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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4404

Senator MacGIBBON —by leave—The first reference that the report makes, quite properly, is to activities of the Department of Defence in relation to peacekeeping throughout the last 12 months. It was my privilege to visit the Australian Defence Force contingents in Cambodia twice in the last 14 months and also to visit the contingent in Somalia. The distinction with which the Australian Defence Force carried out its duties in both those peacekeeping operations was exemplary. The report does note that it was the biggest overseas deployment of Australian troops since Vietnam, but it does not go on to say too much about the significance of that. Coping with those numbers overseas certainly placed quite a strain on the Australian Defence Force, given the poor resources that it has at present.

  Without being unkind to the government in any way, I point out that peacekeeping operations are just about the only operations of an operational nature that the Australian Defence Force can now perform. We have had a considerable reduction in numbers as part of the force structure review and a definite diminution of the capability of the Australian Defence Force.

  I have been worried for many years about the total lack of sustainability. There is not a word about sustainability in this report, as I see it, from a very quick look. In plain terms, that means that if we have to use the Australian defence forces on armed operations, which is why we retain them, at a cost of over $9 billion, the sustainability simply is not there. There are not the reserves of ammunition and equipment that we need to sustain the Australian defence forces on active service.

  The nature of operations has changed so much in the last 30 years that the availability at short notice of things such as precision guided munitions and missiles simply does not exist. We have to have an in-house inventory within the country to give us any security and, therefore, to give any credibility at all to our defence forces. Furthermore, unless we have them in the country and train with them, we are certainly not going to be able to use them effectively on the first occasion. Sustainability is absolutely the dominant issue that faces the Australian Defence Force. From what I can see, there is not a word in this document, which is the major statement of the department for the year, which deals with that.

  Another great glaring defect, which gets scant treatment in this report, is our weakness in electronic warfare capability. As I have said in the Senate many times, we have to be in the position where we can dominate the electromagnetic spectrum. All communications and a large number of sensors operate in the electromagnetic spectrum. We put some money into it, but we do not put anywhere near the amount of money into it that we need to, particularly for research through the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. Again, it is something that we cannot do overnight. If we have an emergency, we simply cannot acquire these skills from overseas and we cannot perform the research in a crash program, and we cannot get the equipment we need into production within any sort of meaningful time frame.

  The third great area that seems to be missing in this report is any reflection and comment on the morale in the Australian defence forces, which is now at a very low level. Part of that comes from the fact that the government seems to have no defence policy at all. People in the defence forces feel abused, in so far as no-one appreciates them, no-one can tell them what they are there for, they are short of money for equipment, they are short of money for training, they are short of money for operations, and it all seems very pointless.

  Added to that, the ready reserve scheme, which is showing all the signs of a total failure, has had a catastrophic effect on the morale of the army. Arguably its best brigade—6th Brigade in Brisbane, along with 8/9 Battalion, 6th Battalion and 49th Battalion—has been disbanded and replaced with the ready reserve scheme. We have had a spate of resignations or redundancies forced on the defence forces through the commercial support program, which again has operated very much against morale.

  Added to that, a whole lot of unfortunate legislation is being put through, such as the fringe benefits tax for conditions of service, which has completely demoralised the defence forces. Those subjects that I have mentioned are very much part of the accounting that the department should do when presenting its annual report to the parliament, but it either avoids comment on them altogether or skates over them very lightly.