House debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Ministerial Statements

National Security

5:14 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

These words:

Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.

were spoken in 1948 by Charles Bean, and they appear at the temporary entrance to the Australian War Memorial. They evoke great patriotism and great nationalism.

They are in the right place because, hopefully, as everybody who walks through that national monument—that Australian treasure—and past those words they read them and might just take them in and reflect on them after their visit is over. Indeed, in the War Memorial, that proud national monument, the names of 103,000 men and women who sacrificed their lives in the service of our country in wars past and deployments present are on the rolls of honour.

This is a motion about Australia's sovereignty, and I will reflect on this and two former Labor prime ministers. The first is Billy Hughes, who fought the good fight in World War I. Certainly, when the Treaty of Versailles was being drawn up he wanted to make sure that the blood of Australians was not forgotten, and the blood that was shed in Gallipoli, on the Western Front, in Africa and on other front lines was very much respected by those putting the treaty together.

The other Prime Minister I want to mention is John Curtin. We all know the furious communications that occurred between London and Canberra when the 14th Prime Minister of this country said that he was bringing our troops home. Our troops were needed here. Not a lot of people realise that there were more bombs dropped on Australia's north-west and north in World War II than were dropped on Pearl Harbor. We were under threat—we were under attack. I know that Gundagai, in my electorate, was the scene of a famous wartime cabinet meeting between Mr Curtin and his colleagues, and they made the right decisions at the right time. We need our governments to do just that: to put our country and our people first. As the shadow defence minister said in his contribution to this debate:

Let me begin by saying that the opposition shares the minister's view that our sovereignty, our territory, our values and our way of life are a sacred duty of the Australian government and, indeed, of this parliament. On this question, the coalition are of one mind and spirit with the government, for if we cannot secure and defend ourselves we have failed at the most basic duty entrusted to us by the Australian people.

He's right. And the Deputy Prime Minister, when he spoke about those very traits, was correct too. We need, in as bipartisan a manner as we can, to defend absolutely that sacred duty.

I am proud to be the federal member for Riverina, which takes in Wagga Wagga, the only inland regional centre of its size with all three arms of the Defence Force. We've just had a changing of the guard, as such, at the Kapooka base, where Colonel Tim Stone has taken over as the commandant there. He has the huge responsibility of leading the recruit training at that base. Every recruit does their basic training at that base just south-west of Wagga Wagga. We're very proud to be a military city. If you spend any time in the Royal Australian Air Force you may very well end up at Royal Australian Air Force Base Wagga Wagga, at Forest Hill. It's a very important logistics base and a very important training camp.

Combined with that camp is a Navy base. We're a long way from the nearest drop of seawater, but we have a Navy base in Wagga Wagga. They do a lot of important strategic work. I know that when they have their special occasions in Wagga Wagga's Victory Memorial Gardens there are many young Navy personnel there in uniform. What is remarkable is their youth; they are so proud to turn up and represent that proud form of service in our tri-service city.

This motion before the House is important, because we need to have a commitment to national security. And it doesn't matter who is in government; it doesn't matter what side of politics: We can't drop the ball when it comes to national security. And I have to say, we never have, as a coalition. We've always put our national security first. I know the commitment that we made when we returned to government in 2013 to, I have to say, readjust some of the thinking and some of the spending that had lapsed. It was important that we do so at that time. It was the former coalition government that increased investment in defence to more than two per cent and invested more than $270 billion into capability to 2030.

I'm very pleased to say, as a former Assistant Minister for Defence and a former veterans' affairs minister, that considerable spending—almost $1 billion—is going into upgrading the infrastructure at both RAAF Wagga and the Kapooka base, and I mentioned earlier the importance they both play in our national security. That is going to replace, in RAAF's case, some of the very ageing 1950s and '60s infrastructure that was badly in need of replacement. At Kapooka it's going to take them to the next level. In training they do an obstacle course. They put those young recruits, men and women, through their paces, and they turn out the best, the bravest and the boldest, and that's who we need wearing our khaki. It stretches back to Gallipoli and even before that—that level of commitment by Australian soldiers. Indeed, Kapooka has been there since the Second World War. RAAF Wagga has had a commitment there on the old Allonville property since the late 1930s, and Navy has been in Wagga Wagga since 1993.

As I said, the coalition made sure that our investment was what it needed to be, and I must say that our investment was highest when the now opposition leader was Minister for Defence. So, he has a commitment. He has a track record for making sure that we've got the right money in the right places. I heard the member for Herbert, himself a former infantryman, talking during the debate on the matter of public importance today about making sure our soldiers have the right kit, and that's so, so important. I know that the member for Bendigo is proud of the fact that her home town produces the Bushmaster. Indeed, as part of a coalition government, I'm glad Labor has, since coming into government, backed our commitment to Ukraine to provide those vital personnel carriers so they can do what they can to repel the illegal invasion by Russia.

There is a lot of pressure on Australia and on the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere across the globe at the moment. A lot of pressure is being brought to bear on those who want to preserve democracy and those who believe in freedom and peace. And Australia has always been there, whether in Afghanistan, with our previous commitments to that, or whether in the current deployments, peacekeeping and otherwise, that we need to make sure that we are a part of—make sure we're on the right side—and that we are always there. I commend our ADF. I commend those people who run the Australian Defence Force for doing just that.

And it's a big ask of those who serve in this place, because we are the ones who commit Australian soldiers and other defence personnel into battle. We do that, and it's a heavy burden to bear. I never thought it would be until I was part of those motions and debates before the House of Representatives when we were talking about Afghanistan and other conflicts that we've fought in during the recent past. The coalition will always be there. Sovereignty is so, so important. The level of trust on Labor at the moment is very high, because they are the ones in government now, but they certainly have bipartisan support when it comes to national security.


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