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
Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2278


Mr SPENDER(11.28) —The security of our country is the first and paramount concern we all have. All else may be promising, our economy prosperous , our society compassionate, fair and generous, our laws just and our people at peace with themselves and each other; yet, if challenged in armed conflict and if we fail we can lose everything-our liberty, our lives, our country, our future and our possessions. To entertain this possibility is not fantasy. History is littered with examples of races and nations which could not defend themselves and were conquered and enslaved or exterminated. We can witness the fate of the Armenians in the second decade of this century, the extermination of the European Jews, the subjugation of Eastern European nations by Soviet Russia and, in our region, the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people by the Pol Pot regime. History is also replete with examples of countries whose people ignored the possibility of conflict until the possibility had become a reality, whose military leaders made tragically wrong assessments of their country's defensive needs, whose intelligence analysts misread the capabilities and intentions of undeclared enemies and whose political leaders, even when they belatedly perceived the looming presence of great and growing risks, lacked the courage, the political will and the foresight to meet those risks before they became disasters.

Honourable members should remember Britain before the war. As early as February 1934 the Defence Requirements Committee reported that Germany was the ultimate potential enemy, certain to become within a few years a serious menace to Britain. Even with the menace that Germany clearly presented, rearmament proceeded at a snail's pace. It was not until March 1939 and Hitler's annexation of the remnants of Czechoslovakia that the British Government came to the real understanding of the full import of Hitler's intentions. It may be said that the standard excuse for Britain's failure to realise what was happening and the menace Germany presented could best be summed up in a quote from the series Yes Minister. Honourable members may recall that the head of the mythical department in the series was a man called Sir Humphrey who, speaking of Munich, said: 'It was an unfortunate occurrence about which certain facts were not known at the time'. The Minister asked: 'What important facts?'. Sir Humphrey replied: 'That Hitler wanted to conquer Europe'. The Minister said: 'I thought everyone knew Hitler wanted to conquer Europe'. Sir Humphrey replied: 'Not the Foreign Office' .

Australia's defence needs, the structure of our defence forces and the defence support facilities we should maintain and develop are subjects of continuing debate. But all too frequently the debate ignores the long term issues we must resolve and the very great difficulties our defence planners face-difficulties caused by the implacable facts of the geography of our country and our region and the impossibility of gauging with any precision the political, economic and social future of South East Asia and the western Pacific basin. Instead, the defence debate tends to focus on decisions involving the acquisition of hardware -decisions that often seem to be influenced by the follow-on syndrome, accompanied by the desire to purchase the state of the art syndrome-without examining the assumptions on which major acquisitions should be based.

What are the main issues we must confront and resolve as a nation? First, if we are to plan for our future defence needs-I use that term broadly to encompass both our defence forces and defence support-we need to understand very clearly what our vital national interests are, those interests which at all costs must be protected, and to separate in our thinking those vital interests from other interests which, although important, have a lower order of priority. No one would dispute that our vital interests include the territorial integrity of our country, its island territories and the extended maritime zone. Few would dispute that the security of New Zealand is vital to us. But how much further do our vital interests extend? For example, would an attack on Papua New Guinea or Fiji necessitate an armed response from us?

The second major issue is how we can conduct foreign policy and use it to support our national security. In international affairs power is the final arbiter-its use or its potential use. Fundamental security concerns of foreign policy viewed in terms of our security are two. First, alliance management and, secondly, alliance building. Alliance management primarily concerns the ANZUS Treaty and utilising that Treaty in a way best calculated to meet our present and future vital security needs. But alliance building is another matter. It is the planning of the construction of other possible alliances. For example, an alliance with that extraordinarily powerful country Japan is certainly a matter which, in the long term and in defensive terms, we should consider.

The third major issue we need to confront is this: Should a threat emerge, how much time will we have? Putting to one side the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the possibility of war between that country and the United States of America, it is generally thought that at present there are no obvious threats to Australia's security, which I accept. It is also generally thought that if a threat does emerge we will have adequate time to get ready-a theory I do not accept. The dangers of this kind of theory-it may be described as the theory of the emerging and perceived threat-are evident when one examines the assumptions on which implicitly it is based.

The first assumption is that in the time between the emergence of the threat and when the potential for armed aggression against Australia is translated into an actual capacity, we will build up our forces to a level capable either of deterring the aggressor or, should deterrence fail, of defending our vital interests against it. The second assumption is that Australia's intelligence analysists will correctly perceive the emerging threat as requiring a major response from the Australian Government. The third assumption is that this assessment will be accepted by the government of the day. The last assumption is that the government of the day will not only act on the assessment given to it but also will take action sufficient in all respects to meet the threat when and if it emerges. Failure to make good any one of these assumptions could lead to a terminal disaster for this country.

We can learn much from history. We can learn from Munich. We can learn from the Falklands campaign where Britain misread Argentina's intentions. We can learn from Argentina. It misread Britain's willingness to risk all in a campaign. Both sides were wrong. I should like to make two other more general criticisms of the emerging and perceived threat theory because of the importance of that theory, as it lies at the heart of our defence thinking. The first is that of one thing we can be fairly certain. Whatever happens will be unpredictable. Honourable members will remember how frequently in the past planners have based their planning on assumptions that have proved to be perfectly invalid. Take the Maginot line. The Germans did not attack the Maginot line; they went around through the Low Countries. Singapore was a fortress impregnable, so it was thought, from sea attack. The Japanese thought so too; they came down through the peninsula. In the Falkland Islands campaign the Argentinians quite misunderstood Britain's capacity to attack on foot over impossible terrain and in the most inclement and unpleasant of conditions. An enemy may be unkind enough to attack one before, in one's judgment, it should do so. The second general criticism that I make of the perceived threat theory arises out of the availability of weapons that can turn the tide of a campaign. If Argentina had had a few more Exocets it is very possible that Britain would have been defeated in the Falklands campaign.

The fourth major issue that needs to be resolved is the structure of our military forces. Broadly stated, our defence forces are structured on the same lines as they were when they emerged from the Korean and Vietnam wars. But much has changed, including the supposition that in future hostilities we will necessarily be acting in concert with our great and powerful ally the United States. We still persist with the core force structure but is this structure valid? Do we need to maintain a state-or-the-art readiness in all fields? Can we do so or should we not be more selective? Must we not look to assessing priorities and making hard choices about force structure? Must we not assume also that circumstances not involving a global war, nor China, nor the Soviet Union, may arise when we may find ourselves involved in hostilities and the United States declines to assist us? I think it is unlikely. I would be the last person to denigrate the efficacy of the ANZUS Treaty which was my father's brainchild and which was negotiated by him. But it is fundamental to our security interests that we should plan against this sort of contingency.

This brings me to the fifth major issue, our future military role in our region . What role do we see for ourselves? We are a regional power with a vital interest in regional stability. How is that to be guaranteed? What role do we see for ourselves in action with the United States and our other allies? What role do we see for acting alone? The next major issue which we need to confront in detail and not just in generalisation is the structure and the long term goals of our defence support facilities. In doing this we need to recognise that however desirable it may be we cannot do everything ourselves and that consequently some hard and informed choices will need to be made between competing demands on limited resources.

Having listened to what the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) and the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) have had to say, and having had an opportunity for a short time before the debate to read the papers that they gave and laid before this House, there are some criticisms that I believe must be made. The Minister for Defence has said little about the strategic environment we may face in the future. More importantly, he has made no examination of the difficulties of the theory of perceived and emerging threats. Can one make an assessment now about where one will be in five years time and where a potential aggressor will be in five years time and how one can act to meet the potential threat? The Minister has assumed that we will have adequate warning, an assumption which, for the reasons I have pointed out, is not only dangerous but also one which is directly contrary to something he is reported to have said at the Defend Australia 83 Defence seminar.

In an article in the Australian Financial Review of 17 October the Minister for Defence is reported to have queried whether Australia would have adequate warning time in the event of a threat arising. I wholeheartedly support that query and it is all the more reason why he should, in this House, have debated that tremendously important topic and have directed us to his views and have analysed how Australia could be sure that it would always be in a position to meet a threat as it emerges. My view is that the doctrine is dangerous nonsense. He has said nothing in substance on the subject of alliance building and he has said virtually nothing about the Force structure-that is, the balance between the three armed forces-or about the core force concept.

The core force concept has been accepted doctrine for quite some time, just as it has been accepted doctrine for quite some time that there will be a surge capacity; that we will be able to expand our forces to meet threats as they arrive-everything neat and orderly and on time rather as though a potential aggressor would give us a timetable of his intentions. For example, one may ask: What is now the rationale of the Navy's present role in the absence of a carrier around which much of the fleet's capability has been designed? I agree entirely with the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) when he says that there is much to be said for the carrier option. However, regardless of which way one goes, regardless of whether or not one acquires a carrier, one must examine the consequences of the non-acquisition of that carrier in terms of one's naval capability, of one's naval structure and what one can do. The truth of the matter is that without air cover, and given the kind of air defence systems our fleet now has, all of the ships in our fleet are highly vulnerable against sea- skimming missiles.

The Minister has said little about our vital interests. He has referred to areas of vital interest. But must we not begin by examining very clearly what our vital interests are? How do we we know what kind of a strategy we should adopt unless we know what the vital interests are which we must protect? It is so fundamental that it is difficult to see how one can plan for the long term without coming to a clear decision on the vital interests this country must protect. It is simple, it seems to me, that before one can be in a position to protect one's vital interests one has to know what those vital interests are. He has said little about our military role in the region, although he has referred- quite rightly-to the relationships that we have with other powers in the region and to the need to maintain those relationships.

The Minister has said little about some of the specific questions which are so important. Where is our missile for close air defence for the Army? I know that we are to spend some money upon hand-held air defence missiles for the Army. Is that all? Is that all that is proposed? Where is our long range surface-to-air missile? Where are our airborne early warning and control aircraft? The point of these criticisms is this: I do not come to this House for the purpose of saying that everything in the past has been perfect. Indeed, one of the major tragedies about the political debate on defence has been that it has not been taken seriously enough by any political party for quite a number of years. But this Government came to power, amongst other things, on the most biting criticisms of what the previous Government had done. What does it propose? What do we get? We have a policy statement from the Minister which lacks intellectual bite and direction and which fails to focus on or seek to resolve questions of major importance. That is the case with the first policy statement by this Minister.

I turn to the Minister for Defence Support. Some of the general statements that he has made are statements with which I most certainly agree. Certainly, I think that we need to enhance our own capacity. I think it is essential that we build up our self-reliance. But we will not be guided very greatly by general statements and by a statement which in many respects is lamentably short on specifics. It does not really help to be told that we are to have 'reform and revitalisation', that there is to be 'consultation', that he has a certain belief about what we must do to improve the health of Australia's defence industry, that there will be a carefully planned program of reform in the public sector industry, that we have 'exciting projects' or that there will be a strengthening of the off-set policy.

What would help is to have specifics. Apparently we must wait, according to the Minister, for a statement on defence industry policy which, as I would read his statement-the Minister can correct me across the table if I am wrong-we will get some time within the next 12 months or so, when he hopes to report to us in greater detail. That is simply not good enough. Nor is the generalised and deficient statement of the Minister for Defence good enough. It is somewhat surprising, given the avowed stance of the Government when in opposition and since it has been in Government, that the Minister does not address himself to some of the specifics of his portfolio and that he is unable, for reasons which are hard to discern, to bring to his House a comprehensive statement.

Let me point to one or two specifics which seem to be of great importance to this country. It is quite conceivable that in a conflict Australia might run short of the Harpoon missile or the MK48 torpedo. It is essential to have a capacity to manufacture those kinds of weapons in this country. They need not necessarily be the latest American design, but to manufacture missiles and torpedoes must be an absolute minimum. They are the equivalent to rifle ammunition in the 1914-1918 War. If we were to be placed in a position such as that in which Argentina was placed, when we ran out of those missiles in any kind of war-perhaps just a limited, regional war- what would be our position? We would be virtually defenceless. To be without those missiles could lead us to disaster. Yet nothing is said about the establishment of that kind of capacity.

There is difficulty in coming to grips with the two statements. I am not denigrating some of the general statements made by the Ministers. I do not denigrate the obvious work that both Ministers have put into their portfolios. So far as the Minister for Defence Support is concerned, I certainly do not denigrate the industry with which he has gone around the country to come to grips with his portfolio. However, that being said, it is difficult to come to grips with the statements because they are somewhat like blancmanges. They lack point, substance and direction. In assessing the Government's policies, I am very much reminded of a statement made in this House on 26 August 1982. This was what was said:

We are now less well provided for as to the defence of this country than we were in 1941, and for the same reason-because the Government prefers to talk and achieve little.

The speaker was the shadow Minister for Defence. If he held those views in August 1982, it is inconceivable that he could come to this House, express the views that he has and fail to deal with the issues in the way in which he has. Perhaps it is an epitaph for this Government's first attempt to bring before this House policy statments on the most vital of all issues for this country.