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Monday, 5 March 2001
Page: 24919

Mr GEORGIOU (2:48 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Minister, would you inform the House of the priorities outlined in the government white paper relating to naval expenditure? Are there other proposals that may affect this expenditure?

Mr Beazley —He has almost got it right—just about there.

Mr REITH (Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Kooyong for his question and I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his interjection when he said, `Well, he keeps at it, and he's nearly right.'

Opposition members—`Nearly there'!

Mr REITH —`Nearly there'? Well, `nearly there', `nearly right'. The fact of the matter is that the point I have been making to the House in the last week is that the Labor Party in one breath say that they support the defence white paper but they have an additional offering of two free submarines, which they are not prepared to disclose how they are going to pay for. I have brought with me today the defence white paper, Defence 2000—Our Future Defence Force. This is the best document for the defence of this country we have seen in decades in Australia.

The member for Kooyong refers to naval expenditure and I refer all members to page 97 which spells out in detail the additional funding required to meet the objectives the government have set for additional naval expenditure and, obviously, naval equipment. In respect of the submarines, it is well known that we are spending more money on submarines to fix up the problems that we inherited from the previous government and, in particular, from the Leader of the Opposition when he was defence minister.

It is about time that the Labor Party spelled out in some detail how they are going to pay for two additional submarines. The reason they have got to do that is that, unless they are prepared to tell us where the money is coming from, it is pretty obvious that what they intend to do is to shift the money around in the Defence portfolio—in other words, they will gut the white paper whilst at the same time having the gall to say to the Australian public that they support the document.

The Leader of the Opposition has a bit of a record when it comes to financing and managing a project of this sort. In fact, back in 1986 the Financial Review reported:

The Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, yesterday rejected recent claims that the cost of Australia's submarine project would exceed its $2.6 billion budget.

In 1987, though, he did give us a glimpse of his real abilities as the defence minister. He said:

The figures that will be presented to the Cabinet, the parameters of which I mentioned in the House yesterday, are a result of that process. It is not a process involving my sitting down and trying to work out the costs of a submarine.

And then he said these immortal words:

Quite clearly I am not capable or competent to do so.

Amen to that, Mr Speaker. I could not think of anybody more incompetent or more incapable of spelling out the cost implications and the policy implications of Labor's two free submarines policy. Yet he is continuing to push the two free submarines. This is just one example of the narrowcasting that goes on when the microphones are turned off. In the Advertiser on 6 July last year the headline tells it all: `Beazley pledges a clean river and two new subs'. Furthermore—and he is convinced about it—`The case for building more was impeccable', to quote from the Adelaide Advertiser.

Labor have a policy with a billion-dollar-plus hole in it. It is about time they exercised some responsibility and told us how they are going to pay for it; otherwise their claims about supporting what the government are doing are hollow. We think the defence white paper deserves support. It deserves substantial support—not the sort of playing at the edges we typically get from a lazy opposition who are not prepared to spell out their real policy position.