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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator BRANDIS (2:39 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General and the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Wong. How will proposed budget cuts affect the operations of the Australian Federal Police and other national security agencies?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Can I thank Senator Brandis for his question and say at the outset that this is a government absolutely committed to Australia’s national security and a government that has delivered a budget that provides for Australia’s long-term defence and security needs and helps Australia meet the security challenges of the future. As you know, Mr President, it was also a budget that contributed to a strong economy through responsible economic management, and decisions made in the context of the budget have been part of why this government has had the capacity to respond, as Senator Conroy said, decisively and swiftly on the issue in the face of the global financial crisis. It is why, apart from Defence, all government agencies were asked to review their operations to achieve an efficiency dividend. That is appropriate. All national security agencies have experienced rapid growth in spending in recent years and I am advised that this is the time to take stock and to work to use resources more efficiently and more effectively. This was consistent with the recommendation of the report of Mr Len Early commissioned under the former Howard government.

It is also the case that the government is investing new funds to provide for Australia’s long-term security needs: over $190 million to recruit 500 sworn AFP officers over the next five years to help tackle domestic and transnational crime; over $190 million to assist the AFP with international deployments and capacity development initiatives to promote stability both in our region and in global hotspots such as Afghanistan and Iraq; around $23 million for critical infrastructure protection modelling and analysis to help make essential services such as electricity, gas, water, health and banking more resilient for the benefit of Australian working families; and around $19 million within the next 12 months, within the first 12 months, to help states, territories and local governments better prepare for national natural disasters. So there are a range of measures which the government put in place in the budget.

In relation to the efficiency dividend, I remind those opposite that the efficiency dividend has been applied consistently across agencies. Apart from Defence, there is no differential treatment. It is a case that obviously ensuring there was a strong budget surplus was a priority of the government in the context of the last budget, a priority which I think recent events have demonstrated the importance of.

Senator BRANDIS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, given that since the Treasurer announced that there would be cuts to the budget the national threat assessment has not changed, will the government assure the Senate that funding of the Australian Federal Police and national security agencies will be quarantined from cuts?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —It is the case, and I am sure those opposite would be aware of this, that we face extremely difficult economic times as a result of the global financial crisis and the potential impact on the real economy. Internationally, we have seen quite a number, I think 25, of financial institutions either bailed out or in significant financial trouble. We see revision downwards in growth estimates internationally in OECD economies. Senator Conroy, on behalf of the Treasurer, has outlined the most recent MYEFO figures, which do demonstrate that these are difficult economic times. The government has made it clear that it will approach these times responsibly. At the forefront of our mind obviously is ensuring responsible economic management. This is also a government that takes very seriously the issue of national security. (Time expired)