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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1226


Mr CHARLES(11.14) —Probably the most significant thing about the speech by the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) was that when he rose to speak the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) came into the House and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) left the House. We have just heard the nonsense of a `reds on the horizon' speech from the honourable member for Kooyong and, to a lesser extent, we heard it from the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) earlier, although his contribution was much more wide-ranging. He concentrated more on defence and on the White Paper. This is a very good White Paper. It is the culmination of extensive work by this Government over the last few years under the present Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley). The report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities has been presented to the Parliament. It was the first report of its kind for many years to look at the capabilities of Australia's defence, what we needed, what we had and where we were going, and because of that report the Minister ordered this White Paper which he presented yesterday.

The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross), in a very thoughtful contribution to this debate, said earlier that one must read the Dibb report and the White Paper together, because they do not contradict each other, as some members of the Opposition are trying to suggest. They should be read together and they complement each other whilst, of course, there are slight differences. The White Paper states quite clearly that part of our defence is our relationship with ANZUS and with other alliances, such as the five-power defence arrangements, our relationship with Papua New Guinea and our bilateral relationship with New Zealand. Importantly, the Government has recognised that, not only in the White Paper, but continually since we came to government. The ANZUS alliance is still strong. It is interesting to note that comments from the United States of America over the last 12 months have suggested that the relationship between our countries is stronger than it has ever been, notwithstanding the fact that New Zealand has parted ways in regard to some aspects of the ANZUS alliance.

We heard from the right honourable member for New England this morning that the Opposition's recipe would be to break all security arrangements with New Zealand. That is its answer. It would tell New Zealand in the nicest possible terms to go away, that it did not want to have anything to do with that country until it, shall we say, came to its senses. I do not believe the Australian people would take too kindly to that proposal. But that is in essence what the Opposition spokesman on defence said this morning. On the one hand he would break all security relationships with New Zealand while on the other hand doing the reverse with Papua New Guinea. The Opposition would tell Papua New Guinea that our formal relationships and agreements-we have defence personnel in Papua New Guinea now-would be formalised even further. The Opposition would make sure that security there was so watertight that one would not believe it. So the Opposition would up the ante in Papua New Guinea, but tell New Zealand to go away. It would not co-operate with that country in any way whatsoever. All this is absolute nonsense.

I am glad in some respects that the honourable member for Denison was here earlier because he made a contribution to a defence debate only a few weeks ago which suggested that the incoming conservative government-when that happens in about 20 years time-will double the defence budget. On today's figures that represents $7.5 billion. That is his recipe. What lunatic nonsense that is. That is not serious. I do not think that many of his colleagues, particularly the honourable member for Mackellar, would agree with that. The honourable member for Mackellar is trying to put to his Party the cutting of expenditure, yet one of his colleagues, a former Minister in the previous Government, is saying: `We should double the defence budget'. Quite obviously, the Opposition is all over the place in regard to defence. It has no coherent strategy. It does not know whether it would increase defence expenditure or cut it.

One interesting and very important aspect of this paper, as the honourable member for Brisbane pointed out quite succinctly, is that expenditure will remain relatively consistent, as it has done apart from a few bleeps. It was high during the Vietnam years, came down in the late 1970s under the previous Government, and then started to climb again in the late 1970s. But basically it stayed relatively the same. The last page of the White Paper, at paragraph 9.15, states:

There is a need for realism in expectations of the resources that governments will be able to allocate to Defence. If we are to achieve the levels of defence capability and the priorities reflected in this Paper, there is a need, over the life of the program, for an allocation of resources generally within the order of 2.6 per cent to 3.0 per cent of GDP.

Today's allocation is about 2.8 per cent, if my memory serves me correctly. If it varies between 2.8 and 3 per cent, we will have done very well. The Opposition knows that that is what will be expected, no matter which political party is in government. It is a quite significant contribution to the defence vote of this country.

That is the planning behind this defence White Paper. It is realistic. For the first time, in conjunction with the Dibb report, we have a plan for defence. For 31 out of the 34 years prior to 1983, when this Government came to office, we had conservative governments. If there were deficiencies, and there certainly were, as the right honourable member for New England agreed this morning-in particular, the serious deficiency in minesweeping-whose fault was that? It was the fault of conservative governments. They were in power for three decades. What did they do? Nothing. Their main claim to fame was that, as happened in 1979-80 and in the early 1980s, when an election drew close they said they would buy an aircraft carrier. They were not quite sure what they would put on it. In the end, Jim Killen, the Minister at the time, decided not to put jump jets on it, but helicopters. The previous Government then decided it was all a bit stupid anyway, and it knew when it lost office in 1983 that it would not have gone ahead with that project. This is the first time that we have seen a planned situation. We are looking at the capabilities that we require and need. We are not adopting the replacement mentality of buying more and more tanks for the Army when we do not need the dashed things. That is the sort of mentality that grew up over three decades of conservative governments.

The capabilities put forward by Dibb, illustrated again in the White Paper that the Minister presented yesterday, show quite clearly that we are looking at a three-layered defence situation. Intelligence gathering will increase with the advent of the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar, the planned bases in the north of Australia and the airborne early warning system. Financially, that system will take some time to acquire because it is a rather expensive item. We have upgraded our intelligence system. We receive through our alliances, particularly the ANZUS alliance, intelligence that is not given to many countries in the world. Our second layer is the strike capability through the FA18s, the F111s and the new submarines. They will be the best conventional submarines in the world, with a very substantial strike capability. Clearly, they will be better than anything in this region. This morning the right honourable member for New England floated the idea of acquiring nuclear submarines. He knows that that is nonsense because the cost involved would mean that we would be able to obtain only about half the number. We will have a quite substantial strike capability-much more than any other state in the region. The third layer is the mobility of our ground forces and the flexibility of our Army. A mobile unit is to be transferred in the near future to the north, which will have air and naval support, and in particular by the Black- hawk helicopters up to 100 of which the Government will be obtaining in the next few years. It will be a significant advancement for the Army to have that substantial mobility and helicopter support, as will be the case with the Navy when we have acquired the Seahawk helicopter.

Let me make a few comments on industry. Recently a reporter asked me: `What are some of the major achievements you have been involved with in this Government?'. I told him that I thought one of the major achievements was in industry, not only under the Minister for Defence but the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button. That has been the case particularly in defence manufacturing. The right honourable member for New England said that more items should be constructed in Australia, but I would remind him that for over 30 years conservative governments let everything run down to nothing. They gave away ship building altogether so that it no longer existed. In the next few weeks the Government will announce the winner of the tender for the submarine project and construction will start, and not long after the light frigate program will commence and run in tandem. In the next 15 years or so we will have two projects which will command $8 billion worth of expenditure. That is the biggest program of defence manufacturing collectively that this country has ever seen. I am assuming that New Zealand will come into the light frigate program, as I am sure it will and as it has indicated.

That expenditure of $8 billion will do amazing things for our defence and defence manufacturing. It will flow right through industry to thousands of shops throughout the country, to toolmakers and others who will be involved in this massive program. That would never have occurred under a conservative government. As chairman of the relevant government committee I took a part in ensuring that the submarine program was entirely completed here in Australia-as the light frigate program will be, too. That is a considerable achievement by the present Government. The Minister in his statement yesterday said:

For Australia, defence self-reliance is set firmly within the framework of our alliances and regional associations. The support they give us makes self-reliance achieve- able. They, in turn, will draw added support from a self-reliant Australia which will be better able to discharge its responsibilities in the vast strategic region to which we belong.

That summarises what this paper is all about, and what the Government has been doing in the last couple of years in guiding and planning Australia's defence and our defence manufacture. All this has culminated in this White Paper. Gone is the nonsense and the rhetoric, and the talk of reds coming over the horizon that we heard from the honourable member for Kooyong this morning. All that is claptrap and the Australian people see it as such. This is a blueprint that can and will be realised under this Government and the next Labor Government that will be elected later this year.