Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
I thank the member for his question. It is one of the government’s highest priorities to ensure that we do everything possible to protect our troops in the field in Afghanistan. This is also one of the highest priorities of the Chief of the Defence Force and the service chiefs generally.
The member asked me about measures which are being implemented. Members might recall that in the May budget of this year the government announced, after a review requested by my predecessor, Minister Faulkner, the adoption of a $1.1 billion program to implement enhanced new force protection measures for our troops in Afghanistan. This added to about half a billion dollars of existing measures. In the budget this year, we saw over the financial period 2009-10 to 2012-13 $1.6 billion of enhanced measures for force protection. Of the 48 measures announced or effected in the budget, the department and the CDF implemented a very tight timetable, a rigorous schedule and a rigorous system of monitoring to ensure that these measures were introduced as soon as practically possible.
There is some interest in the implementation today because, yesterday, as a result of a number of media outlets requesting the incoming government brief from the Department of Defence, a redacted version—in other words, with national security and sensitive matter eliminated—was supplied to media outlets which contains a schedule of the implementation of these measures. Of course, some time has elapsed since the presentation of the incoming government brief. The advice I have from Defence yesterday and today is that, of the 48 measures that were announced effectively in that budget, 36 of the 48 have either been completed or are on track. There are 12 about which our monitoring program has issues of concern, a couple of which go to timing. So far as timing is concerned, there are concerns about the delayed implementation for additional protection measures for buildings that our troops occupy or live in and some highly technical measures for the electronic triggering of improvised devices.
Mr Speaker, as you would expect, it would not be appropriate to deal with some areas of these matters in public. That is also reflected in the redacted nature of the decision made by the freedom of information decision-maker. All of these matters particularly go to enhanced anti-improvised explosive device measures—the roadside bombs that our troops and patrols encounter, overhead surveillance, mine clearance, improved helmets and armour, and the like.
As I said at the outset, the government and the service have no higher priority than ensuring that every practical measure we can reasonably take is in place for the protection of our troops. The Chief of the Defence Force has consistently made it clear, most recently at estimates, and the government has made it clear, that these matters are under continual review because circumstances always change. The threat is ever there; the threat is ever present. We continue to experience both difficult and dangerous circumstances in Afghanistan, and the techniques used by Taliban change. So these matters continue to be under constant review.
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