Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the minister please outline to the House the changes to the Defence leadership team? What will be their new priorities and what new measures will the government take to support the service chiefs?
I thank the member for Blair for his question. His electorate is home to RAAF Base Amberley, so naturally he has a deep-seated interest and is very active in the area of defence policy. This morning the Prime Minister and I had the pleasure of announcing that Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston will be reappointed as the Chief of the Defence Force. We were also pleased to announce a number of other senior Defence appointments. Lieutenant General David Hurley will be appointed as the new Vice-Chief of the Defence Force, Rear Admiral Russell Crane will be appointed as the new Chief of Navy, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie will be appointed as the new Chief of Army and Air Vice Marshal Mark Binskin will be appointed as the new Chief of Air Force. I know the House will agree that these are all very fine appointments. I wish them all well and acknowledge in this place the very fine work of those people who they will replace.
The single biggest challenge facing the Australian Defence Force is its people and skills shortage. This will be a key focus for the new service chiefs. I am tasking this new Defence leadership team with an increased emphasis on one of their existing responsibilities. In addition to training and sustaining their respective services, each service chief will be directly responsible for ensuring that sufficient trained and skilled personnel are available. Every three months, or more often if necessary, the service chiefs will spell out in detail the progress they have made in meeting the exacting requirements of their respective services for skilled trades and professions. This is a tough challenge they face in an era of almost full employment and at a time when the mining industry is booming. But succeed we must.
Our people challenge is just one of the challenges the new government has inherited in the Defence portfolio. The defence budget is in a mess and many of the capability projects we have inherited are in crisis. The cost of sustaining capability has been alarmingly underestimated and underfunded. The Howard government had been committing to new capital projects without taking proper account of their ongoing funding requirements. As I said in a speech last night, it is like factoring into the family budget the cost of a new car but not accounting in that same budget for the fuel, the insurance, the rego and the maintenance—or, in the case of the member for Wentworth, the chauffeur!
The government remains committed to growing the defence budget by three per cent in real terms out to 2016. This is a big call, given the inflationary environment we have inherited from the former government. But it will do so because, as the Prime Minister says, it is core business for any government. But, given the mess we have inherited from the former government, we will need three per cent real growth and more. The waste and mismanagement in defence procurement must end and internal efficiencies will need to be found so that the money saved can be reinvested into defence. Every dollar spent in one area of defence capability is a dollar that is not available to be spent in another. We have an obligation to get it right. We cannot afford to waste a cent. Labor is determined to clean up the mess we have inherited from the now Leader of the Opposition, who was gambling not only with taxpayers’ money but, indeed, with national security. In partnership with our new leadership team, the government is determined to put the defence budget back on track. We will fill that $6 billion hole we have been left with in net operating costs. We will put the defence procurement system back on track and we will develop a plan to address Defence’s people and skills shortage.