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Thursday, 11 May 1989
Page: 2322


Senator VALLENTINE(3.51) —As a member of the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I am very interested in the Government's response to the Cross report. If, as the statement of the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel (Mr Simmons) suggests, the Government is going beyond some of the recommendations of the Cross report to stem the wastage from the Australian Defence Force (ADF), then that is to be welcomed. Certainly the overwhelming response from the defence forces and their families in the course of that inquiry last year was to suggest that there was great disquiet within the ADF about conditions, pay, housing, retirement, education difficulties and quality of life difficulties, which I think really need to be addressed.

The one positive initiative I noticed in the Minister's statement-to which I think Senator Newman referred only briefly-does show that the Government is taking an initiative beyond that suggested in the Cross report, that it wants to listen to the views and concerns of members of the ADF and that it actually cares about them. This is the Family Information Network, FIND. It is a 008 number which ADF personnel and their families can ring to find out about their entitlements. This is done in confidence. People do not have to reveal who they are or where they are stationed. I think that in itself is a step in the right direction, because people have sometimes felt that their family situations have not been taken into account.

I support the members of the defence forces and the various Defence Force associations which put their cases so competently to the defence review inquiry committee. However, I would like to point out that there are enormous contradictions in the Minister's statement concerning the concept of the role of the Australian Defence Force in Australian society. I quote from page 4 of the Minister's statement. He says:

The Government bases its ADF personnel strategy on two fundamentals. The first is the recognition that the profession of arms is a unique profession, with unique traditions, duties and skills.

The second is that the Defence community, while it is unique, is also part of the Australian community.

Of course, both those statements are true, but inherent in them is an enormous contradiction, which I think is very difficult for the defence forces and the community to deal with. The Government has a policy that it calls `civilianisation', which is referred to on page 6 of the Minister's statement. It says:

The Government intends to continue our policy of civilianisation within Defence.

This just cannot happen if we are also to consider that the defence forces are unique and that their traditions, skills and so on are unique unto themselves. If we have that view, we cannot really expect their members to live as normal citizens within the community and to be subject to the usual privileges and constraints of life within the community. I think there has to be a real re-thinking of the role of the defence forces in the community. Are they to be part of the community, or are they to be unique? We really cannot have it both ways.

Perhaps we should take a lesson from the Dutch armed forces. Holland, of course, is a fully operational member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The armed services people in Holland are unionised, so that they can argue collectively for better pay and conditions. Until we have that situation in Australia, I believe that we will continue to have this enormous dilemma between service to the ADF, which is always put first, and the needs of the individual service men and women. Of course, I said this in my dissenting report to the Cross Committee report which came out six months ago. I said that this was a fundamental dilemma and that if we actually took the view that service people should be part of the community, then they should have the privilege of organising as a union to ensure that their wages and conditions were on a par with those of the rest of the community. I said that this would ensure that they did not feel like second class citizens, or feel that their needs were not being met, that they were unimportant as members of the community and that their families were suffering hardships because they were members of the defence forces serving their country.

In respect of the peacetime Australian Defence Force, which, thankfully, is what we have to address ourselves to, there should be much more emphasis on the reserves-which I also said in my dissenting report. I would like to comment on some of the statements made by Senator Newman. She said that she was very disappointed that there had been a six-month lag between the presentation of this report and the Government's response to it. The Opposition constantly seems to forget that, when millions of dollars are involved-as is the case with defence expenditure-they cannot just be plucked out of the air. A great deal of negotiation has to be undertaken, and six months is, I think, a reasonable time in which to have looked carefully at the recommendations and to have made this response to them.

I think the problems of capital and personnel expenditure within the defence area present a constant dilemma which the Opposition never addresses. The Opposition, while suggesting that we should serve the men and women of the ADF better and ensure that their conditions and salaries are more in line with those of the general community, never says what other area of defence should be cut. It never says to the Minister for Defence, `Okay, we can forget about some of the FA18s. We don't really need all this high-tech equipment. We can cut some of the expenditure from another area, and then we would have the extra money to put into keeping our personnel happy in their service in the ADF'. Honourable senators opposite never say anything like that. We are getting these 75 FA18s at a cost of $5 billion. That is a cost that the Opposition seems to accept, but it never says where the extra dollars will come from to pay for the improved service conditions it seeks. I think we should have better service conditions, too. But I would be quite willing to forgo some of the high-tech equipment that Mr Beazley is so keen on to make sure that the men and women in the Services are better looked after.

The Opposition also never mentions the huge balance of payments deficit problem-of course, neither does the Government-resulting from this enormous import of high-tech equipment, mostly from the United States. This creates a huge imbalance in our imports and exports. Mr Keating could quite easily change that imbalance by telling Mr Beazley that we do not need to buy all this expensive equipment from overseas. If we are really concerned about our balance of payments deficit, that is one area that we should be looking at. Yet we never hear that questioned by either the Government or the Opposition.

I think Senator Newman made quite a faux-pas when she talked about women being recruited to the Royal Australian Air Force as though that was just the last gasp. In these days of equal opportunity, I think that was a very unwise statement. Women make very good pilots these days, and there is no reason why they should not be there. She also mentioned Kangaroo 89. I would like to correct her costing figures. She mentioned some figure in the $30m bracket. Kangaroo 89 is costing a massive $96m. That is another area where perhaps we could save some expenditure-on playing expensive war games which really have very little to do with the threat assessments as identified by either the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities or the Defence White Paper. This vastly expensive exercise across the north of Australia, which will take several months later this year, will involve the scenario of Kamaria, an imaginary country, invading Australia. Nobody is seriously concerned about that as a possible problem for Australia in the near future. Yet we will spend $96m of taxpayers' money-and that figure, by the way, does not include wages and allowances; that is just on the exercise itself. That is at least $25m more than the normal cost of single service exercises which Kangaroo 89 is replacing. We do not need to spend money on that kind of thing, yet we do not hear the Opposition-supposedly so concerned about conditions for service people in the ADF-saying that some of that money could be better spent elsewhere. We just do not hear that kind of constructive criticism from the Opposition. All the time Opposition members say they want more and more but they never say where the money would come from.

The Opposition would like to have us on a constant war footing. That was the general tone of Senator Newman's speech. Thankfully, that is not the situation. What we should be doing in Australia is putting greater emphasis on the peacetime and socially useful activities in which the ADF engages. I believe it does contribute quite substantially in times of natural catastrophes, for example, and I do not think it gets enough credit for doing that positive work in the community. That is appropriate work for the armed services to be doing in peacetime.

For a fraction of the amount spent on this huge balance of payments creation exercise, this deficit creating exercise with high-tech equipment, these expensive war games, we could be engaging in much more positive peacekeeping in our region through activities such as improving international institutions such as the United Nations, training our diplomats in negotiation skills and conflict resolution techniques, and increasing our foreign aid budget. To quote a former Prime Minister of Great Britain who was very much engaged in the defence of his country and, people could say, of the free world-former Prime Minister Churchill-jaw jaw is better than war war. That is what we have to learn to do. We have to learn to talk our way out of trouble so that we do not get involved in situations of conflict.

We need to address the inequities that there are for members of the Australian defence forces, but I wish I could hear somebody from the Opposition say how we are going to pay for the increased expenditure on personnel, unless we are also prepared to say that we will cut the huge expenditure on capital equipment. There is not a constituency in the Australian community for a huge expenditure in the defence budget overall in peacetime. That is the hard question that the Opposition must answer. A small number of people in the community would like to see the Australian defence budget substantially increased at any time, but a far greater number of people in the Australian community would like to see us spend more money on our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade rather than on our Department of Defence. I do not think we will see a huge expenditure on defence overall in peacetime in Australia. At least, that is my hope.