Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 15 October 1991
Page: 2045

Senator NEWMAN(8.00 p.m.) —-I rise to speak tonight in the debate on the Appropriation Bills as shadow Minister responsible for three separate portfolio areas, namely, defence, science and personnel, veterans' affairs and the status of women. In the brief time that is available tonight, I want to raise issues of importance in each of those three portfolio areas and especially matters of great concern to me.

Firstly, I turn to the budget for the Department of Defence. This year the Defence budget has been dominated by the results of the force structure review which were announced by the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray) in May. As a result of that statement, we are now facing the replacement of regular units by the Ready Reserve. This is probably the most momentous decision that this Government has made in terms of Australia's long term future. That statement will have a lasting effect on the defence of Australia. We now see the results in this Budget.

I say that it is a momentous decision because I fear that we are now on the first step of a route that will take us down the track that Australia took leading into the middle and late 1930s. By the time we were facing a second world war, we had a cadre force which was barely professional, severely depleted, had a very low morale and was having great difficulty in trying to raise and train a defence force to fight for Australia. I say that very advisedly and carefully because, when the Minister announced that there would be an abolition of regular units to be replaced by ready reserve units, he foreshadowed that there would be a review of that decision in a couple of years. That review would be with a view to seeing what other regular units could be translated into ready reserve units. I very much fear that this is just the first step in a long term plan to reduce us once again to a cadre defence force.

If the Government believes that we are now in a time of peace and that this is all leading up to some marvellous peace dividend, the Government is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. With the retreat, if you like, of the super powers from our region, small powers see opportunities for their own aggrandisement, for their own future empires and for power.

Countries in our region are believed to have nuclear capabilities, some countries are spending considerable money on arming their defence forces, while others are narrowing the technological gap between themselves and us. I do not want to be considered to be a warmonger, but it is in Australia's interests that that technological edge is maintained. It is in Australia's interests not only that we maintain a technological edge but also that we maintain a highly qualified defence force which is able to defend Australia with the new technology.

If anything was learnt from the Gulf war, it is that technology is wonderful if a country wants to win a war but, in order to make that technology work, it must have highly trained, very experienced, professional people. I fear that one outcome of the force structure review will be diminished experience levels, morale and numbers in our defence force. Numbers are not the be-all and end-all. We no longer need hundreds of thousands of people to fight with hundreds of thousands of people. But a rule of thumb that does not seem to be out of fashion is that 3 : 1 is a good ratio for ensuring that a country has the numbers to defend itself. However, I am not looking at questions of numbers but at the quality of the force that is needed to defend this country.

On Sunday, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Mr Bilney, told the Australian Defence Association in Melbourne in my presence that the outcome of the force structure review will be a better defence effort. If ever there was a fatuous statement and one destined and designed, one presumes, to mislead, it was that. Certainly the Minister's statement would have misled any other audience, but those present were people who are extremely concerned and interested in defence, and they were not misled by it.

What is the real position? Let us just ask ourselves five questions to test the Minister's statement and the enormity of the decisions that are taken. I do not want to go into the details of the force structure review tonight; that is not my purpose. I did that when the Minister made his statement in May and I have been doing it around the country since. The Minister said that the outcome of the force structure review will be a better defence effort.

A question we have to ask ourselves is: has the force structure review improved our readiness and our ability to quickly get away to defend our country or our interests? Clearly, the answer to that question has to be no. When two out of the only six regular battalions which this country possesses are removed, the ability of a professional, highly trained force to get away quickly to defend our national interests is diminished by one-third. There is no doubt that we are trying to replace those two regular battalions with manpower that has had one year's professional training--I acknowledge that it will be professional training--and then part time soldiering 50 days a year for four years thereafter, which is useful and valuable but in no way can be equated to somebody training for the entire year. After the four years, the value of that training quickly diminishes. So their readiness must be compromised.

When we look at putting a force in the field, we look to see how long we can keep it there, how quickly we have to replace it and how soon it gets tired and needs reinforcing. We usually work on the basis that, for every battalion that is given a job to do, an army needs three battalions--one coming into the front to fight, one retiring from the front and one resting and getting ready to go in again. When we had six battalions, that was possible. It meant that we could deploy two battalions. By removing two of the six, we are now in a position where we could really only deploy one battalion in a sustainable fashion. There is just no getting away from that basic military rule. We have reduced the sustainability of our fight.

The next question one asks is: has the force structure review improved our technology? One might be tempted to say yes. After all, these cuts in the Defence budget and the changes being made are being made because the capital equipment procurement program has so blown out the budget that personnel, training and operating costs have had to be squeezed. So, in one sense, we could say yes, this will be to the benefit of the technology; of course that is important.

However, in another sense, it is not to the benefit of technology because we will have this enormous bulge caused by the Collins class submarines and the Anzac frigates all going through the Defence budget during the same decade and pushing out of the way other projects that are of great importance to Australia's defence. By other projects, I am thinking of the airborne and early warning aircraft, mine countermeasures and perhaps a helicopter support ship in order for us to deploy forces where airfields, et cetera, are perhaps occupied around our coastline. It may be a question of saving the Cocos (Keeling) Islands or Christmas Island; it may be the need some day to deploy off the coast of Papua New Guinea to help our neighbour; or it may be to save some of our nationals in islands in the Pacific. Whatever it is, those and other items of technology are denied to us because of the mishandling, until now, of the Defence budget.

We ask ourselves: has the force structure review improved leadership in the Defence Force? I say sadly that in the long term it will not. I also believe it will have a deleterious effect on leadership. There is an increasing emphasis on the need for Defence Force officers to be good managers, and that is right and proper. Particularly in peace time, there is a need for management of great budgets and management of great resources. But defending a country is not all about management; it is also about leadership. In war time, the leadership role takes prominence.

If we expect ever to need to commit forces to defend this county or our national interests, we need leaders of people. I fear that, by cutting out a substantial proportion of the officers and senior NCOs, particularly in our Army, down the track those people will no longer be around. They will not have had the experience at middle ranking or more junior levels. They will not be around when government may need very experienced and highly trained personnel. They will not be around to give the sort of advice that governments need in a time of emergency. They will not be around to lead a force. We could all be the poorer in every respect for that.

The final question we should ask is: has the force structure review improved morale in our Force? The answer, sadly, whether we are talking about the Regular Force or the existing Reserve Force, is no. The existing Reserve Force will feel very much the Cinderella of the defence forces of Australia. It is already underequipped. Last year, there were insufficient man days for the jobs, the roles, it had been given, yet we find in this year's Budget that cuts of 5.8 per cent have been made in man days for training the existing Reserve. Clearly, that money has been put aside to contribute towards the enormous cost to the budget of the Ready Reserve. It will be very clear to existing reservists who may even be working in civilian employment, side by side with a ready reservist, that the Ready Reserve has come into being at the expense of the existing reserves who have served this country long and loyally--those who already have a full time job and give up some of the time that they would otherwise spend with their family or on their personal interests to make sure that this country has a better chance to survive in times of war. The existing reserves can see very well what is happening to the limited resources that are available--and they are not going to get them.

The regulars are concerned about the future of their careers in a full time regular professional force. At the moment, they are economic conscripts because, with high unemployment, they do not see a great deal of future in getting out of the Defence Force to go to `civvy street'. Even now, it is interesting to see how many are still leaving the Defence Force, notwithstanding that we are facing times of high unemployment. There is a great correlation between the unemployment rates and the wastage rates from the forces. In good and bad times, we can see pretty clear correlations. Nevertheless, the resignations from the forces are still too high--surprisingly so when one considers the employment situation outside. On all these tests, the Government's changes to the defence of Australia will have a serious and long term effect, about which we should be very concerned.

In the limited time I have tonight I wish to speak about the two other portfolio areas for which I have responsibility. I want to deal quickly with two issues of importance in the veterans' portfolio. First, the Government talks very carefully about the integration of repatriation hospitals. It all sounds nice and clean and clinical and as though it could not hurt anybody. What we should be talking about is the hand over of the hospitals, the welshing on the veterans and the failure to keep bargains with the veterans.

Both in this place and outside, over many months, I have been quoting the promises made by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Mr Humphreys) over three years that veterans will not be disadvantaged by the handing over of their repatriation hospital system to the State systems. The veterans know what is happening week by week in States around Australia: hospital systems are crumbling and are in chaos. Veterans are being forced out, shunted out, of their repatriation hospitals to join the queues in the public hospital systems of the States of Australia. I remind the Parliament of what the Minister for Veterans' Affairs said in Parliament in November 1988:

The integration of the repatriation hospital systems will not take place until all of the concerns of the veterans' community are dealt with. That is an unequivocal guarantee. . .

We cannot have it much clearer than that. The Prime Minister has made that promise in similar terms. Yet the Government is continuing to rush like a bulldozer down the track to hand over these hospitals while the veterans' organisations still have unsatisfied questions waiting to be answered. They are still not convinced that they will have any sort of priority of access in the hospital system that is being offered to them. They have no confidence that the quality of care to which they have been accustomed--and which has been theirs as of right as compensation for their war service--will remain after this Government hands over their hospitals.

In the Estimates Committee we heard that the Government has spent $358,906.81 on trying to persuade the veterans that the hand over is in their interests. If it really were in their interests, one would think that it would be very easy to tell the veterans and that they would start queuing for a new and better system. But this Government has had to spend money on mailing house costs, direct mail to veterans, and direct mail to local medical officers and specialists. The Government has sent out all sorts of propaganda leaflets from the States to the veterans organisations. The Government has distributed a brochure full of cartoons which has offended so many veterans and war widows. They have complained to me that they are being treated as stupid children who have had to be convinced of something by the value of cartoons. If ever there were a tasteless, expensive and unacceptable exercise, it is this $358,906.81 spent on trying to convince the veterans that getting rid of their hospitals will be good for them. The Government has failed on that, and unless it is prepared to take careful notice of the veterans' very justifiable concerns it will not get to first base with them. The Government will be shown up for making promises that it had no intention of keeping. Sadly, this Government has developed a tremendous reputation for making promises that it never intended to meet.

I also want to speak briefly about the failure of the claims system. After all these decades of a repatriation system, we still have a system which is not adequately meeting the needs of veterans. Just recently in the Parliament, the annual report of the Veterans Review Board was presented. The report contained pretty clear evidence of the tremendous waste of taxpayers' funds; of decisions, taken in the first instance by the delegate of the Repatriation Commission, being overturned in alarming numbers when they go on appeal to the Veterans Review Board. One thinks of the great waste of time and money and the stress and strain on older men and women who have fought for their country and the war widows who have lost their husbands through the husband's service to the country. It is long overdue that we develop a claims system which is humane, speedy, caring, non-adversarial and non-legalistic--whatever one would like to say. There are better ways of doing it and it is incredible that all this way down the track we are being so uncaring towards to our veterans and so prepared to waste taxpayers' money.

Only today in the Canberra Times there is a report about Mrs Whetton, who has finally achieved war widow status, five years after she was widowed. Her husband was severely injured in the Second World War and he died in 1986. She fought all the way to have her eligibility decided. She finally got a decision by a single judge of the Federal Court. Then, would you believe it, Mr Deputy President, the Repatriation Commission--all heart--appealed against the decision of the Federal Court judge and took her to the Full Court. I am glad to say that Mrs Whetton had the guts and the determination to persevere and she won in the Full Court.

This is not the sort of repatriation system that Australians should be proud of. The benefits are not bad by comparison with world standards, but the system is wretched. Too many people are put through this test. What worries me more than anything is the number of veterans who, unfortunately, have not claimed for their entitlements to compensation for their war service in all the years since the Second World War. Now they are perhaps in their seventies and are saying that they need some help. So they ask for a determination and are knocked back. Many of those people refuse to appeal.

We know from the Veterans' Review Board report that veterans have at least a 50 per cent chance of winning an appeal. Veterans in Western Australia have about a 70 per cent chance and those in Queensland a 60 per cent chance. Clearly, they have a very good chance of winning if they go on to appeal, but they are so disgusted and so hurt by the rejection that they do not appeal. I feel very sad that this country can preside over such a system. It is time that something was urgently done to help our veterans and war widows.

I want to speak in the minutes remaining on a couple of issues relating to the status of women. First, I want to raise the question of access to mammography for all Australian women, including those in the country. We have too many deaths in this country of women who have not had breast cancer detected early. Many hundreds of cases each year, something like 370, could be prevented with early detection.

For three years before the last election, the Government had in place a pilot mammography screening program in most, but not all, States--there was no program in Tasmania, for example. When it came to the election, the Opposition said that it would have a national screening program. In came big mouth, the Prime Minister, promising that he would spend $64m over the first three years of a five-year program to introduce a national screening program for breast cancer.

In last year's Women's Budget Statement for 1990-91, the Government allocated a sum of $20m for expenditure in the first year. What do we find now? We find in this year's Women's Budget Statement that the Government actually spent $1m. It is now 18 months since the Prime Minister made his promise and $1m has actually been spent. This coming year, $18.7m has been allocated in the Women's Budget Statement. One wonders just how much is going to be spent this year to save women's lives in this country. Are women's lives expendable? If the Prime Minister's wife had breast cancer, I wonder how much more urgent he might have considered a program which seemed so desirable to him at election time, but which was so quickly put on the back-burner.

I am intrigued also by the wording in the Women's Budget Statement this year when referring to the national program for the early detection of breast cancer. It is really rather coy. It says that some $1m was provided for the program in 1990-91 and that $18.7m has been allocated for 1991-92. Of course, it is not true to say that $1m was provided for the program in 1990-91. In fact, $20m was provided for the program, of which only $1m was spent. So much for the honesty of the Women's Budget Statement which I notice blew out from an already overblown document last year of 240 pages to a 414-page document this year. I think that must take the cake as one of the most overblown pufferies that the Government has been able to produce at Budget time.

It is not by the number of pages in the Women's Budget Statement that women in Australia will judge this Government. They will judge this Government by the services it provides, the care it gives to its citizens, the promises that it keeps or it breaks and the economy that it heals. It is judged already for the economy that it has left in such a mess. What will it do to try to right that wrong done to all the people in Australia?

The final issue I raise tonight that is of concern to women is the question of the Telecom 0055 telephone numbers. This Government has made much of its concern about the portrayal of women in advertising and the media. Many women in Australia find a lot of the advertising sexist and offensive. In many respects, I sympathise with the view. But if I were to set a priority for giving governmental attention to the portrayal of women in this country, it would be the portrayal of women in pornography and the growing, burgeoning industry which is degrading women of Australia, affecting the innocence of our children, changing the culture of our society, silencing, if you like, the good families of Australia who are being made to feel that there is something not very smart about complaining about pornography wherever they find it. They are being cowed into silence.

There is developing an acceptance of pornography, yet many people find it abhorrent. Parents worry about the long term desensitising effect pornography will have on their children, yet this Government lifts not a finger. Indeed, it takes money from it. This Government is indirectly achieving many millions of dollars in revenue from Telecom 0055 numbers.

As you will know, Mr Deputy President, this is an issue I have been pursuing for well over a year now. Today I received an answer from Senator Collins representing the Minister for Transport and Communications, Mr Beazley. I asked questions about Telecom's new contractual agreement with service providers of the recorded telephone messages. That new agreement was supposed to have been effective for two weeks from 1 October.

I asked whether the Minister would confirm that adult messages previously available under the 0055 prefix had been moved to 0051 with limited access using a personal identification number. I also asked, if the answer was yes, how many of those messages had been moved to 0051 and if the answer was no, why was there a delay. I also asked a number of other questions. The Minister's answer was not at all specific. Part of his answer said:

I am advised by Telecom that, as the new arrangements are still in the process of being implemented fully, it is still unclear how many of the services currently on 0055 will need to be transferred to the new 0051 service.

I asked how many had been transferred. He did not address himself to that. Clearly, they have not been moved across. That is the information that was made available to me. I want to know why not. For the last several months we were told that on 1 October they would be transferred. What we find is that these adult messages to go to 0051 are not going to be transferred across by Telecom but only by the service providers and also that Telecom is not going to monitor the content and advertising of any messages until a complaint is raised by a member of the public.

The Minister ends his answer by saying that he is currently awaiting advice from Telecom concerning implementation of the procedures. I say that he and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, Ms Fatin, should have been out on the hustings insisting that a lead be shown by this Government, that Telecom remove these offensive services from the telephone lines of Australia. But this is the Government which has no policies, no morals, no standards, no ability to manage the economy, and cares not a jot or a whit for the people of this country. It deserves condemnation on every score and it will get that at the next election. (Time expired)