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Tuesday, 7 August 2001
Page: 29297

Mrs VALE (3:17 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Minister, to what extent has the government's Defence white paper boosted Defence spending? Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals for increased Defence spending?

Mr REITH (Minister for Defence) —I do thank the member for Hughes. I take the opportunity to congratulate her for giving her time to go out with the construction unit in the Northern Territory to support the work that they are doing in building housing for Aboriginal communities, which is one of the great things that the Army does and I would like to see them get more credit for it. I was very pleased to see the honourable member out there with them in the last week or so.

I am pleased to answer her question by saying that the Defence budget will grow by an average of three per cent in real terms over the coming decade. This is a real commitment to Defence. Importantly, not only does it provide the resources but also it provides a plan within which Defence as an organisation can modernise itself and bring itself to very high standards operationally and in terms of its management. I am asked whether or not there are any alternative proposals. There certainly are alternative proposals. There are proposals for two new subs: Kim 1 and Kim 2. There is a proposal for a bombing range.

Mr REITH —Oh, and you had the catamaran—

Mr Martin Ferguson —And you had the telecard as well!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Batman is not assisting.

Dr Martin —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I remind you of a ruling that you gave in this place previously that, when members have made personal explanations about particular issues that have proved that assertions made by ministers were incorrect, they could no longer be referred to. On many occasions in this place, that has been done by this minister and is a blatant misleading of this parliament. I ask you to take appropriate action.

Mr SPEAKER —I listened to the Minister for Defence and I expect him to answer questions as objectively as he can.

Mr REITH —Mr Speaker, I answer questions on the Labor Party's policy on the basis of what they say publicly. Yesterday I referred the House to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition in Townsville acknowledged that his promises for Defence would cost more money. After I had said that he had acknowledged that they would need to spend more money, he got up at the end of question time and made this statement:


`he' being Peter Reith—

said that I would increase defence spending, and then he left it at that. That is a partial quote which misleads.

Those are the comments of the Leader of the Opposition. There was no misleading of the Leader of the Opposition. What he said is in fact available on the Labor Party's own web site. There was no partial exposition by me of what he said. What he said was quite specific. This is the sentence:

So I am not talking about cutting the Defence budget at all.

Then he said:

Paradoxically, what we intend to do with the coastguard will probably increase it.

You said that you were going to increase defence spending.

Mr Beazley —That's right.

Mr REITH —Exactly. Yesterday, after question time, the Leader of the Opposition got up and said I was misleading.

Mr REITH —I understand exactly what you mean. Mr Speaker, I will tell you what he means: when he is in Townsville, he has a message for the people in Townsville, and when he is in Canberra he has a different message. The consequence of what he told the people in Townsville is that they will have to pay higher income taxes for the whole list of promises that the Labor Party has. You cannot promise Kim 1 and Kim 2, a free bombing range, the Anzac battalion and a coastguard that you were opposed to when in government and then say—

Dr Martin —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I again go to the issue that I raised with you previously. Each of the issues that the minister is now running through has been categorically denied in this place on a number of occasions and in comments made by the Leader of the Opposition and in media comments. They are there for all to see. I would ask you to bring the minister back to the question.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister has the call. I am not conscious of whether or not there have been any particular promises for the construction of submarines. I am conscious of the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday and of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition by way of interjection indicated that he was committed to more spending on, I think, coastguard.

Mr Downer —Defence overall.

Mr SPEAKER —Defence. In that sense, I had recognised the minister. The minister will respond to the question.

Mr REITH —Having alleged yesterday that the Labor Party acknowledged that they would have to spend more, I am criticised by the Leader of the Opposition for misleading, and here he is today accepting the first proposition that I made. The shadow minister says, `We're not going to buy a catamaran'—the Jervis Bay replacement—but he put out a press release saying that he was going to do so at a cost of $80 million. He can have 101 interjections while I am answering a question, but there are questions to be answered on Labor's defence policy, and it is about time they fronted up—

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat.

Dr Martin —Has the deserter finished, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Cunningham will resume his seat.