House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023

Questions without Notice

Defence Procurement

2:39 pm

Photo of Tracey RobertsTracey Roberts (Pearce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister. How is the Albanese Labor government ensuring our Navy has an appropriate surface fleet in light of the previous management of defence and the strategic circumstances Australia faces?

2:40 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for her question. On 29 September the government received the independent analysis of Navy's surface combatant fleet. This was a short, sharp piece of work which was done in response to the Defence strategic review back in April by Willie Hilarides, Rosemary Huxtable and Stuart Mayer. I want to take this opportunity to thank each of these three for what is a really important piece of work. The government is now considering its recommendations, and it will respond to them in the early part of next year.

What has already become very clear is the very difficult state of the Navy which this government has inherited after a lost decade from those opposite. One fact stands out above all others: our current fleet of major surface combatants—our destroyers and our frigates—is now the oldest fleet that the Navy has ever operated. And it gets worse: in the final year of the Gillard government, the number of available days from Navy's major combatants, including our submarines, was 3,915. In the last year of the former Liberal government, when the Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Defence, that number had dropped to 2,749, a decline of 30 per cent. Their legacy is the oldest Navy our country has ever operated, with 30 per cent less availability.

The offshore patrol program which they initiated was already running a year late by the time they left office. The Hunter class program when they left office was running four years late and billions of dollars over budget. This is the definition of incompetence from the worst national security government that our country has ever seen. But, while they were no good at defence policy, they were all over defence politics because they had the space and time during the worst bushfires in our country's history to use the Defence Force to cut an ad to raise money for the Liberal Party.

Our government is very different. We are working on a surface fleet for our Navy which will meet the moment of the biggest challenge in strategic circumstances that our country has faced since the end of the Second World War. Those opposite were defence dilettantes; the Albanese Labor government is keeping Australians safe.