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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11973


Mr BEVIS (9:01 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee’s report entitled Review of the Defence annual report 2006-2007.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.


Mr BEVIS —This report covers a range of important matters to do with Australia’s Defence Force and our national security. It comes at a time of heightened activity by our Defence Force with intense deployments in many parts of the world, including some of the more hostile places that troops are presently deployed in around the globe.

At the outset I would like to record my thanks as chair to a number of people. This report would not have been possible had it not been for the wonderful support that the committee has received from the secretariat and I would like to single out Lieutenant Colonel Paul Nothard for the wonderful and outstanding support that he has provided not just for this report but also to the committee throughout the year. Colonel Nothard will be leaving his posting here at Parliament House and I am sure that he goes with the very best wishes of all members of the committee. We thank him for his very substantial contribution to the work of the committee throughout this year.

I would also like to put on the record my thanks to the many members of the committee who have worked very diligently and in a bipartisan manner, and I single out the deputy chair, the member for Paterson, who for good reason was unable to be at the committee meeting last week when the report was dealt with. I know he has some matters that he wishes to place before the parliament and I am very pleased that he will have that opportunity this evening. I, and I know other members of the committee, have certainly appreciated his constructive contribution. It is one of those committees of the parliament that I think works in the genuine best interests of national interest. We would like to think all committees do but I guess from time to time it does not always work out that way.

In the couple of minutes that are available to address the many issues contained in this report I want to focus in particular on those matters that were the subject of committee recommendations. The committee report does include other areas where the committee has made determinations and these are findings or decisions that the committee has taken about future courses of action, and I commend those also to the reading of members in this House and to people outside.

There are five specific recommendations which deal with matters of some significance, I think, that deserve particular mention. The first recommendation contained in the report goes to the need for defence industry capability to be considered in the acquisition program that Defence undertakes. Defence procurement is a major economic activity within this nation. It happens to be very much at the core of our national security and it is important that we structure that within the constraints of our security requirements to avoid the peaks and troughs that sometimes plague our Australian industry development, and recommendation 1 goes to that matter.

Recommendation 2 is perhaps the most important consideration before the committee because it deals with what will become the single most expensive and, arguably, the single most important acquisition that the Commonwealth will have made ever, and that is the acquisition of our replacement aircraft. The recommendation that I will read into the Hansard says:

That consideration of Australia’s future combat aircraft needs including the critical air-to-air combat role be determined by the paramount strategic importance of this capability as recognised in the 2000 White Paper. That the decision on future air combat capability be determined by the analysis of available platform capabilities against Australian strategic requirements and not be constrained by a predetermined requirement for a single platform.

The simple core of that proposition is that this acquisition is so important that it should not be constrained by some view driven purely by economics or by other considerations. We need as a nation to get this right and we need as a nation to be willing to step up to the mark, having made the decision on purely strategic grounds, to pay the bill.

The third recommendation goes to an issue of personnel. At the end of the day, it is the Australian men and women in uniform who make the difference. They are the people who defend our nation and, whilst it is our responsibility to make sure they are properly equipped, it is our responsibility to make sure that they are also well cared for. This goes to an important recommendation recognising the unique circumstances that they face.

Finally, there are two recommendations dealing with the operation of our new Abrams tanks. The committee was very pleased to make a visit to the Northern Territory and, I think, were impressed by their inspection of facilities there. I commend the recommendations and the report. (Time expired)