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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) -When this White Paper was presented to the House it was almost like going into a new era in our history because there had been very little debate recently on the subject of defence. It has been many years since we have seen a White Paper, Green Paper or any other paper presented to the House on defence. Hence it was gratifying and relieving to the great bulk of Australians to learn, firstly, that a White Paper had been tabled and, secondly, that those who prepared the White Paper had gone about the subject in a businesslike manner and a manner of extreme responsibility to the nation and had produced a quality document. I wish to comment on one or two matters relating generally to the White Paper. Firstly, there was no witch-hunt. I think that was greatly appreciated by the House generally. There were no recriminations. I commend the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) for this aspect of the White Paper. While on the subject of commendations may I say that the Minister and his civilian and uniformed staff have done a magnificent job in producing such an analysis of the subject of defence as it applies to this nation.

One of the first points that strikes one upon looking at the White Paper is that the matter of self reliance is stressed. If one were to compare our situation now with what it was, say, 10, 12 or even 15 years ago I suppose one would see that there has been a dramatic change. That change is based on 2 matters. The first is that we no longer think in terms of forward defence. We no longer think of fighting an enemy 1000 or 10 000 miles away. We know now that any engagement that may take place or any emergency that might be created if there were a threat to this continent would be in the country itself. Hence we have a completely different aspect and concept of defence. This is based very greatly on the matter of self reliance. Various theories have been offered and submitted as to how long we would have to hold this country before we would receive the assistance of a powerful ally. The period has varied from one month to 6 months. All sorts of opinions have been offered on that matter.

However, one or two facts have emerged. I refer firstly to the recent operation which was called Kangaroo II. One of the lessons learned from that operation, as the Minister pointed out not so very long ago in answer to a question in this House, was that when it comes to professionalism in the three branches of our Services we do not have to play second fiddle to any country in the world. This evidence came out very clearly in the Kangaroo II exercise. There were one or two aspects of this operation that appealed to those of us who had the privilege of being involved, to some extent at least. One was the manner in which the joint operations worked out. It was quite splendid. I think that we can now accept that concept. The other was the performance by the field hospital. I would like to pay particular tribute to the field hospital. I think that its contribution to the operations, which were indicative of the situation that would exist in the case of an emergency, were absolutely superb. I would say that it was at least equal if not superior to any similar operation of its kind in the world.

It is interesting to note the accent which this Government has put on defence. People say that one should look to the pocket when you want to see the strength. In the 5 years 1976-77 to 1980-81 estimated expenditure will be $ 12,000m. No doubt the House will recall that when the Minister for Defence made his statement to the House after the Budget he pointed out that he had secured this sum of $ 12,000m and said that it would be in terms of real money. That is another aspect which should be considered.

I notice that in the White Paper there is an accent on the fact that ground forces have to be sustained over long distances. I have noticed, in consultation with the people who study these matters, that the authorities are quite concerned about transport, about the roads which would make possible the sort of transportation that becomes necessary in times of an emergency. It was stressed that the present road system would be quite inadequate. It was said that existing highways such as the Flinders Highway and the Stuart Highway would have to be brought up to a much higher standard if they are to stand up to the sort of transport that they would be required to carry. No doubt in future considerations this matter will be taken into account.

Another point of view preferred around the country at the moment is the necessity for additional air bases. The matter of additional air bases was mentioned in one of the submissions made to me and the group I had the privilege to serve with on the Government parties defence committee. It is rather appalling to note that at present we have an air base in Townsville with limited capabilities and that we have another base with perhaps somewhat greater capability at Amberley. Then we have a huge vacuum until we get to Darwin. I am sure that as time goes by this situation will be remedied. There is also the matter of the dispersal of ordnance and the sustenance of an army or an air force as well as our naval forces to cover our coastal areas. We must think of the dispersal of our ordinance and our logistics. When we consider the present situation it leaves a lot to be desired.

Technology is one matter that is stressed in the White Paper. It points out that although we may consider the present concept of defence and may work out all sorts of approaches to our strategy, all these things could become obsolete in future warfare. This argument could be applied time and again. Today we have the Leopard tank but the Swedish tank is regarded as having tremendous capability. The Swedish tank may be camouflaged more easily because it has a lower turret and so on. One could go on for ever with that argument. I would say, as one who had a little to do with the examination, trial and eventual order of the Leopard tanks, of which I think we will have 101, that they will be a force to be reckoned with. It was gratifying to note that the Minister acted expeditiously to bring forward the delivery of these Leopard tanks. As far as I know, many of them already have been unloaded and are in operation in this country.

Turning to advances in technology, we have been told of the bomb which can sink an aircraft carrier costing $ 1,000m. We have to give serious consideration to our capability, having regard to our financial and technical resources, of playing an effective part in new generation warfare. The White Paper deals specifically with this subject and therefore is a fairly complete document.

The subject of the deployment of our forces brings me to the question of manpower. One of the things in the White Paper that I found particularly gratifying was the accent again given to the Army Reserve or, as we knew it, the Citizen Military Forces. I know from my discussions with the Minister that he regards the Army Reserve of particular significance. I was at a function yesterday and was exhilarated to observe the reaction of the Minister's senior officers to this matter. When one examines the history of the wars in which this country regrettably has been involved it is quite easy to discern that much of the fame, if I might use that word, much of the magnificent reputation earned by Australian soldiers was earned by the Army Reserves or whatever they might have been called in those days. Hence the Army Reserve is an extremely important body when considering our future defence. I refer not only to the Army Reserve but also to the Navy and Air Force reserves. It is gratifying to know that the Minister does have this matter m mind.

Turning now to the capacity, capability and size of that Army, I suppose that if we had unlimited manpower and unlimited finance we possibly would think in terms of 10 divisions as one well known professional officer stated. Well, we would like to think in terms of 10 divisions but what we do think of is a new balance. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) stressed this matter yesterday in addressing the function I referred to. He pointed out that although we do not want to reduce our manpower, that we want it to reach the strength we desire so that we can deal with any emergency we have, we also have to think of weaponry in a new generation of world warfare and the necessity to protect our coastline by means of the technology available to us. I was interviewed recently about one aspect of the Kangaroo II exercise in my part of the world. A young reporter asked me how we could possibly defend a country like this. I suppose one could look at the matter in that way if we are going to be faced with some great invading force but as the White Paper points out threats of wars and invasion do not just happen overnight. Warning lights go on and we are able to take the necessary steps for our defence.

I would like to conclude on what I think is an extremely important note. The committee which I have the privilege of chairing regards this matter very seriously and hence we are having this debate. I suppose if we examine the time allotted to this debate and related it to the time available for other Bills we have had a fairly generous bite of the apple but the important thing is that we have to send out a message to this nation, loud and clear, that the responsibility for the security and defence of this country, and dealing adequately with it, falls on its citizens. It is gratifying to note that there is a growing awareness of this fact. I am sure honourable members on both sides of the House would agree that every member of this House has to get across to the Australian public the message that each and every one of them is involved in our security. The economic prosperity and stability of this country would be pretty worthless if we were not in a position to defend it adequately and did not have the desire to defend it adequately.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bryant) adjourned.

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