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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 454


Mr WEBSTER(12.09) —What we have received today is another ad hoc defensive rationale by the Government which seeks to persuade us that it has an overall security strategy for our region. Let me tell the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) with respect that platitudes and hollow declarations of concern are no substitute for re-equipment, new deployments and diplomatic initiatives of substance. We have in the Minister's statement no new initiatives of any significance. We have a commitment only to stretch our defence tasks even further beyond our resources. We have a declaration of what is already happening, which we all know is insufficient, and we are told that there will be a few extra maritime patrols and a few extra tours for army survey teams.

Let me remind the House of the highlights of the regional developments over the last 12 months that have caused me to make my previous comments. We had a tour of the region by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), and had the Vladivostok speech by Mr Gorbachev. That latter speech declared the Soviet Union's determination to expand its influence in-and I emphasise this-our own backyard. It followed Soviet boasts of the year before that, as a result of the neutrality of New Zealand, ANZUS was dead. Last year we saw the implementation of the Soviet Vladivostok declarations via fishing deals and offers of aid by the Soviet Union and its proxies to the developing micro-states of the South Pacific-new and ominous initiatives in addition to the Russian involvement that has been mentioned in previous speeches.

What was the Government's response to these events? Let me first tell the House what we did not get in the Minister's speech today. We have not yet seen a comprehensive joint foreign affairs and defence statement with initiatives covering the full spectrum of economic, military and diplomatic challenges that the Pacific community faces. We did get a cut in aid to the region despite the pleas from nations such as Papua New Guinea concerning the long term instability that that cut would create.

We then got the Government's sole diplomatic initiative-the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. That Treaty, the Prime Minister's own work, represented a major concession to those who seek to subvert public acceptance of our alliance with the United States, to those who seek to subvert our support for the West's diplomatic and political objectives in our region, to those who seek to subvert our support for nuclear deterrence, and to those who seek to subvert our active opposition to the Soviet Union, its proxies and their political systems. That Treaty simply strengthens the morally simplistic case and rhetoric of those who tell the people of the region that their peace is threatened not by the Soviets but by the presence of the United States Pacific Fleet.

It is patently obvious that this Government has failed to learn the strategic lessons of the Second World War, which the Minister referred to today. Its neglect of the region, its denial of a capacity for our Navy to project power, and its naive approach to Soviet moves into our region have caused our allies such concern that they have taken matters into their own hands. We recently saw the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Kuranari, tour the region to take up the responsibilities we have shed. He signalled significant economic and diplomatic involvement by Japan in the region. What is the reason? To block Soviet expansion. Of greater concern, I believe, is the now regular use of Australian papers by United States military spokesmen to tell Australians the facts that we are not hearing from our own Government.

There are a number of depressing aspects of this statement. It fails to indicate that the Government understands that the key to Australia's contribution to military security in the region is the development of a naval capacity for force projection. More frustrating is the realisation that nothing will be changing in the future. This statement tells us so but so does the Government's stupidity, I believe, in allowing the Soviet Foreign Minister to fulfil propaganda objectives basic to the Vladivostok strategy by undertaking his forthcoming visit to Australia.

The Minister came before us today with an initial call for historical reflection. My colleague the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) took him seriously and showed how shallow this Government's familiarity with strategic history in our region really is. I too take the Minister's call seriously. I recall, as others have, that General Douglas MacArthur once said that the history of failure in war can be summed up in two words-`too late': Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy; too late in resisting the mortal danger; too late in preparedness; too late in utilising all possible forces for resistance; too late in standing with one's friends. A generation before, Lloyd George had confronted the British House of Commons with a similar piece of wisdom. Speaking of the First World War he stated:

. . . too late? Ah! Two fatal words of this war! Too late in moving here. Too late in arriving there. Too late in coming to this decision. Too late in starting with enterprises. Too late in preparing. In this war the footsteps of the Allied Forces have been dogged by the mocking spectre of ``Too Late''!

Those words, `too late', are the recurring message of military and diplomatic history. I believe it is the Minister's responsibility to heed them. Over the last year in particular the Government has not stood with its major ally. It has distanced itself from the United States and in many ways it has rebuffed it diplomatically. The Government appears not to comprehend the nature of the threat we face and it still has no program to prepare our nation and our armed forces for the challenges we will face over the coming generations.

It is ironic that this statement comes a day after the anniversary of the first attack on Darwin. I hope those in Darwin and elsewhere who lost loved ones because Australia was not prepared then are listening and that they will warn their children of the lunacy and eventual tragedy of the Government's security policies. I implore, and even beg, the Government to change its course by the time we consider a defence White Paper. I urge caution on those on the other side who scoff and laugh at those who warn of potential perils we face. Many United States leaders laughed at those who warned of Japanese capabilities and intentions before Pearl Harbour. I conclude by saying that alarm bells are ringing in Tokyo, Beijing, Washington, Paris, Singapore and elsewhere as a result of the Soviet challenge in our region. The question I ask today is: Why are they not ringing in Canberra?