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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 27034

Mrs VALE (2:55 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Would the minister advise the House how the Australian Defence Force will benefit from the budget. Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals for the Australian Defence Force?

Mr REITH (Minister for Defence) —I do want to particularly thank the member for Hughes for her question. She is a great supporter of defence, and she is a great supporter of Defence families in her electorate, and I know that is appreciated. I know also that the defence community is very pleased to see the government bring down the best budget for Defence in decades, because this is a budget which provides the largest injection of funds that we have seen—in fact, $23½ billion over the next decade in today's money, $27 billion if indexed. It provides Defence with the resources to get on with all the things that need to be done to give Australia an efficient, up-to-date, modern Defence Force. We have money for people issues and for 38 major projects, which are spelt out and specifically endorsed and given approval for in the budget. That is important in itself, because over the next four years there is $5½ billion of spending, much of which can be available for defence industry in Australia, and that means jobs here at home. On top of that, on the personnel side we have more money for reserves and for cadets. This government has honoured the promises it made in the white paper last year. It is very good news for the country that in the future we are going to have a Defence Force that is properly resourced. I do want to pay tribute particularly to the Prime Minister for his leadership in this area, and I want to say to the Treasurer that it is great to have a Treasurer who can organise the economy so well that we can do the things that need to be done.

I am asked what alternative policies there are. I looked up the synonym for vision and the word is hallucination. They have subs in their dreams on the other side. But there is also, under their defence policy, a commitment from the Labor Party to establish what they would call `Coast Guard'. In fact, behind this policy is a proposal to take the Navy out of the surveillance work—1,800 patrol boat days—that it today undertakes around the Australian coast. The Labor Party intends replacing that with non-ADF assets. I believe the best people to do that job are the people of the Australian Navy. It is a great mistake to take the Navy out of that particular exercise, and it is not just me who says that it is a mistake. The Leader of the Opposition, when he was a minister, brought down a report which said that the policy he today adopts was a policy that should not be adopted. In fact, if you go back to the report, he costed the alternative he now supports. When he was in government he was opposed to that alternative and now he supports an alternative which, if you costed it in today's dollars, would cost $2 billion and take the Navy out of performing a vital function in this country's interests. Not only would we no longer have the Navy doing the job—and they are the best people to do that particular job, so you would get a less effective job done—but also it would cost us an additional $2 billion to set up this alternative arrangement. We are perfectly entitled to ask, `How are you going to pay for this additional $2 billion?' The reason I ask the question today is that back in March this year—only 9 March, nine or 10 weeks ago—the shadow Treasurer said, `You can have our policies after the budget has been brought down.' Well, the budget has been brought down—the best budget we have seen for years for defence—and we are entitled to say, `When you give your big policy speech tonight, it is about time we had a bit of detail, as your shadow Treasurer promised, on defence.'

The Leader of the Opposition ought to know something about defence—he was the Minister for Defence for years. He has been the Leader of the Opposition for 5½ years and he still cannot tell you, as at this very moment, what his policy is. It is about time that the Labor Party moved away from the vagueness of what they have been saying, and it is incumbent on him to say—

Dr Martin —It's called a white paper.

Mr REITH —If there is going to be another couple of billion dollars, I think a lot of Australians will want to know whether Stephen Conroy was right. What he is basically saying is, `Oh well, if you want to have this lesser effort to guard Australia's sea lanes and the like—entrances to Australia—then it is going to cost you a couple of billion dollars.' What is his plan? Are we going to increase some taxes in this area? Well, tonight is the night we certainly want to hear.