Thursday, 15 February 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Steven Bradbury of the Liberal Party, the soon to be Prime Minister, Senator Cormann, acting on behalf of the Minister for Defence. Minister, your government has just announced that it plans to grow Australia's weapons exports by 800 per cent in the next decade by throwing $4 billion of taxpayer money at its defence export strategy—a strategy that is wholly supported by the Labor Party. You said that you'll be targeting our weapons exports to our allies, to countries like the United Arab Emirates and to Saudi Arabia. Minister. You are no doubt aware that the Middle East is mired in strife, with intractable conflicts across the region. Are you concerned that financing the growth of Australian weapons into the Middle East will contribute to this instability? Are you going to, as Tony Abbott called it, sift the goodies from the baddies by only selling to the goodies, or are you happy to sell to both sides of these conflicts?
It is true that, as a matter of national interest, the government is committed to supporting our defence industry as an internationally competitive industry. And we very much appreciate, in a bipartisan fashion, that that is an effort that is supported by both sides of politics, by the two major parties of government.
When it comes to the other more specific issues that Senator Whish-Wilson raises, Australia, of course, remains committed to its international arms controls obligations. Our international best practice defence export controls system remains unchanged. We are cognisant that the Middle East is a complex security and political environment. The Middle East is a large defence export market. There will be a range of future export opportunities that will benefit Australia across our different interests. Any defence export opportunities to the Middle East will continue to be considered and balanced under our rigorous export controls system to ensure they do not prejudice Australia's defence security and international relations priorities and are consistent with international obligations and commitments.
We do have the sophistication to pursue defence export success while meeting our international obligations and the expectations of the Australian public—if not, perhaps, the expectations of the Greens.
To assist Senator Whish-Wilson even more directly: we believe that the risks that he's pointing to are well able to be managed, given the export controls in all of these systems and frameworks that are in place. We have, as I say, the sophistication to pursue a defence export success by meeting our international obligations and the expectations of the Australian public. While our defence industry offers goods and services across the capability spectrum, some of Australia's most successful defence exports are defensive in nature and save lives.
Minister, I imagine that the Defence Export Strategy is a whole-of-government plan to be delivered across many agencies. Does your government plan to enlist the support of Australia's diplomatic service to spruik the sales of weapons into these war zones? Are we going to be losing experienced diplomats and swapping them for taxpayer-funded weapons dealers?
I object to the phrasing of that question. Of course, at all times the Australian government relies on all of the high-quality, world-class Public Service support across all of the areas of government to pursue Australia's national interest, and that's what we'll continue to do.
That is a yes, President. Minister, on the Efic Defence Export Facility website, it says that Efic will be providing 'buyer finance solutions'. Buyer finance doesn't mean loans to Australian companies; it means loans to foreign companies to buy our weapons. Are you worried that issuing buyer finance to foreign powers might be seen as financing conflicts, bloodshed and terror rather than just helping Australian companies sell to existing defence partners?
I don't share Senator Whish-Wilson's concerns. As I have indicated, Australia has got the sophistication required to pursue defence export success while also meeting all of our international obligations and all of the expectations of the Australian public, and that is the way that the Australian government intends to pursue these opportunities.