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Labor's dozen defence disasters of the decade

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ALEXANDER DOWNER 16 February 1993

Shadow Mini5cer for. Defence


Ten years of Labor waste, neglect and mismanagement have weakened our national defence capabilities.

The Shadow Minister for Defence, Alexander Downer, said today that urgent action was needed to revitalise the Australian Defence Force (ADF) by increasing its combat power.

"Labor's efforts in defence have produced woeful outcomes in every area from strategic planning to financial and personnel management.

"Labor has quite simply lost the defence policy plot. This is clearly shown in the following list of Labor's dozen worst policy blunders:

Mistake One: Weakening Defence combat power

* Labor reduced our regular Army infantry battalions from six to four, thus cutting by a third the number of regular troops we can put into the field. They replaced these battalions with the Ready Reserve which would need at least six months preparation (and more likely a year) before going into combat.

Mistake Two: Failure to update strategic plans

* Labor ignored the vast strategic changes after the end of the Cold War and woke up too late to take advantage of the opportunities for greater defence co-operation which have developed since then.

* Labor has no coherent plan to contribute to building up regional security. We are being left behind by the other countries in the region which increasingly think Australia has no security contribution to make.

Mistake Three: Poor cost management

* Labor has wasted hundreds of millions in failed defence equipment projects. The worst example is the Inshore Minehunter project which has already cost over $100 million with around $20 million extra still to go but which cannot locate mines and cannot operate at all in many sea state conditions. CO,v1MONWEALTH

Mistake Four: Eroding operational skills




* Labor has weakened Service skills by not allowing sufficient training time for personnel.


* In 1992 Navy had to have one of its major surface ships permanently tied up in dock to reduce operational costs. Airforce flying hours have been reduced to the bare minimum of around 170 hours a year and there are concerns that this undermines flying safety. In 1991 Army Reserve personnel served around 7,000 days without pay because of lack of funds for essential training tithe.

Mistake Five: Labor's shonky F-Ill deal

Labor's announcement that it would buy 18 thirty-year old F- I 1 1 aircraft from the US was just a political stunt to show it had a plan for Defence.

The stunt backfired. I.ahor has yet to explain what the costing of the project will be, although it could well be over $200 million after modernisation.

Mistake Six: Broken spending promises

Labor began in defence by promising annual spending increases of 3.1 percent of the defence budget. I abor got it wrong. Since the 1987 White Paper, defence spending has been kept at or below zero real growth.

Mistake Seven: Expanding Non-combat areas

The only defence growth area under Labor has been in the non-combat elements of the Services. Some 31,500 out of 62,000 Defence personnel are in non-combat positions. But only 1.4,000 service people - less than a quarter - are in positions categorised as 'front-line combat'.

In 1991 Army, for example, had 2487 clerks compared to 3102 riflemen, and the Navy had more musicians (93) than mine warfare specialists (86).

Mistake Eight: A bloated bureaucracy

Another growth area under Labor has been for civilian defence bureaucrats. The Department of Defence employs some 24,000 civilians - almost 5,00() in Canberra - than means more than one Defence employee in four is a civilian. In Canberra,

there are over 2,400 ADI = officers in desk jobs. That is more than three full-strength battalions.

Mistake Nine: The Reserve shambles

tohor has nevor got Rosorvus policy right. Introduced a'; a coi.t t;a.^lnp mearurc, the costs of the Ready Rese rv es have already blown out from around 30% the cost of a regular soldier to over 70% of that cost - for only 50 days service a year.

The General Reserve continue to be starved of resources and lack a solid training focus. Labor has turned the General Reserve into a third eleven, the poor cousin of the rest of the ADF. Yet the Reserve is the most important. link between the

communit y and the ADF.