House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail

10:33 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | Hansard source

I'm going to start with a statement that I think both sides of politics will agree with: we face the greatest strategic uncertainty for this country since World War II. That was reflected in the 2020 Defence strategic update, commissioned and released by the previous government, which said that, for the first time since 1945, we can no longer rely on the 10-year warning horizon for a major regional conflict. That is something that was very sobering, and something that both sides agreed with. It is something that should have spurred the last government into action. But, unfortunately, they did nothing. They said, 'We've lost the 10-year warning horizon. We have the greatest strategic uncertainty since 1945. But we're not going to speed up the acquisition cycle; in fact, we're going to slow things down.' That was symptomatic of a government that was big on announcement and hopeless on delivery. They spent $10.4 billion less on equipment than they promised in the 2016 Defence white paper. They had six defence ministers in nine years. Goldfish lasted longer than defence ministers in the coalition government.

They provided no oversight of defence projects. For example, ministerial summits on projects of concern went from one every six months under Labor to six in nine years under the previous government. And what was the result of this? Those on the other side are very focused on delivering for the ADF—as they should be, and as we are—but what was the result of their incompetence? It was 28 major defence projects running, cumulatively, 97 years late. It was 18 major projects running over budget. It was frigates running four years late and 50 per cent over budget. It was battlefield airlift aircraft running 4½ years late; they can't fly into battlefields. The offshore patrol vessel was at least 12 months late. The evolved Cape class vessel was 12 months late. These are all capabilities the ADF need that those on the other side failed to deliver.

The Albanese Labor government is already taking action on these major issues. We've announced major reforms. We've done more in our first six months than that mob opposite did in 10 long years. We've announced six major reforms: establishing an independent project and portfolio management office; requiring monthly reports to me and the Deputy Prime Minister for projects of concern and projects of interest; establishing early warning criteria for projects in trouble; fostering a culture in Defence of raising attention to problem projects early; providing troubled projects with extra resources; and convening regular ministerial summits on projects of concern, which I'll be doing very shortly for the first one.

These six important reforms are a down payment on what you'll see in the Defence Strategic Review and the new defence industrial development strategy. They are important reforms that will improve defence procurement to respond to the deteriorating strategic environment, which we all agree on but on which those opposite did absolutely nothing.

Now I can respond to the questions on missiles asked by my counterparts over there. I absolutely agree, shadow minister for defence industry, that more needs to be done. We face strategic uncertainty. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated that we need to do much more. I'm focused on increasing the stocks of our current missiles, resolving some of the maintenance issues that prevent adequate and speedy maintenance, and establishing indigenous manufacturing capability in this country. They're really important tasks that I'm focused on.

The last government announced the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise two years ago but did nothing. They did nothing for two years. They hadn't even signed head agreements with the GWEO strategic partners. We're taking action. I visited Washington last month and I had very productive conversations with the Pentagon, the States Department of State, the Congress and the key defence primes over there. I'm confident that we can work together to deliver a result on missiles that will help our entire country.

Another speaker talked about Land 400 Phase 3. This is a live tender, so it would be inappropriate to go into details on it—

but I'll make this point to the member for Herbert. If it was so important to the last government, why did they not make a decision before the last election? Why did they not make a decision? They didn't make a decision, because they were all talk on defence. They were great on media releases but hopeless on follow-through.

Unlike the coalition, the Labor Party is focused on sober analysis backed up with evidence. That will be demonstrated through the Defence Strategic Review. That will be backed up by the defence industry development strategy. That will be backed up with a laser-like focus on delivering the capabilities the ADF need, on time and with ministerial support, rather than press releases like those opposite.


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