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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2548

Mr CONQUEST(9.52) —No matter how much might be said in this debate in regard to the rumoured cuts in national defence expenditure, I think that we would all recognise that, ultimately, it will be the electorate which will make the final decision in this matter. It is therefore of paramount importance for the Government-all governments in fact-to educate Australians about defence strategy. The Dibb report, this White Paper, and the accompanying debate provide an ideal opportunity to highlight defence issues in a very useful and practicable way. In World War I and World War II we had sufficient time to mobilise and train our armed forces for war. Notwithstanding my tender years at that time, I know that many of our servicemen were training at the Brisbane Showground in the suits that they were wearing when they enlisted and in fact using broomsticks in that training. However, I do not think that we will see such things occurring again. Nevertheless, many ill-informed and uninformed people still imagine that while there is no obvious threat the Government should spend only a little amount on defence. Those people believe that when a need arises an instant Defence Force can be raised. Of course, that is nonsense, and it is up to us elected representatives of the people to inform the nation of the need to be prepared.

An appropriate strategy is necessary to ensure peace in our neighbourhood. It should be remembered that there is a big difference between being a peaceful nation and being a pacifist nation. Our ability to predict a threat of invasion with sufficient confidence for a 10-year period has been accepted as holy writ. This is a mistake, as it assumes a stable rate of change in any potential sequence of events. However, this can be upset by revolutionary and unpredictable change. One has only to recall the near success of the Communist Party of Indonesia or to imagine the overthrow of the Marcos regime by the New People's Army-and that was not beyond the realms of probability. A new regime, armed by the Soviet Union, could well make the 10-year buffer look highly optimistic. In fact, it might be more realistic to plan on a warning time of half that period.

The sin of `situating the appreciation'-making facts fit conclusions-was a major criticism of Dibb's review. The Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) is yet to receive total absolution, though he has moved away from Dibb in important areas. The period since the end of the Vietnam War has been traumatic for defence policy makers. The political convulsions of some of our leaders have left a sour taste in the mouths of many, which is manifested in a variety of ways, all inimical to re-establishing a sense of national purpose. This has been further compounded by the anti-nuclear campaign, which has attracted an amorphous lot of supporters. This collective group is basically anti-American and promotes the idea of moral equivalence between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which is enunciated in order to bring about a unilaterally neutralist Australia.

It may be true to say that, while war has become obsolete as an instrument of policy, the tools of war must continue to play a role in keeping the peace. When each side holds an equally good hand, a potential aggressor is likely to keep both his hands on the table. Short of changing human nature, the only way to achieve a practical, livable peace in a world of competing nations is to take the profit out of war. There are those who impede the peacemakers. A few, with their allegiances and their motives clear, do so intentionally. However, those who do so inadvertently are far more dangerous. Lenin-may I quote him-contemptuously called them `the useful idiots'. More out of ignorance than by design `the useful idiots' earnestly propose ridiculously simplistic answers to our most complex problems. It is our responsibility to ensure that we avoid simplistic solutions that are not in our own best interest. We must come up with a defence policy which is appropriate to the needs of Australia. The efforts of the Defence Minister in this regard must be applauded. Now is not the time to attempt to score political points on such an important issue as this. It is a time for political leadership and time to consider seriously the issues of national security.

National security responsibilities and challenges are awesome and it is essential that our limited resources are utilised efficiently and effectively. Strategic realities are forced to fit political needs and the chance of implementing the proposals contained in the White Paper are dependent on adequate funding. Unfortunately, defence spending can be tailored towards the need for economising resources rather than the basis of a national security policy. I hope that the Expenditure Review Committee recognises this. This strategy depends on acquisitions for the force multiplier effect to work. If we don't go ahead with in-flight refuelling, our FA18s are limited to punching holes in the sky within a limited radius of their base. On the question of fitting out the 707s with a conversion pack of the probe drogue type to suit the Hornets, we do so at the expense of providing our F111s with a similar capability because of their requirement for the boom type facility.

If we are to participate in regional exercises, it would appear that the latter arrangement, suited to our F111 requirements, would also be suitable for the replacement F16s that some of our regional neighbours are acquiring and it could be a considered option. I do, however, recognise that the strike role of our aircraft could be a sensitive issue in the region and make such a course of action less preferable. Also, if we do not obtain an airborne early warning platform to complement the over the horizon radar, the effectiveness of a layered defence strategy would be impaired, given the threat imposed by airborne launched cruise missiles. The force multiplier effect must be utilised if we are to gain the maximum benefits from the Minister's defence plan. The White Paper acknowledges that the co-operation of Australia and the United States is important to basic elements of an effective and efficient system of Australian defence. Its co-operation appears to be presumed on the basis of our provision of facilities. However, the reluctance of this Government to meet American requests for co-operation, whether for training facilities, MX missile trials or participation in strategic defence initiative research, must make the spirit of co-operation appear somewhat skewed in our favour. The co-operation spin-offs-access to technology, logistic support and intelligence-underpin the affordability of our proposed self-reliant defence capability. My concern is that our level of co-operation may become so one sided that the United States may regard us as less than reliable and withdraw some or all of the benefits we receive from it.

The concept of defence in depth, of layers, on which an aggressor would founder, is an approach which seems to accept the inevitability of attack and sets about dealing with it after it occurs. Is there a real sense of commitment to keeping potential attackers at a distance? Do we sit and wait for the attack and, while it is being planned, contest nothing? The first layer is designed to provide us with the intelligence-the information of the potential aggressor's intentions-and a variety of surveillance capabilities to detect and track the hostile intruders in our maritime and air approaches. We also have proposals to develop a national system of air defence and airspace control. In other words, we can find out what they are going to do and know when they are coming. The second layer is a naval air capability to destroy attacking forces in our approaches. For higher levels of conflicts, it means having forces able to strike at an adversary's bases and able to interdict his lines of supply. For these higher levels of conflict, we should have 10 years of accumulated intelligence on which to base our assessments. For some reason we seem to be saying we have and will use our second layer defence to strike at bases and interdict his lines of supply when we have entered into a `higher level of conflict' phase.

The question I asked before is: Do we sit and wait for the attack? Do we contest nothing during the planning phase? The best way to deter a potential aggressor is to show that we have the capability and the will to retaliate in a way that would be politically and militarily unacceptable to it. A defensive attitude could lead to a vast expenditure on such things as mine countermeasures, whereas we could outlay a small amount on mines to equip our vehicles, P3Cs and submarines and bottle up an enemy before it leaves its own shores. The mining of Haiphong Harbour towards the end of the Vietnam War perhaps provides an example of the effectiveness that this approach could have. However, the point I make is to use good intelligence to good effect and protect our national interests in the aggressor's front yard, or at least ensure that he knows that we can and will act there in any threat situation. The Israeli Air Force action in the early days of the Six-Day War provides a useful example of what I mean.

Let us look at the third layer and the development of a `Highly Mobile Army' or a `flexible ground force'. Does this mean that all Army units and their equipment should be air portable? Has any assessment been carried out as to whether the Royal Australian Air Force and civil aircraft have the capability to move and supply significant forces into the north? Would armour and artillery be left behind in a rapid redeployment situation? The Minister says the five-power defence arrangements remain relevant to our defence policy objectives; yet the role of Australia as a contributor to the arrangements is diminishing. Withdrawal of forces is the order of the day, which effectively serves notice on the region that we are placing a low priority on regional defence commitments. One might ask: What support is given to Thailand or the Philippines? The Asian Defence Journal reflected on this lack of engagement in the region in an editorial in mid-1983 in the following terms:

More than ever, Australia needs to be reminded that insularity does not necessarily mean complete security. Refusal to be drawn into the rough and tumble of regional geopolitics is no guarantee for total safety, now or in the future.

It is fair to say that the Government has bowed to the demands of the realpolitik, to a degree, and progressed from its original thinking of supporting the concept or a fortress Australia. I would emphasise the importance that Australia is seen to be supportive of our regional allies and fully participative in our alliances. There are many Australian interests within the region and, rather than declining in importance, they are in fact expanding, especially when viewed in juxtaposition with the increasing Soviet naval presence. Given our increasing participation in the area, we are in a position to try to influence events rather than react to the efforts of others. The skeleton of rhetoric must be given muscle or the ideal of deterrence will fail, and the consequences could be much more costly in both monetary and human terms.

Our leaders have told us that there is no threat to Australia in the foreseeable future. How do they view the installation of long range Soviet forces in Vietnam, or the outside interference in countries such as Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Kiribati? These developments are of concern to us and demonstrate that the prime object of our foreign policy and our defence policy is national security and that the two policies must be co-ordinated. Australia is economically committed to the region and the maintenance of our living standards is dependent on regional trade. We are a regional force, and the nations in our region are our friends and we must be seen to be their friends, powerful friends, prepared to defend ourselves and the integrity of the region.

In fact, the concept of deterrence is better translated into policy if it is designated to deter threats rather than conflicts. Convincing any would-be aggressor that a resort to force can and will be resisted will make that aggressor think twice and seek other options to achieve the desired aim. Deterrence for Australia should be dynamic, not merely the flexing of muscles or baring of teeth to the outside world. It should embody the collective strength of those within our region which would surely promote a happier, friendlier, co-operative region which would signal to any outside aggressor that our region will not tolerate any lawlessness.

Besides building armed forces with the appropriate force structure, strategy and policy we must base deterrence on a perception of how, whether and when those forces will be used. A regional security strategy could be conceived and set in train by government to government understandings of a bilateral and/or multilateral nature, ensuring commitments from many countries. The Minister has stated that our defence self-reliance is set firmly within the framework of our alliances and regional associations, and it is encouraging to see that the support of our regional neighbours is recognised. To encourage, obtain and maintain that support, I repeat we must have appropriate foreign policies.

Whilst the overall White Paper strategy is politically defensive, the Minister has said that it is not defensive in the more specific military sense. That being the case, I believe that we need to maintain an effective offensive defence force which can respond to threats to isolated territories such as the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. As such, we need to be able to provide the capability to deploy such a force by air and by sea. However, any deployment of personnel and materials is dependent on the availability of appropriate transportation. A rapid deployment force to any area, either overseas or in Australia, has an even greater transport requirement. I have echoed my concern about this in other debates in this House. Unfortunately, our force projection is limited, especially since the loss of the carrier and the Fleet Air Arm, and the fleet air defence they formerly provided.

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