Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Matters of Public Interest

Australian Defence Force

1:26 pm

Photo of David JohnstonDavid Johnston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Everybody knows one undeniable fact in this place—that is, there is no-one in the federal opposition that has any knowledge or understanding of defence. There is no-one in the federal opposition that has any knowledge or understanding of capability acquisition. The performance in this chamber by various opposition members, coming in here and disclosing copious ignorance of events and projects, is quite breathtaking.

I want to go back to the dark days when Labor were in power. They cut Australian Defence Force personnel numbers by 15,000 people. They sacked two battalions. The second to last budget of the Labor government in the nineties—1994-95—saw a spending cut of 9.4 per cent, down to eight per cent of total outlays. The last legacy of a Labor government to the defence of Australia was to cut the budget.

The Defence Efficiency Review of 1997 again identified the legacy of Labor in handling defence—$1 billion of waste. Indeed, combat capability, the most important contribution of defence, was cut and run down. Deficiencies were identified by the Army’s own self-assessment: ‘Units not adequately prepared for combat; Army lacks sufficient combat power; units are understaffed, poorly equipped and have a low readiness level.’ That is the Labor contribution to defence. There is nobody across the chamber that has any real knowledge or understanding. There were no bullets. There was a shortage of fuel.

The projects were sensational. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit in 1986 said about defence project management: ‘Poor assessment of financial technical risk. Cost and time underestimates. Inadequate project planning. Insufficient attention to management information and control arrangements.’ Who can forget the famous projects like the inshore minehunter—$100 million down the gurgler? Who can forget the catastrophe of the initial management of the Collins class submarine or the breathtaking negligence in the handling of the US landing ships that were full of rust when they got here, where $340 million had to be spent? Who can fail to remember the billions of dollars spent on JORN by the Labor Party in the eighties and nineties fixing up their own mistakes?

I want to talk about the record of the Howard government on defence. It is a very proud one. It is in stark contrast to what Labor delivered to the defence of Australia when they were in power. The first thing we did was to make a commitment to increase defence funding by an average of three per cent per annum over a decade. We then set a long-term funding commitment to a defence capability plan to give industry the certainty it needed to build sustainable defence industry capabilities, and we did that. As part of the capability review, the government decided to replace Australia’s Leopard tanks, and we have done that with M1A1 Abrams tanks; to deliver combat identification and more capable communications and night vision equipment; and to introduce SM2 missiles—and so the list goes on. We established the DMO, and the DMO is working magnificently. I also want to talk about the establishment of the Kinnaird review and the Defence white paper. And I could go on for much longer than time permits. We have done so much in defence to secure Australia’s defence future.

In this place, allegations were made last night about the FFG upgrade program, our Oliver Hazard Perry class and Adelaide class frigates. Cabinet approved the C1390 phase 2 upgrade in December 1997 at a cost of $1.266 billion. Current approval is for $1.4 billion, with the increase comprising inflation, exchange and real cost decrease, mainly due to the transfer of funds for missile procurement to the evolved Sea Sparrow. The FFG upgrade project now seeks to regain a comparative regional capability—that is, to regain a comparative regional advantage in terms of the capability of our four Adelaide class guided missile frigates to ensure that they remain effective and supportable through their 2013 to 2021 life. This project is on track, notwithstanding what a particular senator said here last night, and is meeting the expected milestones. The provisional acceptance of lead ship HMAS Sydney was achieved on 15 December last year.

These things happen, but the opposition are oblivious to them. They are not keeping tabs on what is actually happening in defence. Again, no-one really understands or cares and that is the frightening thing. HMAS Melbourne completed the docking component of the upgrade and will commence formal contractor sea trials early in March of this year. HMAS Darwin commenced the docking phase on 3 January this year and is expected to complete the docking element in early June 2007. HMAS Newcastle is scheduled to enter the upgrade and docking element in October of this year. Sea trials on HMAS Sydney have demonstrated improved performance overall in the upgraded FFG.

Just as we heard from Senator Bishop, senators come in here wanting to cast aspersions on defence projects. Let me talk about the Delos. The Delos was delivered to the Royal Australian Navy under budget and ahead of schedule. Indeed Tenix, the very proud and successful contractor that delivered that project, received a bonus. I want to congratulate Mr Kim Gillies, and the CEO, Dr Gumley, and, of course, Tenix on a fantastic job. They are the facts. That is the truth of the matter.

Further to that, let us talk about Seasprites. That was a Labor project. In 1995 the Labor Party called for tenders for Seasprites. It is their problem and we have been trying to fix it up for a very long time—just as we have been doing with all of the other projects that I have mentioned, and I have only mentioned the tip of a very ugly iceberg of Labor Party fiascos.

I want to talk about how good the project management at the DMO is. There is a trophy called the Essington Lewis trophy. It is awarded by the Australian Defence Magazine, which is a privately owned magazine, I am led to believe. The judging criteria are about overall project management and approach, innovation in problem solving and strength of the relationship between the DMO and the contractor teams. The project team with respect to AIR 5416, the Echidna project phase 2, was awarded the Essington Lewis trophy this year.

Essington Lewis was a very great Australian. He was an industrialist and a Second World War director of munitions, born in Burra in South Australia in 1881. He became a mining engineer and joined BHP in 1904. In 1921 he was appointed general manager and, later, managing director of BHP. He led BHP to establish its own steelworks. Also, believing that war with Japan was inevitable, during the thirties he played a leading role in building up Australia’s defence industry, including aircraft, warships, weapons and munitions production. He was a very great Australian. Geoffrey Blainey said of him that he made BHP one of the most efficient steel companies in the world and that his influence was felt in every industry and occupation. He said that his work in munitions was a prerequisite for many of the complex manufacturing ventures developed in Australia in the forties and fifties. He went on to say that there could be little doubt that, but for his premonition of war in the thirties and his rare talents and dedication as an organiser during the war, Australia would have played a lesser part in fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. As I said, he was a great Australian.

Project AIR 5416 was created in 1998. The Defence Materiel Organisation developed the project for the development, integration and installation of an electronic warfare self-protection suite into selected Australian Defence Force aircraft to improve the survivability of these aircraft in combat. In addition, the project delivered a comprehensive electronic warfare mission support system and provided modifications to the application simulators and other support systems necessary to fulfil operational and training requirements.

The current phase 2 of the project was to fit the electronic warfare self-protection suite to the Black Hawk helicopters, to the Chinook CH-47D helicopters and to the C-130H Hercules aircraft. The acquisition contract was signed with Tenix Defence Aerospace, and I want to congratulate Tenix as the commercial partner with the DMO on this very successful project, a project that was awarded the Essington Lewis trophy.

I want to congratulate Dr Gumley and I want to congratulate Mr Peter Edwards, the team leader, on a fantastic job in what is a very technical, very complex project of integration. I am delighted to say that this complicated project was run with strict attention to detail, and the project engineering discipline by all involved, most notably Tenix and the project team for Echidna phase 2B, was exceptional and outstanding.

This is the real story. We are winning prizes for performance in project management in defence. We are innovating. In the DMO we are doing things that the whole world wants to copy. Yet we have people on the other side of this chamber who have no real understanding. You can imagine what it must be like in Labor’s party room when someone says, ‘Who wants to do defence?’ Everybody looks away. They are thinking, ‘I’d rather do social security,’ or, ‘Can’t I do health or education?’ Who wants to do defence? Nobody wants to do defence. They are drafted into doing defence because nobody understands it, it is too complex and they do not care about it. That is the situation. It is a disgrace that people come in here dripping in ignorance and talking about projects on such an important subject which they do not understand. It fills me with absolute trepidation that these people are going to suggest to the Australian public that they should be put in charge of the defence of Australia. What a frightening prospect, particularly considering their record.

One needs to go no further than Senate estimates. During Senate estimates the Department of Defence—all of the service chiefs and all of the agency chiefs—turn out and over a thousand questions are asked. Yet when senators opposite come into the chamber they have never asked the chiefs about the matters that they want to broadly describe and complain about in here, because they know there are answers. They come in here seeking to make some political points because they think that is the way they can aspire to government—just tell the public what you think they want to hear. In those thousand questions in estimates they never get to the point of asking about projects that are not performing well, and the reason is that they do not understand the answers. They do not understand the lingo. They cannot get the acronyms. Not one of them has any real idea about the defence of Australia and about technical capability acquisition.

I will finish by saying that the proof of what I have said lies in one incontrovertible fact: this opposition have not brought forward a single piece of good policy in the area of defence. However, I do stand corrected on one point. Their one contribution, in ‘coastguard mark 3’, has been the mounting of an armed sniper on the side of a helicopter to shoot at insurgents and boat people. That was what coastguard mark 3 brought to the party. That is the Labor Party’s solitary contribution to the defence of Australia. There is not one other policy initiative that discloses any ability, knowledge or understanding of defence.