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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8277

Defence Procurement

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:07): This being Remembrance Day, the day that we pause to remember the 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in service of this nation, my question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Back in March 2006, the Howard government committed to AIR 8000 Phase 3, which is the program to purchase the C-17 Globemaster III fleet. Could the minister update the Senate on the progress of that project?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:08): I thank Senator Fawcett very much, both for his question today and for his career-long interest in matters defence. I also acknowledge that today is the commemoration of Remembrance Day. Mr President, you and the Leader of the Opposition and a number of other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives attended at the War Memorial today for that very special observation with their Royal Highnesses and His Excellency the Governor-General.

I am very pleased to be able to respond to Senator Fawcett and to announce that the eighth and final C-17A Globemaster III was officially accepted into service last week by the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, Minister Brough, at RAAF Base Amberley. What the arrival of the eighth C-17A will ensure is that our Air Force has sufficient capability to provide vital heavy airlift to a range of global military operations and greatly increase Australia's capacity to respond and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid in particular. Senator Fawcett is correct when he identifies that it was the Howard government, under former Minister for Defence, Dr Brendan Nelson, the now director of the War Memorial, in fact, that identified the need for this particular capability and ordered the first four C-17s in 2006. That acquisition has been progressively increased by successive governments. The C-17A has three times the carrying capacity of the Hercules C-30. They are able to carry up to 77 tonnes. That means that they can transport four Bushmaster vehicles at once or three Black Hawk helicopters, which is a very impressive capability.

As well as the two additional C-17s, the coalition has already committed to purchasing the P-8A Poseidon aircraft, the Triton unmanned aerial vehicles and a further 58 joint strike fighters. In 2015-16, the coalition government is investing $7.2 billion in defence equipment—nearly double the amount Labor spent in their disastrous 2012-13 budget, in which they cut defence spending to the lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1938. (Time expired)

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister advise the Senate how the C-17 specifically has enhanced the capability of the Australian Defence Force?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:10): I again thank Senator Fawcett. What recent global events have shown us is the importance of these strategic airlift capabilities of moving large quantities of personnel and equipment long distances within what are very tight time frames. The additional aircraft will ensure that the Air Force can better meet the demands of moving personnel and equipment within what are very short time frames involved in emergency situations, such as floods and cyclones. This fleet of eight C-17s ensures that, as a nation, we have heavy strategic airlift which matches our medium and light airlifters, the C-130J Hercules and the C-27J Spartans. The ability of the C-17s to be refuelled midflight really does extend the capability of our Air Force to support troops and to quickly deliver right across the globe. Despite their size and range, they can actually land on unsealed airstrips as short as 3½ thousand feet, providing our Air Force with much increased flexibility. (Time expired)

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:11): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Could the minister inform the Senate about some of the specific military engagements and humanitarian efforts that this aircraft has contributed to?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:12): This really does tell the story of the effectiveness of the fleet of C-17s. They have played a very effective role in the ADF's activities during the past nine years. I will give just a couple of examples to indicate that. They were able to assist in the very serious and difficult recovery of the bodies of victims of the MH17 tragedy in the Ukraine. Closer to home, they delivered disaster relief to the victims of the Vanuatu cyclone and, at home, specifically the Queensland floods. That is a process of providing a strategic air bridge, since 2009, between Australia and Afghanistan and, most recently, the C-17 fleet is supporting the ongoing international effort to combat the ISIL terrorist group in Iraq and in Syria. They have also supported a number of humanitarian missions at home and across our region, including the Christchurch earthquake in 2011, when we went to the aid of New Zealand, and the tsunami in Japan. They have flown aid to Fiji and Samoa. They help out across the region. (Time expired)