Thursday, 29 November 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. Can the minister inform the Senate about how the Liberal-National government's policy agenda and strong economic management are ensuring that we are able to deliver essential services and keep Australia safe, without the need to increase taxes?
I thank Senator McGrath for his question. As the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have observed a number of times this week, we have a very, very strong economy. The economy is growing at 3.4 per cent—more strongly than at any time since 2012. It's growing at a stronger rate than the world's seven largest economies. We've restricted real spending growth to the lowest level of any government in 50 years, cut taxes for both workers and small businesses, and put in place the policies to continue that growth. We know that a strong economy is, in fact, a means to an end. A strong, balanced budget means that we can fund the essential services that Australians rely on. We're delivering record spending on health, on education and on disabilities, and there's a $75 billion infrastructure pipeline to ease congestion in our major cities. It also means that we can invest in keeping Australians safe and invest in our security.
On our government's watch, we are increasing defence spending and investment to two per cent of GDP by 2020-21—two years ahead of our election commitment—to keep our country safe and secure. The government has increased funding of our law enforcement, our intelligence and our security agencies by over $2 billion since August 2014, and last year the government provided the Australian Federal Police with an additional $321 million in increased funding over the forwards, which is the largest funding boost to that organisation in a decade. As a government, we've passed 12 tranches of legislation on national security to strengthen the ability of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to investigate, monitor, arrest and prosecute home-grown extremists and returning foreign fighters.
I think it is important to remember that this government does not take a set-and-forget approach to national security. Today we have introduced the Intelligence Services Act Amendment Bill to increase the ability of the officers and agents of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service to protect both themselves and others. Successive governments have asked ASIS to do more in response to national security priorities in new places and in new circumstances which were unforeseen 14 years ago when the legislation concerning ASIS was last amended. These legislative changes introduced today will enable the minister—in this case, the foreign minister—to specify additional persons, such as hostages, who may be protected by an ASIS staff member or agent, and will allow an ASIS officer to be able to use reasonable force in the course of their duties. The changes mean that officers will be able to protect a broader range of people and use reasonable force if someone poses a risk to an operation. (Time expired)
That is a very important question from Senator McGrath. We do know what happens when you lose control of spending and lose control of your own budget. Under those opposite, defence spending was slashed by $18 billion to the lowest level since 1938. As this chamber knows only too well, Labor also failed to place a single order at an Australian naval shipyard for a single ship in six years, while Australia's defence industry shed more than 10 per cent of its workforce. Under Labor's management of our border protection policies, as Minister Cash has often reminded this chamber, more than 50,000 people arrived on over 800 boats and, tragically, there were 1,200 deaths at sea. The result of Labor's border protection failures was a cost estimated at $16 billion to clean up their mess. This side of politics is committed to responsible fiscal management so that we can ensure we are able to continue to invest in the essential services that we require to keep Australians safe.