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
Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 436


Mr HALVERSON(10.19) —I commend the Government on its belated and long overdue initiative in recognising the growing importance of the South Pacific to Australia's strategic interests and general well-being. Whilst the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) is inadequate, it does at least recognise a potential threat to Australia's integrity and it is a reasonable first step; however, it lacks a general appreciation of the overall strategic environment. Before addressing the South Pacific consequences of the Minister's statement, I wish to paint on a slightly larger canvas and take in the Pacific Rim countries to our north which are so important to Australia's future. I will address the problems in Vietnam in particular. Recently, senior Soviet representatives issued Press releases in this country to the effect that the Soviet presence in the Pacific and South East Asia is of very small consequence. The Soviet presence has denied physical presence in Cam Ranh Bay and other major American logistic bases from the Vietnam War. We know, emphatically and irrefutably from evidence that has been released recently by the United States of America, that the Soviet presence, particularly in Cam Ranh Bay, is of immense significance to Australia and its neighbours. The Soviets have a capacity to project power down Australia's east and west coasts to New Zealand.


Mr Hodgman —What are we doing about it?


Mr HALVERSON —Our policies will reflect a growing concern. We will do something emphatic about it. However, the Government ignores this major Soviet threat. The Soviets can project power not only down Australia's and New Zealand's coastlines but also, more importantly, to the smaller Pacific states.

The Philippines is an area of growing concern to Australia and its neighbours. We saw the demise of President Marcos and the rise of President Cory Aquino. However, the nation of 55 million people-it is a very important nation to Australia-has not yet seen the democratic way. We can see tremendous prospects for further destabilisation in the area. We must, as Australians, encourage the Filipinos out of the darkness and into an era of harmony and co-operation. We would see this happening through the orbit of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Malaysia and Singapore have been areas of considerable Australian interest and involvement over recent years. We have an integrated air defence commitment up there, and we have a very large air base at Butterworth. We have a maritime commitment with occasional Royal Australian Air Force long range maritime patrol aircraft, in co-operation with our Malaysian Air Force friends, controlling significant areas to Australia's north. Singaporean Air Force and naval units and military personnel undergo training in Australia.

Immediately to our north is Indonesia. That enormous nation is of considerable significance to Australia. There are 156 million restless people with a government that is hurt, injured, by Australia's attitudes. This Government, in its 3 1/2 years in power, not only has continued to offend and confuse our most significant northern neighbour but also has not put out any olive branch whatsoever. I dread to think that a further Hawke Government would continue that thrust of offending our significant neighbour with the consequences of fear and apprehension in that neighbour.

We are trying to encourage Papua New Guinea to make friendly overtures to Indonesia with the thought that the border troubles that exist there could be overcome. We hope to use our mediation to encourage a reconciliation of attitudes between those two important neighbours. We can see, from this vast Pacific region of ours, a very welcome initiative by the Government. It is sparse in its details but, nevertheless, it is a welcome step.

I turn now to the South Pacific. Nothing better indicates an Alice in Wonderland approach to defence and foreign affairs than the Labor Government's attitude towards developments over recent years in the South Pacific. Labor's reaction has been indifferent, apathetic, and shortsighted, to say the least. It has been completely oblivious to Australia's national interest and the strategic interests of our allies and friends. At this moment, the Soviets' commercial interests continue to extend throughout the South Pacific. They are building a presence on our doorstep which even this myopic Government can no longer ignore. Events are taking place with dramatic speed.


Mr Hodgman —While Australia sleeps.


Mr HALVERSON —While Australia sleeps, indeed. Premier Gorbachev has made a very interesting statement about the Pacific in recent times. There should not be an iota of confusion about Soviet intentions in this part of the world; but to make things absolutely clear, I refer to a statement made by Mikhail Gorbachev on 28 July 1986 in Vladivostok. The General-Secretary made the Soviet position resoundingly clear by saying that his country is determined to extend its power in the Pacific. He said:

The Soviet Union's policy towards Asia and the Pacific region is an integral part of the general platform of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's international activity worked out by the April Plenary meeting and the 27th Congress. But a platform is not a chart that can be applied to any situation. Rather, it is a set of principles and a method based on experience.

Intrinsic to this statement are all the platitudes that cloak Soviet opportunism. In the face of it, what do we get from the Hawke Government? In the light of Soviet expansion in the South Pacific, one would have thought that Australia's strategic responsibilities within the region were unmistakably clear. The seemingly impossible has happened, and we now have the beginnings of a super-power confrontation in our part of the world. Yet the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), the Minister for Defence and the Labor Party offer nothing more than incredibly sanguine assessments of our region's prospects-in the process completely ignoring the pivotal importance of Soviet intentions. Labor's view, aided by a powerful Socialist Left, is completely unrealistic. Paul Dibb, in his Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, last year, wrote:

In South-East Asia and the South Pacific, which is Australia's area of primary strategic interest, defence policy has an important role to play in support of our more substantial foreign policy and economic concerns. In this region our fundamental national security interest is to maintain the benign strategic environment that currently prevails, free from unwelcome external pressures. However, defence activities in this wider region should not determine our force structure, as they do in our area of direct military interest.

How can an area be of primary strategic interest and yet not be an area of direct military interest? Dibb certainly highlights the importance of the South Pacific, but he offers nothing but a circumscription of Australia's ability to play a constructive part in maintaining the security of the region.

Unlike Labor, the Liberal and National parties do not draw imaginary lines between Australia's national and strategic interests. They really are one and the same, because without the benign strategic environment that Mr Dibb talks about, Australia's national interest will not only be brought into question; it will be placed under threat. Taking a more realistic and constructive line, the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Peter Henderson, recently rewrote Mr Dibb's statement and said:

In the South Pacific, which is Australia's area of primary strategic interest, defence policy has an important role to play in support of our more substantial foreign policy and economic concerns.

In broadest terms, what Australia must hope to achieve in the South Pacific is the establishment and development of a sense of community, of our all belonging to a group of countries which, while differing in size, resources and population, have a commonly-held set of basic values and aspirations.

Nothing could be further from the sense of this statement than what is happening in the South Pacific at the moment. There is no need for Australia to dominate or play politics with its neighbours, but it can do a whole lot more to develop mutual help and frank consultation between our independent-minded neighbours. In other words, we need positive action to be taken towards practicalities of applying our defence policy to the support of our wider objectives. Australian units have already helped with civil works and emergency relief, as in Vanuatu recently and in Fiji and the Solomons. But an embracing defence policy would have far more constructive foreign policy options than giving assistance during cyclones.

There are reasons for serious concern. At a time when Mr John Halfpenny's Pacific Trade Union Forum moves closer and closer to abetting the Soviet thrust into the South Pacific, the question now is whether Australia can fix the damage that has already been done to our strategic interests in the South Pacific in recent years. Part of the damage has been caused by the vacillation and contradictory policies of this Government. On the one hand, we have the Minister for Foreign Affairs freely admitting that the political systems of the region could easily be penetrated by the Soviets; and on the other hand, we have the lunacy of Labor's promotion of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty protocols.

Over the past few years, while the Soviet Union's commercial agents and powerful Pacific fleet have busily gone about building up their presence in our neighbouring region, the left wing, anti-nuclear, anti-American factions of the Australian Labor Party have contented themselves with pushing this Government into sponsoring the farce that is the Treaty of Rarotonga. Really, the Prime Minister has been too clever by far in encouraging the island governments to subscribe to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty protocols. Quite plainly, the protocols are not what they purport to be, being more symbolic than substantial. If anything, all the protocols have managed to do is provoke unparalleled controversy between the 13 Forum nations-mainly because of their conflicting aspirations of banning nuclear weapons from the South Pacific while still holding out limited access to visiting allied shipping. While the Treaty might legally allow transit of allied shipping, it will really be read politically, and as such it represents a slap in the face to our American allies, and gives the Soviets a cheap propaganda ploy to exert even further influence.

In true fizzer tradition, the SPNFZ is another of Labor's each way bets in foreign and defence issues. Each way bets, however, do not do much for Australia's credibility as an ally or as a nation to which our neighbours look for leadership in matters of regional security. All SPNFZ has managed to do is to become a platform for the advent of super-power rivalry and spark new tensions in the relationship between the United States of America and Australia. In a sentence, it has achieved exactly the opposite to what this Government said it would do. A Soviet official in Canberra, for example, recently said:

The Soviet Union proceeds from the premise that the creation of such a zone will serve as an important contribution to forming a reliable security system in the Asian-Pacific region . . .


Mr Slipper —Doesn't it make you worry?


Mr HALVERSON —Reliable security-for whom? And it is a worry. From the viewpoint of a Western nation or ally of the United States, there is nothing in the protocols to provide any form of reassurance. Indeed, all that the blarney associated with it has done is to distract public attention from the really disquieting developments in our area of primary strategic interest.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.