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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 77

Mr FITZGIBBON (2:10 PM) —I thank the House for the opportunity to respond to the statement by the Minister for Defence on the important role that the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap plays in both Australia’s national security and, of course, global security.

Like the minister, I visited Pine Gap—an opportunity afforded to only a few, among them Kevin Rudd, Kim Beazley and the current foreign affairs spokesman on our side, Robert McClelland. We have seen Australians and Americans working together, side by side, in a joint determination to maintain peace and global order. Their work has never been more important. Big shifts in the distribution of global power, conflicts in Afghanistan and in the Middle East, tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait and the rise of radical Islamism are combining to make the work of the joint facility more critical than ever before.

Australians were reminded of the democratic world’s ongoing vulnerability to radical Islamism in the most horrific way on 11 September 2001 and later on when terrorists struck in London and Mumbai. And if they held any doubts about Australia’s vulnerability, those doubts were removed by the tragic bombings in which our citizens were targets and victims in Bali and Jakarta.

The minister noted that the existence of the joint facility does not enjoy the support of all Australians. That, of course, is true. But nothing did more to build public support for the facility—and I do believe it enjoys strong public support—than the Hawke Labor government’s changes to the facility’s operating arrangements in 1988. Those changes reinforced the commitment of both governments to the facility and to our mutual and unwavering commitment to the Australia-US alliance, and they elevated Australia to partner status in the operation of the facility.

I would like to acknowledge the role Kim Beazley played in the establishment of that key partnership—backed, of course, by the concept of full knowledge and concurrence. Pine Gap was born in 1966, as the minister indicated, but it really came of age under a Labor government in 1988. From that date, Pine Gap became the only such facility in the world in which non-Americans play such a critical operations role. Securing agreement on the changes would not have been easy—indeed, they were hard won—and I pay tribute to the work of Kim Beazley in securing them.

Kim shared an anecdote with me earlier today. Back in about 1990 he took the then US Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, to the facility. On their arrival they were met by a young woman whom I think Kim described as ‘quite good looking’. Within seconds, the young woman was giving the then Secretary of Defense and Mr Beazley an overview of the facility and an update on its operations. In response, Mr Cheney turned to Kim with a somewhat shocked look on his face and exclaimed: ‘But she’s an Australian!’ It underscores the importance of Australia’s role and the partnership arrangements that are now in place at the facility.

But Labor’s reforms went beyond Pine Gap. They also ensured that when Nurrungar was closed the role of the Pine Gap facility was expanded to allow Australia to use the facility for our own unique purposes for the first time. But, despite the changes at the facility, some Australians continue to protest against its existence. That will probably always be the case. It is a shame that we cannot take every Australian to the facility to give them a broader knowledge of the role it plays in our own security and in global security. Of course, that is not possible, but I am sure that if it were possible there would be very few doubters left.

On this 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Pine Gap facility, we celebrate its role in strengthening the Australia-US alliance and the great friendship our two peoples share.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bartlett) adjourned.

The SPEAKER —Before calling question time, I would remind all members that while there has been some latitude extended with valedictory speeches, standing order 64 is still on the books and I would ask all members to remember that they should refer to another by either the name of their seat or the title of their office.