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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30151

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (3:02 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Would the minister advise the House of the government's commitments in relation to the Defence portfolio? Would the minister advise the House of instances where commitments in the Defence portfolio have been given and not met or where commitments have been given which lack credibility?

Mr REITH (Minister for Defence) —I thank the honourable member for his question and I am pleased to advise the House that the government has made commitments in respect of defence and we are sticking to those commitments. Furthermore, in this year's budget we provided hundreds of millions of dollars to make those commitments a reality for a more efficient, more modern and up-to-date Defence Force. In fact, we have plans to spend in the order of $27 billion over 10 years. We have given the defence organisation a plan for the future and the resources and commitment to make that a reality.

I am asked about other commitments in defence and the credibility of those commitments. The opposition certainly have commitments in the area of defence, but they have absolutely no credibility when it comes to sustaining those commitments. In fact, I would say to the parliament that most of the commitments made by the Labor Party are commitments which, in effect, will deceive the Australian people as to what the Labor Party can or cannot do in the future in regard to defence.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —I warn the member for Paterson!

Mr REITH —We have from the Leader of the Opposition constant carping that he is going to set up a coastguard, yet he himself, when he was a relevant minister, brought down a report saying that it would be ineffective and would in fact cost us a lot of money. It is a deception of the Australian people for him to put forward the idea of a coastguard. It would not work. It would reduce the effectiveness of the existing operation and, of course, the opposition does not have the money to pay for it. That is not the only thing for which the Labor Party do not have the money but which they are out in the Australian community touting they would do if they were elected. They are promising people in the Hunter a new bombing range at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dr Martin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. As the Speaker has ruled on a number of occasions where personal explanations have been taken in this place—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Resume your seat. The minister has the call.

Mr REITH —There is one promise after another, none of which will ever be backed up and for which there is not one cent to make them a reality. There were promises of Anzac battalions and a couple of additional submarines—just to mention some—which would cost literally billions of dollars and which the Labor Party know will never be delivered. Yet they are still out there in the public arena advocating these propositions. Now we see that the Leader of the Opposition says that he is not going to increase the Defence budget. But of course he has got all the promises out there—to one group here and one group there. There is one offer after another. He has got a promise for anybody who is prepared to listen, just on the basis that none of the comments go national. These promises have no credibility.

I am asked whether or not we have seen such promises in the past. Of course we have. I take just one example, of which there are many: when the Leader of the Opposition was defence minister, he went down to Newcastle in 1989 to tell them that five of the 12 ships—the frigates to be built—would be assembled and launched in Newcastle. As everybody knows, that was not true. It never happened. It is typical of what those opposite do—promising a group here, promising a group there. They are promises that will never be kept. In the last 24 hours we have had a few emails coming in on this subject as well. There was a talkback caller named Michael on 3AW this morning who I thought spoke on behalf of many Australians when he said:

When Kim Beazley was defence minister, he came to Williamstown dockyards. He said `Go out and mortgage your house, go out and buy a new car, your jobs are safe.' About seven months later, a couple of hundred or nearly a thousand people lost their jobs.

He then said:

A leopard never changes his spots.

The Labor Party has no credibility whatsoever on defence. It is a fabrication and a deception to be advocating proposals across the country that the Labor Party will never put one cent towards if ever they get into government and for which they have no commitment whatsoever.

Mr Crean —Mr Acting Speaker, I ask that the minister table the document from which he was just reading.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Minister, is it a confidential document?

Mr Reith —The documents I had were the notes for my answer. You can have those with pleasure and I hope you enjoy reading them. I also have the offending press release if you would like that. I table that as well.

Mr Crean —What about the email?

Mr Reith —I don't have any emails with me.

Mr Crean —Mr Acting Speaker, the minister indicated—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Are you asking a question?

Mr Crean —I am; of you, Mr Acting Speaker. The minister indicated in his answer to the—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —No, not now—later if you like.

Mr Crean —Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. The minister indicated in his answer that he was reading from an email.

Honourable members—No.

Mr Crean —He did. I am now asking that that be tabled.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —I cannot confirm whether or not the minister was reading from an email. He has tabled what he wishes to table. He has no obligation if it was a confidential document to table anything else. I am informed that he tabled everything he had at the dispatch box.