Consideration in Detail - Defence Capability

By Matt Keogh MP

10 November 2020

Earlier in the discussion on this debate today, the Assistant Minister for Defence indicated that he was somehow concerned about Labor's positioning around the financing of these defence projects. I think it's very important that the government understands the nature of these concerns properly. It's very important that he understands the nature of these concerns properly.

When the government fails to deliver on the projects that it says it's committed to, it's our Defence Force that misses out on capability when it needs it. As we heard in Senate estimates only a few weeks ago, the multi-role helicopter that the Liberal government is supposed to have delivered doesn't do any of the things that it's supposed to do. We've got a helicopter that's supposed to be able to provide cover fire for troops entering or leaving the helicopter, but it can't do that at the same time that they're entering or leaving the helicopter. The thing is, even though this government has tried to get that right three times, has tried to get the cargo hook to work and has tried to get the winch to work, the New Zealand version of exactly the same helicopter has all of these things working. This is literally a failure of the government when there's a worked example of how these projects could already be working.

But it comes back to the way this government approaches the role that it does. When we were in consideration in detail in the last budget I asked the Minister for Defence Industry, 'Where is the online update to the IIP?' The IIP says that there are supposed to be online available updates on the progress and changes to the IIP so that industry is aware of where government is going with changes to projects and changes in time frames so that they can be ready to supply government and defence, be able to tool up and be able to get the contracts that we all agree we want to see more Australian businesses getting. The minister said at the time, 'Oh, it is there.' That was her response. But it's not there. It's not online. In fact, the government has specifically said that, despite the fact that it committed to that in 2016, it now wouldn't be doing it at all. In my engagements with industry, on a regular basis they complain: there's a lack of engagement by defence about what's coming up in terms of projects. There's a lack of engagement by defence in terms of what capability local industry can supply to our defence forces in Australia.

There is a lack of engagement because defence has effectively outsourced most of its work when it comes to capability acquisition and sustainment. It's pretty evident now that there's no capability in the capability branch of our Defence Force. There are now more contractors working for defence than there are people working for defence. Contractors in defence are the second-biggest force in the Australian Defence Force. It is ridiculous what has happened under this government. They've outsourced all responsibility. The net effect is that not only are we now wasting all of this money outsourcing the responsibility of the Defence Force and making sure we get good capability, that we sustain that capability and that we maximise the involvement of Australian industry in doing it; we are not providing the benefit that we should be seeing. We're not realising that. But we're seeing delays, we're seeing cost blowouts and we're seeing capability reduced in order to meet the budget outcomes that the government has set, because it would otherwise have huge cost blowouts on delivering its capability.

This is a failure of government. The government is failing to deliver on all of the projects that the member for Shortland outlined before. We have a defence minister who can't actually state within a decade when our future submarines will be fully available to our nation. That is a critical capability for the future defence of our nation. It is highly problematic and concerning if the minister doesn't know when they're going to be capable and ready. She committed to a 60 per cent spend after the government had originally said it would be a 90 per cent Australian spend. It came down to a 60 per cent spend, then it turns out that the 60 per cent spend wasn't even the Australian government's idea; it was the French defence minister's idea to put the 60 per cent in. I'm sure they were very happy with it, because it turns out you can include Australian security guards, French language classes and travel agents being engaged by Naval so that they can fly backwards and forwards to France as part of this project. That's not developing capability.

Ms Price: Yes, it is.

Mr KEOGH: Travel agents are not a capability, Minister, for our Defence Force! For you to claim that travel agents, security agents and French language lessons are part of our defence capability shows the sham that you and your administration are when it comes to defence and supporting our Defence Force.