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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2811


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition) (3.24) I move:

That in the opinion of the Senate the following is a matter of urgency: The need for the Senate to support the Prime Minister's view that the joint Australian-United States defence facilities in Australia directly contribute to Australia's security, that their operations in no way derogate from Australian sovereignty and that removal of the facilities would dash hopes of ordinary men and women for peace and disarmament because of the contribution of those facilities to stability in the strategic relationship between the superpowers.

I wish to deal with why the Opposition regards this as a matter of urgency and why it brings it forward for debate today. It might have been thought last Wednesday when the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) made his statement on a series of matters, including the question of United States of America-Australia joint defence facilities, that the matter could have been left to lie because at that point the Prime Minister embraced a series of propositions which have the support of the Opposition. There has long been argument in Australia on those propositions but the Opposition has consistently pursued them both in government and as an opposition, and of course in that sense we welcome the fact that the Prime Minister chose to step forward and embrace those propositions.

The propositions go to the most important matter that we in this Parliament are called upon to consider; that is, Australia's defence and security in the world. We might have been able to end this session on the basis of agreement on a matter of great substance. We had an area of doubt, an area about which the Australian Labor Party had in the past attacked the Liberal and National Parties , but there now appeared to be clarification and a greater unity of view. I for one welcomed that and thought it was a useful thing for Australia. But, having got to the point where the Prime Minister endorsed a series of very significant Opposition viewpoints on the arrangements between Australia and the United States with respect to joint defence facilities, we find that there has been an immediate response from within the Prime Minister's own party. We see reports and public evidence that four of his Ministers, 28 of his members of parliament and two of his State branches have chosen to attack him for the statements he made less than a week ago. So within the ALP is a clear challenge to matters which we see as being of fundamental importance to Australia. On that basis we believe it is important that there should be a clear statement by the Parliament on Australia's dealings with its allies and the Senate should indicate its support for the propositions set out in the urgency motion. We see the need for the Senate to support the Prime Minister's view, in the terms of the urgency motion as follows:

. . . that the joint Australian-United States defence facilities in Australia directly contribute to Australia's security, that their operations in no way derogate from Australian sovereignty and that removal of the facilities would dash hopes of ordinary men and women for peace and disarmament because of the contribution of those facilities to stability in the strategic relationship between the super-powers.

There was some criticism of the Government by the Opposition when the statement was brought down. We certainly did not criticise that aspect of the statement but we did criticise the suggestion that in some way the Government was bringing to a waiting world a whole lot of new information. It is interesting to refer to the Prime Minister's statement and to find that he refers to the fact that the Labor Party's platform:

. . . calls on the Government to make known to the public the general purpose and functions of the facilities and any change to these.

I had a very careful look at the Prime Minister's statement, and found three paragraphs in which there was an attempt to put down some additional or new information. I quote those paragraphs to the Senate because I suppose they are seen by the Government as being central to why this statement had to be made. The Prime Minister said:

The facilities are not military bases. There are no combat personnel or combat equipments there, no military stores or workshops, no plant or machinery or laboratories for research, development, production or maintenance of any weapons or combat systems of any type.

Timely knowledge of developments that have military significance is very important and can be critical for the security of the United States of America and its allies, including Australia. Effective deterrence and hence avoidance of conflict depend on this. Similarly, effective measures for military restraint and for the control and reduction of armaments depend upon reliable assessments of military developments. Arms limitation arrangements between the United States of America and the Soviet Union specifically provide for verification. The general purpose of the facilities that we operate at Nurrungar and Pine Gap with the Americans is to contribute to all of these objectives.

The Prime Minister goes on to say in the third paragraph:

Among the functions performed are the provision of early warning by receiving from space satellites information about missile launches, and the provision of information about the occurrence of nuclear explosions, which assists in nuclear test ban monitoring and supports nuclear non-proliferation measures.

The Prime Minister, in words which are very significant and which are a reminder of the sorts of statements often made by Liberal Party and National Party spokesmen in this area, went on:

Disclosures of other technical functions of the classified facilities would involve damage to both United States and Australian interests and cannot be justified.

The Prime Minister drew a veil over what in fact could be disclosed but used words, which I have repeated to the Senate, which purported to be a description of the general purpose and functions of the bases. I can only echo the words of Mr Peacock and say that anyone who has seen these bases as an issue and has been concerned about the role of the bases is unlikely to be surprised or particularly informed by the words which the Prime Minister has used. The fact is that the Prime Minister has added little if anything to the sum of public knowledge on these bases in Australia. I simply say to the Senate that our cynicism about the statement is that he has purported to describe it as something which it is not. I now quote with very real approval expressions of the Prime Minister about those facilities and the crucial role that they play. He said:

Some people express concern about the possible risks to our security from these facilities. The Government takes the view that the joint facilities directly contribute to the security that we enjoy every day and that this tangible benefit outweighs the possibility that risks might arise at some future time from our hosting the facilities.

In the same statement the Prime Minister said:

. . . let me emphasise again that these facilities are jointly managed and operated by the Australian and American Governments. All functions and activities require, and have, the full knowledge and concurrence of the Australian Government. We monitor this and we are satisfied that the operations of the facilities in no way derogate from Australian sovereignty.

Finally, again in the same statement, the Prime Minister said:

Some Australian groups and individuals-

I interpolate to say that this includes several State branches of the Australian Labor Party-

call for the closing of the joint defence facilities. The Government recognises many of such calls as being sincerely made. We regard them as misguided but not hostile in intent.

The Prime Minister continued:

As I have indicated, the removal of the joint facilities would hinder United States efforts to maintain effective and stable deterrence and would damage the capacity of the United States for monitoring and verification, so striking a very serious blow at the prospect of arms control agreements between the super- powers. Such a development would dash the hopes of ordinary men and women around the world for peace and disarmament.

They are statements of the Prime Minister with which the Opposition is in agreement. Those statements are reflected in the motion which we have brought before the Senate today. It is normally not necessary for the Opposition to take action to bring matters before the Senate when it is in agreement with the Government. However, the circumstances of this statement are not what we would regard as normal. The statement follows a long period of debate in which the Australian Labor Party has generally set itself against the position of the Liberal and National parties. We have had this welcome recantation by the Prime Minister and the taking of a stance which is consistent with the view we have put forward.

If the matter had ended there I believe this debate would not have been necessary. However, we have the extraordinary situation of this Prime Minister immediately being greeted by the most obvious and concentrated opposition from within his own Party. That is not a matter involving a few branches or a matter involving one or two people. It is a matter involving members of the Government itself going to the Prime Minister to object.


Senator Coleman —We are a democratic party.


Senator CHANEY —I am glad to hear Senator Coleman's view that her Party is a democratic party. The question is where the democracy of that party will lead Australia, whether the Prime Minister can sustain the desirable position which he enunciated on Wednesday last or whether in fact those who seek to break down that situation, such as Senator Coleman, will be in a position to do so. We have been told that a number of Ministers, for instance, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West), the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren), the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt), have all gone to the Prime Minister and complained about the statement. We are told that the Ministers have disputed Mr Hawke's contention that the facilities in Australia were not military bases and that the hosting of the bases involved a sacrifice of Australia's sovereignty.


Senator Coleman —Now there is an assumption that that is what they went in there for.


Senator CHANEY —Let them come in here and deny it. We have Senator Coleman saying that that is an assumption. Happily, of course, Senator Coleman is one of those members of parliament to whom I am about to refer and who have put their names to their views on this statement. But the fact is that four members of the Government have met with the Prime Minister to object to the statement which he has put down.


Senator Coleman —You think that is what they said there.


Senator CHANEY —Senator Coleman again interjects. I would welcome Senator Gietzelt's entry into this debate and his denial of the truth of what I have said. I would welcome Senator Gietzelt coming in here and saying: 'I support the moderate and positive views which have been put by the Prime Minister on this subject'. But I suspect that we will not hear from Senator Gietzelt in this debate, although perhaps at a later stage of the debate we will have a chance to have a vote on the matter and he will be able to express his view in that way. The response from the Labor Party, from the highest level, from the Ministry itself, has been to object. On the same day as the Prime Minister made the statement, we find that a whole group of members of the House of Representatives and of senators circulated a letter on which appear their signatures and in which they objected to substantial parts of the Prime Minister's statement.

The Prime Minister's statement covered a great number of issues-uranium, disarmament and United States of America and Australian bases in Australia. I do not have the chance in 20 minutes to canvass what the Prime Minister covered in 42 minutes in his statement in the other place. But it is important to note that 17 members of the House of Representatives and 11 senators from this place wrote to the Prime Minister on the very day of his statement expressing their deep concern about the content, timing and manner in which this statement was made. They did not just object to the Prime Minister's statement on bases. They objected also to the very important statement which the Prime Minister made then , and has made in other places including at the University of Western Australia before Easter, in which he drew a very sharp distinction between nuclear weapons , which are abhorred by the Government, by the Opposition, by the people of Australia and indeed of the world, and nuclear energy for peaceful purposes which we support. The Government supports it, the Opposition supports it and I believe the people of Australia support it. What the members and senators who objected to the Prime Minister's action have said is that the existing party policy is challenged by this assertion. They deny the assertion of the Prime Minister in that part of his statement. Instead they assert:

Labor believes the development of a nuclear weapons capability from civil nuclear programmes is the most distressing feature of nuclear power . . .

I do not have time this afternoon to go into that aspect of the debate but I draw the Senate's attention, and the attention of the people of Australia, to the fact that these senators are also objecting to that part of what the Prime Minister had to say. On the second page of their letter they set out their objection to the Prime Minister's statement insofar as it touches on bases. They say:

It is of great concern to us that the statement could have the effect of pre- empting the debate at National Conference . . .

They also state:

. . . the statement was at no stage considered by any Party forum whether inside or outside the Parliamentary Party.

That is a matter which is for them. They also state:

Party Platform calls on the government to ensure that the presence of foreign bases and facilities 'does not involve a derogation from Australian sovereignty' . The Platform also requires the government to 'make known to the Australian public the general purpose and functions of the bases and any changes to these'. We do not believe that the Prime Minister's statement adequately addresses these issues.

The ALP Platform supports the Palme Report which states that 'nuclear deterrence cannot provide the long term basis for peace, stability, and equity in international society'.

I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard that letter which has had such wide circulation and which sets out the depth of objection from within the Labor Party to the Prime Minister's statement; as I have said, 17 members of the House of Representatives and 11 members of the Senate signed it, including Senator Childs, Senator Coleman, Senator McIntosh, Senator Coates, Senator Giles, Senator Bolkus, Senator Georges, Senator Hearn, Senator Primmer, Senator Zakharov and Senator Reynolds.


The PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?


Senator Gareth Evans —No.


The PRESIDENT —Leave is not granted.


Senator Gareth Evans —No. It is a private Caucus letter.


Senator CHANEY —Well, it has been very widely circulated.


Senator Gareth Evans —That is too bad.


The PRESIDENT —Leave is not granted.


Senator CHANEY —Well, I am sure that later in the debate we will have a chance to read the rest of the letter into the proceedings. I have only five minutes left but I will certainly take the opportunity to read it into the record at a later stage of today's proceedings, if nobody else does it. If it involved just a rump group of the Caucus who could be cheerfully corralled by Senator Richardson, none of this would matter and it might not have been necessary to bring it on for debate. But this is not an objection which has been laid down by only a small number of senators and members. It is an objection which has been picked up by two State branches of the ALP which have challenged the Prime Minister's position on this matter on which we believe it is in the national interest that there be unanimity.

We find that, within a matter of days of the statement having been put down in the House of Representatives, the ALP State Convention in Adelaide has already overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for the shut-down of the bases. It rejected an attempt by one of the loyal Ministers-one of the Ministers who are trying to support the Prime Minister's position-to soften the motion. We find the clearest possible stance being taken by the South Australian branch, which is noted for its double think and which supports uranium mining in the biggest mine in Australia, at Roxby Downs, but which opposes uranium mining everywhere else, a level of double thinking which I find very hard to credit, even in a State branch of the ALP. But that State branch overwhelmingly passed a motion calling, not for further examination of the bases, but, indeed, for their complete shut-down.

Of course, the South Australian branch is a small branch. It might be argued that what does it matter as only 11 senators, only 17 members of the House of Representatives and only one small State branch take this view about these important matters. But we find that on Saturday the President of the Victorian State Branch of the Australian Labor Party, Mr George Crawford, said that Victoria would back the South Australian stance at the July national conference and that for 10 years Victoria had supported a policy to remove the bases. Mr Crawford went on to say:

The Victorian branch has consistently over the years been concerned with the bases, particularly because it believed they make a prime target. . .

I think the view held is the risk of having a first-strike attack against Australia is too great a risk to compensate for any benefits.

These matters go to the central issues of peace, the maintenance of peace and the defence of Australia. In the time I have left let me stress that the Opposition believes that there is a real risk to the world of thermo-nuclear war . But we agree with the Prime Minister on this occasion that we must pursue world peace and disarmament within a framework of strength and not a framework of weakness. Those members of the ALP who see a possibility in moving towards disarmament on a unilateral basis, those who see the world moving towards peace without the reality of deterrence are, in the view of the Opposition and clearly in the view of the Government itself, out of line with reality.

There is no argument that Australia has a part to play with the nations of the free world to ensure that there is a maintenance of stable deterrence. That was asserted by the Opposition when it was in government and is asserted now it is in opposition. We believe that it is of great importance to Australia that the government of the day, the Labor Government of today, has moved to that position . We believe that the joint United States and Australian facilities within Australia are a key Australian contribution to the deterrence which has underpinned the long period of peace we have had between the super-powers. It may be an uneasy peace, but a peace it has been. We believe that without that deterrence the cause of peace would be weakened.

We regard this matter as being of very considerable importance. We believe that it is a matter on which there should be a vote of this Senate so that the Government can see that there is overwhelming support within this Parliament for the stance which the Government laid down in this Parliament only last Wednesday with respect to the bases. I know that the initial response of Senator Chipp to the suggestion that I made that this should be done was that it was a political move and that he had doubts about it. But let me say that it was not the Opposition which politicised this issue and sought division upon it. It was the 11 senators sitting opposite us who signed that letter, the 17 members of the House of Representatives, the members of the Cabinet and the State branches which have actively gone out and campaigned against the Government's position that have raised doubts about the position of the Government in regard to this matter. We believe that those doubts are not in Australia's interests and that they should be put to bed by the passage of this motion by the Senate which we believe deserves its unanimous support.

We are talking about matters which are fundamental to the security of Australia . We believe that the security of Australia is best served by a genuine alliance and partnership between the United States and Australia on these matters. We do not believe that we should have any truck with the antics of the left wing of the ALP and with those State branches of the ALP which would strike at the very roots of our defence and our world strategy.