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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 457

Mr KATTER(12.32) —It is always very refreshing to hear the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) because he is the one member on that side of the House who really appreciates how vital it is to this country to have an effective and meaningful relationship with the United States of America. I commend him for it.

I was anxious to speak in this debate for a number of reasons. I suppose the main reason is that since entering this House I have been associated with the defence of this country in one way or another. I welcome any such opportunity. I point out that I have had the great privilege of chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-committee on Defence Matters, and also of having the advantage of the present Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) as a very effective member of that Committee, together with the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), the present shadow Treasurer. I think all members of that Committee would concede that those two men worked extremely well together. We took evidence at a very high plane. It was taken from people who were internationally recognised as having a sincere regard for the defence of our Western group and who were very dedicated to their own countries.

I would like to refer to one or two of the comments made by the Minister for Defence in his statement. I am very pleased to see the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) in the House because the Minister for Defence made reference to the fact that our longest standing defence relationship has been with Papua New Guinea. This is true. When I had the privilege of being Minister for the Army for this country I almost wore a track to Papua New Guinea to try to get a realistic concept, to try to understand just what role Papua New Guinea, as our nearest neighbour, was playing in our defence. Of course, the honourable member for Herbert has had a long experience in that country.

Certain facts emerge very loudly and clearly, but we will not go back into history. I just want to make one point, which is that a few of us had what was a rather profound responsibility. Again, due to the understanding of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, we were permitted to go to Papua New Guinea to make an inquiry into just what was happening on the West Irian border. Most of us came back with one very clear concept, which was that the Government of Papua New Guinea seemed to have the matter well in hand. Although it appreciated the fact that Australia was aware of the possibilities in that area, it more or less indicated that it understood what was happening and was well able to handle it. If we want to retain relationships with both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea-relationships that are very critical to the security of this country-let us remain as an observer who could in the long run term perhaps have some involvement in the event of difficulties. However, it was obvious to us all that the troublemakers had been planted in that area to overexaggerate what may be difficulties with the Indonesians. This will always occur. But I do not think that any of us believed that the more extreme statements were true.

I point to the fact that I have had a great advantage in that many years ago, when Admiral Long was the Commander in Chief Pacific, I had the advantage of what was a very effective briefing in Pearl Harbour. Certain very clear facts emerged from what those very senior officers were able to impart. Firstly, the Soviet intrusion into the Pacific area was equally as significant and accelerating as it was into the Indian Ocean area. I am sure that all honourable members will recall that in those days-of course, it still is-the great accent was on the submarines prowling around the Indian Ocean. What was happening was an intrusion into the Pacific and South Pacific areas. Probably the most significant development was the command post that exists in the northern Pacific area. According to my briefing-it has been exposed in very explicit terms since then-the Soviet command in the northern Pacific areas was very well equipped and had a great capacity to fight, command and co-ordinate either a global nuclear war or a conventional war. Its capacity was unlimited and extremely updated. Of course, we well remember the shooting down of the aircraft which was intruding into the fringe of that area. The area was so vital and the security in it so high that, to be gentle in my interpretation, the plane crashed. So that command exists up there.

I refer to the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities brought down by Paul Dibb. I say here-the Minister for Foreign Affairs will confirm this-that Paul Dibb was one of the very valuable witnesses who appeared before the sub-committee on defence. He pointed to a number of matters which very much involved the security of the South Pacific area. He recorded that our concentration of defence and defence capabilities should not be down in the Bass Strait area or towards Antarctica but should be very much in the north. There is a move at the moment-it is not accelerating as quickly as I would like to see it accelerate-to build up Norforce in the peninsula area, in that far northern area.

I have had advice from many people who are international authorities on the subject. For instance, this afternoon we shall be seeing Admiral Hays. We saw him last year and had a very valuable discussion with him. Who is Admiral Hays? He is the Commander in Chief Pacific, the successor to Admiral Long. No doubt we will come out of that meeting with him much better informed. But I believe that in the matter of defence we theorise. We set out a map on a table and put little flags on it. What we have to do is not just imagine what could happen; we must go out and talk to the people in those areas-both the past and present Foreign Affairs and Defence committees have done this from time to time. We need to see the terrain and the isolation of those areas, to look at the vast seashores that are so vulnerable up there in the north and say to ourselves: Supposing there is an intrusion into these areas, how will we deal with it? Let me say very emphatically, and with respect, that I am not blaming the Minister for Defence--

Mr McGauran —I am.

Mr KATTER —My friend does blame him. But the problem is with the whole concept of our defence. People can go into a Cabinet room and put forward ideas; maybe they will be accepted; maybe they will be rejected. My plea to the Minister for Defence is for him to do everything humanly possible to convince his Government that we have to have the sort of defence system that I was about to refer to-a realistic concept of defence.

Frankly, from all the evidence and all the advice I have received, and all of the observing that I have had the advantage of doing, there is only one answer: We have to have small, highly mobile, highly armed units. I am thinking in terms of new generation weapons-into the laser area if you like-because we have so much to defend and so little with which to do it. The units would have to go to those areas and carry out a hit and run type operation. In recent military history, a precedent of the type of operation to which I refer was the raid on Entebbe, or the average Israeli-type expedition-or even, dare I say, the example of the North Vietnamese, who had small, mobile units. Of course, added to that formula there has to be a knowledge of the areas involved. When we consider that, we see that it is high time that the Minister went to Cabinet to say: `We had better decentralise and establish small command headquarters'. I would not for a moment detract from the importance of Lavarack; we well know that the dedicated men there would give all, including their lives, if necessary. We supposedly have a task force that is mobile. I do not know how many helicopters it has at the moment-perhaps three, but it should have 15 or 19. Maybe it will get them eventually; it certainly does not have them now. The actual arming of that task force is very much less than we would desire. Its mobility is very limited. I am stating the obvious, but we could be faced with our great unit having to go to meet an expedition landing on the north-west of this nation-perhaps a detracting operation-which is small, highly mobile and armed with new generation weaponry.

To get off that subject for a moment, I want to read a fairly authoritative extract. It relates to the intrusion of the Soviet Union into the Pacific area. It emerges as one of the findings of the International Defence Review. It states:

In recent years, the Soviet Union has repeatedly claimed that it has the right to play an active role in South-East Asia and the Pacific and to extend its military influence into these regions. Apart from statements to this effect made by leading Soviet politicians, this was clearly recognised from the intensification of Soviet diplomatic activities and propaganda as well as the continuous build-up of Soviet military forces in these areas.

Before I go on, let me say that Lieutenant-Commander Hodgman-he is a lieutenant-commander-stated in this House earlier that the significance of all this is indicated by the very high status of the present Soviet Ambassador to this country. One can see the accent. The quotation continues:

The clearest indication so far was given-

this quotation has been made in the House two or three times-

by Communist Party chief Mikhail Gorbachev on 28 July 1986 in a speech at Vladivostok. He described the Soviet Union as a `Pacific power' . . .

Come on! Honourable members opposite should not try to tell us that the Soviet Union has no real intentions in this regard, that it is not really interested. Like hell it is not really interested! The Soviets are intruding into the Pacific area equally as significantly as they have intruded into the Indian Ocean area. I have several quotations, which time will not permit me to present to the House. You have been more than indulgent, Mr Deputy Speaker. I know that it is a little after a quarter to one. If we are to accept the proposition that the Soviet presence in the Pacific Ocean is not something to be worried about, then God help this nation, God help its security, and God help its survival.

Debate (on motion by Mr Tickner) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 12.47 to 2 p.m.