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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7077


Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (09:59): I thank the minister for his update to the House on the status of not only the Australian-US facilities but also wider Australian-US cooperation. Furthermore I take the opportunity to welcome the nomination of John Berry to fill the enormous shoes of Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Mrs Becky Bleich as US Ambassador to Australia. Whilst I understand there is a US Senate selection process, John Berry should know in advance that as a great friend of the US we welcome him and look forward to throwing a proverbial shrimp on the barbie when he arrives in Australia. I do not know if understanding the Australian vernacular is part of the US Senate selection criteria. If it is not perhaps it should be. Either way we look forward to welcoming the new US ambassador and look forward to thanking Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Mrs Becky Bleich at an appropriate juncture.

In welcoming President Obama's next choice for ambassador, I also welcome the opportunity to provide coalition comment on the concept and principle of full knowledge and concurrence which governs the operation of Australian-US joint facilities. To echo the fine words of the last coalition defence minister, Brendan Nelson, he said:

Full Knowledge and Concurrence is an expression of Sovereignty, of a fundamental right to know what activities foreign Governments conduct on our soil. The people and parliament rightly hold the Government responsible for exercising this right.

This principle has not changed though details of how it is enacted will always evolve over time. The key is that the principle is the underpinning of all new agreements or undertakings between Her Majesty's loyal government and the United States of America. The purpose of this morning of course in this great House is to reaffirm that principle.

I note the minister's comments in terms of Labor taking pride in Curtin's 1941 decision to look west to the US. I remind the minister that it was the Menzies government in 1951 that formalised the ANZUS Alliance at San Francisco on 1 September. It entered force on 29 April 1952. However, the point remains that the great decade from 1941 to 1951 can be seen as the bipartisan path to the great Australian-US friendship, a path that continues strongly to this day.

I have been proud to represent the coalition Defence team in this House during this term of parliament and to give voice to this bipartisanship on joint Australia-US relations. If the Australian people so decide on 14 September for a change of government, the US can be assured of a coalition that is a strong partner in peace and a loyal friend in conflict. We understand the alliance, as we always have, in terms of a great and enduring friendship between two proud nations and peoples as well as an alliance that provides mutual benefits and security, intelligence, communications and technology.

I agree with the minister that the alliance has rarely been stronger and I am pleased with the raft of ongoing relationships and consultations between our countries over the last two terms, starting with the 2008 AUSMIN with the military satellite communications partnership and the joint statement of principles on SATCOM bilateral cooperation, then the 2010 AUSMIN conference with the joint working group on force posture and the space situation awareness partnership, leading into the proposal for a full MAGTF marine-air-ground task force and USAF northern rotations which was announced at the 2011 Obama visit. The 2011 AUSMIN went on for the agreement on cyberattack triggering ANZUS mechanisms. The 2012 AUSMIN conference looked at a study into additional naval cooperation, particularly as it pertains to some of our western naval facilities, the MOU on the joint C-band radar space surveillance installation at the Harold E Holt naval comms facility in WA, the potential transfer of an advanced space surveillance telescope to Australia and the discussion on the establishment of a combined comms gateway in Western Australia for wider use of the wideband global satellite communication system that we have bought a substantial part of. Full knowledge and concurrence widely and appropriately cover the joint facilities or footprints on Australia's native soil.

The history of our joint facilities is well understood. It began ostensibly in 1955 with the joint geological and geophysical research station which is a seismic monitoring station originally established to monitor nuclear explosions during the Cold War. It still does monitor such explosions as part of the international monitoring system which is part of the comprehensive test ban treaty. It also monitors earthquakes. It is jointly operated by Geoscience Australia and the United States Air Force.

 

When we think of joint facilities though our mind mostly casts to 1967 with Pine Gap, which was renamed Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap in 1988. In 1967 we also saw the Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt, which was originally commissioned as a US base, becoming joint in 1974 and Australian in 1993. It is important to note the July 2008 treaty with the US does provide the US with access for a 25-year period. Of course in 1969 there was Nurrungar down in Woomera and that was decommissioned in 1999.

Today only the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap and the Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station are hosted in Australia, both near Alice Springs. However, as the minister has stated, the US has access to the following facilities: the Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt for submarine communications, the Mobile User Objective System located at the Australian Defence satellite comms station near Geraldton and the Extended High Accuracy Network Determination System, which is a research station in Learmonth.

All of the US's involvement is with the full knowledge and concurrence of the Australian government of the day. Minister Smith has stated this has been the case with the Rudd-Gillard government and I can guarantee it will be the case should there be a future Abbott government. The coalition will take the US alliance seriously. We will make tangible contributions to the alliance. We are not fair-weather friends. Under any potential coalition government the alliance will remain the strategic cornerstone of our defence posture. Our contributions to joint facilities, as well as other military and strategic assistance, will give voice and action to this commitment.

I speak with some limited authority on joint facilities because I have been to them all. My fondest memory—though, I digress slightly—is Nurrungar that I went to in 1993 in a different guise. I was a very young lieutenant with the Airborne Battle Group and Prime Minister Keating had deployed the Airborne Battle Group to secure the internal facility, whilst the police secured the perimeter, during a Greens dominated demonstration. I have never been able to work out to this day why the Greens did a naked protest. They approached the base perimeter fence, removed all of their gear and tied cardboard spanners to the fence. I think it is emblematic of what the Greens do, but, frankly, it makes little sense.

Nothing has changed, unfortunately, since 1993 when I first came across the Greens and their idea of communication. In August 2009, when we visited Pine Gap, Senator Ludlam issued a press saying he was going to expose the role of Pine Gap in enabling United States nuclear war-fighting capabilities. Perhaps someone should tell this fringe party of the Greens that Pine Gap collects intelligence that assists with stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, verifies arms controls and provides a ballistic missile early warning function—all things I would have thought the Greens support. It is nothing like enabling United States nuclear war-fighting capabilities. If anything, it is the obverse, the opposite.

However, considering my first introduction to the Greens party was when they got their gear off and tied cardboard spanners to fences, perhaps I should not expect too much from them. Whilst the Greens party remain on the fringe when it comes to defence matters and add very little to the alliance and the discussion, I am thankful that the two major parties have bipartisan consensus on the issue and have a responsible approach to keeping the nation informed. It is in that spirit that I thank the minister for his comments on full knowledge and concurrence and ensuring the parliament is up to date on the issue.