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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 74


Dr NELSON (Minister for Defence) (2:00 PM) —I ask leave of the House to move a motion to suspend standing and sessional orders to enable me to move immediately a motion relating to a ministerial statement concerning the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap.

Leave granted.


Dr NELSON —I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent:

(1)   the Minister for Defence making a ministerial statement immediately relating to the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap; and

(2)   the Minister for Defence presenting a copy of his statement, a motion being moved to take note of the document and an equal period of time for an Opposition Member speaking to the motion to take note of the document.

I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on the important contribution that the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap makes to defence and national security on the occasion of the facility’s 40th anniversary. In doing so, I acknowledge the presence in the House of the US Ambassador to Australia, the Hon. Robert McCallum.

Since the 1940s, Australia has been part of a shared intelligence community with our allies, the United States, Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand. This cooperation has been of great benefit to Australia, as intelligence is a core element of our nation’s security. Our relationships have given us access to all kinds of crucial information, as well as the expertise by which to interpret this information into useful intelligence. We have used this information and the capabilities of the facility to guide and develop our national security and defence policies and support Australian defence personnel on operations.

Australia’s intelligence relationship with the United States has been especially important in this regard. Through intelligence sharing we have consolidated our defence relationship as much as through our combined military deployments and the conflicts of the 20th century, as well as those of the early years of this century. Much of our earlier intelligence cooperation was centred on Cold War issues and traditional concerns about potential threats to regional and global security from other nation states.

But the events of 11 September 2001 and subsequent terrorist attacks in Bali, Jakarta, Madrid, Mumbai and London, to name a few, have redefined Australia’s intelligence relationships. Counterterrorism is a global, generational challenge. Both Australia and the United States realise that greater international cooperation is required to combat a threat that goes beyond the boundaries of the nation state. Alongside this threat, some countries are today aggressively pursuing ballistic missile programs, weapons of mass destruction and, most worryingly in some cases, both. Australia remains a close friend and a strong ally of the United States, and we remain committed to our mutual security arrangements. Our intelligence relationship, already strong, has been reinforced over the past five years. This cooperation, which now borders on seamless, has seen an increase in information exchange, technical cooperation and embedded liaison officers.

Consistent with my responsibilities as Minister for Defence, I have visited the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap. I was very impressed by the contribution the facility makes to Australia’s security, by the professionalism of the staff, both Australian and American, and by the arrangements between the Australian and the United States governments which allow the facility to function so effectively. I am fully briefed on the activities and capabilities of the facility and have every confidence in the arrangements that govern the facilities activities.

Due to the classified nature of the work performed at Pine Gap, it is necessarily the case that relatively few people are briefed on its functions and very few are briefed on the most sensitive activities that are undertaken there. It is therefore in the public interest that periodic public statements on the role and function of the facility are made. This is so the public can have confidence that its elected representatives are responsibly and accountably overseeing such activities which are, after all, in their name and are rendering that accountability in public within the limits of security.

Construction of the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap began in 1967 and, in recognition of the 40 years of outstanding contribution to our national security made by the facility, I consider it is timely to make such a statement. Before turning to the role and functions of the facility, I should acknowledge that not all Australians agree with its presence here. This is not a new phenomenon. During the Cold War some Australians were concerned about the risk of joint facilities, which prior to 1999 included the Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar at Woomera in South Australia and the North West Cape Naval Communication Station in Western Australia, being targeted by nuclear missiles. This was a risk that successive Australian governments have acknowledged in the process of supporting global security through the operation of the joint facilities.

Other concerns over the years have related to the supposed loss of sovereignty caused by the presence of such facilities on Australian soil and our interaction with so-called US war-fighting systems. While these voices reached their zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, they still echo occasionally in Australian political discourse, including the extent of protest against the facility. While the views held by critics of the joint facility are to be respected, I could not disagree with them more strongly. The Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap is just that—a joint facility. It is not a US base. It is run by the governments of Australia and the United States as partners, and Australians hold crucial positions at the facility.

I am particularly impressed by the application of Australia’s policy of full knowledge and concurrence. ‘Full knowledge and concurrence’ is an expression of sovereignty, of a fundamental right to know what activities foreign governments conduct on our soil. The people and parliament rightly hold the government responsible for exercising this right. It is through this policy that Australians ensure that our sovereignty is honoured and that we retain complete visibility of the facility’s capabilities, and the Australians that hold those crucial positions at the facility ensure that our requirement for full knowledge and concurrence is maintained.

The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap continues to make a vital contribution to the security interests of both Australia and the United States of America and is an outstanding manifestation of the level of cooperation that has been achieved in Australia’s closest defence relationship. The facility at Pine Gap has two principal roles: the collection of intelligence by technical means and the provision of ballistic missile early warning information.

The intelligence collected at Pine Gap meets critical requirements of both our nations, providing us with information on priority intelligence targets such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and military and weapons developments. It also contributes to the monitoring of compliance with arms control and disarmament agreements and provides communication support.

The operations at Pine Gap continue to provide us with intelligence which is valuable to our own security. Through the relay ground station at Pine Gap, Australia supports the United States and its ballistic missile early warning program, thereby making a significant contribution to global security. The program provides reassurance against the possibility of surprise or accidental nuclear missile attack as well as early warning capability against shorter ranged tactical missiles. The program also provides information about the occurrence of nuclear explosions.

Our participation in this program, therefore, in addition to contributing to global security, helps us to inhibit the proliferation of ballistic missiles and provides information on ballistic missile launches of interest to Australia. Ballistic missile launch early warning information could be used in any US missile defence system and, as such, this would be a continuation of a ballistic missile early warning partnership that we have shared with the United States for over 30 years.

The capabilities present at Pine Gap will continue to evolve to meet new demands and to take advantage of new technologies. In that regard, our two nations will continue to have technical exchanges. Pine Gap will remain a central element of Australia’s security and its relationship with the United States for the foreseeable future. All activities at the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap are managed to ensure that they are consistent with Australian interests. These activities take place with the full knowledge and concurrence of the Australian government, and Australia benefits fully from them.

Australia will continue to pursue its close intelligence relationship with the United States. Pine Gap remains a central element of the Australia-US alliance, and it continues to contribute to our security. The Australian government remains satisfied with the arrangements that govern the facility’s use and warmly welcomes the continued involvement of the United States in the facility.

On the 20th anniversary of the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, I particularly pay tribute to the people of Alice Springs for their enduring support. I also thank all of those people, past and present, who have contributed to the facility’s successful operation and, through it, to Australia’s alliance with the United States and to the mutual security of our two nations. I table a copy of the statement.