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Wednesday, 3 May 1989
Page: 1688


Senator NEWMAN —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the Minister's explanation.

Mr President, you would be well aware of concerns that we have expressed over and over again about the slowness of response by the Department of Defence to many questions asked in the Senate and at Senate Estimates committee hearings. But this matter was of particular concern to the defence forces because it goes to the heart of the morale of the forces. Honourable senators would be well aware that the morale of the Australian Defence Force is at an all time low and the losses are at an all time high.

The question that I asked related to the opportunity which Australia had had to appoint a senior Army officer as commander of the multinational force in the Sinai. I asked whether approval had been given for this appointment when the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, stepped in and vetoed the appointment. I also asked whether the appointment had now gone to Lieutenant-General McIver of the New Zealand Defence Force and, if so, whether the Minister could advise whether the Prime Minister had denied an Australian the chance of such valuable experience when it was at no expense to the Australian taxpayer. I further asked whether considerations of Defence Force morale and Australia's international role as a promoter of peace were ignored. There is the nub of the matter. This was not something that would have cost Australia money and it went very much to the morale of the Defence Force. Although those were straightforward and factual questions requiring straightforward and factual answers, it has taken two months to today to get even a basic response from the Minister that a reply is on the way. The Senate does not find that good enough.

Whilst I appreciate that the Minister, Senator Richardson, is merely representing the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), I hope that he will take back to the Minister the Senate's concerns about the constant slow response to questions of all kinds asked of the Department for Defence and the Minister for Defence. However, this is of great symbolic importance to the Defence Force. It is not just a question of whether senators' questions are treated expeditiously by this Department and this Minister. Certainly honourable senators on my side of the chamber are concerned about this. We find quite unacceptable, firstly, the treatment which the Senate has had in relation to the slowness of answers but, more importantly, the effect which the matters enclosed in my question have on the morale of the Australian Defence Force. I expect and hope that the Minister will obtain such an answer before the end of this week in light of the slowness of the response to date.

Question resolved in the affirmative.