Tuesday, 14 February 2023
It's always interesting, listening to the member for Solomon, because he certainly knows what he's talking about when he talks about defence, because of the experience of his own service.
Last Thursday, the Deputy Prime Minister made a ministerial statement entitled: Securing Australia's sovereignty. It was an important statement that outlined Australia's national security and sovereign capability. We heard today that the Defence Strategic Review has now been handed to government. I'm sure that that review will add to those very issues, and I'm sure we'll also be hearing more about it. But I want to quote three phrases from the Deputy Prime Minister's statement last week: firstly, 'The world around us is uncertain'; secondly, 'We now live in a less safe and less stable world'; and, thirdly, 'Our partnerships build our national capability and security.' I'll come back to some of that if time permits, but I think that those statements sum up very well the issues that we are confronted with and how we are to respond, if we're going to strengthen our national security and sovereign capability.
National security and defence—when we think of those two concepts, the first image that I suspect comes to most of us is the image of the men and women in uniform serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force. They enlist in a dangerous service for our country and for our people. We honour their lives, their service and their sacrifices through numerous services throughout the year, with Anzac Day, I believe, now being Australia's most significant national day. We honour their service with a world-class national war memorial, probably the most visited national facility we have in Australia, and the regular Last Post services held there.
Today, on 14 February, as part of National Servicemen's Day, we honour and remember those people who were referred to as 'Nashos', and, as a nation, we think about the 280,000 plus who were called up to serve between 1951 and 1972. More than 15,000 of them served in Vietnam, where, I understand, more than 200 lost their lives and around 1,200 were wounded. In my own region, the National Servicemen's Association of Australia, South Australian Para Districts branch, has, for years, provided a friendship and support group for the Nashos. Over the years, I've had a close association with the Para District branch, and I've not only learnt so much from them but also made very good friends from amongst those Nashos.
This Sunday 19 February, I know there will be commemoration services remembering the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, which then went on for some months, until November 1943. That bombing was perhaps the worst mainland attack we've experienced in this country. At least 236 people were killed—perhaps a lot more. It's difficult to get the precise statistics. Some 400 were wounded. Again, as a nation we commemorate those people who served, made sacrifices and lost their lives.
Within my own community and my own region, particularly in Mawson Lakes, at Edinburgh and the Australian Submarine Corporation, we have hundreds of defence-related industries and have had them for some years. I note that other members who have contributed to this debate have referred to south Australia's contribution to our national defence and a number of defence-related industries that we have in South Australia. Amongst and within those industries, we have world-leading expertise and knowledge. I've been through several of them. I've listened to their presentations. I've looked at what they do and how they contribute to global affairs through their expertise, and it never ceases to amaze me how good and how important their work is. It is work and know-how that is complemented by dozens of manufacturing firms who equally have expert skills and capability, and they are also critical to Australia's sovereign capability because we cannot secure our country without a strong manufacturing sector.
Regrettably, under the last coalition government, our manufacturing sector was crippled, and certainly that was the case in South Australia when the coalition government turned their backs on the Australian carmakers. They then offshored defence manufacturing. Doing that led to a loss of so much engineering, specialist trade, design and even some science skill that not only benefited the carmakers, the defence industries and so on but also benefited the broader community and other manufacturers throughout the country. Their research and development dollars that were also lost had a flow-on effect throughout the country. Maintaining a strong manufacturing sector is as critical as putting together all the other components of securing our country and making sure that we have the strategic capability to do so.
We just had a debate in the main chamber about defence spending in this country. I say this with regard to the last coalition government. We hear a lot about their commitment to defence spending in this country. The reality is this: in the last nine years under which they were in government, our submarine program, which was a critical issue at the time they came to office, ended with the wastage of over $5 billion on the French contract, which went nowhere. At the change of government nine years later, we did not even have a contract in place to replace our submarines. Now, I stress that point for this reason: only the other day I made a 90-second statement about the importance of maintaining a workforce in the defence area—a workforce with absolutely specialised skills that we cannot afford to lose, because, as we were told by leaders from that workforce, many of those skills take many years to develop. It is not simply a case of doing an apprenticeship and then being able to work within those industries. After the apprenticeship, you need to go into the sector and do some real work to further develop your skills.
If we don't have a continuous build in naval construction, then those skills will be lost. Already many of them are and it has been claimed that, in order to rebuild our naval construction workforce, we need to start finding skilled workers from elsewhere. But the reality is we need to ensure that there is continuous work, and we will only do that if we get on with building our naval requirements here in Australia and we have a continuous build in place. That message has been told to this parliament loud and clear for year on year, and regrettably it seems that it is sliding away.
The Albanese government have committed to rebuilding Australia's manufacturing sector, and we've done that through the National Reconstruction Fund. That fund goes to the heart of rebuilding Australia's manufacturing capability, but, again, what are we seeing? We're seeing the opposition opposing the establishment of that fund, opposing the very purpose for which it has been designed and opposing the programs that it will sustain, which I would have thought the opposition would have seen were in the national interest. Regrettably, that is not the case. It seems to me that if we are going to rebuild our national manufacturing capability, which goes to the heart of securing our national security and our defence capability, then we need to get behind that fund.