Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2024-2025

Consideration in Detail

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (10:41): I've never heard such a contradiction in terms as I just have from the member for Menzies. On one hand, he described the government's recent initiatives to recruit more people and invite people from our Five Eyes allies to serve with us here in Australia. At the same time, he said it was the greatest honour of his life as someone born overseas to serve for us. I respect your service enormously, Member for Menzies. There is a certain timeframe when an incoming government talks about what has preceded it. It is certainly legitimate to talk about what has preceded us. I was elected here in 2016 as the member for Paterson, and I have the great honour of having RAAF Base Williamtown, the home of the F-35A—a wonderful aircraft and capability for our country—in my electorate. Of the 72 we will have, 54 of them will be located in my seat, at Williamtown. I know the base intimately, and I again pay my deepest respects and thanks to those who pull on the uniform at Williamtown every day.

It is of utmost importance that we absolutely have recruitment. When I got elected, I made it my business to find out the business of the military in my seat. One of the things that was absolutely obvious, not only through me talking to people in service in my seat but also through me being on the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee, was that we had a massive hole in defence. We knew it in 2016. The government of 2016 knew it. When I talked to military people, they were saying, 'We need to recruit more people.' We were constantly reminding every minister—I might remind those present today that over the preceding nine years of government we had six defence ministers; come on, let's talk about continuity—and, in that time, the service categories were never properly addressed, the way that we recruited people was difficult and clunky and we weren't looking at the way people move through their lives when they have families.

We are now looking at this. I want to thank the military. I want to thank the public servants who are working hand in hand with those who are in the military to understand service categories, to make it better and to actually think about how we need people. I just want to indulge for a moment because we're talking about Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon and his service to his nation. I had the great privilege of going to Holsworthy and meeting with those commandos. I knew Jack. I know his father even better. I talked to those people, but I talked to their boss. He said to me: 'Meryl, it's so interesting. When we talk about recruitment in the military, 10 years ago I wasn't thinking about the blue-haired guy drinking Mountain Dew in a basement working on a computer as being one of my people. Now I am.' That's what we have to do. We have to be more flexible in our thinking. This government has brought that flexibility of thinking to the table. We are talking to the military. We know what they need. We know that things are changing not only vastly but incredibly quickly.

We know that we sit at a time in our history when it has never been more important to have our defence fully subscribed. We know we need that. We are absolutely front-footing it. I will tell you, member for Menzies, what ministers do when they get out of bed every morning: they think. They look down that barrel and they think, 'How can we get more people into our military?' We are coming up with good ideas to recruit people. I cannot help but think describing inviting friends from Five Eyes countries who live here to be part of our military as a thought bubble.

An opposition member interjecting—

Ms SWANSON: No, that's what he said. Also, I can't help but engender the spirit of Anzac. No-one was thumbing their nose at the New Zealanders in the First World War when we stood shoulder to shoulder and formed that incredible bond that we still hold and stand with 100 years later. We were proud to stand with our New Zealand friends in 1914 and beyond. I can tell you everyone I speak to in our current modern military is more than happy to welcome our friends from New Zealand, from our Five Eyes partners, to be in our modern military, because we recognise we do need them. What we have is a forward-thinking government that wants to look after our military. We know we need to be flexible, we know we need to be surefooted and, the most important thing is, we know that we need to spend the money and that's what we are doing, so we are working with our Five Eyes partners and we are answering the call of our country.