DEFENCE Minister Marise Payne has been accused of misleading Parliament over plans to resume Queensland farmland under a lucrative military deal with Singapore due to fears it would cost the Turnbull Government votes.
State Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne yesterday said Senator Payne and Department of Defence bureaucrat Peter Baxter misled a Senate Estimates hearing last May by failing to mention land resumptions.
Mr Byrne said the Federal Government hid any mention of taking over farmers’ land as it was concerned about a backlash at the ballot box during the July election.
“There is no doubt in my mind that vital information was withheld to gain electoral advantage and I am raising the possibility that Minister Payne and Mr Baxter misled the Senate Estimates hearing,” Mr Byrne said.
During the hearing, former Labor senator Stephen Conroy asked Senator Payne and Mr Baxter to explain what the $2.2 billion would be spent on at the Shoalwater and Townsville military training areas.
State Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne has accused the Defence Minister of misleading Parliament. Picture: Liam Kidston
Mr Baxter said funding would be spent upgrading infrastructure while Senator Payne said the upgrades were to allow for an increase in Singaporean troops to 14,000.
Neither mentioned expanding the physical footprint of the bases or land resumptions.
Farmers have been outraged by the deal, forcing a promise from Senator Payne this week to fast-track resumptions and minimise acquisitions of prime agricultural land.
Mr Byrne said the Turnbull Government deliberately “suppressed” the land resumptions before the election.
“It is clear that the most important details of the agreement with Singapore were hidden at that time and that Minister Payne and Mr Baxter were less than honest when directly questioned,” he said.
Mr Byrne said Capricornia MP Michelle Landry campaigned in favour of the Singapore deal without mentioning the compulsory land acquisitions. She won the seat by only 1111 votes.
Senator Payne yesterday said the department indicated during the Estimates hearing that the majority of the $2.2 billion would be spent on upgrading infrastructure.
“It also indicated that some of the investment will be allocated to ensuring there is adequate capacity at those training areas. This remains the case,” Senator Payne said.
She said the Estimates hearing was also told further details needed to be negotiated prior to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.
“The MOU was signed in October 2016 and the possible expansion was announced in November 2016,” she said.”