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Tuesday, 27 February 2001
Page: 24468

Mr PYNE (2:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Is the minister aware of commitments which have been made with respect to submarines in the defence portfolio and what costings have been made on these commitments?

Mr REITH (Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question. Members might recall that yesterday I took them back to the 1998 election defence policy of the Labor Party, which costed their commitment then and their commitment now for two additional submarines at a total of nought. In fact, for the four forward years it was nought, nought, nought, nought and a total of nought. These are the free submarines which come courtesy of the Leader of the Opposition. The shadow minister jumped to the defence of the Leader of the Opposition and said, `Minister Reith needs to do his homework.'

Dr Martin —Correct!

Mr REITH —Thank you very much for that invitation to do my job. I was well ahead of you because we had in fact—

Mr REITH —I take the rebuttal seriously.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Cunningham is choosing deliberately to defy the chair.

Mr REITH —We sought from the Department of Finance and Administration some information about the processes followed during the 1998 election under the legislative framework provided for this matter, namely, the Charter of Budget Honesty Act. I asked whether there were requests made by the Leader of the Opposition under the act for a costing of his defence policy. Under the act, the requests are not made available to the government—they are provided direct to the department of finance. But we do know that the secretary of the department of finance, under the act, made a number of statements about the fact that he had received requests from the Leader of the Opposition. We also have, and I table the document for the information of honourable members, details of every response by the secretary of Finance to the request lodged by the Leader of the Opposition. In the event that requests are lodged very late and the department of finance has no time to provide a response in any detail, they are still to refer to the requests. So we have on the public record a fairly clear statement of what transpired during the election campaign in respect of costings on the defence side. I can inform the House that five times during the 1998 campaign, Labor submitted envelopes of policies for costings—submarines were deliberately left out of the five requests. I put a simple proposition yesterday and that is that you cannot have two submarines for free. This idea is from the man who gave us a $10.3 billion deficit, who was one of the greatest bunglers in the defence department this country has ever seen and who today has a policy which says to the Australian public, `Two new submarines—you can have them for nix.' This is yet another area where Labor has a policy but they do not have the leadership to actually tell you how they can afford it.