Defence Expenditure - Federation Chamber Speech
It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the subject of Defence expenditure. It is a subject very close to my heart. I worked in Defence for many years before I was elected to parliament, and my electorate of Canberra is home to many Defence personnel, both civilian and military, and their families. Last year I was honoured to take on the role of shadow parliamentary secretary for Defence. I am deeply interested in this issue. I thank the member for Banks for this motion, and on his first point we are agreed: Defence is a critical responsibility of the Australian government. Labor has a proud record in its stewardship of Defence while in government. I acknowledge my colleague, the member for Batman, for his work in this area and his detailing of Labor's proud record a moment ago.
I have a particular interest in Defence procurement, and one of Labor's achievements that I am especially proud of is the Projects of Concern process. This was established by Labor to improve the procurement process by focusing the attention of the highest levels of government, defence and industry on remediating problem projects, ultimately delivering tangible benefits to the men and women of the ADF. I am also deeply interested in the health and welfare of Defence families, and here too Labor has a proud record. I was very pleased when, not two weeks ago, the member for Brisbane praised one of Labor's policies in this area: the National Australian Defence Force Family Health Program. The program, which provides free, basic medical services for Defence families, is one of which Labor is incredibly proud, and Labor is pleased that this is one of the initiatives that those opposite have chosen not to cut. I thank the member for Brisbane for her kind words about Labor's initiative and for recognising Labor's leadership in this area. It showed great bipartisanship.
But it is on the member for Banks' second and third points that I have some concerns. The member for Banks said the Abbott government plans to make no further cuts to Defence expenditure, and moved to commend the government on its Defence expenditure planning. I wonder if the member for Banks has spoken to the Minister for Defence, because it would seem they are on two very different pages. While the member for Banks said there are to be 'no further cuts' to Defence, the Minister for Defence said the Department of Defence is 'too heavy' and needs 'trimming'. In fact, the minister said he is going to 'methodically and carefully trim' the department —which sure sounds like cuts to me.
I wonder, too, if the member for Banks is aware of a little process the government is undertaking at the moment called the Commission of Audit. Perhaps he has not heard of it, or has not heard any detail about it. If he had, he would know that by its own admission the government is waiting to be told what to do, and where to cut, by its Commission of Audit—and that nothing, including cuts to Defence, is being ruled out. The member for Banks must also be unaware of the two separate reviews the government is currently undertaking into the Department of Defence and the Defence Materiel Organisation. And perhaps he did not hear that in January the government announced—one of the very few announcements that have been made by this government in the Defence portfolio —that it would be cutting the pay and conditions of Australian Defence Force personnel serving in Afghanistan and the Middle East, leaving some ADF personnel facing a pay cut of as much as $19,000.
As for the commitment to increase Defence expenditure to two per cent of GDP within a decade, I think the member for Batman has rightly, and very well-articulated, his and Labor's views on that. I ask, and I know the Australian people are asking: how can a government as hell-bent on austerity, cuts and slashing support to those most in need credibly make such a commitment? Analysis by senior Defence economist Dr Mark Thomson of ASPI says that a commitment of two per cent of GDP within a decade requires an annual real increase of five per cent.
When the government has broken every other promise it has made on cuts—promises like no cuts to health, no cuts to education and no changes to pensions—when it has already made cuts to Defence, how can the Australian people give any credibility to this government's promises on Defence expenditure?