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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 451


Mr COLEMAN(11.49) —I believe that the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) is one of the most extraordinary statements that he has made. With a certain amount of fanfare he came into the House and declared new Australian defence initiatives in the South Pacific. They turned out to be a repeat of earlier announcements and boiled down to the fact that we are conducting trials of a patrol boat off Fremantle and that we have plans, already announced, to build 12 Pacific patrol boats to help our South Pacific neighbours, and we will be doing more maritime surveillance and giving technical assistance. Of course, that will do some good. Nobody would deny that. It is a little, but not much, better than nothing. However, compared with the problems of the region, it is a pathetic effort. Part of the explanation is in the last sentence of the Minister's statement when he described the South Pacific as `an area characterised by peace and stability'.

That view would be shared, let us say, by casual tourists in Vanuatu or Fiji. From that perspective, it has a certain truth. The basic fact, as the Minister must be aware, is that the area which he describes as `characterised by peace and stability' is an increasingly unstable area. I am not just referring to the consequences of the most dramatic development in recent times; that is, New Zealand's decision to scuttle ANZUS. That had some immediate bad consequences by its undermining of the Western alliance. It was a very serious blow to the Western alliance in the South Pacific. It also had some immediate cut and dried consequences, such as the declaration by the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands that, as a result of New Zealand's decision, his country was neutral in the world because it depends on New Zealand and, as such, it was defenceless. Apparently, New Zealand had been unable to identify a mystery submarine that surfaced off the Cook Islands.

The consequences go further than the decision by the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. New Zealand has real influence in the Pacific-in certain respects, more than Australia. It is a country of a couple of islands. It has a feeling for small islands. It has a feeling for the Polynesian and Melanesian islands of the South Pacific and what it does influences them. The ripple effect of New Zealand's decision will be felt for some time.

We have seen in the region the development of an anti-Western-which also means an anti-Australian-neutralism continuing to surface. For example, Papua New Guinea has refused to permit Guam-based B52s to fly over its territory. That is also the region where, according to Denis Warner, even the Solomons refused to let a civilian United States Government Cessna carrying supplies for the Solomons land because the pilot would not say that the Cessna was neither nuclear powered nor nuclear fuelled. Those are the sorts of currents of opinion, the sorts of influence, that I believe the New Zealand decision has been having.

One ought to note in passing that the Solomons has the only labour federation in the region which is affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions. It is also the region-I think that New Zealand's influence is important in Fiji-where the Fijian Labour Party is pledged, if it wins the next elections, which it may do, to ban port visits by United States warships, along the lines of New Zealand.

It is not only a question of New Zealand's influence. The right honourable member for New England and Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) has pointed out that it is a region in which Soviet activities are expanding, not only on the level of fishing deals but also on the intelligence-gathering and political levels. It is not only the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with which we are concerned. Colonel Gaddafi is increasingly active in the region. It is the region where, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has confirmed, Colonel Gaddafi has formed a regional revolutionary committee made up of representatives of the ruling Vanu'aku Party in Vanuatu, the OPM in Irian Jaya and a faction of the FLNKS-the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front-known as FULK, the United Front for Kanak Liberation. He is also known to have offered Tonga an international airfield and unlimited free oil if it adopts anti-Western and anti-Israeli policies. Colonel Gaddafi has also given military training to two groups of Kanaks from New Caledonia.

In addition to the activities of Colonel Gaddafi we have the activities of Cuba. The Secretary-General of the Vanu'aku Party visited Cuba as a guest of the Communist Party of Cuba, which offered to train Vanuatu Police. All these developments are destabilising and unsettling.

But it is not only these developments. This is the region where the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, as promoted by Australia, would add, and is adding, to the instability of the region. It permits passage, but not the stationing, of nuclear-armed or nuclear-fuelled vessels. By its very essence it declares that the major deterrent of Soviet expansion in this area and in the world is unacceptable-that is, the nuclear deterrent. Would it not have been real leadership in this region if, instead of encouraging this ostrich-like view of the world, the Australian Government had argued in the South Pacific for the view that if the South Pacific states want United States defence protection, that means, and can only mean, defence by nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed vessels, which is about all there are. But no, the Australian Government decided not to show that kind of leadership, but to put forward this South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, which is partly, as the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) described it, a Mickey Mouse treaty but it is more than that because of what it implies and what it actually would do as far as the stationing of nuclear-powered vessels is concerned.

The South Pacific is a region over which Australia has quarrelled with most of our allies-with Britain over the Invincible, with France over the nuclear tests which it regards as essential for its defence in the exercise of its sovereign rights, not to mention the repeated quarrels we have had with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Our quarrels with the United States are probably the most telling. We are giving aid to the United States enemy in Central America, the Sandinistas. We are opposing the SDI-the strategic defence initiative-when most of the leading Western powers are co-operating with it. We will not co-operate with the United States in testing the MX missile. We urge restraint-which amounts to doing nothing-in relation to terrorism, and we vote in the United Nations against the United States as often as we vote with it.

This is a region in which our defence policy, under the influence of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, is isolationist, and where the Soviet base at Cam Rahn Bay casts its shadow with its TU16 Badgers, its TU95 Bear Ds, its TU142 Bear Fs, its squadron of MIG23 Flogger Gs, its 20 Soviet Navy vessels and six attack and cruise missile submarines, its missile loading and handling equipment, and its electronic intelligence gathering facility. This is the largest naval base for forward deployment outside the Warsaw Pact area-whatever the spokesman from the Soviet Embassy in Canberra has the hide to say. It is, incidentally, a naval base from which the Vietnamese are excluded. That is part of the very worrying Soviet expansion in the region, either immediately within the South Pacific or within those parts which influence the South Pacific. One could go on, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Against this background what does the Minister for Defence offer? He offers a patrol boat-a few more to come-and some maritime surveillance. This statement is another example of Labor government technique. It mouths certain words with which everyone would agree and then does the opposite, or does nothing or very little. In this case it is a matter of doing very little as against the problems that are emerging, problems which make it plain that the Minister's description of this area as an area characterised by peace and stability is misleading. To the extent to which people take that view, they are not serving Australia's interests. Is it any wonder, given this pathetic contribution to the problem, that the Japanese are taking a greater interest in the South Pacific? That interest includes a very wide-ranging set of proposals for aid to the South Pacific states. The Japanese may well be doing this because of our past neglect and our present feeble effort. Again, we are doing too little too late.