Speeches

DEFENCE

November 10, 2020

Since the Coalition came to office we've had 24 different ministers across the defence portfolio. This record of ministerial instability is having real impacts on Australia's national security. It is a record of a lack of leadership and broken promises when it comes to the delivery of major defence projects. What is the result of this incompetence? On the latest data, there are 31 major defence projects running a total of 83 years late. Let me repeat that: 31 major defence projects running a total of 83 years late. These are new weapons, vehicles, aircraft, ships and equipment that the Australian Defence Force personnel need to do their jobs. For example, the $3.8 billion MRH-90 helicopters are running more than seven years late in achieving final operational capability. And last month we learnt that the MRH-90s can't fire their weapons at the same time as troops are roping in or out of the cabins, which is a serious problem in a helicopter which is supposed to be used by Special Forces—all because the Howard government botched this project at the outset and because the current defence minister failed to get back on track.

And it's not just the MRH-90s. The $1.4 billion project to acquire 10 new battlefield airlift aircraft is running three years late. It has been revealed that these battlefield airlifters would not be able to fly into battlefields. Just think about that: this government is spending $1.5 billion on battlefield airlift aircraft that can't even fly into battlefields. The $5.4 billion project to acquire 12 P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol aircraft is running two years late—which has implications for defence and border protection operations—and the $1.1 billion upgrade to the Jindalee Operational Radar Network is running 18 months late. This is a key early-warning capability for the ADF.

The first responsibility of any Australian government is to protect the security of our people. That requires a well equipped Defence Force with the resources it needs to defend Australia and advance our national interests. From the opposition's point of view, there will be a bipartisan approach to the fundamentals of defence policy, but we will always hold the government to account for its performance and accountable for the mismanagement of defence projects, which make it is harder for Australian soldiers, sailors and air crews to do their jobs.

The latest budget papers show not only mismanagement but also broken promises by this government when it comes to investing in defence equipment. Defence's PBS shows that the Morrison government spent nearly $6.7 billion less than it promised on new defence equipment since 2016. Let me repeat that: a $6.7 billion cut. And $5.7 billion of the $6.7 billion shortfall is in major capital investments, such as the JSF, the future frigates and offshore patrol vessels. These are key projects that are missing out on funding that was promised by the Morrison government in the 2016 defence paper.

The government likes to boast about its defence investments but the reality falls way short of the rhetoric: 31 projects running a total of 83 years late; and investment in defence projects $6.7 billion less than promised; and consistent underperformance on sustainment, where Navy availability is 14 per cent lower, RAAF availability is 21 per cent lower, and helicopter availability at 26 per cent lower in terms of hours. This is all typical of a Prime Minister who cares more about marketing than delivery and who is always there for the photo op but never there for the follow-up. But they are nowhere to be seen when it comes to spending what they promised in delivering defence projects on time and in line with the capabilities needed by Australian Defence Force personnel.

So my question to the minister is: why has this government underspent its promised defence capital budget by $6.7 billion since 2016-17?

What Defence projects have been, delayed, scaled back or cancelled due to these broken promises? To the Minister for Defence Industry specifically: at this consideration in detail last year she said that her job was to deliver projects on budget, on spec and on time. So given this appalling performance, will the minister resign? Or will she just let the Prime Minister sack her in the reshuffle later this year? Will she just let the Prime Minister do the work when he reshuffles in a month's time? Will the Prime Minister do the job for her, or will she have the honour to honour her commitment from last year, when she said her job was to deliver projects on spec, on time and on budget? She has clearly failed. She should resign.

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