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Tuesday, 5 June 2001
Page: 27242

Mr HAASE (2:32 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Will the minister outline the government's initiatives relating to cadets? Is the minister aware of other policies in this area?

Mr REITH (Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Kalgoorlie for his question. He is a great supporter of the cadets in his electorate—I know because he has told me about them. He has an Army unit at Merredin and a couple of naval cadet units at Esperance and Dampier. I am sure that cadet units around the country will be delighted with the announcement made by my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, Dr Nelson, of the government's support for cadets. The government is putting more money into cadets—another $6 million. We are also integrating cadets more closely with the Defence Force. We see cadets as a very important youth development program. It is also a great introduction to the military. Some of the senior people today in the Australian Defence Force got their first interest in the military through the cadets.

The government is very supportive of cadets. Furthermore, in that support for cadets we have tapped into strong community support. I do commend the parliamentary secretary for the fact that we have had the Courier-Mail come out with an editorial—I have just plucked out a selection of articles—and the Advertiser came out in support of cadets. It said:

The Victorian government leading the charge—

that is, against cadets—

asserts it is upholding an anti-gun policy. But to deny weapons training to Defence Force cadets makes about as much sense as teaching gardening without touching a plant or hairdressing without scissors.

The West Australian's headline was `Value in cadet system revamped'. It said:

Experience in the cadets teaches young people the value of discipline and how to work in a team. It also allows them to develop a range of skills, including leadership.

To take one regional newspaper, the Bendigo Advertiser also came out with an editorial strongly supporting the government's measures. This is a long-term program which the government has put in place. It is part and parcel of the government's overhaul of defence and it was of course given priority in the government's defence white paper.

I am asked sensibly whether there is any alternative policy. The only alternative and negative comment with respect to cadets is coming from senior people within the Labor Party: we have had the Premier of Tasmania, the Premier of New South Wales and the Premier of Victoria, all of whom are attacking this particular proposal, and of course the Premier of Western Australia—the home state for the member for Kalgoorlie. This should hardly come as a surprise. If you go back in time, when Whitlam was elected he abolished the cadets. When the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, was defence minister and a senior member of the previous Labor government, they downgraded cadets. When the shadow minister was asked about it, his basic response was, `The money should have been spent somewhere else in defence.'

Dr Martin —That's right. On the ADF!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Cunningham knows better than anyone else that he does not have a licence to behave in that way.

Mr REITH —I thank the shadow minister and his colleagues, who are all nodding and interjecting in support of him, because what they are saying is that if the Labor Party are elected they will cut into defence just as they did previously. That is very clear, because not only do they not support cadets but we have also seen in recent days their response to the question, `Where is the money coming from for roll-back?' The Leader of the Opposition was pretty clear when he was asked on Sunday. He said, `Saul Eslake has a list and you can have a look at that list.' When you look at his list, what is on it? None other than defence.

So what do we have? We have the Labor Party going around quite openly saying that when it comes to funding some other programs—yet to be defined—they are going to cut defence funding. They are not just going to cut cadets of course; they have a whole range of programs. That is why you have this so-called incredible policy from the Leader of the Opposition, who says, `I'll tell you the details of my defence policy after the election.' It is the old trick back to 1993—the same old trick—and the Labor Party think the public is mug enough to fall for the same trick. This government are proud of what they have done for cadets. We will continue to support cadets. Dr Nelson has done a fantastic job supporting cadets. I know that communities around Australia will support what the government are doing, and I think it is about time the Leader of the Opposition finally committed himself to this great program for young people.