[Extracted from Senate Hansard, 23 March 2004, pp. 21601-2]
Senator KNOWLES (Western Australia) (3.20 p.m.)-There is a very worrying trend that has been coming from the Labor Party for quite some time, and that is that they will do anything to denigrate the forces in Australia. It does not matter whether they are the defence forces or, now, the Australian Federal Police. The record of the Labor Party in government in all of these areas was nothing short of despicable. The way in which, as Senator Brandis outlined today, they cut back expenditure on equipment-the budgets were all cut and slashed year after year in 13 years of government-and the way in which they held no respect whatsoever for personnel are nothing short of disgraceful. The way the Labor Party attacked at first blush the Defence personnel who were going to fight the war in Iraq last year was all part of this attack today on procurement. Decisions on procurement have to be made on an ongoing basis. It is just a shame that the Labor Party only made one-and that was a disaster. If they had taken a responsible attitude over 13 years of government then the procurement problems for the defence forces might not be in the state that they are in today. I will defend to the end the decision that this government is making to replace the equipment that the Labor Party allowed to run down.
As Senator Brandis said, the policy on defence procurement during the 13 years of Labor led to one decision and one decision alone-that was solely a decision on the Collins class submarine, and what a disaster that has been. Senator Robert Ray can come in here and interject on Senator Hill's speech about procurement decisions now, yet he was the architect of the decisions on the Collins class submarine. As I say, the way in which the Labor Party are now undermining every force in this country is of concern to the people of Australia. It was not so long ago that they had a slightly different attitude to that which they are showing today.
Take, for example, the AFP and Commissioner Keelty. It was not so long ago-in fact, it was in September 2002-that Senator Faulkner, who comes in here now so righteously defending Commissioner Keelty, had this to say about the same person. This was in the Hansard in relation to the nature and extent of people-smuggling and the disruption activities in Indonesia. Senator Faulkner said:
The issue of sabotage of people smugglers' vessels has been canvassed by the AFP informant Kevin Enniss. I ask these questions: was Enniss involved in the sabotage of vessels? Were others involved in the sabotage of vessels? Do Australian ministers, officials or agencies have knowledge of such activities? And what about the vessel now known as SIEVX, part of the people-smuggling operation of the notorious people smuggler Abu Qussey? That vessel set sail on 18 October 2001 and sank on 19 October 2001, drowning 353 people, including 142 women and 146 children ... I intend to keep asking questions until I find out. And, Mr Acting Deputy President, I intend to keep pressing for an independent judicial inquiry into these very serious matters.
At no stage do I want to break, nor will I break, the protocols in relation to operational matters involving ... the AFP.
What a whole lot of nonsense. At that time Senator Faulkner was clearly and religiously undermining the commissioner and undermining the AFP. As the AFP said at that time-
Senator Ludwig-Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I am not sure of the matter that is being raised. Where is the relevance? We have wandered quite a long way from where we began. I think Senator Knowles should be brought back to the issue that is under discussion.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-There is no point of order.
Senator KNOWLES-It is interesting that the Labor Party do not like these comments. The AFP responded to Senator Faulkner by saying: It is easy to make spurious allegations and many of the allegations made by Sunday, and repeated by Senator Faulkner are just that. When properly investigated, the allegations lack substance.
Senator Robert Ray also attacked the AFP. I might add that, given that the Premier of Western Australia has also attacked the police commissioner in Western Australia, this whole Labor attack on institutions is just a trend. It does not matter whether it is the defence forces or the AFP-the Labor Party are anti the lot until it serves their political purpose. (Time expired)