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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 578

Mr CHARLES —Has the Minister for Defence heard reports about the growing Russian influence in the Pacific and at Cam Ranh Bay? Is the Government concerned about this reported Russian influence in the Pacific and in particular at its base at Cam Ranh Bay?

Mr BEAZLEY —We are thoroughly aware of the activities of the Soviet Union in the Pacific, in South East Asia and at Cam Ranh Bay. We are aware of this, not just because of reports which are occasionally released in the Press and picked up on the odd occasion for Question Time here, but because that area is the object of our own independent intelligence gathering activity, which is very substantial. We are very well informed on developments which take place there. In answering the honourable member, I take this opportunity to remind the House of some of those independent intelligence gathering capabilities.

We have negotiated for the operation of our Orion P3C aircraft out of Butterworth. These aircraft operate a regular surveillance throughout the area and monitor not only Soviet shipping but also the shipping of other nations in the region. Thus, we have a very thorough-going assessment from our own point of view of Soviet shipping movements in that area. We also have regular deployments to that area of our own frigates. I had occasion to remind the House last year of a frigate which followed a major Soviet warship for a substantial period when that warship was visiting that area. To put the visits of our warships to that area in perspective, I point out that my home town of Fremantle in Western Australia last year had 36 visits from United States warships and in the same time 28 of our warships visited Singapore. This is not an area that is in any way neglected by the policies of this Government. It is an area of strategic concern to us; we take that seriously.

This is shown in what we have negotiated at Butterworth, both in terms of the operation of the Orion P3C aircraft and in terms of the replacement of the Mirage squadrons. Quite clearly we could never have replaced those Mirage squadrons with our FA18 aircraft, which require much more direct activity for our Services. However, there will be regular visits by FA18 aircraft through Butterworth as a result of the agreement with the Malaysian Government. I stress again that we do not rely on any advice that we receive from anybody else about what is going on in the region. We have our own intelligence gathering capability and it is very effective.