Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr THOMSON (LEICHHARDT, QUEENSLAND) -I accept your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. Inevitably, some questions on defence are left unanswered. After over 30 years of wide and varied experience in the defence forces, I am very well aware of the immense complexity of the issues and of how little any one man can know and understand unless he is engaged full dme in this field. I wish to confine myself to 2 major issues: Firstly, national aims and objectives and, secondly, the provision of an effective deterrent to armed attack on the nation. Because of the vital importance of the security of the nation and the immense cost of effective defence, it is of the first importance that the national aims and objectives should be clearly and simply stated. All those concerned with the defence of the nation are facing a fundamentally new, challenging and exciting task. Now for the first time we as a nation have a firmly stated and accepted responsibility for the defence of our whole continent. It takes time to change national attitudes. Perhaps it is too soon to have achieved a complete reassessment of our aims and objectives based on our new responsibility to defend ourselves.

Major questionsof approach and philosophy have to be decided. Until these are decided we cannot get the right answers on the shape and size of our defence forces or on the most effective level of technology and the related problems of logistics and local defence production. Our national strategic objectives should be a combination of military, political and economic factors, preferably compatible but often conflicting. For example, in 1965 and 1966 Australian servicemen were fighting Indonesians in East Malaysia during confrontation. At the same time we maintained diplomatic relations with Indonesia and continued to give aid. As one involved in that small operation, I believe that was a realistic and practical decision.

We must now take a hard and realistic look at our present situation. We cannot always in the future depend upon the protection of a great power. In differing sets of circumstances we may find that the interests of our major allies and our interests are not the same. The key to our defence policy remains the strength of our alliance with the United States and the ANZUS treaty. Yet this alliance, however strong it may be, must not lull us into a false sense of security. We cannot rely upon treaties alone to protect us. John Hobbs, the 1 8th century philosopher, said: Covenants without swords are but words'. Australia has far too few swords to back its covenants. Our swords are blunt. We do not have sufficient capacity to sharpen our own swords or to make new ones.

It is imperative that we should have an independent defence against potential threats which might arise in our area or neighbourhood.

These threats may not necessarily be identified as potential threats to the United States. Most of our neighbours are not potential enemies of the United States but in some circumstances we could be in conflict with them. If we accept that in some circumstances the United States may not always be willing or able to support us, we must be capable of conducting an independent military defence and of possessing a credible, independent military deterrent.

Our first priority is to provide forces for the most effective independent defence of Australia, its islands and its seas, within our capacity to do so. Our second priority is for a defence readiness in situations where we would have the support of a great power. The defence of Australia requires very different forces from those required for our old posture of forward defence. Our position is unique and requires unique solutions. These new priorities must make us question the whole structure of our forces and their support from within our own resources. The very high cost of modern defence equipment makes a clear definition of national strategic aims and objectives very important indeed. Without clearly stated aims there will always be the temptation to purchase better and more expensive equipment to replace dated and aging equipment. This tendency is known as the 'replacement syndrome'. It may well be valid that we do need more of the same equipment but this is not necessarily so.

We live in a very uncertain and rapidly changing part of the world. This calls for very sound contingency planning by the Services. The shape, size and the equipment of the defence forces must be able to cope with quite unexpected contingencies at short notice. These may start as small-scale operations which could escalate rapidly. I have considerable respect for the procedures within the Department of Defence which evaluate policies and requirements and which advise the Government. I wish to make one point about defence planning. In the organisation chart of the policy divisions of Defence Central I note there are very few senior military planners and large numbers of senior civilians. There seems to be an imbalance, which is reflected in parts of recent statements. This could lead to inadequate military input into defence policies and planning.

Unless national aims and objectives are clearly stated by the Government these defence planners will operate without adequate guidance. There is perhaps a temptation to give undue weight to the 'replacement syndrome' and to the desire to maintain the state of the art in a wide range of capabilities which may not be relevant to the national aims. It may be that all the decisions made are the best possible in the circumstances.

However, there will always be a difficult argument in favour of a few technologically advanced and very expensive pieces of equipment against the counter argument that our independent defence capacity would be best served by having a large number of cheaper, less sophisticated pieces of equipment. I hope my few points on the need for clear national aims and objectives will help to kindle debate and interest in this major issue, both inside and outside this chamber.

I wish now to deal with my second major point; our ability to deter any threat. We have a unique situation. It is fashionable to compare Australia with Sweden and Switzerland. This comparison is not relevant. Our strategic circumstances could not be more different. We are a great island continent and an enemy can reach our shores only by air or over or under the sea. Therefore, our most important national strategic objective should be the capacity to deter or to defer the mounting of major operations against Australia. The priority should be against the higher levels of threat. The best way to achieve this military objective would be to cause a would-be aggressor to face the problem of mounting a large-scale tri-Service operation by air and by sea. Provided Australia has adequate air and sea surveillance capacity such an invasion force would be very vulnerable to attack far from our shores. This situation emphasises the importance of the Navy and the Air Force. But it does not mean for a moment that the importance of the Army as part of the deterrent force should be under-rated.

The capacity and structure of the Army will determine the quality and quantity of men and material an aggressor would have to deliver and sustain in Australia in a conventional military operation. We can and must acquire the capacity to cause a potential aggressor to mount a disproportionate response in terms of money, time and material. If we possess a credible deterrent there are few powers which have the capacity to threaten us. It must be made just too difficult. This strengthens our position in foreign negotiations, and makes it much less likely that we will be forced into political and diplomatic actions which are not in the national interest. I have not mentioned the most important part of our defence forces- the men and women of the Services. I conclude with this quotation:

Nothing has' ever been made until the soldier has made safe the field where the building shall be built: And the soldier is the scaffolding until it has been built, and the soldier gets no reward but honour.

Suggest corrections