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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1221

Mr CROSS(10.44) —I thought the closing remarks of the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) were particularly pertinent. In effect, he said that the framework of the White Paper was basically sound but that the financial commitment was insufficient. One would have imagined that that comment could have been made on the previous White Paper brought down in 1976 because the right honourable member agrees that the commitments were not kept because the previous Government did not provide the financial resources to meet those commitments. I have mentioned that this is the first White Paper since 1976. The background of the 1976 White Paper was that when the Whitlam Government came into office, because it was a considerable time since a comprehensive statement had been made on Australian defence, that paper was set in train. We were well down the track with it when the Whitlam Government went out of office at the end of 1975. A year or so later one recognised the drafts of our White Paper coming through in the White Paper that Mr Killen, as he was then, presented to the Parliament.

This White Paper has taken a good deal of time to prepare. I would like to congratulate the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) and the team that he gathered around him from the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force on the comprehensiveness and balance in this paper. I would also like to compliment Mr Paul Dibb, whose paper the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities-the so-called Dibb report-laid the basis for a more intelligent and informed discussion in the Australian community than has ever occurred previously. Much is being made in the media-and I might add that media reception of the White Paper has been extremely good-about the way this White Paper has departed from Dibb. People ought to read both these reports because the messages that came through in the Dibb report, which everybody who is interested in the defence of Australia should clearly understand, are here in the White Paper.

The White Paper is realistic. It is based on the belief that in the present strategic situation there will be no real increase in defence spending in the foreseeable future. It is one thing for the shadow Minister for Defence, the right honourable member for New England, to say, as he did, that the Government has to provide more money for defence, but at page 100 in the White Paper where the graphs are set out-and even simple souls like me can understand them-we see a graph of defence outlays as a percentage of gross domestic product. We can see the increase to 4 1/2 per cent at the peak of the Vietnam war, the decline in defence expenditure as the Vietnam commitment wound down, the trough in that expenditure under the coalition Government in 1978 and 1979 and modest improvement under the Labor Government.

On the following page where defence outlays are shown as a percentage of Commonwealth Budget outlays we can see a similar thing: The hump of the Vietnam war, the trough under the coalition Government and a modest increase under the Labor Government. The pertinent fact that comes through in that is that it is not much use having a pie in the sky approach and saying: `Well, we have to spend a vastly greater amount on defence than we have in the past'. The facts of life are that this country is experiencing severe economic problems arising out of the deterioration in the terms of trade and that the Minister for Defence has to compete with other Ministers for the available dollar. It is quite foolish, indeed irresponsible, to lay out an expectation to the Australian community that, at a time when money has to be spent to protect the disadvantaged in our community, to create jobs, to improve education and in so many other respects, all of a sudden a vast amount of new funding will be made available for defence. I congratulate the Minister on the realism in that approach.

The second point is that the program spelled out in this paper is affordable. In the Minister's statement he makes the point that at the present rate of spending, $2.2 billion per annum on equipment and facilities indexed, there is probably $40 billion available over the next 15 years and that the equipment program in the White Paper would cost somewhere between $20 billion and $25 billion. That really means that the program can be carried out and that there will be money available to do the other things which are outlined in the paper but for which at present there are no detailed provisions. One has to remember, of course, that there is always a long lead time in the more sophisticated and significant items of defence equipment that a modern defence force needs. We take a long time to assess the aircraft, ship or platform that we propose to build-we build more these days in Australia than we did in the past-and it takes a long time to get it into production, but we have that item of equipment in place for 20 or 25 years.

The White Paper points out the importance of our existing alliances-ANZUS, the five-power agreement for the protection of Malaysia and Singapore, our defence commitment to Papua New Guinea, our close defence association with New Zealand and our commitments in particular to the South West Pacific, where we are a significant regional power. So the suggestion made about the Dibb report, that it was an isolationist concept-which was untrue-ought to be destroyed by this White Paper, which spells out in a very clear way that our existing alliances are extremely important to us and that we adhere to them.

The paper then says that against that background we need to foster the maximum self-reliance. That is the next message that the White Paper gives very clearly. Australia has a capacity to defend itself-much greater than most people in this country have believed. We have always been overly dependent on our allies. I am a strong supporter of our alliance commitments, particularly to ANZUS, but we have certain advantages. We have the asset of distance; we are a long way from any potential threat. We have friendly powers in our region. We also have particularly difficult terrain in the northern part of this country, where any invader presumably would land, a highly skilled Australian Defence Force, efficient industries and a sound economic backup for a defence force; so we have considerable advantages.

The White Paper is a blueprint-if I can say that without mixing metaphors-for self-reliance by the Australian Defence Force. It is predicated on defence in depth. I have mentioned the significance of the sea lanes and airspace around this continent. Those people who criticised the part of the Dibb report which said that we should extend our capacity further afield ought to take into account the fact that our area of immediate strategic interest is larger than the continent of Europe, so that we, with a population of 16 million, are committed to an area of immediate strategic interest which is larger than the population of Europe, with hundreds of millions of people and very sophisticated industry to defend.

Another area that the White Paper addresses is the significant improvement in force structure that has taken place under the Labor Government. The direction is pointed into the future. There is no doubt that, with the enhanced powers of the Chief of the Defence Force and the arrangements now in place, the force structure of the Australian Defence Force is much more capable of meeting any future contingency than it was in past days when, as honourable members know, we had individual service portfolios vying for the service dollar and for power and authority in the Australian Defence Force. Those problems are now in the past.

Another element in the White Paper is the transfer of significant assets to the north and, in the case of the Royal Australian Navy, to the Indian Ocean. I was pleased that the shadow Minister for Defence supported those elements of the White Paper because I think they are significant. This goes back a long way in time. Lavarack was established in the early 1960s. Under the Whitlam Government we were looking at Tindal. That, like so many other things, was put in mothballs by the coalition Government. The Tindal air base is now being built. The Minister recently announced the transfer of significant Army assets to the Northern Territory in the future. All of that is as it should be, because most people who study the defence of Australia-and I was interested that the shadow Minister was talking about the threat from the south and would like to know to what extent he can substantiate that argument-think that, if we are to meet a threat at some time in the future, it will come from the north and that our forces ought to be in place and trained in the tropical environment to defend this country.

An item of particular interest in the White Paper points to the increased efficiency of defence factories and the shipyards. One really would have to say that, when the Labor Government took over the defence factories and the shipyards from its predecessor, we took them over in a fairly disgraceful position. There were very substantial subsidies and featherbedding for various reasons; and they were not as efficient as they might be. One should pay tribute to the co-operation that this Government has received from the trade union movement for its understanding that if people are to be employed in the defence factories and shipyards in the long term, significant improvements in efficiency have to be made. Those improvements have been made. I am not suggesting everything is perfect. Of course significant improvement is needed in the shipyards area which has particular problems but a good deal of improvement has been made. Increased efficiency has meant, I think the Minister said, a one per cent increase in resources available to the Defence Force.

The other aspect of the program spelt out in the White Paper-this has taken place in the days of the Hawke Labor Government-is the significant improvement in opportunities for Australian industry. We are now building the highest percentage of equipment in this country since World War II. The blueprint spells out-be it for submarines, the new patrol frigate, transport vehicles, armoured fighting vehicles and the like-substantial assistance to Australian industry.

Finally, because my time is running out, I would like to deal with two matters that the shadow Minister raised. One is pay and conditions in the Australian Defence Force. I find it surprising that somebody in the Opposition should raise the matter of pay and conditions because when the Whitlam Government came into office it ordered a review of pay and conditions and at that time-in 1973-the Defence Force received its first pay review for eight years. That Government went out of office in 1975 and in 1980 the then Minister for Defence, Mr Killen, ordered a review of Defence Force pay and that report came down in 1981. The Government had not provided sufficient money in the Estimates so Defence Force pay was not increased until 1982. That meant that the Defence Force had gone nine years without a pay rise under the coalition Government.

We have now set in train a Defence Force remuneration tribunal which, on a continuing basis, is reviewing Defence Force pay. Recently in a Press release the Minister stated that there would be a review of the Service allowance for submariners. This will roll through the system. People had unreal expectations; they thought that all the problems would be solved overnight. What will happen is that there will be a step-by-step improvement in Defence Force pay on the basis of sound industrial principles. Never again will the Australian Defence Force have to wait long periods-which it did under coalition governments-and be left falling behind the pay and conditions of people in the market-place.

A similar position applies with housing. The point was made that there is a great deficiency in Defence Force housing and we do not disagree with that. More than two-thirds of its housing is substandard; more than two-thirds of its housing was substandard when we took over after the coalition government. What has happened-the legislation was introduced this week-is that a new Defence Force Housing Authority is being set up. It is already in place in an interim way and $67m-more than a 20 per cent increase over the funding of the previous year and infinitely more than that of last year of the coalition Government-has been provided. It will not be an easy task; it is a very great one but in these times of stringent financial restraint the Government has made a major commitment to improving Defence Force housing. I think that Service personnel will believe it only when it happens. I am pleased to see new houses are being built at Enoggera and Townsville and that very significant improvements will be carried out at Darwin, Tindal, Stirling and elsewhere. The program has started; it will cost $700m and it is extremely significant.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.