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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 79

Senator HUTCHINS (3:26 PM) —I rise to take note of the answers to questions asked today of Ministers Hill and Minchin in regard to defence. Listening to Senator Johnston, I was surprised at his comments because the figure I had read about how many people are entitled to leave in the defence forces was over 70,000—not the 90,000 that Senator Johnston referred to. But we will never know whether it is 70,000 or 90,000 because at the moment almost half of the budget for Defence cannot be accounted for. This matter has been raised in the last few weeks. I suppose you would not have seen this, Senator Ferguson, but we could see from this side that when a question was directed at Senator Minchin about this farce in Defence Force accounting and we asked about this situation, old Senator Minchin had a wry smile on his face. As Senator Evans outlined to the Senate, it was interesting to hear Senator Minchin jumping to the defence of his old factional warrior, old Senator Hill—

Senator Ferris interjecting—

Senator HUTCHINS —And you there, of course. It is a lovely picture, the three of you there together: Senator Ferris, Senator Ferguson and Senator Hill, all happy chappies. Today, by virtue of the Westminster system, we are able to pin down Senator Hill about this appalling situation. When this matter was first raised a few weeks ago one of the newspapers said they could not get hold of the minister. Normally when there is a troop deployment leaving, or an aircraft or a ship to be launched, there is Senator Hill. There is a photograph of Senator Hill with almost every bit of military equipment we have in this country. From ship to helicopter to aeroplane to troops marching off to God knows where, there is Senator Hill. But we could not find him a few weeks ago. He was MIA—missing in action. Where was the $8.35 billion? It was AWOL. I allude to these military terms because that is exactly what has happened. At the moment $2 billion worth of boots, uniforms, hats and rations cannot be accounted for, $845 million worth of bombs, explosives and ammunition cannot be accounted for and, depending on which figure you choose, mine or Senator Johnston's, $1.22 billion worth of leave entitlements is owed to our military personnel and staff. How has it got to this?

We know from reports that in the last three years the minister has been castigated and taken to task by the Minister for Finance and Administration and the Treasurer about this appalling situation that has been deteriorating in the Department of Defence. What has occurred? It has got to the stage now where an outside firm, a respected accounting firm, has been brought in to try to identify the problems that the minister has presided over. As Senator Bishop said, if this were a private firm, the company directors would be sacked, the chief executive officer would be sacked, there would be a significant investigation into this and people's heads would be rolling. So we have this situation in the Department of Defence where I say that over half the money that is spent cannot be accounted for.

The reports say that we are talking about centuries-old practices that have not been changed. The Department of Defence and the minister have been alerted to this fact for the last five years, but what has the department or the government done about it? Nothing. For all we know, this major warehouse at Moorebank in Sydney may have ordnance that goes back to the Boer War. I understand in this one warehouse in Sydney—the largest one, at Moorebank—there are something like 315,000 types of items stored in over half a million distinct locations. This situation has been highlighted to the government for over five years, and during the last three years the Minister for Finance and Administration and the Treasurer have been on the minister's back to fix it up. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.