Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 537

Senator VALLENTINE(8.39) —I commend the recognition in the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) that economic security is seen as paramount by the islanders themselves. On page 7 of the statement he states:

. . . the island governments believe, quite correctly in my view, that in their current and foreseeable economic and strategic circumstances, economic development is their main national concern.

On page 8 of the statement he continued:

. . . our civil aid programs and trade and commercial policies will play the main role . . .

He went on to talk about defence policies. The question which must be asked at the outset is why our military aid to the countries in the South Pacific region has increased by 9 per cent and our overall economic aid to those countries has decreased by 30 per cent. In that respect, probably the only aspect on which I would have to agree with Senator Short, the previous speaker, the extent to which the proportion of our funding to the South Pacific nations has decreased does not seem to be justified if our concerns for the area are real.

The patrol boats which the Government is going to provide to the South Pacific nations will be mainly used to look for foreign vessels fishing illegally. To date this has affected United States fishing vessels. A United States boat, the Jeanette Diana, was detained by the Solomon Islands in 1984. Immediately the United States slapped a boycott on the Solomons. The question we must ask in this respect is whether the Australian Government would back an island nation or the United States if such an embarrassing situation occurred again involving a patrol vessel we provided under our military aid program.

Obviously, from the debate so far, the main security risk in the region is seen as being the Soviet Union. Yet no surface combatants have been seen in the South Pacific this century. That is something which perhaps members of the Opposition need to be reminded about. The Kiste and Herr report, commissioned by the United States Department of State in 1984, stated that the main security threat to the South Pacific was posed by the United States and France, not the Soviet Union. I repeat that this report was commissioned by the United States State Department. We need to get the threats to the region into perspective.

I commend Senator Hill, one of the Opposition spokespersons who make some sense in this area, for addressing the issue of the presence of France in the region. Obviously, France is a great threat because it continues its nuclear testing program in the South Pacific and also because of the influence it is wielding over the United States. I would agree with Senator Hill that we need to keep working on our relationship with France. Very strong action is needed on the part of this Government as far as France is concerned because of the possibility of France moving its testing site from the Pacific, having completely polluted that ocean, to the Indian Ocean. So some strong measures need to be taken. The French are not very likely to take note of international pressure from the usual diplomatic channels. It is time that our Government started to think in much stronger terms, such as the imposing of boycotts on French products. Imposing sanctions on France might get to the French Government and make an impact on it where the diplomatic niceties are often ignored.

I commend the Australian Government for helping to get New Caledonia back on the United Nations decolonisation list. But if it wants to reduce the Kanak contacts with Libya, which is a concern, surely the priority would be to get independence for Kanaky. In that light it is distressing that the United States has refused to sign the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. It is alleged that this is because the French Secretary of State for the South Pacific, Monsieur Gaston Flosse, claims that it was his influence which persuaded the United States to back France rather than the member states of the South Pacific Forum. Once again United States priorities are not with Australia or the South Pacific island states, yet we persist with the myth of common interests in the region through the ANZUS alliance, or whatever it is now called.

It is crucial to see the South Pacific within a North-South framework and not an East-West framework if we are to live up to the fine words of this ministerial statement. In terms of our aid allocation it is obvious that we are not listening. As the Minister conceded, our Pacific island neighbours have made it quite clear that they see their prime security requirements in economic terms. I find it tragic that in the current Budget we were prepared to slash economic aid to the region while boosting military aid. We consider the islands far too much through eyes blinkered by East-West considerations instead of North-South perspectives, which is one of the main penalties of being part of a military alliance which sees the world only in East-West terms and expects us to do the same. Consequently, we trouble ourselves with Kiribati and Vanuatu making commercial agreements with the Soviet Union in their attempts to seek just payment for their fishing resources and see these agreements from an East-West perspective rather than concerning ourselves with the economic security and well-being of these nations.

The Opposition keeps on saying that the Russians are coming and that we must deal with this bogy and the very real threat which the Soviet presence poses in the South Pacific. However, I believe that the Opposition has it out of all perspective. It has nothing positive whatsoever to say about the possible Soviet threat. One wonders what kind of response the Opposition wants us to make to the Soviet Union-to ignore it, to invite more American military presence in the region or to goad the Soviets into further repressive actions, which we would not like, by whipping up more anti-Soviet fervour in this part of the world. As the West German Foreign Minister said recently, we must deal with and listen to the Soviets, particularly now that Premier Gorbachev is attempting some liberalisation of relations.

In order for conditions to improve for people within the Soviet Union and for there to be an improvement in the Soviets' relations with other countries, there needs to be a positive response from the West. This will encourage the much needed reforms to continue. In the case of the 18-month long moratorium on nuclear testing, which was self-imposed by the Soviet Union, credit should have been given where it was due. The moratorium should have been taken seriously. The only way to see whether it was mere propaganda was to call the Soviets' bluff on the question of nuclear testing. The West should have challenged the Soviets on it, instead of ignoring it. The United States ignored it. Our Government ignored it. Now the Opposition has nothing better to say than: `The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming'.

The Opposition seems to miss the point entirely that we live in one world, a fragile planet which we must learn to share not only with the Soviets but with all the world's people. We must learn to think beyond the nuclear power blocs. The world is not divided merely into two heavily armed camps with nuclear weapons posing a threat to all humanity. Others need a say. The non-nuclear nations need a say. Australia should be in the group of `others', the non-nuclear group. It is very regrettable that we are not in the non-nuclear group. We are in a very pro-nuclear group by virtue of our alliance with the United States.

We need to redefine what security really is, both globally and in our region. Security should not be tied to military might. We have to think beyond weapons if we are to ensure the survival of this planet. Martin Luther King put it very clearly indeed. I have said this before but obviously the message has not been heard in this place. He said that we have a choice-thank goodness we still do have a choice-but that the choice is no longer between violence and non-violence, but between non-violence and non- existence. This means that our notions of security need to be reviewed, as do our threat perceptions and Australian attitudes as to which countries pose a threat to this region. We have a history of relying on great and powerful friends because we are bedevilled with a colonial client state mentality. This has been a great negative influence in the Australian community. I believe that Australians have been gripped by fear, much of which is unfounded. Of course we need to have an awareness of dangers and possible flashpoints. We need to be aware of global strategic geo-politics. But we must deal constructively and positively with these spheres instead of fuelling further fears, as the Opposition wants to do by continually calling: `The Russians are coming'.

With regard to the Soviet threat in this region I must make a number of points in response to things which have been said in this debate so far. It is true that the Soviet fleet on this side of the world, in the Pacific as a whole, is increasing; but it must be pointed out that only 15 per cent of the Soviet Pacific fleet is out at sea at any given time unless there is an exercise on, while the United States Seventh Fleet is 55 per cent operational, keeping up a round of port visits and exercises by virtue of its 517 bases and facilities in the Pacific region, including 119 in Japan alone and 23 in the Philippines as well as those here in Australia.

We must examine the types of ships that are referred to. A British Press article in The Independent on 6 February this year quotes a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation admiral who described the Soviet Navy as a load of `rusty old buckets'. Indeed, most of the Soviet Pacific fleet is small coastal vessels and the new Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet fleet, Admiral Vladimir Chenavin, has been obliged by the political leadership in Moscow to curtail a major shipbuilding program. There has not been a major Soviet global exercise since 1975, the high point of Admiral Gorshov's expansion. Contrast this with the modernisation drive by the United States to achieve a 600-strong navy by 1990, with half the new ships in the Pacific, including seven Trident submarines now on station. I remind the Senate that the United States keeps 55 per cent of its strategic warheads on submarines, compared with the Soviet Union, which keeps only 25 per cent of its strategic warheads on submarines. Also the United States, on its own estimate, is five to ten years ahead of the Soviets in anti-submarine warfare.

I want to deal with the assertion of Senator Newman last night that the Soviet Union has two out of its three aircraft carriers in the Pacific. I make the point that the Soviet Union has no proper aircraft carriers whatsoever, apart from one under construction in the Black Sea which will not be ready until the next decade. The two aircraft carriers to which Senator Newman referred are in fact tactical aircraft carrying cruisers and they carry helicopters and vertical take-off and landing aircraft only. In terms of tonnage, they are less than half the weight of the latest United States aircraft carriers in the Nimitz class which have a nasty habit of descending on Fremantle. Just recently we had the bonus of the Carl Vinson which came for Christmas-200 nuclear weapons in our port to celebrate the birthday of the prince of peace. We should contrast these two Soviet carriers of limited size in the Pacific with six full United States aircraft carriers, equipped with between 75 and 90 planes, many loaded with nuclear weapons. Altogether the United States Navy has 13 aircraft carriers with two more under construction, and six of these are in the Pacific region.

It is fundamentally dishonest of the Opposition to keep on about the two Soviet carriers when in fact they are not proper aircraft carriers at all. The Opposition never mentions the six full scale aircraft carriers in the United States Seventh Fleet. This kind of distortion is precisely what fuels the Cold War, as both sides do it. One side points to where the other side is ahead and keeps quiet about where it is superior. Another example relevant to the Pacific is the marines; well-trained, tough young men whose job it is to invade someone else's country from the sea. The Soviet naval infantry total 17,000 men, with less than half of those in the Soviet Pacific fleet. The United States Marine Corps has 190,000 men. I suggest that when it comes to interventionism the United States has a record of using its marines on a far greater scale than the Soviet Union, but for the record I absolutely condemn Soviet interventionism in Afghanistan and Soviet support for the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea, just as I will continue to criticise the United States for having its troops all over the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Philippines, South Korea and the bases in Australia. Both super-powers claim that they were invited by the governments concerned, yet there was never any debate-certainly not in Afghanistan or Kampuchea, nor in Korea, the Philippines or Australia.

At what level will the coalition admit that the Soviet Union is a Pacific power and that there are 270 million Soviet citizens who constitute the third largest nation in the world? Our farmers would be in a mess if they could not sell wheat to the Soviet Union, and the United States sells wheat to it, so why the uproar and hypocrisy when poverty-stricken Kiribati or cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu decides to sell fish licences to the Russians? Many Opposition members cannot even pronounce Kiribati, including Senator Baume, who I heard mispronounce the name of it. How dare these people say that they have the interests of the Pacific islands at heart when they cannot even pronounce their names? I would be very angry if I were one of those island nations and heard that sort of arrogant paternalism coming from the coalition benches.

As I have said-I need to state this again because some members of the Opposition have now come into the chamber-the Kiste and Herr report of December 1984, which was commissioned by the State Department of the United States, pointed out that the French and United States were more of a security threat in the region than the Soviets. We must address the issue of Cam Ranh Bay. It is stupid for the Soviets to suggest that they do not have a base in Cam Ranh Bay. Of course there is a base in Cam Ranh Bay. But we need to get this into perspective. I have called for the withdrawal of that base in Cam Ranh Bay here in the Senate. I am against all foreign bases in the region. The argument revolves around the definition of a base. We could call the base in Cam Ranh Bay a supply or storage depot or a marina for Soviet warships, but it is nothing like the United States presence at Subic Bay. I hope that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) will speak of these concerns to the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr Shevardnadze, when he visits next week. Mr Hayden should call for the closure of Cam Ranh Bay. Of course he should also call for the closure of all United States bases in the region in the best interests of Australian security.

It is indeed useful for the Soviet Union to have that base in Cam Ranh Bay, but we must recognise its vulnerability. It takes between 20 and 25 ships, but it is surrounded by the United States Seventh Fleet at Subic Bay and Guam; the Chinese Navy; the ASEAN navies which are expanding fast; and the ANZUS navies. ANZUS is, unfortunately, not dead. It is simply in cold storage until a National Party government in New Zealand defies New Zealand public opinion, now running at about 72 per cent against nuclear warships visits, and lets them back.

It is important for people in Australia to know that a concerted campaign of destabilisation is occurring in New Zealand at the moment. Of course, the hope is, with a re-run of many events which could be paralleled with what happened here in 1975-a loans scandal, all sounding very familiar-that the National Party would be returned to government in New Zealand. That is exactly what the United States Government is hoping for, so that ANZUS can be resumed. It is important to point out that New Zealand never quit ANZUS-the only way it could do that is to give 12 months notice to the other members. New Zealand certainly did not do that. It was the United States which refused to go to the annual meeting of the ANZUS Council last year.

Nothing in the ANZUS Treaty commits any of the partners to hosting ship visits. New Zealand still considers itself to be a member of ANZUS and continues to have United States facilities in its country, such as Black Birch, Tangimoana and Operation Deep Freeze. New Zealand would take conventional non-nuclear warships, but the United States persists with this silly policy of neither admitting nor denying, when any literate person can look up Jane's Fighting Ships to see whether or not a ship has nuclear weapons on it. The Russians know and I suspect even the Opposition should know that there are nuclear weapons on visiting warships. Yet the Australian public is expected to swallow that pathetic `neither confirm nor deny' policy.

I believe that our position in South East Asia and the South West Pacific region means that we need to re-think our alliance mentality. We do not live in Western Europe or North America, much as we would like to maintain our cultural links with those countries. We straddle the Indian and Pacific oceans. From an Australian perspective, one could say: `The Asia- Pacific-you're standing in it'. Our best hope of peace and stability in this region is to build better relations with our Asian and Pacific neighbours, many of whom do not want to be associated with either nuclear camp. We can never consider ourselves an integral part of our geographic region until we are independent and nuclear-free and unless we listen much more carefully to the concerns of our neighbour in this region.