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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 526


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(5.54) —The one really cheering feature of the statement of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) on the South West Pacific is that at least it goes part of the way down the road to accepting the views that the Opposition has strongly expressed about its concern at the direction of defence policy under this Government, particularly after the Dibb report on the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities. The reality is that this Government has yet to recognise that the best defence force in the world is the one which is never involved in fighting, because it is so well and highly regarded by its potential enemies that it is never taken on. In other words, deterrence must be the number one priority of any defence policy. Apparently, deterrence is not the number one priority in this Government's defence policy, nor does it appear to be in the Dibb report. To the extent to which this latest paper by Mr Beazley goes beyond the Government's original position and recognises that there is more to the defence of Australia than simply being concerned about a fortress Australia policy-repelling boarders as they come ashore-it is welcomed.

This Government has a long way to go to recognise and respond to the reality that deterrence must be our first priority. I do not want to argue at length here and now the clear need for the Government to look in the direction of mobile platforms at sea for maritime aircraft. The Falklands war demonstrated how effective such mobile platforms are. Whether for traditional aircraft carriers, converted bulk carriers, jump jet carriers, or whatever, they have a clear and effective role, particularly for an island nation such as Australia and in defending those ships or shore-based establishments which are at or towards the end of the range of either land-based or sea-based attacking aircraft. I mention in passing that supersonic attacking aircraft, when carrying missiles, do not have the capacity to outperform subsonic aircraft such as Harriers. Those supersonic aircraft which are right at the end of their range can be very vulnerable to attack by Harriers, as was shown clearly by the incredible ratio of successes in the Falklands war from carrier-based British aircraft. The Government's statement says:

An unfriendly maritime power in the area-

that is, the South Pacific-

could inhibit our freedom of movement through these approaches and could place in doubt the security of overseas supply to Australia of military equipment and other strategic materiel.

That is an important first step by the Government towards the Opposition's views on the need for a more outward looking defence policy than the one that this Government has been attracted to and the one which was presented to it in the Dibb report. I am certainly keen on the Government's decision to assist island countries to upgrade their national maritime surveillance systems, to deploy Royal Australian Air Force long range maritime patrol aircraft to the region, which is obviously required, and to increase the number of Royal Australian Navy ship deployments to the island countries, which will also go part of the way. But the reality is that we do not have the capacity, nor is there an intention to provide the capacity, to do an effective job in the South West Pacific. There is nothing in this paper to indicate that this Government has the will to set out to do an effective job in this area.

The Government, having established what the problem is, has no solutions. This is perhaps the most serious element that emerges from Mr Beazley's paper. How serious is the problem that is emerging? I commend to the Senate a most interesting article written by a man who was an adviser to the Hawke Government in 1983-84 and who is currently a member of the Australian Labor Party's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in Victoria, a Mr Michael Danby. An article which appears in this month's copy of the IPA Review has such significant material in it that I want to read some of it into the record because it is of enormous importance and I believe it sums up the problems we face. I only wish that Mr Danby had the capacity to convince his colleagues in the ALP of the merit of the points he is making, at least to the extent that they would, with much more enthusiasm, whole heartedly embrace the defence proposals and policies that the Opposition has been stressing strongly for many years. Part of Mr Danby's article reads:

In a speech at Vladivostok in July 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev announced Moscow's intention to expand its connections with the nations of the South Pacific. The visit of Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze to Australia and the region underscores Moscow's determination to put Gorbachev's words into practice. Acting via trade unions, churches, political parties, peace fronts, youth groups and finally commerce, the Soviet Union is steadily strengthening its influence in our region.

That summarises one of the reasons why it is absolutely vital that Australia pays so much more attention in the area of defence to the South Pacific region. The article continues:

Foreign Minister Bill Hayden recently warned that an ostensibly commercial arrangement between Vanuatu and the Soviet Union could open the way for Moscow's political manipulation of the South Pacific Island state. Until recently this sober evaluation was against much of the received expert opinion, and down-played by some observers in the foreign affairs bureaucracy and the media. George Negus epitomised this attitude in introducing a segment on the USSR deal with Vanuatu: ``It's a long time in this country since we've had a good `commie' scare but one looks to the building up over the growing Russian presence and influence in, of all places, the South Pacific''.

For the benefit of Senator Sanders-and I hope he is interested in the reality of the South Pacific rather than in the fiction he perpetrates-the article continues:

However, if anything, Australian perceptions of the drift in the South Pacific have lagged behind developments. Most Australians were caught unawares by the election of the anti-ANZUS Lange Government and the subsequent virtual defection of New Zealand from the Western alliance. Vanuatu's increasing radicalisation, the Soviet fishing deal with Kiribati and the possible election of an anti-Western government in Fiji, are all elements of a new unwelcome slide in the South Pacific.

A slide of course which is unwelcome to those of us who are concerned with democracy but which is clearly welcomed by Senator Sanders. The article further states:

Of recent Soviet initiatives fishing deals are the most public and best-known-unlike the equally significant patient political cultivation of the Pacific islands' small elites. Moscow's aim has been to discredit the United States and the Western alliance while simultaneously upgrading its own presence. It is in this context that Moscow's fishing offers to the various micro-states in the region should be viewed-enhancing Soviet intelligence and communication capacities, increasing abilities to interdict vital sea lanes and increasing mobility and political leverage in the region.

The article then deals with the situation in each of our neighbouring countries in the South Pacific area. It quotes Mr Frank Corner, a former permanent secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand who headed the recent Defence Policy Review, who bluntly claimed that-and I quote this for the benefit of Senator Sanders:

. . . New Zealand's defence policy has effectively been hijacked by a small anti-nuclear lobby.

It is the sort of thing we face in Australia, by the way. We face the problem of vocal and disastrous minority groups having the capacity to influence, to our detriment, our defence posture.


Senator Sheil —That is very dangerous.


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Yes, it is very dangerous, as the honourable senator says. The article points out that in Vanuatu Father Walter Lini's announcement that he would, in return for $1.3m, grant Moscow not only fishing rights but shore access to Port Vila's deep water harbour and also landing rights for Aeroflot has naturally raised alarms in other Pacific islands. In Fiji the leader of the Labor Party Opposition has said that on election he would `recognise the Soviet Union and ban port visits by American nuclear war ships'. In other words he accepts the sorts of policies that Senator Sanders finds incredibly attractive and which are part of the thrust of the Soviet Union as recognised by this incredibly sensible member of the Labor Party in this article. Mr Danby concludes the article in these terms:

Australian policy makers may well want to reconsider the rigid recommendations of the Dibb Defence Review which would limit our aerial and naval intervention capacity to 1,000 miles, described as ``the area of direct military interest''. Australia should at least have the military capacity, including amphibious aircraft refuelling and basing rights, to intervene and militarily prevail to an area of 2,000 miles encompassing most of the South Pacific which Dibb describes as ``the sphere of strategic interest''.

There is no doubt that this kind of sensible thought in the Labor Party has clearly had some influence along with, of course, the rational, coherent and sensible points being made by the Opposition. To this extent, the modest steps that the Government has taken in that direction in this statement must be welcomed.

We also see in the statement the other influences that have been brought to bear to make this Government see at least a little sense on defence. We are aware that only last month there were top ministerial talks in Canberra with the Japanese in which the Foreign Minister, Mr Kuranari, participated. Clearly, the Japanese used these talks as a method of conveying their fears of Soviet expansion in the South Pacific. I have here a transcript of a discussion on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program A.M. with Dr Paul Keal, a Research Fellow in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University. In response to a question about whether Japan was concerned about Soviet fishing agreements in the region he said that Japan was certainly concerned that perhaps Australia and New Zealand had become a little bit soft in what they saw as Soviet expansion and perhaps had a different perspective on the Pacific than Australia and New Zealand. It sees for instance Australia as having been far too soft in terms of its involvement with the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone and it sees some kind of dangerous portents in that and would like to see Australia taking a stronger line. There were reports in local newspapers. The Australian reported much more directly. It read:

. . . Mr Kuranari warned that Soviet intrusion in the South Pacific would be ``very bad'' for regional stability and security.

He said Japan and Australia had to co-operate, and remain in close contact, to ensure the Soviet Union did not gain a strong foothold in the region.

Let us see to what extent Australia's trade is threatened by this kind of intervention. To what extent does the development, as Senator Sir John Carrick has pointed out, at Cam Ranh Bay, pose an enormous threat to Australia's shipping lanes? How many shipping movements do we have that are under threat? A recent article by Brigadier Speed in the Army Quarterly of July last year lists these as an illustration of the extent to which we are exposed. From Australia there are nearly 5,000 sailings a year to and from Japan and other Asian ports; 800 with the Americas, 1,450 to and from the Middle East and beyond, and 300 via the Cape of Good Hope. We have clearly an enormous dependence on our sea lanes, all of which are basically now becoming vulnerable to attack from the Russian expansion in our region. The Cam Ranh Bay situation is, of course, of major concern. Let us have a look at the torpedo armed diesel submarines that are there, at least according to an article in the Pacific Defence Reporter of August 1986 by Captain Jack V. Roome of the United States Navy, a member of the US Defense Intelligence Agency. He notes:

In all there are 55 such submarines in the Pacific Fleet. In addition, aircraft operating out of Vietnam could be especially threatening to any merchant ships in the South China Sea.

. . . .

The three or four attack and cruise missile submarines operating from Cam Ranh conduct patrols in the South China Sea . . . The naval facilities at Cam Ranh also service the 20-25 Soviet ships stationed there and provides support for Soviet ships transiting to/from the Indian Ocean.

These Soviet military forces and capabilities indicate the increasing reach of Moscow's military power and the consequent potential political/military influence of the USSR on regional decisions.

He says, and it is important that the Senate recognise this:

Moscow's use of all the instruments of foreign policy-military assistance, diplomacy, trade, aid, propaganda, and overt and covert activities-demonstrates a determined effort to extend Soviet power and influence and to promote the USSR as the dominant world force. To this end, it is becoming more apparent that the Soviets are also building a military force in the Far East which surpasses any reasonable defensive requirements.

We, of course, are among the closest of America's allies to that area. The serious problem we face is that these aircraft based in Vietnam have a very long range. The Bear reconnaissance aircraft, with a range of some 4,000 nautical miles, can operate as far out into the Indian Ocean as the entrance to the Red Sea and as far south as the Coral Sea. The Badger aircraft has a strike range from Cam Ranh Bay which covers not only regional states but also the Philippines, Guam, and Palau and Yap, as well as the western portion of Micronesia. If long range bombers such as the Backfire were deployed there-and there is no reason why the Russians at some stage will not do so-they could strike targets as far south as Darwin and Perth. Perth would be within the range of that kind of aircraft stationed at Cam Ranh Bay. This is one of the reasons, it seems to me, that it is absolutely vital that Australia not adopt the sort of fortress Australia defence posture predicated by Dibb but take an alliance posture, an involvement with our American allies. We should be developing a Defence Force which can operate in conjunction with our allies, which will boost and support their capacity. That is one of the reasons that I am most concerned that we have no mobile seagoing platforms, for example, to counter this enormous threat, because while we are within range we are at the extremities of that range and it seems to me very important indeed that we do everything we can, within the constraints of our economic problems, to set out on a course which will lead to our having a Defence Force which is an ideal one to fit in with the forces of our allies, rather than standing alone against such a massive buildup of power as is evidenced by Soviet activities in our region.

While I recognise that the Government has moved slightly away from what I believe to be its misguided fortress Australia style of defence policy, I regret that the current statement on defence initiatives in the South Pacific is only a first tentative step towards reality. I urge the Government to increase the size of the step and make certain that it is in the right direction.