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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1262


Mr KENT(3.36) —The Defence White Paper that is presently before the House is the Government's response to the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, known as the Dibb report. The Dibb report was one of the most thorough and intelligent analyses of our defence capabilities ever undertaken. It is now more than 10 years since the 1976 strategic analysis was published. That document also, by the way, recommended in line with the Dibb report and now this White Paper, that Australia should move towards a policy and capability for defence self-reliance.

The principal Opposition speaker on defence, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), rejected the Dibb report. He was also critical of the White Paper. This attitude is interesting, particularly in view of the fact that the Dibb Review and the White Paper are based on the need for defence self-reliance for Australia-a need which was expressed in the 1976 strategic analysis, as well as the strategic basis document, and endorsed by all our defence chiefs. The report and the White Paper based on it do not recommend a defence posture which can be described as `fortress Australia'-a description used by the Opposition. Rather, they propose a defence force equipped to deal with threats and emergencies in a radius of well over 2,000 kilometres from our shores.

Honourable members opposite have tried in various ways to portray the central objectives of the Dibb report and the White Paper as conflicting with the interest of our allies and our treaty obligations. What utter nonsense and rubbish. The objective of an independent defence capability was clearly accentuated in the Guam Doctrine, which stressed the need for self-reliance for America's allies. There is clearly a continuity of thinking by all our defence experts, and it is a goal which is endorsed by our allies, that is, that self-reliance should be at the centre of Australia's defence force planning.

For the first time we have a serious and intelligent report and the Government's decision as expressed in the White Paper is consistent with this goal, but the members of the Opposition reject it. They are still back in the old days when they were in government and when defence planning was non-existent. They remembered defence only at election times and used it as a vote-catching exercise. It was always just before an election that conservative governments announced new defence equipment purchases. It was only at election times that they suddenly realised that our Defence Force existed. They made sabre-rattling speeches which were soon forgotten, not only by the electorate but also by the conservative Government itself. In short, they left Australia's defences nude and exposed. The best example of this is the neglect by the conservatives of our mine-sweeping capacity. I will come back to that point. Let me remind those opposite that we brought forward the Dibb report for debate and discussion not just before an election, as they used to do, but in a climate of calmness last year. Now we as a government are following this with measures which will facilitate the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Dibb report.

The report took into account the longstanding and accepted assessment by our strategic analysts that there is no immediate large scale threat to Australia, nor is such a threat likely to develop in the foreseeable future without prior detection by our intelligence giving adequate time for a subsequent preparation of an appropriate defence response. Conservative members, however, often disagree with this assessment of Australia's defence capability and quote the example of Pearl Harbour and the sudden Japanese military expansion in the Second World War. They want us to believe that we would be unable to prepare ourselves in the case of a military threat. They would like us to think that circumstances could develop so quickly that we would not be able to prepare a defence, well, nothing is further from the truth.

The military aggression of the Japanese was foreseeable years before it eventuated. All of the signs of war preparation were there, only the conservative government then lacked the political will to do something about it. Thanks to the people of Australia, we now have a Labor Government in office-a Government which has accepted recommendations contained in the Dibb report and which will subsequently be in a position to act and to meet any regional threat which may arise. We will not wait, like the conservatives did, for an enemy to knock on our door.

The main recommendations in the Dibb report and those to which the White Paper will give effect include the following: The expansion and acceleration of the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar program, which will enable us to obtain intelligence of any impending threat; the establishment of a top secret defence signal directorate, another signal base from which we can receive intelligence which will be located in Western Australia; the establishment of Cockburn Sound as our major submarine base; the retention and modification of our F111 strike force and the use of B707s for in-flight refuelling of FA18s; the improvement of the Army's mobility and the addition of air mobility to our expanded operational deployment force-ODF-which was so sadly neglected under the conservative government. This will require a significant expansion of the Army's helicopter force, a task which we will also undertake. In addition, the report recommended the more efficient use and expansion of our reserve forces as well as the establishment of a regular army unit in the Darwin-Tindal area. These are some of the ways in which we will improve Australia's defence capability and readiness and they are also the recommendations which the right honourable member for New England so hastily rejected.

In response all I can say is that under this Labor Government-for the first time in our history-the people living in the north of Australia will be able to feel safe because we will finally have both the will and the forces with which to defend this continent and our region. There will be no more Brisbane lines under our Labor Government. In addition to recommending the construction of eight light patrol frigates in Australia which will be equipped with helicopters and guided missiles, the Dibb report proposed as a matter of priority the development of a mine-clearing capability. This area was so neglected by our conservative predecessors opposite, who concentrated on confrontations with the Russians and the Chinese, who are some 20,000 kilometres away, that they left us without the capacity to clear Sydney Harbour if an enemy decided to mine it. That would wipe out our navy as it is at present, quicker than Sinclair can finish his speech against the Russians.

As I said before, the conservative Opposition, which so hastily rejected the Dibb report, has also failed to lend its support to the White Paper which sets out a strategy which will increase our defence self-reliance and independence while at the same time allowing us to have a better equipped and more modern Defence Force. The Indonesian armed forces newspaper, AB, in an article published on 29 April last year, supposedly based on information on the Dibb report, stated:

Australia predicts that in the next 10 years Indonesia will have the capability to conduct an invasion of Australia. That is why Australia will develop a new defence system to face the possibility.

So Sinclair is not alone. Strange bedfellows! There are two sources of criticism of the Dibb report--

Debate interrupted.