Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Defence Procurement, Aged Care, Turnbull Government

10:05 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Defence procurement is a huge issue. Defence is the Commonwealth's biggest procurer. The value to the economy is enormous. Because so much of taxpayers' money is being spent, it makes a big difference how and where the government decides to spend it. When it comes to defence procurement, the government says its policy is to 'maximise local manufacturing where it represents value for money'. As a result, it has passed up on local manufacturers because they couldn't compete with the companies paying their workers pennies on the dollar.

The men and women who work in our textile manufacturing industry are not well-paid millionaires, sitting on their hands doing nothing but having long lunches and drinking champagne. They're working hard and with pride in their product. It should be a matter of national pride for us too that, when we send Australian troops to war, we send them wearing boots made in the land they have sworn to defend. Australian companies shouldn't have to beg for contracts to produce uniforms and supplies for our Australian Defence Force personnel. The government should not be asking Australian companies to engage in a costly tendering process that requires them to demonstrate the broader economic benefit of their bid. It is self-evident that there will be flow-on benefits from Australian companies employing people to work on satisfying orders with Defence.

Take the example of South Australian boot manufacturer Rossi, which lost a Defence contract in 2014. The government said Rossi was not good value for money. They decided to hand the contract to an Indonesian company instead. This government isn't supporting Australian jobs by keeping Australian troops in Australian boots. Instead, it is giving its money to Indonesia. How many jobs are Australian taxpayers creating with their money being spent in Indonesia? I can tell you how many jobs they're creating in Australia: it's not a hell of a lot. Indonesia's gain is certainly our loss. Sometimes it's not Indonesia being favoured, to be fair; sometimes it's Vietnam; sometimes it's China. Sometimes it's any other country that is willing to undercut Australian workers with a second-rate product.

It's more than just the money or the cost. When we send our defence budget offshore, we also send away our skills and our capacity. Local knowledge gets lost when we stop doing what we need to be doing locally. And, when we source defence uniforms locally, we make it easier to keep our Australian Defence Force members safe. Keeping that capacity local makes it easier to protect against counterfeiting and theft.

It's better for jobs, too. When the Abbott government cancelled its orders of combat uniforms with the WorkWear Group in Footscray in 2015, it effectively gave the sack to 45 permanent workers. When you weaken a manufacturer by cancelling an order, you're weakening that manufacturer's capacity to be competitive on future orders, because, by not investing in Australian manufacturers, you're ripping away the income they can use to invest back into technology, innovation and of course the local community. Job losses in one part of the supply chain mean job losses throughout the whole supply chain. The flow-on effects of failing to invest in Australian made products are felt throughout the economy. And, if the government doesn't think Australian manufacturers represent good value for money, what sort of message does that send to the rest of the world about the quality and standards of our own manufactured goods?

It costs money for Australian businesses to engage in the tendering process. Businesses have to hire special consultants that charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services. It's a whole industry in itself. They do so knowing that the odds are completely stacked against them. They still have a shot, even though the likelihood of success is slim. The government seems like it has a plan to create jobs for specialised tendering consultants, but it has nothing to say for the many Australians who work or who should be working in Australia's textile manufacturing industry. Now we have reports that businesses are not or no longer putting their hands up for defence contracts because they think they have no chance of winning anyway, so what's the point? Who can blame them when the government prefers to fund factories in Indonesia over Australia?

The simple fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, I don't want the Australian government deciding it's better to save a buck than to save an industry, and that's exactly how they feel. We need Australian troops in Australian boots because it is the right thing to do. Australian defence uniforms should be 100 per cent manufactured ethically in Australia. We have workplace rights and conditions in this country that have been hard fought for and won by workers for centuries. We undermine those rights and conditions when we decide it's cheaper and easier to pay another country with no equivalent standards or concerns for workers' safety or their rights. We rip ourselves off when we pay others to do it worse for less. What's the real cost to the taxpayer by sending contracts offshore? What's the real cost to the workers, their families and their communities? Australian troops should be wearing Australian uniforms. It's as simple as that, and there are no excuses for not doing that.

I want to shift focus for a moment to discuss another matter because it is something that I think Australia needs to discuss. North Korea is a hermit regime and a nuclear power. It is a frightening combination. World leaders are often unstable characters, but, when they're unstable and nuclear, we need to think about how that affects all of us. I believe in the fundamental value of our democratic institutions to make decisions that affect us all. Our alliances are important to us because they keep us safe. The ANZUS alliance is important to us because it has kept us safe for years. Like any alliance, it underpins the way we operate in the national security space.

Our alliances also lend to the international community consistency and predictability. When our alliances stop keeping us safe and start putting us in harm's way, then it is appropriate for us to at least have a debate on them. It is the responsibility of the parliament to look after our troops. That's because, by the time they've come home, the government of the day when they left might be a thing of the past. We on all sides need to own the responsibility to properly care for our veterans. The only way to do that is for us to, on all sides of parliament, own the decision to make a soldier into a veteran in the first place.

We shouldn't be committed to a war on the basis of a handshake agreement between two leaders. Committing Australia to a conflict is the most serious decision a government can make, and it's important that that decision is not owned by any one side of politics. War should not be partisan; war should not be a debating point. War should be what we resort to when everything else fails and there is nothing left to do. It inflicts an enormous cost on our nation, no matter how worthy the cause for going in the first place. We should all know what the cost would be. It isn't a party political decision—it should be a decision we all take part in. We on all sides should have to put our hand on our heart and have our vote recorded for the history books. We should have the chance to record our position for or against, because, if the decision to go to war is the most serious one a government is capable of making, it makes sense to treat that decision-making process seriously as well. If governments believe that consultation, compromise and debate are important tools to the democratic decision-making process, then they believe in the value of a parliament. If the government believe in the parliament, then they should also believe that the parliament has a role to play.

Nobody wants a return to the dark days of Howard and Bush—the human suffering and the trail of destruction that their lies and their political ideology caused. Nobody wants to see Australia committed to a war based on a lie. That's what happened last time, and I'll be damned if I stand here and let it happen again. That's because there is no reason why we should go to war that can't first be properly aired in this chamber and discussed. The responsibility to look after our veterans is so enormous, so profound and so inalienable that we should be very careful and deliberate when making these very serious decisions. Nothing is lost by opening up the decision-making process to the parliament and nothing is lost by adding transparency and accountability to the process. All that is lost is the opportunity for a government to move unilaterally without consultation and without public scrutiny. Sometimes the exercise of that power is appropriate. There will be times when urgent intervention is critical. The government should therefore have the power to commit troops to conflict temporarily. But if the engagement is more than 30 days, that should require parliamentary approval. If parliament isn't sitting, then call a special sitting of parliament. That is reasonable and that makes sense.

I want the chance to be able to ask: the men and women we want to send to war have to come from somewhere; where exactly are they coming from now? The troops we have been deploying over and over and over again are exhausted. They have very little left. There's no reserve and we have no backup. We're sending more troops to fight for us without having the support services in place to take care of them when they get home from fighting for us. The reality is the cost of war isn't just guns and tanks and submarines in South Australia. The cost of war is borne every day by the men and women we send overseas and the families who support them when they come home—that is, if they come home. The cost is to the families who send off a husband or a wife, or a father or a mother, or a son or a daughter—the families who pray for their safe return and whose prayers are left unanswered. We have a solemn responsibility to look after those who go and those who are left behind. It is a responsibility that goes beyond party lines. It isn't a responsibility for Labor, for the Greens, for the Liberals or for the Nationals; it is a responsibility for all of us. It is a responsibility for the parliament and a responsibility for the nation that we are elected to represent. We should all make the decision and we should all live with the consequences of it. We shouldn't be afraid of debating the most important decision we can make as a nation, because once you make that decision, you can't unmake it.

One of the greatest problems facing Australia is our ageing population. Aged care workers are on the frontline performing thankless work that once upon a time fell to extended family. It disappoints me when I hear stories of aged care workers fighting for decent compensation for the hours and the work that they put in. Recently, I was approached by employees at Wynyard's Synovum Care, who have been fighting through EBA negotiations for four long years. Synovum Care is a small aged care facility not far from my home on the northwest coast of Tasmania, with a dedicated group of staff who have been caring for the needs of the ageing members of the community for years. These workers do an excellent job caring for those who need it most, from the laundry to the cleaners, to the cooks and the maintenance workers who keep the place ticking along, to the carers and nurses working directly with the residents.

These workers are in the trenches. The last thing they need to worry about is whether they are being paid properly. Yet here we are—the employees of Synovum have told me that they feel as if their managing director, Natasha Chadwick, has taken advantage of their love and care for their own community. The workers feel as if Ms Chadwick has not shown the care for her own staff that they show for the residents at Synovum every day. I am told that Ms Chadwick refuses to bargain with the employees at Wynyard, and they feel as if they are just another number on a spreadsheet instead of hardworking compassionate employees with the aim to make Synovum feel like home for the residents—unless, of course, you call suggestions to halve personal leave, slash redundancy entitlements and cuts to pay packets bargaining. I sure do not.

Like most Tasmanians I know, the Synovum employees are a determined group. They have rallied the support of their community, with many local businesses proudly displaying signs supporting Synovum workers. Their request doesn't seem unreasonable, and I question if it is even enough to compensate workers for going above and beyond their duty, as many of them have done. The Synovum employees have hearts of gold. They are in this industry because they care for people. I can tell you right now: they are sure not in the industry for the pay and conditions, certainly not when it comes to Synovum. All I ask is that the Synovum managing director, Ms Chadwick, takes time out of her busy schedule to actually visit Tasmania and see what it is her employees do every day to support residents and support Synovum Care. Her employees are more than just a number on a spreadsheet; these are workers who pour their energy into looking after other people's families and then go home and look after their own families. They have to be able to feed their children, send them to school and pay their medical bills, and all they are asking for is a fair go.

Finally, I want to speak briefly on reports that the Turnbull government is recycling ex-members of parliament with a series of jobs for mates. Eleven former Liberal MPs have been given taxpayer funded jobs this year by their mates in the Turnbull government. Nine of them lost their jobs in the last election. You have to wonder, with this government, why they think there is nobody more qualified for these highly paid jobs than the people who were turfed out by the voters at the last election. Were the rest of the candidates really that unqualified that the only person who could do the job happened to be an ex-Liberal member of parliament? Voters got rid of these people and the Prime Minister brought them back in. The government should be ashamed of themselves for thinking that taxpayers should continue to fund the people who they rejected at the last election.

What sticks in most people's throats isn't that this is so shameless—we have seen these kinds of appointments over many years. The thing that bugs people the most about this is that it is just another example of there being one standard for politicians and another for the rest of us mere mortals. How useless are these political appointees that they couldn't find themselves a job without the help of the Prime Minister? How incompetent are they that they could only get a job because they were once a member of parliament and the Prime Minister felt sorry for them? Taxpayers should be looking at these appointments and thinking to themselves that if these ex-politicians couldn't find a paid gig in the private sector, in the real world, with all their experience as members of parliament, what sort of value for money were they getting in the first place?

How long do you think these ex-politicians spent on the dole queue before they got the tap on the shoulder? How long do you think they had to spend circling ads in the back of the newspaper? My bet is that their only experience of unemployment was the time it took them to pick up the phone on election night and ask for a mate's favour. Imagine being given a job not because you deserve it, not because you've earned it, not because you're the best person for it, but because the PM feels sorry for you.

I'd be ashamed to show my face back in parliament if I were them, but I'm sure I won't be in that position. When I'm done in this place it will be because voters have said they've had enough of me, or because I've said I've had enough of the sort of behaviour that's going on in this place. I can assure you, when it comes to ex-members of parliament, they need to get on with their lives, move out into the real world and get a gist of what is going on. Giving them a second chance here—and some of them are getting higher wages than they were getting in the first place—is absolutely shameless and a slap in the face for the normal Aussie out there. Quite frankly, normal Aussies don't want them in here. That is why they got turfed out in the first place. I don't want them in here. Get out in the real world and get a real job!

Senate adjourned at 10:23