Parliamentary Speech: Government Weakness in Defence


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The SPEAKER (15:11): I have received a letter from the honourable member for Canning proposing that a
definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely: This Government's mismanagement of Defence is making Australians less safe.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Mr HASTIE (Canning) (15:11): We are living in dangerous times and this government is weak on national
security. It's true that weakness is provocative, and we can't afford to be weak as a country, which is why we have
brought this MPI on today. We know that authoritarian powers are on the move. We saw China and Russia sign a
no-limits partnership in February 2022, signalling deep cooperation. Since then we have seen Russia invade
Ukraine, we have seen the PRC launch provocations in the Taiwan Strait, we saw Hamas attack Israel last October,
and now we have Houthi rebels backed by Iran attacking global trade and shipping in the Red Sea.

We are facing strategic disorder that we haven't seen in our lifetime, and it has consequences. Consider the cost
of these attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. Before Christmas, the cost of moving a 40-foot shipping container from
Europe to the Far East was less than $2,000. Today it's around 4½ thousand dollars. Now is the time for this
government to act, because those costs will be passed on to Australian consumers. But this government is failing to
secure Australia, because they are weak. It's very simple: they are weak. The Prime Minister is weak. The defence
minister is weak. And when your political leadership signals weakness to the world, the risks go up. People stop
taking you seriously. They push you around. They eat your lunch. They conduct sonar attacks on your divers.

It's not good enough. The Australian people deserve more from this Albanese government. Weakness is manifest
in their lack of commitment to defence spending. It's manifest in their cuts to capability. It's manifest in the chaos
and dysfunction that we saw last week between the defence minister and his department. It's manifest in the deferral
of tough decisions. We won't see a defence strategy until mid this year, and our uniformed personnel are taking
note. We're seeing more and more defence members leave the Defence Force, and this government is failing to
recruit new members into the Defence Force.

Last year the Minister for Defence, to great fanfare, launched the Defence Strategic Review. He did it on the eve
of Anzac Day—the old magician's trick—when the media was having a break and no-one was really watching. All
the DSR revealed was that this government is not serious about protecting the Australian people. There was no new
money for defence—no new money at all—and we've seen inflation eating into the purchasing power of every
defence dollar in the budget.

What happened here was that the Minister for Defence, at the ERC, lost to the foreign minister, Senator Penny
Wong. He lost. He couldn't win a fight there. So the question is: if he can't win a fight at a cabinet table, how can
he win the next war if called upon? It's a good question to ask. He is fundamentally weak.
This lack of money has led to cuts to capability. We've seen the Army gutted. The new armoured vehicles have
gone from an order of 450 to 129. We've seen the collapse of three brigades to one. We're moving all our Defence

Force north, and of course that has consequences for retention and recruitment. All we saw from the DSR was
pantomime and weakness, and it's not good enough. We now have questions now about the boxer program, a big
deal landed with the German government, and it's just not good enough. In fact, just this week, we saw that the
Australian National Audit Office has reviewed defence major projects and showed that, under the Albanese
government, our most significant defence projects are running late by 37 years. This is just a consequence of

We also see weakness manifest in the minister's deferrals and delays. He won't take a hard decision. Last week,
Andrew Tillett in the Australian Financial Review revealed the pile of paperwork in the defence minister's in-tray—
submissions waiting for action. In fact, we know that the Minister for Defence, even before these laws are passed,
is exercising his right to disconnect from the very job that he's called upon to perform. We expect our diggers,
sailors and airmen to have a bias for action. Well, the defence minister can start leading with a bias for action and
taking some of these decisions. How about a defence strategy from this government? How about the surface fleet
review being handed down? How about a decision on that going forward? It's not good enough. This government is
weak, and we're seeing that in the deferral of tough decisions.

We're also seeing weak leadership in the chaos and dysfunction at the heart of this defence ministry. Last week,
we asked the question: why is the defence minister blaming his own department? It was in October of 2022 that the
defence minister stood up and said: 'The buck stops with me. I take responsibility.'

Mrs Marino: Joel said that too.

Mr HASTIE: Exactly. Yet we're hearing in the media—he's got senior officials briefing against him now—that
he's having a bit of a dispute and he gave his senior generals and department officials a serve for their lack of
excellence, and he got up last week and confirmed it. So the chaos and dysfunction we're seeing is really a
consequence of a minister who's more concerned about lowering his handicap on the golf course than actually
making the tough decisions.

Mr Conroy: Have another go at us, Andrew. Put it on a projector. Put it on an overhead.

Mr HASTIE: Let's not get started on you, Minister. I'm sparing you this, mate. Is that all you've got? I'll take
the interjection. The real concern I have with this weak leadership that we're seeing from the Minister for Defence
and particularly the man sitting opposite, the Minister for Defence Industry, who is very, very weak indeed—
together they're both very weak—is the signal that sends to mums and dads out there who are sitting down with
their kids around the kitchen table and being asked, 'What should I do with my career, Mum and Dad?' I bet you
they're not saying, 'Join the Defence Force,' because what they would be seeing is a lack of spending and investment.
They would be seeing—

Mr Coleman: Lack of leadership.

Mr HASTIE: a lack of leadership, dysfunction—

Mrs Marino: Lack of ticker.

Mr HASTIE: a lack of ticker and all those things. There's long laundry list of failures. They've had less than
two years in office, and there are consequences to this. We're not able to recruit young people. We saw, at Duntroon
only a week or so ago, the announcement about the shortening of officer training from 18 months to 12 months as
a way of trying to get people in. People are still separating at much too high a rate from Defence. It should be at
about seven or eight per cent. Under this government, it's been at 11 per cent. We are losing people at a rate of 11
per cent per year. We have to grow the Defence Force to 80,000 people by 2040 because we need to crew our
nuclear submarines and have people who are specialists in cyberwarfare. We need more pilots, sailors and soldiers,
and we can't even meet 75 per cent of the target we set for ourselves every year.

There's a lack of message. Defence should be about service, strength, opportunity and aspiration. I tell you: if
you go across the road to ADFA or Duntroon and speak to the young Australians there who are serving their country,
you will meet some of the finest young leaders in our country. They join because they want to serve, but they also
see immense opportunity, and that should be at the heart of the message, and we're not seeing that. We're not seeing
the defence minister stand up and sell a career in the Defence Force. So the question remains: how are we going to
crew these vital capabilities?

Weakness is also manifesting in a lack of action around AUKUS. Canning is about 35 minutes south of HMAS
Stirling. We have a huge infrastructure deficit in WA. We're yet to see any works commence on that base. And by
2027 we're meant to be having US and UK nuclear submarines alongside, with about 2,000 personnel from the US
and the UK. There are no houses, and the base itself hasn't even started its conversion from a conventional base to
a nuclear base. There's still no decision on the dry dock at Henderson, which the previous coalition government
committed $4.3 billion towards. And we still don't know what's happening with the OPVs or the Future Frigate

We are meant to be building confidence with our allies. The US and the UK are looking at us and thinking, 'We
are handing the crown jewels of our nuclear program over to Australia.' It was a very important decision by the
Morrison government that would set us up for success over generations going forward. It was handed on a platter
to these people opposite. The lack of drive, the lack of initiative, the lack of leadership, the weakness of these people
means that we are behind schedule. The Americans and the UK—but, more importantly, our strategic adversaries—
are watching us. They're seeing that lack of commitment. They're seeing weakness.

I'll come back to where I started. If you are weak, people will push you around. They will eat your lunch. Under
this government the only signal we've been receiving from the Prime Minister and the defence minister is weakness.
The Prime Minister, at APEC, could not even raise the fact that our divers underwater, serving with HMAS
Kanimbla, had a Chinese destroyer launch a sonar pulse attack, causing barotraumas in their ears. The Prime
Minister was briefed, and do you know what he did? What did he do at APEC in San Francisco? He said nothing.
He took a weak position. It's a disgrace. And I tell you what: future generations will look back on this government
and ask why you failed. (Time expired)

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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-02-13 21:31:15 +0800