Labor Treats Defence as Policy pick-n-mix

The Federal Labor Government has announced that it will be re-directing the 17000-tonne Bay Class Landing Ship HMASChoules to perform the role of a floating hospital for illegal immigrants at Manus Island.

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald, who is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia, has criticised the decision to locate the Choules in PNG as creating a critical capability gap in the North.

Disaster relief at home and abroad, humanitarian relief at home and abroad and the security of our porous coastal border are all critical aspects of the role of HMAS Choules which was initially acquired in response to a northern amphibious capability gap identified after cyclone Yasi said the Senator.

Northern and remote Australia already face the challenges of limited Defence and National Security infrastructure, and Labor have once again demonstrated their insensitivity to the particular challenges in northern Australia.

Noting that HMAS Choules has operated frequently in northern waters since its acquisition by the RAN Senator Macdonald said you cant remove a key capability from operational service, and expect the people who rely upon it the most to be pleased.

Senator Macdonald has questioned the logistics of the move, and of managing the capability gap created by deploying theChoules to PNG.

What I want to know is what measures Labor is proposing to put in place to fill the gap left by taking the Choules out of circulation As long as it sits tied up at Manus Island, what amphibious response capabilities do we have for Australia, for our regional neighbours, and for our allies who may require our assistance

The Senator has also suggested that if the Choules were required for critical duty at another location, that the medical capability at Manus Island would be lost.

Youve either got a hospital that cant be relied upon to stay, or an amphibious landing craft permanently tied up at a dock. Neither is a satisfactory arrangement.

Senator Macdonald has praised the men and women who crew HMAS Choules for their skill and dedication at a time when they understood they were returning to their home-port.

The crew of the Choules is a fine example of the Australian Defence Forces and I have no doubt that they will do an exemplary job providing assistance to the asylum seekers at Manus. I am not, however, persuaded that this is the best use of their time and resources, nor of the $201,000 per day it is reported this operation will cost the Australia taxpayer.

It is reported that the Choules will be at Manus for at least six weeks and that this may be extended. Well I think we all know how to translate that brand of Labor double-speak it means indefinitely.

This scrambling for capabilities to support a shoddy and ill-conceived policy shows the lack of substance to Labors PNG plan.

The Royal Australian Navy has a number of key roles in our national security and defensive strategies, and shouldnt be treated as a capability warehouse for propping up unrealistic policies in other portfolios.

The Labor asylum seeker plan is so completely devoid of a sustainable logistical plan that they are now begging, borrowing and stealing from every other Government agency they can in a desperate effort to make it all work.

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