The Truth About Labor and the Coalition on Defence — Rhetoric vs Reality — Take Note of Answers Take Note of Answers

The medical community talk about a condition known as the illusory truth effect. In layman’s terms, that means if you say it often enough, people might start thinking it’s true.

We see that from the Labor Party all the time.

In this question time, they started off, when asked about the cost of living, by talking about how much the Albanese government is helping the Australian people address the cost of living. They even had the audacity to mention power prices. Yet, when my office contacts people in South Australia, when I write to people and when I hear from people, one of the first things they talk about is the cost-of-living crisis and how much their power bills have gone up. So no matter how much the government say they’re helping to drive down prices, the Australian people know better. The reality is different.

That is also true in the space of defence. Today Minister Farrell made a poor attempt to repeat the line—again, coming back to the illusory truth effect—that the coalition was bad for defence and Labor is good for defence.

They say it all the time.

They keep repeating, ‘Ten years of failure, but we have fixed up the mess.’ Well, let’s look at what independent commentators say about this government’s record on defence. What is the title of this year’s budget brief of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, partly government funded body? It’s The big squeeze. What is the headline of subsequent brief? ‘Budget doesn’t reflect urgency of demands on Defence’.

And what do some of Australia’s most respected foreign affairs and defence journalists say? They say:

In fact, the Australian Defence Force, the Defence Department and Australian defence industry are all in a desperate crisis of cost-cutting and complete confusion about direction, timetable, purpose and everything else. People are leaving the ADF, especially the army, at a rate of knots and cannot be replaced. The department is going through a frenzy of cost-cutting that is seeing all kinds of capabilities deferred, which often means abolished.

It goes on to say:

Consider the both parlous and chaotic state of defence spending. The budget generally compensates Defence movements in foreign exchange but not for inflation, and ASPI highlights the Albanese government has taken $1.5 billion from defence over the forward estimates in real terms.

So the rhetoric that those opposite, the Albanese government, put on defence is not matched by the facts, not as assessed by me or by people on this side. With 22 years in the permanent armed forces and much of my time in this space working on national security issues, I think I do actually have some credible insight into when a government is doing well, and it is clear that the Albanese government are failing Australia when it comes to national security. Their comments, particularly in the space of shipbuilding are almost belong beyond belief.

It was the coalition under Prime Minister Howard that commissioned things like the landing helicopter docks and the Air Warfare Destroyers. And it was the coalition that actually implemented the Naval Shipbuilding Plan and the continuous shipbuilding enterprise, built the infrastructure at Osborne, brought forward the offshore patrol vessel, contracted for the Hunter class so that we would actually have the defence capabilities when we need them, as well as a viable sovereign defence industry capability.

When circumstances change, as they did with the submarine, rather than seeing that as a negative, you make a decision and you act, as the coalition did to then invest in nuclear powered submarines.

You don’t have a 12-month review followed by another review, which is actually deferring decisions, causing people to leave the industry, delaying the acquisition of new capability. The Australian public should be aware that the defence minister, Minister Marles, is correct when he said that Australia’s strategic circumstances have radically worsened, requiring urgent action. He said in May, ‘We have no time to waste.’

I happen to agree with him on that. What I don’t agree with or support are the decisions that he and the cabinet of the Albanese government are making to cut funds, to delay capabilities and to actually decrease Australia’s ability to protect itself and its interests.