February 13, 2024

Wasn't that an awful addition from the shadow minister for defence, the member for Canning? I was delighted when I saw this MPI. I've been begging for this MPI. Unfortunately, governments don't get to sett the MPI, so I had to wait for the shadow minister to bowl this up. It allows me to spend 10 minutes talking about how those opposite, the Liberal Party, are weak on national defence and have been ever since they were founded. So, I'm very delighted.

Let's start with recent history. Lets start with modern history. Let's start with their record when they were in government. When the shadow minister was the assistant minister, for about five minutes, what did they actually achieve? Under the opposition leader, 28 major projects were 97 years late and $6½ billion over budget. What were some of these projects? There was the MRH-90 helicopter, a helicopter that they decided to buy against Defence advice. It can't fire weapons through the door when they're getting trips in and out. It had a tail rotor failure. It couldn't even have a cargo hook that worked properly. It was grounded on several occasions. And it was 7½ years late and then had to be retired. Then there was the battlefield airlift aircraft that can't even fly into battlefields—a tiny problem! There might have been a tip in the name. But it can't fly into battlefields. And they ordered patrol boats where they used faulty Chinese made aluminium that was prone to corrosion, and supply vessels where there is not even safe drinking water for the sailors. Just think about that. Imagine a defence minister, which the opposition leader was at the time, who couldn't even procure ships that had safe drinking water for sailors.

The truth is that they couldn't manage a project to save their lives. And they like to talk big. They were great at announcements. Remember the Top Gun announcement at RAAF Williamtown? It was brilliant, but the truth is that they were big on promise but hopeless on delivery. They added $42 billion worth of spending commitments to the IIP but added zero new dollars—$42 billion of new promises, zero new money. And there were the $12 billion of cuts to the Defence budget since 2016. Here is the most dramatic one. They like to claim AUKUS. I saw Nemesis last night. It was literally the only thing the member for Cook can claim as an achievement in his life. But there is a tiny problem. They announced AUKUS. How much money did they allocate to the biggest national endeavour this country has ever undertaken? Three hundred billion? Two hundred billion? One hundred billion? Zero—not one cent added to the IIP for AUKUS, the biggest undertaking in this nation's history. That shows how deeply unserious they are about defending this nation.

They had six coalition defence ministers in nine years. Goldfish lasted longer than coalition defence ministers. They had 23 ministers and assistant ministers in the portfolio in the nine years, including my two favourites: one lasted 51 days, and the second one, the excellent member for Riverina—I love him; he's doing a great job as the shadow minister for the Pacific—lasted 75 days. So, if we want to talk about weakness or about commitment to national security, those on the opposite side treated defence as a joke, and we saw the results. What about projects-of-concern ministerial summits, which are essential to getting projects back on track? Across their 9½ years in government, they had four ministerial summits to get projects back on track. I've had five in 18 months. They did four in 9½ long years.

So the truth is that their record is incredibly weak, and they're also being incredibly mendacious and inconsistent in their application of big issues. They're criticising us all the time about our decision to focus our naval assets on the Indo-Pacific. The shadow minister put out a bizarre media release that talked about 'all feathers and no meat'. It must be a bizarre Canning saying. There's only one problem with that: he was an assistant minister in a government that said no to a similar request. He was part of a government that, as we found out today, in early April 2022 was requested to send a ship to the Red Sea as part of the Combined Maritime Forces. And what did they say? 'No, we need to focus on the Indo-Pacific.' I table the ABC News report that demonstrates the hypocrisy of those opposite when it comes to things like that. So this is a ridiculous debate put forward by those opposite because they have no credibility on defence.

By contrast, we are increasing defence funding to 2.3 per cent of GDP; we've announced significant procurement reforms that the ANAO, in their recent Major projects report, said are making an impact; and we released the Defence strategic review, which charts the course forward. The truth is that only Labor can be trusted on defence. You just have to look at the record of those opposite throughout their entire existence as a political party to see how weak they are on national security.

The terms of this MPI are about weakness, national security and who you can trust. The shadow minister talked about weakness ad infinitum. Let's talk about the weakness of those opposite. Let's talk about a political party started by Bob Menzies, a man who, in August 1939, blocked expansion of the Army. If you want to talk about weakness in national security, what did he do in September 1939? Ten days after Hitler invaded Poland, Bob Menzies sent a letter to our high commissioner in London, arguing that we should appease Adolf Hitler. He said they should carve up Europe, give parts of Africa to Italy and give parts of China to Japan. Here is a direct quote from this letter from Bob Menzies:

… nobody really cares a damn about Poland …

He wrote that 10 days after Hitler invaded Poland, and he actually argued that saying, 'Down with the Nazi government,' was 'quite indefensible' and that it was up to the German people if they wanted a dictatorship. I table the letter from Bob Menzies to Stanley Bruce that shows that he was advocating appeasement of Adolf Hitler 10 days after Poland was invaded, and that continued. Their party continued to be weak on national security throughout their entire history. They took us to Vietnam on a lie, where 523 Australians died because of a lie that they wanted to win an election on. They took us into the second Gulf War on a lie because they wanted to take us to another election that they wanted to win. It's all about politics for them because, ultimately, they are weak on national security. They love a khaki election and they love their Top Gun moment, but, in the end, they will use the troops for political props but never deliver for them. Just look at the opposition leader's record: 97 years cumulatively late for 28 major projects and $6½ billion over budget, spending $114 million on a naval shipbuilding college that trained zero workers.

By contrast, the Albanese Labor government is investing record amounts into defence. Each year of our forward estimates, we spend more on capability acquisition and sustainment than any government in the history of this country. Every year, over the forward estimates, we spend more on the Australian defence industry than any government in the history of this country. Over the decade, we will increase defence spending to 2.3 per cent of GDP. We've actually funded AUKUS. We've actually funded the nuclear submarine enterprise. We're delivering it, and the early investments are flowing. We're training sailors now in the United States. We're training defence industry workers overseas in this endeavour. We're making significant reforms to defence procurement because we do need to improve what we deliver for taxpayer money and increase the speed of getting vital equipment to the ADF. We take it in a calm, measured way that delivers for the troops, that delivers for taxpayers and that doesn't have a revolving door of ministers like we saw under that deeply silly government we inherited this situation from, a government that was obsessed with political props rather than delivering for the troops. In the end, like their predecessor coalition governments, they'll be condemned by history for their weakness on national security and their inability to prepare our nation.