I rise today to speak about Australia's defence force and what a world-class defence force it is. I too pay tribute to their professionalism, their dedication and their commitment and say thank you. I note that members opposite are speaking about defence equipment and its role in supporting our Australian Defence Force. I acknowledge that high-quality hardware capability is essential, but what this private member's motion fails to recognise is that the ADF's biggest asset is not its Joint Strike Fighters or its Globemasters. The ADF's single biggest asset is its people—the men and women of the Defence Force. It is their courage, their dedication and their bravery that makes our Defence Force what it is today.
There are currently more than 2,000 ADF men and women deployed overseas. We have personnel deployed to the Middle East, the Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the southern Indian Ocean. These men and women often spend months, sometimes years, away from their families and their loved ones. Often they are risking their lives to protect us and our national interests. We owe them so much. One of the most fundamental ways that a government can acknowledge and thank our ADF members is to ensure that they and their families are treated with respect and provided with decent pay and conditions. That is particularly the case, I believe, when Australia has personnel deployed overseas. That is why I was so outraged, that is why Labor was so outraged, when this government—those opposite—tried to cut the pay and conditions of ADF personnel last year. It was not just me or the Labor Party who was outraged; it was also the crossbenchers, it was defence associations and it was community members. Everyone was outraged.
Thankfully for ADF personnel, the government, after much pressure from this side of the House and from those community and defence organisations, reversed its unfair decision to cut their wages and conditions. However, we still have the issue of paid parental leave. Those opposite are looking at cutting paid parental leave for ADF men and women. So, in the tradition of what those opposite did with the pay and conditions of ADF personnel, I implore them to reverse their decision, to axe their decision, on paid parental leave. These people are not double-dippers, as has been suggested by some ministers in the government. These people are hardworking ADF men and women, serving our nation. This is a condition they have fought hard and long for, and I urge those opposite to reverse the decision, as they did, at Labor's behest, when they reversed the decision on pay and conditions.
I now go to the member's motion on the importance of providing our ADF personnel with the equipment and capabilities they need to perform their roles. This is vitally important. So let us look at some kit. Let us talk about some capability. For starters, let us look at Australia's future submarine fleet. While those opposite stand here praising the government for its acquisitions, how about we look at the largest defence procurement program in Australia's history—the Future Submarine Program. Before the last election, Liberal and Labor both promised that the submarines would be built in Australia. Yet, now we are seeing the Liberal government walk away from its commitment to build 12 submarines here in Australia, and that is despite the fact that defence experts have come out in support of an Australian build—experts like Dr John White, who earlier this year said:
… if we truly analyse all aspects of the project we will have a lower cost to the government from an all-build in Australia …
Under this government, more than 1,000 workers have lost their jobs at shipyards around the country, and thousands more jobs remain at risk. Those opposite must act to support workers and ensure that these skills and capabilities are not lost forever. It is vital that we have these skills in this country to sustain this capability. It is in our national interest. It is a national security issue. Even the former defence minister has criticised this government's track record to date saying:
… defence is meant to be a ‘natural strength’ for a coalition government. During this government, that has not always been the case.
I urge the government to stand up for Australia's defence industry, to back Australia's defence industry and to commit to building our 12 future submarines here in Australia.
I also want to take this very brief opportunity to commend the government on its decision to buy 1,100 Hawkei vehicles and 1,000 trailers made by Thales in Bendigo, and I commend the member for Bendigo for the great work she has done on that front.
I refute the part of this motion that aims to trash Labor's track record; instead, I call on the government to back Australia's defence industry and build our submarines here.