House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024

Grievance Debate

Australian Defence Force

7:08 pm

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

Colonel Tim Stone, the commandant of the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka, is a good man. I speak to him regularly about military matters. He has one of the most important positions in the Australian Army because every recruit who does their basic training goes through Kapooka. It's an important military institution. Indeed, Colonel Stone is the 37th name on the honour board of names of commandants at Blamey Barracks, and that goes back to November 1951—a long time. Wagga Wagga has a proud military history. Since the 1930s it has had a Royal Australian Air Force at Forest Hill. It has also had a Navy base since the 1990s. The Navy base has upwards of 80 officers there at any given time. We're a long way from seawater, but indeed we have a Navy presence. Wagga Wagga is the only regional inland city with a triservice presence in Australia—Army, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Australian Navy—and we're proud of that.

Our defence people need to be supported every step of the way. I acknowledge the service of the member for Braddon behind me. He is also somebody who has spent time at Blamey Barracks. Blamey Barracks is named after Field Marshall Thomas Blamey. He was a colonel at one stage. He was also a general. He ended up as Australia's only field marshal. He got that just before he passed away. Blamey Barracks is named after him. There's a street in Wagga Wagga named after him. There is even a pub named in his honour—and there should be, too, because, as Australia's highest-ranking military person, he deserves every accolade.

But I am concerned that defence is not being supported—and this is the subject of my grievance tonight—by this government as well as it should be. Just last week we learnt that the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, had words with Defence bureaucrats and key military serving personnel about the culture of those in uniform, the culture of what he believes he's not receiving from the military. Many people in uniform are not happy with this. They are rather displeased at the fact that the minister has raised this. Apparently, in a meeting of between 25 to 30 of these high-ranking Defence officials and uniformed personnel, the minister explained why he was unhappy with his department, bringing into focus the performance of the military people underneath him.

Our military are the best in the world. I know that the defence minister would acknowledge that, but to lay the blame, as he did in this meeting reported by Andrew Tillett of the Australian Financial Review, and to call into question the department raises more questions than have been answered. When he was quizzed about this in question time, the Deputy Prime Minister went straight to blame, sheeting home the blame to our years in government, which is not fair, is not correct and is not justifiable. He said in his answer:

We are working closely with the Defence Force and cooperatively and well to improve the culture but there is a way to go because of the mess that was left by those opposite.

If you call record spending a mess and if you call the fact that we put defence at the forefront of all of our policies a mess—well, I'm afraid that you are mistaken. I know that our defence ministers, each and every one of them, very much appreciated, valued, recognised, acknowledged, praised and supported our people in uniform. Governments of all persuasion should do just that.

I don't think this government is paying due recognition and service to our defence people, and certainly not when it comes to making sure that the diplomacy that we should do and the efforts that we should go to in Ukraine and in other places are at the level they should be. Indeed, look at the Taipan and the Bushmaster. Those vital pieces of defence equipment and resource should be provided to Ukraine in its battle against the illegal invasion by Russia. If not, why not? If they don't have the right number of Bushmasters, why is that so? If they can't get the helicopters that they need and there are issues around servicing and their procurement, this is hampering their efforts to repel Russia at a time of world instability.

It goes beyond that. In the matter of public importance debate today, the Minister for Defence Industry and minister for the Pacific tabled a letter from Robert Menzies to Stanley Melbourne Bruce in the late 1930s. It was a bizarre tabling. He talked about why we shouldn't have gone into Vietnam and, in doing so, I believe, besmirched the 523 souls, Australians, who lost their lives in that conflict, let alone the 2,400 or thereabouts who were wounded. Never mind the many, many thousands more who came back from that war and were not thanked and recognised until, I will say, Bob Hawke made sure they were, and credit to former prime minister Hawke for doing that. Those men were sent to that conflict in the interests of repelling the rise of communism, and they did so on our behalf. They did so because they were sent there by the government of the day. For a minister to get up and say what he said was very disappointing.

We'll all have different views on the Iraq War. We'll all have different views on any war. But our servicepeople go there at our behest and our request—but not just ours. It's on the say-so of the Australian people. National security should be the No. 1 priority. It should always be.

At this time in particular our Defence needs to be praised. They shouldn't have to hear from a defence minister that he has issues with 'the culture' at a time when we have our Navy being sonar blasted, and our sailors, moreover, having to deal with that; at a time when the Pacific is a very contested space; and at a time when our soldiers, sailors and air men and women are doing their very best to represent this country, and they do so in an outstanding fashion. And, to that point, the CDF and everybody else who has carriage of leadership of our Army, Navy and Air Force are also doing their best, at the request of this government, to represent our nation on the world stage. If you go anywhere in the world, from Camp Baird to our peace deployments, to the Pacific, to the military bases in Wagga Wagga, my home town, and ask anybody, they will say the Australian service men and women are the best of the best.

Our veterans, who will soon march again on Anzac Day, 25 April, are also to be credited and acknowledged for the service and sacrifices that they've made in our name. They honour that tradition—the long line of khaki which stretches from Blamey Barracks in Kapooka all the way to Gallipoli in Turkiye. They honour that tradition. They honour that Anzac spirit. The Anzac torch still burns brightly in their hearts. I think the defence minister needs to explain what actually went on in that meeting and why he said it.