June 15, 2021

Six defence ministers in eight years. Goldfish have a longer life expectancy than defence ministers under this government. If it weren't tragic it would be funny, but it is tragic because this is leading to massive dysfunction and mismanagement at Russell defence headquarters.

Let's look at the facts—because we get plenty of bragging from the government—evident in their own budget papers. First off, for all their talk about spending, they have cut $10.7 billion from the defence acquisition budget since the 2016 white paper. $10.7 billion promised to be spent on acquiring defence equipment since 2016 has been cut from the defence budget. Secondly, we have 28 major defence projects running cumulatively 70 years late across 28 major defence projects. We also have 19 major projects that are $6.4 billion over budget.

I remember the Minister for Defence Industry in late 2019 making a commitment in this debate that her performance would be judged on three things: on time, on budget, and on spec. My first question is: when is she resigning? She has clearly failed: $10.7 billion cut from the budget, 28 projects running 70 years late, and $6 billion of budget blow-outs on specific projects.

What are some the lowlights? We have submarines running 10 years late and $40 million over budget. Future frigates: not the first piece of steel has been cut, but we have seen a budget increase of 50 per cent. Only recently we established that there is already a schedule blow-out. The first ship is now running two years late. It was scheduled to be in service in the late 2020s; now it will be the end of 2031. Very concerningly, the last frigate is now running six years late. It was due to be in service in 2038; now it will be 2044—a six-year delay. The MRH-90, the backbone of our helicopter fleet, is 7½ years late. It was initiated by the Howard government, stuffed up then and now stuffed up by this government. We have established that it can't fire weapons when troops are roping out of the helicopter. We saw a catastrophic tail rotor failure that nearly destroyed one of them. The cargo hook took years to fix. The machine gun mount needed three different versions to be able to work. And now they're spending $37 million on leasing helicopters from Toll because 27 MRH-90s were grounded because—get this—they didn't have enough door sliding rails. This is a joke. We have also got Battlefield Airlifter aircraft that can't fly into battlefields—a minor problem. We've got patrol boats that use substandard Chinese aluminium, therefore delaying the project very significantly. The Jindalee Operational Radar Network, JORN, is 1½ years late. This is a series of bungles after bungles, because we have seen six defence ministers in eight years.

We have also seen major mismanagement in sustainment—the key thing about giving our ADF troops, our sailors, soldiers, and air people, the equipment and the availability they need. Here, I'm sad to say, we've seen a $5 billion blow-out in the sustainment budget. This government is so incompetent it's spending $5 billion more than planned on sustainment. What's worse, even though they are spending $5 billion more on sustaining our ageing, obsolete equipment because they can't get the new equipment into service, the performance of our equipment is well under par. Our C-27J Spartans are flying 65 per cent fewer hours than planned. The armed reconnaissance helicopter is flying 38 per cent fewer hours than planned. The Joint Strike Fighter is flying 30 per cent fewer hours than planned. Our amphibious fleet is available for 22 per cent fewer days than planned and our major combatants for 11 per cent fewer days than planned.

These are the actions. Ignore the cheap talk. Ignore the cheap bragging about how much they are spending. It is all about performance—making sure our troops have the equipment they need when they need it and that our taxpayers get value for money. On every single marker, this government is failing the Australian people and failing the troops. They don't have the troops' backs; they are failing the troops and they are failing taxpayers through their incompetence and mismanagement.