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Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Page: 111

Mr FAWCETT (5:13 PM) —I rise to address the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Amendment Bill 2007. While I welcome the ALP’s support for this bill, I would like to comment on a couple of things that have just been mentioned. While Labor have talked about the Howard government and decisiveness and they have talked about the Howard government and our need to recruit more people, what they have not talked about is the fact that our need to recruit more people is driven largely by the decisiveness of previous Labor governments which, for example, decided in 1991 to cut two battalions from the Australian Army. Over the last 11 budgets of Labor governments, defence outlays decreased by two per cent in real terms. Compare that to this government’s decisive commitment to defence in the last 11 budgets, increasing defence outlays by 48 per cent in real terms. Compare that two per cent decrease in real terms with the 48 per cent increase in real terms. This government has been so decisive that this is the seventh consecutive budget in which it has met or exceeded the defence white paper funding commitment.

That is significant because for many years Australia has talked about the level of funding that it should be putting into defence in real terms, and then it has consistently failed to meet its targets, particularly under the previous Labor government when we saw cuts to the point where the chiefs of the Army and of the Defence Force were making comments about it. The Armed Forces Federation said that the cuts were devastating. General Peter Gration and the then head of the Department of Defence, Tony Ayers, wrote to the Minister for Defence warning that Defence could not sustain further cuts. They said that there were finite limits to how much more could be drawn from so much less. Is it any wonder that we have had to recruit a number of people when the Defence Force was left in such a parlous state by the previous Labor government?

I welcome the extension of this scheme, but I particularly welcome the announcements in this year’s budget of what the new scheme will look like. The new scheme gives choice to the service men and women. They can choose a mortgage provider that best suits their needs and the product that best suits their needs. Because of the phased nature of the new product that will be offered, there is an incentive for service men and women to continue their service in the Defence Force. Around the 12-year mark, they can draw up to $312,000 with a 37½ per cent subsidy. That is a significant investment by this government into the men and women of our Defence Force.

It is not only in this area that we have been investing; we have also been investing in Defence Force recruiting. I note that the member opposite talked about recruiting targets and retention. It was interesting to compare this legislation with a similar bill that I spoke on in 2006, when I delved into some of the history of these kinds of recruitment and retention initiatives. Even in times of high unemployment under the previous Labor government, it struggled to attract and retain people in the Defence Force. This government, with its 32-year-record low unemployment—a record number of people engaged in the workforce—is seeing significant achievements through its investment in the current recruiting rounds. As of 30 April this year, 1,000 more people had enlisted in the ADF than at the same time last year. That is because of the investment that this government has made in Defence for their recruiting approaches.

Defence have moved on from the days of the traditional advertisements, and they are looking at things like shared content shows. These shows are becoming popular, and now there is an investment in a Navy patrol boat series. More importantly, they are recognising that the words of Brigadier Jim Wallace (Rtd) hold true for the broader community. Brigadier Wallace often made the point that you lead people and you manage resources. You do not manage people. Much of what was being offered to the young people in our society was the concept of a career that you dabble in, get a bit of training in and then move on to something else. I often said to people under my command when I was in the ADF that no ISO 9000 certified HR management system would have encouraged people at Gallipoli to go over the top of the trenches. It would not encourage somebody to fly a C130 into a missile engagement zone into Baghdad. People do those things because they believe in something that is more significant than themselves and their own circumstances at that point in time.

The Defence Force is now reaching out and touching that part of people. It says: ‘Here is a career path. Here is a worthwhile use of your time that will not only benefit you through a range of things but, more importantly, is an investment in your nation. This is a worthwhile way to spend your life.’ During the first 19-day period the campaign was aired, there was a 33 per cent increase in inquiries being made to the Army. Defence is also looking at other ways of engaging with younger people, such as online gaming and even moving to things like a specific game that could be launched by one of the premier game stations. There is the use of websites and also text messaging. There are a whole range of approaches designed to encourage young people to look at the Defence Force.

One of the most significant things, which I welcome, is the concept of a military gap-year scheme. This will cost some $306 million over the next 10 years. This is not national service. It provides young people in Australia who are considering what they want to do with their future an opportunity to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to give the Defence Force a go.’ Up to 1,000 people can sign up and spend that time experiencing military training and a military lifestyle for 12 months. At the end of that period, there is a very good chance that a high percentage of those people will stay on. But if they do not then all the benefits that many people in our community are calling for from national service will have accrued to these young people in terms of their confidence, the discipline instilled in them, their life experience and the sorts of leadership qualities that the rest of Australian society values so much.

Lastly, I wish to talk briefly about why it is possible for us to extend this scheme and, in practice, to extend the benefits it provides to the defence service men and women in Australia. It is because of the economic management of this government. Rather than having a $96 billion debt and paying $8½ billion in interest every year, this government is able to make those significant investments in the Defence Force, in the security of our nation and in the families of our defence service men and women. As I said before, this is the seventh consecutive budget in which the government has met or exceeded the defence white paper funding commitment. Some $14 billion over the next 10 financial years was announced in this budget to look at a whole range of measures, including things like defence housing. Some $2.1 billion is going into recruitment and retention to make sure that we provide the kind of environment that will encourage the men and women of Australia to choose to serve their country through the services rather than any of the many other jobs that are available in Australia’s expanding economy because of this government’s policies. We have invested in a whole range of capabilities, including systems, platforms and people. There is additional logistics sustainment funding and security measures to protect our people. There are a whole range of things that this government has been able to invest in because of its economic management.

As people move through this year and consider their choices, it is important that they look at the actions of both parties. It is all very well for the Leader of the Opposition to claim to be a financial conservative and claim to have defence as a priority, but look at the opposition’s actions. Look at the debt that was accrued under the former government. Look at the decrease in defence spending and the cuts to defence personnel. Look at the opposition’s attempts to regain credibility—an advertising campaign where the Leader of the Opposition is sitting in front of a building saying, ‘I’m an economic conservative.’ It looks very much like the actions of the former Leader of the Opposition, who signed a big cardboard cheque that said, ‘I guarantee to keep interest rates low.’ If the people of Australia are concerned about the prosperity that underpins the wellbeing of their families and the ability of this country to defend itself, then only one side of this House can deliver that—that is, the coalition.