• Credit: Defence
    Credit: Defence

The government is pressing ahead with creation of the new Joint Statutory Committee on Defence (JCD) which will bring the same rigour to examination of defence matters as the longstanding Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security does for intelligence matters.

Shadow Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie, who initially proposed a JCD back in 2022, said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had indicated the government would prioritise establishment of the JCD.

“The new Joint Statutory Committee on Defence will bring rigorous Parliamentary oversight to Australia's Defence agencies and the Australian Defence Force and facilitate confidential discussions and briefings,” he said.

“It comes as the passage of the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023 and the Safeguarding Australia’s Military Secrets 2023 are expedited this sitting fortnight – both of which are vital to the success and progression of AUKUS.”

Mr Hastie said the Coalition looked forward to receiving the draft legislation to create JCD within weeks.

The opposition offered bipartisan support to the Government in progressing the Committee at best speed, he said.

Previously two parliamentary committees had responsibility for examining defence matters – the Senate and joint committees – whose members have diligently examined and reported on complex defence issues.

The problem is that neither has the capacity to hear secret material.

Mr Hastie, who chaired the intelligence committee under the coalition, championed formation of a committee with similar powers for defence.

“There is no independent Joint Defence Committee where tough questions can be asked in a classified, protected space. Parliamentary scrutiny these days is surface level. It amounts to senior Defence leadership presenting a few PowerPoint slides and giving parliamentarians a pat on the head. This is an area of urgent reform,” he wrote last year.

The former coalition government believed committee scrutiny of defence was adequate under existing arrangements.

Not so Labor which agreed with a recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in its report on how Australia makes decisions to go to war.

For that, the committee recommended Australia retain the status quo – that is, the executive, the prime minister and national security committee of cabinet, will decide if Australia goes to war, not the parliament.

It also considered how parliamentary oversight of defence could be improved and settled on the model of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security which has the powers to receive and hear classified material.

“A dedicated Statutory Defence Committee would significantly address the well documented concerns regarding a lack of transparency regarding Defence activities and expenditure,” it said.

“Audits, reviews, and inquiries in recent years have consistently identified that Defence can too easily hide lack of agency preparation or sub-optimal performance behind classification issues.”

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