Senator David Shoebridge – mentioning the Defence Department’s lack of transparency in weapons sales to Israel

Photo of Senator David Shoebridge
May 7, 2024

Do you want to know who we sell military equipment to or what that equipment is—whether it’s Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel or both sides of the conflict in Sudan at the same time? You don’t get to know. They don’t tell us.

Senator SHOEBRIDGE (New South Wales) (17:07): I support this motion brought by Senator Lambie. Canberra can be a dark place, but there’s no place darker in Canberra than inside the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence. The two so-called parties of government—others would say war parties—have fostered a toxic culture in Defence where a small group of mates in a dark, smoke filled room operate with no oversight, no scrutiny and no accountability. Just today, we spoke about a bill that would’ve taken a small step towards some oversight of Defence, and it was voted against by the Albanese government. It was voted against not on principle but on some flimsy speaking notes from a Defence flunky that were just regurgitated by the minister.

Defence has over 16,000 active contracts, with a total value of over $200 billion. That’s on foot now. There’s no effective oversight and sod all accountability. There’s just a bunch of mates patting themselves on the back, giving themselves Orders of Australia, giving themselves promotions and giving themselves blank cheque after blank cheque. No wonder they don’t want to let the light in. No wonder they don’t want people to know what’s going on behind closed doors. Let’s just run through a couple of those examples. Do you want to know who decided to sign off on spending $45-plus billion to get currently—I don’t know—eight but probably six, five or four Hunter frigates? It’s the single biggest live procurement contract the Commonwealth’s entered into. Do you want to know who did this without any value-for-money assessment? Do you want to know who or why this contract was signed? You don’t get to know. They’ve lost the records, apparently. Do you want to know who we sell military equipment to or what that equipment is—whether it’s Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel or both sides of the conflict in Sudan at the same time? You don’t get to know. They don’t tell us.

Do you want to know why we’ve been waiting more than half a decade to just get a patrol boat in the water and actually into commission? Do you want to know who’s responsible for that delay or how much it’s cost? You don’t get to know that either. Do you want to know why Defence is currently chopping up and burying a bunch of billion-dollar helicopters that just a few months ago they said were fine and terrific and dandy? Do you want to know how or why? No, you don’t get to. Silence. And do you want to know why the flight safety standards for those same helicopters aren’t in the public domain? Do you want to see the flight safety standards and the testing that happened, maybe, to get some idea, given that four lives were lost on those same helicopters? No, you don’t get to. Silence. You don’t get accountability from Defence.

It’s as bad under the Albanese Labor government as it was under the coalition. We get all this rhetoric about transparency. We got all these social media posts and spin from the Albanese government when they were in opposition that things were going to be different, things were going to change. But, instead of that transparency, we’ve got the same brick wall that separates the public interest and the public from the decisions and the decision-makers shielding mates, shielding people who should be held to account and shielding people like senior officers in the AFP, who we found out this week spent heaven knows how much money and how many resources issuing a covert operation against a 13-year-old boy with autism. We don’t get the transparency. We don’t get to see who did it. Without that, we don’t get the accountability.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard