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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 438

Mr CHARLES(10.35) —Before I comment on the speech of the honourable member for Casey (Mr Halverson) I wish to congratulate the Government and in particular the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) on presenting this paper to the Parliament. I hold dear foreign relations matters and defence matters concerning Australia and the South Pacific. Foreign relations and defence are intertwined and are very important to Australia, and will become even more so over the next few decades.

The present Minister for Defence has made his mark on defence matters and he is held in very high regard. He is obviously one of the best Ministers for Defence this country has seen. Today we have witnessed another step in the right direction. In the last couple of years this Government has presented the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, an independent look at our defence forces, to try to overcome the replacement mentality that so occupied the present Opposition parties when they were in government-and they were in government for 31 out of the 34 years prior to 1983. Mr Dibb's report was well received by all quarters. Obviously there are people who disagree with parts of it, and the Government may even disagree with one or two parts. We shall see, because the Government will be presenting within the next few weeks a defence White Paper which will express its position. That will be another step forward.

We will be taking a concerted look at defence in Australia, at what we need now and in the future and not at what someone else wants us to have in our armoury. This will enable us to get around the replacement mentality that plagued us for so long. Of course the conservative parties in this country never really had many thoughts on defence, except that they bought things around election time to try to gain a few votes. Quite often they pulled those projects back afterwards.

This statement tackles another aspect of Australia's relations in the South Pacific and in particular with South Pacific states. The Minister mentioned the Pacific way. There is a Pacific way of doing things and Australia, as does every country, has to relate to that way. Unfortunately some of our allies in the Western world, in the Anglo-Saxon world, do not quite understand this very important point. As I have said in this House before, much as I am a great friend of the Americans, who have been great allies of Australia, sometimes they do not understand how the people of the Pacific perceive things and think about things.

A number of initiatives have been put forward by the Minister. We see that nearly $62m is to be spent on patrol boats-the biggest program of defence co-operation between Australia and the Pacific. Such co-operation was never undertaken by the coalition Government. It had 31 years to look at something like that but it did nothing. Honourable members opposite can pontificate as much as they like now but the fact is that the Opposition is in chaos and in many areas it has no policy. Yet again this morning the honourable member for Casey berated the Government about a number of things but we did not hear one word about the Opposition's policy. We will probably hear some titillating bits from the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) when he speaks, possibly about the reds under the beds and all those sorts of things, like a true Bob Menzies speech of the 1950s. But the Opposition has no concrete policy.

We hear much nonsense spoken about the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. It is a very important Treaty. Legislation that sets that Treaty in concrete has gone through this House but, unfortunately, the Americans have rejected its protocols. I have had long discussions with my American friends and I cannot understand their viewpoint. Indeed, there are two viewpoints in the United States-one that basically agrees with this Government's position and one that rejects the protocols. Obviously the latter has won out.

Unfortunately we will again see a situation in which the Americans will wonder why they get bad publicity throughout the Pacific. The Pacific states see this treaty as quite significant, and as something not to bring confrontation to the Pacific but in fact to do the reverse. In Fiji-the honourable member for Casey did not say this-the long time Prime Minister, Ratu Mara, is about to go into an election campaign. If he is defeated by forces from the so-called Left, as I think the Opposition would describe them, he can probably in some way blame the attitude of the United States because one of the specific things the Fijian people want is the South Pacific nuclear free zone, and Ratu Mara has stated that publicly over the last week or so. It is ironical that within his own country he is being attacked during the election campaign and United States policies may well help to throw out his Government and bring in a more Left orientated government. Still, that is the sort of policy that conservatives have pursued. They cannot see the wood for the trees. It is an ironical twist.

Again the Opposition has come in here with no policy whatsoever. The Government, through the Minister, has initiated a number of other policies that I am pleased to agree with and again bring before the House. Those policies include helping island countries upgrade their national maritime surveillance. The deployment of Royal Australian Air Force long range maritime patrols, an increase in the number of Royal Australian Navy ship deployments, and defence co-operation activities, mainly in technical support, are just some of the Government's proposals. It is interesting to note that RAAF long range maritime patrol deployments will double. That will be, as the Minister said, on top of all the deployments throughout South East Asia and the Pacific rim. So deployments to the South Pacific will double over the next year.

That is a significant move forward because this Government is trying to work with, not dominate, the states of the South Pacific. We are asking: `What do you want? What co-operation do you need?' They want patrol boats and more maritime surveillance to assist them in many ways-in strategic matters, fishing matters and commercial matters-and this Government is providing that assistance. These are concrete things that we are doing.

The honourable member for Casey said that this Government draws a line between national interests and strategic interests. I totally reject that. In fact, Dibb states quite clearly that there must be a marrying of the national interests and the strategic interests of Australia. This Government recognises that. But it has to be put in perspective. I think the Opposition is still trying to thrust upon the people of Australia the forward defence syndrome whereby we have several aircraft carriers and battleships operating in a forward defence position-but not in the defence of Australia; there is no thinking about whether it fits into the Australian defence structure.

In fact, even if we wanted to adopt a forward defence posture how would we pay for it? For just one aircraft carrier fully fitted-I do not suppose we would want to put toys on it-we would be looking at several billion dollars. And one is not much good by itself. Even the Opposition's defence advisers would tell it that. They would say that they would want three. So we are looking at $8 billion or $9 billion, and if we added that to the $14 billion deficit of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) I am sure he would knock it on the head before it got to first base-although the Opposition is in such chaos that heaven knows what it might come up with these days. It is absolutely crazy stuff-madness. Honourable members opposite know as well as I do that those days will never come back. We are not into forward defence; self-reliance is what this Government is about so that, apart from in a major war, we can defend ourselves quite adequately.

Mr Hodgman —Really?

Mr CHARLES —The honourable member knows as well as I do that anything put in place in the defence area does not occur tomorrow; there is a lead time. In the years ahead, when the defence policy of this Government is put firmly into place and we have self-reliance, we will be able to defend ourselves because we will have some of the best strike capability in the region with our F111s, the FA18s and the new submarine project. We are looking at patrol boats and light frigates that will have sufficient armoury to deter most people. A mobile and self-reliant defence force will be able to protect our interests.

We heard about New Zealand, Vietnam and Association of South East Asian Nations countries in the speech of the honourable member for Casey. In the short time I have left I shall make just a few comments about the Russian influence coming down from Vietnam. The build-up in Cam Ranh Bay is significant and it is of concern to everyone, but I do not believe the Russian influence in the Pacific is as big as some people are saying at this time. I am not trying to underestimate the situation; I am trying to look at it rationally. Obviously, we should watch developments carefully because such things can escalate very quickly but, from the speech of the honourable member for Casey and from what has been said by the Opposition in the last few months in regard to defence, I cannot see any justification for the suggestion that we are promoting confrontation in our own backyard between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. How are we promoting that? We are suggesting that there should be a South Pacific nuclear free zone apart from anything else and that the super-powers should sign the protocols. That is the exact opposite of what the Opposition has been saying. The Russian influence is there-Russia is coming in commercially-but I do not believe it is as significant as the honourable member for Denison does. He will probably refer to this in his speech.

The paper presented by the Minister for Defence is a significant step forward. It is one of a number of steps this Government has taken in the last couple of years. Its defence initiative, over time, will mean significant and important changes to our defence structure. This country will gain self-reliance and mobility within its Defence Force to be able to tackle just about all contingencies. Our co-operation with South Pacific states will increase significantly. There will be extended patrols by the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy when the 16 patrol boats worth $62m come into full operation. I hope that this Government will continue to extend its co-operation with and involvement in the South Pacific. I would like to see a similar statement in the next few months from the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) in regard to Australia's co-operation with the South Pacific. The Defence Minister has been looking ahead and has been doing an excellent job. This Government is well aware of its duties to and its relationships with the South Pacific states. That has been projected at the South Pacific Forum by both the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Foreign Minister. I support the statement before the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.