Defence Minister attack on Major General Cantwell


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:21): The arrogance and disrespect shown to our fighting men and women in uniform, displayed by Mr Smith in his recent activities, was repeated by Senator Bishop in this debate this afternoon. The very personal attack Senator Bishop has just made on a distinguished, courageous and competent former officer, Major General Cantwell, is very typical of how some in the Labor Party view our men and women in uniform. I enter this debate, I shadow Senator Feeney and I am also a Queensland senator. Senators would know that Queensland is a state where there is a large number of serving people. My office is in Townsville, the home of Australia's largest Army base.

The disrespect shown by Minister Smith to the Defence Force, generally, which has been noted increasingly by senior officers, is also being commented upon by the diggers on the ground. As I travel around North Queenslandaround Townsville where there are a lot of diggers, around Cairns which is the home of Australia's second largest naval base on the east coast, around Brisbane where there are a great number of soldiers at EnoggeraI hear a general distrust of Minister Smith. My colleagues in Queensland are well in tune with the thoughts, aspirations and feelings of the troops on the ground as well as with the officers. The feeling is coming through that Mr Smith has no respect for people in uniform. The publicised accounts of how Mr Smith showed no respect when he was in Afghanistan is being reflected at all levels.

I know people in the Defence Material area. I dare not mention their names lest they befall the same fate as Major General Cantwell who, because he dares to say what he believes to be the truth, is personally attacked by the likes of Senator Bishop in this chamber where he has parliamentary privilege. Who would dare to criticise anyone in the Labor Party It is the same in my state of Queensland. With anything that involves the Labor government in Queensland, if you dare raise your head and criticise the clear mismanagementmismanagement that borders on corruption in Queenslandyou get the whole force of the Labor Party turned upon you. I think it is a terrible day for the bipartisan control and support for the Defence Force that you have Senator Bishop going on with that quite disgraceful, personal attack on a distinguished officer and former commander of our armed forces.

My colleagues have mentioned Mr Smith's ill-considered and hasty comments on the ADFA chief, Commodore Kafer. They have said, which I will repeat, what Mr Kirkham QC found:

... in the circumstances it was reasonable for ADFA staff, including Commodore Kafer and the Deputy Commandant, to reach the conclusion that it was appropriate to proceed with and conclude the two disciplinary charges against the female Officer Cadet.

Commodore Kafer was completely exonerated by that independent inquiry, yet Mr Smith cannot see it within his being to apologise for the slur that he cast on the career, future and past, of a distinguished soldier.

Mr Smith clearly did not want this job. He wanted to be foreign minister. Ms Gillard thought he was incapable and incompetent to be foreign minister so she brought in someone from outside. I think Ms Gillard should look a bit more closelynot only is Mr Smith incapable of being foreign minister, he is incapable of being the defence minister. (Time expired)

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