‘Dog’s breakfast’: Dutton’s ADF rant

CANBERRA, Australia, NewsWire Photos. June 3, 2024: Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has hit out at the government’s plans to recruit permanent residents from other countries into the military, saying there was a “lack of detail” around who would be eligible to join Australia’s defence ranks.

Defence Minister Richard Marles announced earlier on Tuesday New Zealand citizens living in Australia would be allowed to serve in the ADF from July 1, with the eligibility extended from January 1 to Americans, British and Canadian applicants.

But Veteran Affairs Minister Matt Keogh told reporters permanent residents “from any other countries” who had lived in Australia for a year and met security checks could also be eligible.

Mr Dutton lashed out at a new defence recruitment plan. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

In an afternoon press conference alongside defence spokesman Andrew Hastie, Mr Dutton lashed the policy as a “dog’s breakfast” and questioned which nations would be included.

“Minister Keogh is out there telling you that it’s going to apply to every nation,” Mr Dutton told reporters.

“They’re now saying, oh, well, we’re winding it back in. It’ll only apply to some nations, but maybe not others. Maybe some people from Five Eyes (the intelligence alliance of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and UK).”

Mr Keogh told ABC shortly afterwards the details were “very clear” and said residents from other regions, including the Pacific, would be able to apply at a later time.

“This is opening up something that we haven’t done in the Australian Defence Force before, and so we need to open up that in a staged way,“ Mr Keogh said.

Shock spending on NDIS

More than $2bn in NDIS funding has been spent on items not in clients’ packages such as cars and holidays, as well as illegal drugs.

A late-night Senate estimates session on Monday heard there are “thousands” of cases of participants claiming disability payments for things “not consistent with their plan”

NDIS head of fraud and integrity John Dado said recent examples include a “$20,000 holiday, $10,000 holiday” claimed by a participant within the last week.

“We had a participant that bought a car, brand new, $73,000. The money was processed overnight,” Mr Dado told senators.

“Now fortunately when we were able to approach them they understood they shouldn’t and they were willing to pay back the money.”

The Senate has been told the NDIS has paid out billions in payments not in the plan of clients.
The Senate has been told the NDIS has paid out billions in payments not in the plan of clients.

Mr Dado added “vast” majority of the 650,0000 NDIS participants were “trying to do the right thing” and said stricter laws were needed to rid system of fraudulent operators.

Asked how many plan managers had sold drugs to participants, and if it included substances such as heroin or ice, Mr Dado said: “You name it. It’s on the list.”

“We are talking significantly high numbers and these are providers that are going out of their way to put people in harm’s way,” he said.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten has acknowledged there are issues with fraud in the NDIS.

“I agree that there are issues in terms of fraud in the scheme, but these issues of fraud did not start yesterday,” Mr Shorten told the parliament on Tuesday.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten says Labor is working to stop the fraud in the scheme. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“The reality is that this scheme was initiated by Labor and then the Liberals came into power and there’s no doubt that they increased the size of the scheme.

“But the problem with what they did is I would have to mark their stewardship of the scheme as incompetent and naive.”

Pointing to the Labor’s efforts to date to reduce fraud in the scheme, Mr Shorten accused the Coalition of allowing misuse of taxpayers’ funding to fester when it was formerly in government.

“The one difference between us and those people opposite is we are doing something about fixing up the scheme, you did nothing,” Mr Shorten said, gesturing at the Coalition.

“We are getting on with fixing up the fraud.”

He said there were about 500 investigations of compliance matters under investigation, and 20 prosecutions in court.

Giles quizzed on visa for Mokbel associate

An associate of infamous convicted drug kingpin Tony Mokbel, who committed a string of crimes including kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, assault and theft, had his visa cancellation overturned under Immigration Minister Andrew Giles’ controversial Direction 99.

On Monday, Malta-born Melbourne gangland figure Kevin Farrugia had his deportation overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan asked Mr Giles in question time if he had overturned the ruling.

“I have as of last week cancelled 35 visas and there are more under review,” Mr Giles responded.

“I am aware of the case that the shadow minister refers to which was decided by the AAT yesterday and it is under consideration in accordance with the national interest.”

Fury over ‘20,000 bucks a speech’ role

Bill Shorten has waved off backlash over a $600,000 two-year contract his department awarded to a professional speechwriter, after the Coalition seized on the revelations.

Services Australia confirmed during Senate estimates that Sydney-based writer Julianne Stewart secured a contract worth about $300k per year despite the agency having 200 communications staff on its payroll.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten says his department hired the external speechwriter. Picture: NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Mr Shorten told ACA later that the writer had “done a very good job” and said his department was responsible for negotiating the contract, not him.

“The hiring of a speechwriter was done by Services Australia. I have no idea what the payment was, so if you’re trying to link me to that, you know, good luck,” he said.

During a morning radio appearance shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said the costs were “extraordinary” and an example of “government waste.”

“Bill Shorten clearly doesn’t know who’s working in his office … $620,000 in two years, can I give you a little bit more on this? He’s done 28 speeches in that time,” Mr Taylor said.

“So assuming she wrote all of them, and maybe that’s right, that’s over 20,000 bucks each speech that we’re all paying for.”

Energy Minister Chris Bowen told ABC the contract was negotiated following unsuccessful recruitment efforts. “They don’t work for ministers, to be clear, and ministers, by and large, aren’t involved in those decisions about recruiting them. It’s all handled at arm’s length,” Mr Bowen said.

ADF to fast-track foreign recruits

The federal government has expanded its eligibility criteria to allow foreigners to serve under the Australian flag.

In an urgent bid to fill shrinking workforce gaps, New Zealanders living in Australia will be able to enlist to join the Australian Defence Force from July 2024.

Recruitment will later be expanded to include permanent Australian residents from the UK, US and Canada starting January next year.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the new plan would be “essential” to meet the nation’s security challenges over the next decade.

The government claims the new plan could attract about 350 people into the ADF. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Australia’s Defence force is well below its authorised strength of 62,000 personnel, with a shortfall of more than 4000 staff.

Former ADF chief Angus Campbell told a senate estimates hearing in February that the army was the hardest hit by worker shortages, below about 2800 personnel, while the navy is short 881 workers and the air force is understaffed by 534 people.

Opposition foreign minister Simon Birmingham criticised the new policy as a “failure” to attract defence recruits born in the country.

“Why don’t people have the confidence to sign up and wear the uniform with pride? Because of dysfunction in defence policy that’s been mired in review after review after review, rather than the type of confidence-building measures to get people to sign up.”

‘Revolving door’ behind veteran mistrust: Lambie

Jacqui Lambie has blasted Veteran Affairs Minister Matt Keogh for refusing to shut down talks around a potential cabinet reshuffle.

A string of scandals has prompted questions over whether the Prime Minister will reshuffle his frontbench, with Mr Keogh being mooted to replace Andrew Giles in he immigration portfolio.

Mr Keogh told Sky News he would “always serve” in whatever capacity his party leader saw fit.

Senator Lambie, an army veteran, said she was “disappointed” in the minister’s response.

“Part of the reason veterans take their own lives is because of what has been going on in the DVA and the revolving door of ministers and it comes down to trust,” she said.

a. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“You’ve got a minister (Mr Keogh) two years in, he’s had the opportunity to shut that down and say ‘I’m not going anywhere’ and what he’s done is left it open.

“I just want to see somebody get the job done.”

Senator Lambie welcomed plans for the ADF to boost its ranks with permanent residents from other countries, but said the poor treatment of veterans was a key reason for Defence’s workforce issues.

“It’s not all that needs to be done to fix recruiting but it’s a good start. We also need to be doing so much more to invest in the diggers already in our forces “

Release nuclear now: Bowen

Energy Minister Chris Bowen has challenged Peter Dutton to release the Coalition’s long-awaited nuclear energy policy.

As the opposition prepares to release its proposed locations of up to seven nuclear reactor sites in the next few weeks, Mr Bowen appeared on morning radio to declare the next federal election a “referendum” on the controversial power source.

Climate Minister Chris Bowen said the next election would be a ‘referendum’ on nuclear. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“If the opposition is feeling confident about this, then release the policy. We are ready to have this debate, but we can’t have this debate until that is done,” he said.

“Moving to nuclear power risks substantially delaying the rollout of renewables, and it makes our energy system much less reliable because we rely on fewer and fewer coal-fired power stations – and that is the biggest risk to their reliability in the system.”