Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the minister please outline to the House how the Morrison government's defence cooperation with allies and partners is setting the foundation for our continued economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic? Is the minister aware of any alternative approaches?
I thank the honourable member for her question and greatly appreciate her support of our Defence Force personnel. Every Australian would be proud of the work that is about to get underway in Exercise Talisman Sabre, predominantly in Queensland, where we'll see 1,800 troops travel to our country for the exercise, not only from the United States but also from Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. This will be a very significant effort, for us to work very closely with our partners. This government has put $270 billion into defence capability over this decade, and we know that Labor withdrew $18 billion from the Defence Force when they were last in government because they lost control of their borders and they needed to put that money into that policy failure.
I'm asked about alternative policies. As the Australian public knows of this Leader of the Opposition, right through the course of the way in which we have responded to the COVID pandemic—and I'm asked about the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—this individual, this Leader of the Opposition, has sought to undermine our standing as a country from day one when it comes to the vaccine rollout—
Honourable members interjecting—
The Minister for Defence will resume his seat. I'd like to invite the Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat at this point and point out, as I did in the last few question times, that, when ministers are asked about alternative approaches, that really is a way in the standing orders to talk about alternative policies. In fact, the standing orders make clear that questions cannot ask directly about opposition policies, which is why that tag phrase has existed for a very long time. But I have tightened up on it. Just because you were asked about alternative approaches does not mean that you can embark on a character assessment. You're going to need to actually find an alternative policy approach that you can refer to that's relevant to the question that's been asked. I'd just say it's not curtailing debate. There are other forums of the House for exactly the sort of approach the minister was taking, and they're very open to him, but it's just not open in question time if it's not relevant to the question.
Funny you should say that, Mr Speaker; I'm just coming to the Labor policy right now. Their policy in relation to defence, as we've seen on display by the Leader of the Opposition today, is not in our national interest—is not in our national interest. At a time when our partners are coming together, at a time when our partners understand the intelligence and the threats within our region, the Leader of the Opposition is out there seeking to undermine the position—
No, the minister will not argue with me. Members on my left, particularly those behind the front bench, you're assisting no-one. The minister's asked if there are alternative approaches. He needs to say what they are, not say what they are and say what the consequences are. The minister has the call. If you're asked about alternative approaches or policies, you've at least got to say what they are. I don't think that's an overly stringent requirement.
To put it into clear words, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition is enunciating a policy of the Labor Party at the moment, which is an alternative policy, in contrast to the government's policy—that is, we are standing up for our country's interests—
Opposition members interjecting—
You are not. No, the Labor Party, Mr Speaker—
I've asked the minister to pause yet a second time. I think I've made my ruling clear. If the minister wants to say what he's saying, he can't do it in response to this question. And we can do this long way or the short way, but he really can't. Let me be really clear about it. If he wants to launch the sort of character attack he's doing—I have tightened up on this and I've made it very clear. Other ministers have given very robust answers by saying: 'This is the alternative approach. This is the alternative policy.' If he wants to go down the path he's going, he really has to use another form of the House, like a suspension. The minister has the call.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I understand your ruling. I've been very clear about the government's position and our policy, and that is one of consistency in relation to the support of our defence forces. We have put money into the Australian Defence Force at an unprecedented level. We have put $270 billion in over the course of this decade. We are realistic about the threats that our country faces. And this government isn't saying one thing to one group and then completely the opposite to the next group. That is the contrast between this side and that side of parliament. (Time expired)