department of government because of the profligacy of Labor when they were running the Treasury. There was $96 billion of debt. So we started cutting expenditure in every single portfolio. Every single cut was opposed by the Labor Party, but we saved one department. Which one was that? It was Defence. We knew that the most crucial responsibility of the Australian government was to defend Australia. We quarantined Defence, and of course since then we have rebuilt defence expenditure. These people opposite talk about robbing future generations. They ran up debt to $96 billion.

Since July 2003 there has been just a three per cent increase in the real cost of major capital equipment projects. This compares very favourably with our defence counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom. Let us get some facts for a change—we heard all the rhetoric from Senator Faulkner. Of 93 projects completed since July 2003, 10 required a budget increase and 51 of them achieved budget decreases—10 cost overruns, 51 below budget. Overall, the net variation in cost was just $36 million. Senator Faulkner would have you believe it was $10 billion—and this is from the people who borrowed $96 billion and put it on the bankcard. He talks about $10 billion, but the reality is that the net variation is just $36 million from a total of $5.5 billion.

Let us get this in context: a multibillion dollar increase in Australia’s defence procurement to give us the most historic increase in defence preparedness in Australia’s history. Senator Faulkner will not debate this during the day. He waits until 9 o’clock at night. What is the real increase? It is 0.65 per cent. Senator Faulkner should be ashamed of himself. His audacity knows no bounds. For the Labor Party to raise defence procurement, when they ran this country into debt and ran our defence down, is a joke. (Time expired)