Defence Force Structure Review
Database House Hansard
Date 09-10-1991
Source House of Reps
Parl No. 36
Electorate HUNTER
Interjector Mr Bilney
Page 1538
Party ALP
Questioner Mr FITZGIBBON
Responder Mr HAWKE
System Id chamber/hansardr/1991-10-09/0033

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE - Defence Force Structure Review

Mr FITZGIBBON —-My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In May the Government announced a Defence Force structure review. What progress has been made in implementing that review? What does the review mean for the ADF's capability to deploy forces overseas?

Mr HAWKE —-I thank the honourable member for Hunter for his question. I was very proud last week to be able to go to Brisbane with the Chief of the General Staff to launch the national recruiting campaign for the ADF's new Ready Reserve scheme. This is a fine, new, innovative scheme. The defence chiefs are to be congratulated for the way in which they have come up with a proposal which is going to be effective and a cost efficient way of providing the defence forces with the highly skilled and highly motivated people that they need to discharge the important tasks which they carry out on behalf of this country.

May I say that I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of the young students in Brisbane who are in their final years of high school. They took a very keen interest and indicated that they would be very interested in participating in the scheme. The Opposition is against those contributions from the defence chiefs and the clear interest of the young people of this country. The Opposition, as usual, has done nothing but carp against this scheme.

It is going to be very interesting at some time in the distant future finally to hear what the Opposition's policy is. You will recall, Mr Acting Speaker, that in January of this year the Leader of the Opposition promised us an urgent--his word--review of the Opposition's defence policy. It is now October. That gives some idea of the Opposition's sense of urgency.

When the Leader of the Opposition was in Washington in July of this year he gave his hosts a very clear idea of what his defence review would be about. He spoke very big to impress his hosts. The language was large. He said that the Gulf war raised questions about our capacity to operate in other parts of the world. He said that the Opposition would `address the issue of our capability to participate in such operations in other parts of the world, and our capacity to do so'. After being in Washington and talking large to his hosts, he returned to Canberra. And back here in Canberra things started to look different. At least they do to his defence spokesman. In case members of this House do not know--

Mr Bilney —-Who is it?

Mr HAWKE —-It is Senator Durack. Last month he had something to say about it when he was talking to the RSL. This is what the defence spokesman, after the large talk of the Leader of the Opposition in Washington about what the Opposition would do about overseas contributions, said:

The direct defence of Australia must always be the first priority to be satisfied in buying defence equipment. Equipment which provides other capabilities, like the capacity to operate far from our shores, must take a lower priority.

It looks as though Senator Durack has dumped the Leader of the Opposition or the Leader of the Opposition has now had another think. He has probably discovered that the flash rhetoric that he used in Washington does not quite match up with the hard fiscal realities.

We have the position that the grand strategic vision that he outlined to his host in Washington does not quite match the job he has to do when he sits down to try to make his tax policy work. The postures in Washington of this amateur strategist had to give way to the modelling with a computer which he sits down and fiddles around with as he tries to work out where he is going with his tax policy. The fact is that the defence of Australia is, and has been, our first priority.

But, as distinct from the Opposition, this Government understands that, by providing for the defence of Australia in a careful and balanced way, we can at the same time equip ourselves to play a relevant and responsible part further afield, and the initiatives of Senator Robert Ray's force structure review will enhance that capability.

I conclude on this point: I ask you, Mr Acting Speaker, and I ask members of this House to note that, this very day, HMAS Sydney is on duty in the Red Sea in support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq; Australians are playing a major role in monitoring Iraq's compliance with the disarmament provisions of the United Nations cease-fire resolution; a detachment of some 40 members of the ADF is deploying to the western Sahara as members of a United Nations team overseeing a settlement there; and we expect that, within a few weeks, ADF signallers will join the United Nations advance mission to Cambodia to help pave the way for a comprehensive settlement there--and we wish them well, as they are further living proof of the relevance, the effectiveness, of this Government's defence policy.