Abbott Government Matters of Public Interest

I rise to address this matter of public importance on the Abbott government. Labor has talked about a chaotic government, but leaders of both sides of politics in the past have said that one of the most fundamental tasks of government’s national security. I would like to step through three areas of national security where the Abbott government has proved why the coalition consistently is the side of politics people trust with national security.

When this government came into office we were facing the lowest level of defence expenditure since the 1930s. Some $16 billion had been cut from the budget, 119 projects had been delayed, 48 had been cut and eight cancelled altogether, and industry had shed some 10 per cent of its workforce in the defence industry space. It took some months after coming to government before we finally quantified just what the backlog was, even in areas such as maintenance and remedial work on base infrastructure. There was some $1 billion that Defence had had to pull out of essential maintenance just to cover the cuts that Labor had made elsewhere. This government, by contrast, has made a significant increase—some $29.3 billion in the 2014-15 budget, which is an 8.1 per cent rise—and is well on its way to achieving the two per cent of GDP for defence expenditure.

Intelligence and security is another area. The government has engaged with both the House and the Senate to move through various hearings with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security as well as stakeholders in the community, our security agencies, key pieces of national security legislation such as the counter-terrorism amendment bill (No. 1) and the foreign fighters bill, and we are currently working on the metadata retention bill. We have outlaid an additional $630 million to disrupt terrorist activities in Australia. We have seen just in the last 24 hours announcements by the Federal Police and the New South Wales police about the arrest of people in Sydney who were in the final stages of plotting to carry out a terrorist act in Sydney. The law enforcement authorities made a very clear point that it was these new laws, which have been steadily implemented by this government, that provided the environment whereby they were able to take the necessary steps to apprehend these two individuals and save lives.

The third area I will talk about is border protection. A key election commitment of the government was that we would restore integrity to Australia’s borders. It is something that the opposition, minor parties and many commentators said could not happen. They said that if we tried—if we did it—we would destroy our regional relationships. Let us compare and contrast the successive governments. When Labor came to government there were no children in detention under PM Howard and the whole detention system cost less than $100 million per year. Under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and all the chaos that represented, there were some 12 policy changes and initiatives all attempting not only to undo the Howard government policies but to put in place others when the problem started to get out of hand. The result was that the system ended up costing more than $12 billion—that is, it went from under $100 million to over $12 billion. Most significantly, and this is the thing that exercises a lot of people in the community—they are concerned about the welfare of children—under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd policies the number of children in detention peaked in July 2013, just over 18 months ago, at 1,992. It went from zero under the coalition to 1,992 children in detention.

Under this government, the boats have stopped arriving, the costs of detention are decreasing and, importantly, not only are we clearing the backlog of some 30,000 asylum seekers who were refused the right to work—with all the attendant issues of mental health and purpose in life that go along with that—we now have TPVs and they have the right to work. Importantly, there are no children in detention on Christmas Island. We have managed in 18 short months to bring the number down from that peak of 1,992 to a total of 193 children, who are in detention because they wish to stay with their parents—193 versus 1,992 because of this government’s policies.

It is important to remember that we are talking about the same departments, we are talking about the same equipment available and yet we are talking about an incredibly different outcome. And what is the difference? The difference is this government which has provided leadership and consistency. It has had the courage to take the hard decisions and it has had a steadfast commitment to protecting Australia’s national interest, which is the most fundamental task of any government. This government has performed well in the most fundamental task that a government can.