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Wednesday, 7 February 2001
Page: 24159

Mr LIEBERMAN (10:10 AM) —I rise today to speak on one of the fundamental duties of government: the defence of the nation's sovereignty and its people. On 6 December last year, the Prime Minister launched the Defence 2000 white paper, which outlined the government's commitment to the Australian Defence Force and the security of the Australian nation.

I take particular interest in this subject as I have had a long and strong association with the Australian Defence Force. Great influences on my life were, of course, my father, who served in the British Army in the first war and the Australian Army in the second war; my brother, who was a Rat of Tobruk; and my master solicitor, whom I did articles with, was the late Captain Harry Flood. He was a great lawyer who served very bravely as a commando in World War II, observing the Japanese in Timor, pursued by the Japanese and never caught. He escaped by submarine before they finally could get him. His life was constantly in danger and he observed, and reported on, Japanese movements and saved many lives. He was a mentor to me for my career in law and also generally.

I myself have been a national serviceman and later a major in the Australian Army Reserve. When I was elected to the Commonwealth parliament, I was fortunate enough to become a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. My own seat of Indi contains major defence establishments such as the Army Training Centre at Bandiana, and the adjoining electorate of McEwen close by contains Puckapunyal, where I did my training in the armoured regiment in the coldest winter ever in the history of Australia. Those two army establishments play a major part in the life of regional Victoria, and the service men and women are important and good citizens of our communities.

I also have a major defence factory, Australian Defence Industries, in Benalla, and share with Tim Fischer at Yarrawonga-Mulwala a major defence ADI factory. Tim and I also share an ADI establishment in Albury-Wodonga. I also, at the present time, have the honour of being the patron of the Bandiana War Museum. I recommend that members visit that area. You will be made very welcome and see one of the most outstanding museums in Australia, which is developing rapidly too. I am also a friend of the Australian War Memorial. So it is a big part of my life, as you can see.

This white paper represents the most comprehensive reappraisal of Australia's defence capability for decades. It provides major increases in defence funding over a 10-year period. It complements the government's view of these strategic circumstances in which Australia is now placed in our region and beyond, and it lays down the most specific long-term funding commitment given by any Australian government in over 25 years. I pay tribute to the retired minister, John Moore, for his contribution and efforts, and to John Howard for his chairmanship in that. I also wish Peter Reith every success with the challenging defence portfolio that he now holds.

The white paper importantly reaffirms the defence of Australia as the primary focus of the ADF, yet it also recognises the important changes that have occurred within South-East Asia and the South Pacific. It gives the ADF the flexibility and capability to play a positive role in promoting stability and cooperation in the region and it allows the ADF, where necessary, to be able to contribute to peacekeeping and coalition operations. The white paper provides the crucial strategic guidance that the ADF requires to implement an appropriate, realistic and affordable force structure in the early 21st century. What the government has committed to delivering through this white paper is based on Defence's own analysis of its needs and requirements. It gives the ADF an unprecedented level of confidence about its future.

The white paper has a number of unique features. It was developed through extensive consultations throughout government and with the National Security Committee of cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister. The National Security Committee is an innovation of John Howard and has worked particularly well. Without doubt, John Howard's government is the best informed government on defence issues since the Vietnam War. The committee's endorsement, and ultimately that of cabinet, demonstrates the whole-of-government commitment to the white paper. The paper also demonstrates the achievements of this government in providing a framework for regional security. By being transparent in producing the white paper, Australia has contributed significantly to building broader confidence in South-East Asian security.

However, the most innovative thing about the white paper was the public consultation process led by my good friend Andrew Peacock. It is with great pride that I reflect upon the fact that the white paper was written with the informed consent and input of the Australian community. The government took the unprecedented step of conducting a broad public consultation process to ensure that the Australian people were directly involved and able to be better informed about the security of the nation and the issues facing us. We sought their wise counsel on the way in which they would like the government to shape the future defence policies of this nation. Through this process there was an unambiguous signal from the Australian public that we should preserve our military capabilities and increase our defence spending—the message was loud and clear. Defence is one of the most expensive national undertakings, and this government has ensured that it is done effectively and efficiently. As a former health minister, I often wonder which is the more expensive portfolio: defence or health. I think defence probably is the more expensive on balance, and will remain so.

In recent years the government has given high priority to reforming the defence organisation. We have a responsibility to the Australian public to continue to ensure that taxpayers' funds are spent wisely. For the past 12 years Australia's defence spending has been flat in real terms, and indeed fell slightly in the early 1990s. Over the same period, costs have increased in many areas of the defence budget in real terms. This produced a long-term squeeze on our capabilities and on the people in uniform. This government became concerned that our defence budget was no longer adequate to sustain the existing set of capabilities in the uncertain strategic environment we faced. Without action, defence spending as a percentage of GDP would have continued to fall, and with it our military capabilities.

The Howard government is determined to ensure that the ADF will have the capability to fight and to win. To do this we need to maintain the full range of military capabilities we have today and significantly enhance many of them over the coming decade. Through the implementation of the white paper we will increase the readiness, deployability and combat weight of our land forces, which were long neglected by the previous Labor government. Progressively, we will upgrade our air and naval forces to keep pace with evolving technologies and capabilities.

The defence capability plan, which was developed as part of the white paper, sets clear goals for the development of each major group of capabilities and provides detailed, costed programs for their development. It, too, is a unique aspect of this defence white paper. The defence capability plan covers the next 10 years and takes account of the need to invest in new capabilities, which will come into service in the decade commencing 2010. Within the disciplined framework of the plan, the government has made important decisions about the future of all our major capabilities. To achieve the capability enhancements set out in the defence capability plan, the government will increase defence spending by $500 million in the financial year 2001-02 and by a further $500 million in 2002-03, providing an additional $1 billion that year. This initial funding boost will be further supplemented in following years. The net result is an increase in defence spending that averages three per cent per year in real terms for a decade.

The capability plan is underpinned by important strategic decisions taken by government on what it wants the Defence Force to be able to do. It is easy to lose sight of these beneath the lists of equipment to be acquired but they are very significant. The government wants the Army to be able to respond swiftly and effectively to any credible armed lodgement on Australian territory and provide forces for the more likely types of operations in our immediate neighbourhood. To do this the Army will be structured to ensure that we are able to sustain a brigade on operations for extended periods and maintain a smaller battalion group for simultaneous operations elsewhere.

Our air combat capability will be kept at the leading edge of capabilities in the region and have a sufficient margin of superiority to provide an acceptable likelihood of success in combat operations. It will be backed by capable naval forces able to operate throughout our maritime approaches and beyond. Australia will also maintain the most potent submarine and strike capability in the region. All of this will be backed by systems and structures that will exploit the advantages available to modern militaries through developments in information technology.

The white paper also recognises the crucial importance of people with a commitment to raise the level of the ADF to 54,000 personnel and to make sure these people are trained to the highest ability. First class defence capability requires first class defence personnel. The white paper provides for recruitment and retention strategies. These strategies include restructuring the ADF's remuneration, superannuation and compensation arrangements to make them more effective, efficient and flexible to better accommodate individuals' needs.

At the same time the white paper has given particular attention to the reserves and the cadets—very important components of the nation's community. The white paper supports a number of policy initiatives which enhance the contribution of the reserves to ADF capability. These initiatives provide greater options for the employment of reserves whilst also giving the reserves a greater level of community support. The white paper also commits the government to expanding the Australian Services Cadet Scheme with an increase in funding to $30 million by 2002. Cadets engender community involvement and support for the ADF and represent a crucial link between regional and rural communities with the defence forces. Of course we know the Prime Minister was a cadet in his youth, General Cosgrove started his career as a cadet and the Deputy Speaker was a cadet as well. The cadets have played an important part in helping to shape not only their own lives but also the community and the nation. Many go on and serve permanently in the defence forces.

The capability enhancements in this white paper will result in a $23.5 billion increase in defence funding over the coming decade—a significant increase in defence funding by any standard. This increase in funding keeps the faith with the Australian people and reflects their views as expressed through the public consultation process. We have listened and acted. This is a much more specific funding commitment than in any white paper over the last 25 years. It will provide the first significant real increases in defence spending in 15 years. We have taken the unprecedented step of providing detailed funding projections in the paper over the entire decade—a refreshing, transparent indication of the government's approach and how it will deliver.

I am delighted that much of the extra funding that the white paper provides will go to regional Australia. The regional development of Australia is an issue that I have always supported. I have consistently argued that regional development was an unrecognised issue in Australian politics. It is one of the reasons why I wanted to serve in the Commonwealth parliament. I am glad to see members on both sides of parliament wanting to take a greater interest in the life of regional Australia and forging a stronger partnership between city and country people. Well done!

I hope the defence expenditure is the beginning of a greater recognition of Australia's regions and their future role in this great country. The seat of Indi, which I represent and will be retiring from when the election is called, is of great importance to the Victorian economy. It is a federation seat—Sir Isaac Isaacs was the first federal member for Indi. As I have already mentioned, Indi is home to significant regional defence establishments and their families. I am very proud of those people.

This white paper provides numerous benefits to regional Australia. The upgrade of the 350 M113 armoured personnel carriers brings joy to my heart as a former member of the armoured corps. It will provide more employment within my seat of Indi in Albury-Wodonga, because that is where the work will be carried out by the skilled technicians who work and live in regional Australia. Other parts of regional Australia will benefit from the decision to construct in Australia three air warfare destroyers, as well as the replacements for the Fremantle class patrol boats. The expansion of the Army's high readiness force from four to six infantry battalions and a number of other initiatives will ensure that Australia is well looked after, protected and ready to face the challenges of the future. (Time expired)