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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1961

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.07) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

I am sure the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) did not mean to be churlish when he said that he was making the statement in response to a notice of motion given by Senator Chipp. In fact, this Senate passed a motion on 30 March, I think, of this year, which called upon the Government to make a full statement as a matter of urgency on the content of and decisions taken by the Government on the document known as the 'Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy 1983' and the steps taken by the Government to keep the document secure. We have waited quite a time for a response from the Government following the passage of that motion. I acknowledge the notice of motion that was given by Senator Chipp during the last period of sittings in which he indicated that he would call upon the Government to make a statement by 1 May. The Opposition indicated that it was prepared to support Senator Chipp's motion but the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Button, undertook early last week-

Senator Gareth Evans —The Leader of the Government.

Senator CHANEY —I am sorry, I meant the Leader of the Government. The Attorney has been calling us Ministers all day. It is a catching habit. Senator Button indicated to Senator Chipp and to me that he had a statement with which he was not satisfied and that he intended to put it down in a matter of days. Senator Chipp did not seek to pursue his motion, given the Government's undertaking to make a statement.

I would like to say a number of things about this statement. The first is that the Opposition is less than delighted at the Government's approach to putting down important statements, starting at 5 o'clock on the afternoon of the Thursday of the second week of sitting. In the hour and 20 minutes which remain of the sitting we have before us the prospect of a couple of other major statements, including the Government's response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on the National Crimes Authority Bill which we understand will be quite a detailed statement and which is a matter of great importance to the Senate because it is a response to a major report brought down by the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee. We have yet to have brought down in this place a statement which has been made in the other place on the very important subject of immigration. I think that all honourable senators would regret that in the space of less than an hour and a half we are faced with the prospect of dealing with three major statements which we will now not have an opportunity to debate any further for at least two weeks .

The statement which has been put down today with respect to the 'Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy 1983' is a statement which, on the face of it , could have been put down weeks ago. It really tells us nothing new. It tells us nothing which could not have been said a month ago. With respect to the only matter that perhaps required some action on behalf of the Government, namely, the third leg of the information that was requested, that is, advice on the steps taken by the Government to keep the document secure, we simply have the advice that it followed the procedures laid down in the Cabinet office handbook. This statement adds very little to the knowledge that the Senate had before it was made. It is something of a Clayton's statement.

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

Australian Defence Policy

However, I want to make a number of comments on what has been put down. The extracts in the statement to which I wish to refer underline why there was concern on the part of some people about the document which was leaked to the National Times. The document confirms what was printed by the National Times in the first week of April; namely, that the document which fell into its hands had been endorsed by the Cabinet as the strategic basis of Australian defence policy and as a guidance for the forthcoming review of defence planning and for the development of Australian defence policies. This is an important document. It is not some theoretical essay, something which Senator Gareth Evans, with his practised hand and his speedy eye, would mark C-plus, B-plus or A-minus at the bottom when he was satisfied as to its academic value. This is a document which Senator Gareth Evans and his colleagues specifically endorsed to guide the review of defence planning and the development of Australian defence policies.

We have raised the question-I notice that it is not tackled in the statement- whether the Government's mind was specifically addressed to this paper, given the euphoric condition of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) following Australia's great win in the America's Cup and his lengthy and enjoyable visit to the yacht club in Perth. But the Government seems to be telling us in this statement that it has seriously adopted this very important document. It has told us how it was prepared. It has told us that there is a Defence Committee which prepared the strategic basis. It consists of the most senior and experienced of the Australian government advisers in the field of national security. It is chaired by the Secretary to the Department of Defence. It comprises the Chief of the Defence Force Staff, the chiefs of the three Services, and the secretaries to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury, and the Department of Foreign Affairs. We have found out that the report is presented to the Minister for Defence and that when he is satisfied, it is presented to Cabinet. So we have a document which has gone through all of this, which has been presented to Cabinet, and which has been endorsed as a guidance for the review of defence planning and for the development of Australian defence policies. Therefore, it is this document, and not some subsequent gloss on it, which is meant to provide a guidance to the public servants who work for the people of Australia in this area and who are responsible for the development of policies.

It is important to note some of the conclusions which are there, because they tend to draw out some important issues, and they tend to give some support to the concern which was expressed by the Australian Democrats and others about the possibility that the Government might have been considering an ultimate move into Australia having its own nuclear weapons.

Senator Tate —Oh!

Senator CHANEY —I will point to the specific passages in this statement which indicate the concern, which the Government has apparently adopted as its own, that provision for self-reliant national defence should command priority in our defence policy. Let me refer to just a couple of extracts from the statement which has just been incorporated in Hansard. It says:

The Strategic Basis concludes by identifying, from its analysis, some general principles on which our future defence planning should be founded. This requires that the principal conclusions be drawn out concerning the implications of defence contingencies that could arise with the least warning; the importance of providing a basis for expansion if more substantial military pressures were to emerge later.

That is one of the views put forward in the statement and in the document which was leaked which suggests that the Government has been alerted to the need to take action to provide some basis of expansion of our military forces if circumstances changed. We find a little later in this statement reference to the fact that provision for self-reliant national defence should command priority in our defence policy. I refer to those passages as showing an emphasis in the document of concern about the need for independence and the need for possible new developments in our defence approach should circumstances change.

It is true that what we have in this statement now is the Government's commitment to the support of the nuclear non-proliferation regime as being absolute. We have the statement that the Government has renounced any interest of its own in developing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons. We have the statement that it regards that renunciation as binding and permanent. However, those statements are ex post facto statements. They are not statements which form part of the document or part of the Cabinet decision which adopted the document. These are the Government's subsequent statements. This is the Government's subsequent gloss upon the document that it adopted on that euphoric day in Perth.

I welcome the fact that the Government has indicated its firm commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I think that the gloss which has been put on it, the additional words which have been provided, are important in clarifying the position. I believe that that is consistent with other statements made by the Government when the furore about this document emerged. I think that it is in the interests of Australia that the statements should be as clear as they are here.

The only other section of the statement to which I wish to refer at this stage is something that appears on page 6 of the typescript. I refer to it because it indicates a move by the Government towards acceptance of propositions with respect to the defence of Australia which have long been held by members of the Opposition, and held by us when we were in government, and matters which were put in issue by various members of the Australian Labor Party over the years, and I believe that it is in Australia's national interest that we see in this statement the Government adopting positions which are closer to those which have been traditionally adopted by the Liberal and National parties in this Parliament. I refer to the third paragraph on page 6, which says:

For example, in relation to the Superpower relationship, the principal conclusion is that nuclear or conventional conflict is improbable, but continuation of this situation depends on the maintenance of effective deterrence as well as a strategic dialogue and understanding between the Superpowers. The assessment notes that we should continue to support deterrence through the defence relationship with the United States, including the joint defence facilities. The paper also notes the potential of equitable and verifiable agreements for strategic arms control to promote stability in the strategic relationship between the United States and USSR. I emphasise the following words:

The conclusion is that such agreements support Australian security interests and should be supported.

The Opposition would say 'Amen' to that. We agree that the agreements support Australian security interests and should be supported. We are pleased to see the Government embracing that proposition in such a wholehearted fashion.

I stress that what we have here in this document is a repudiation by the Government of the absurd proposition which sometimes seems to gain currency in the Parliament and elsewhere that there is some salvation for the world in unilateral disarmament, in a unilateral approach to becoming a better and more peaceful world. I think it is correct to assert, as is asserted in this document , that the maintenance of peace in the present world requires the maintenance of effective deterrence as well as the dialogue and understanding which we would all wish to promote. I particularly welcome the Government's clear statement that there is a need to support the agreements which we have with our allies and that they are in Australia's interests and should be supported.

Time is marching on. There are other major matters which the Government wishes to bring before the Parliament. Much as I might complain about the Government's failure to bring them before the Parliament at an earlier or a more suitable time, which would give us an opportunity to debate them more fully, I wish to see those statements introduced into the Senate so that the Senate will at least have the benefit of debating them on our return to this place and so that we have the chance to see the Government's response in particular to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on the National Crime Authority. Rather than seek leave to continue my remarks, which would prevent anyone else from speaking-I think that Senator Mason is seeking the call-I shall indicate that I may have other things to say about the statement; but if I do, I am sure that we can move an amendment to the motion to take note and I could enter the debate at a later time. I am pleased that this report has come to hand, even though it is late, and I look forward to the Senate having a chance to consider it further.