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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 782


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(3.30) —My colleague the Minister for Defence, the Hon. Gordon Scholes, I think accurately summed up this debate yesterday when faced with a similar pitiful effort from the Opposition brains trust. He said that there had not been many more desperate efforts to scratch around for issues in this Parliament than this particular feeble urgency motion. The political Micawbers opposite constantly waiting around for something to turn up will have to wait a good deal longer. The only urgency about this urgency motion is the urgent need for the Opposition to find something credible to say on the real issues that the people want to hear about: The improvement in the economy under the Hawke Labor Government and the extraordinary difference in the atmosphere which prevails in this community when we compare it with the dark and desperate days over which the former Fraser Government and its acolytes in this place presided.

Where are the Opposition's policies on these questions? To cover up that deafening silence, a silence which is repeated day after day in Question Time, the Opposition thrashes around rehashing lost causes, ancient causes, irrelevant causes, on defence issues and foreign affairs. It seems that the Opposition has come to believe that ancient rhetoric of the 1950s. The voters of the 1980s are no longer fooled by 'red hordes' language. They are no longer fooled by the sort of gravity theory advanced by Sir Robert Menzies so successfully during the 1950s that the yellow hordes up there must eventually come down. The gravity theory has long since been abandoned as part of the appreciation by Australians of the operation of political and military affairs in the region. It is a pity that history does not seem to have caught up with the other side as well. It is a pity equally that the Opposition feels constantly obliged to reiterate its alleged concern about the future of the ANZUS alliance, trying to generate in the Australian community a reaction of fear, a reaction of uncertainty, that somehow this country would be put at risk by the course of its foreign policy.

The reality is that this Government's commitment to ANZUS remains clear and unambiguous. We have stated it over and over again, and I state it again on behalf of the Government today. We undertook a comprehensive review of the ANZUS treaty in 1983. On the completion of that review the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) made a comprehensive statement in the Parliament which was fully debated. Members of the Opposition could read it all themselves to save us the trouble of this charade today. To throw some light on the pointless character of this enterprise and the pointless character of this attempt to throw doubt on our commitment to ANZUS, I draw the Senate's attention to some of the relevant passages in the speech of the Foreign Minister in the House of Representatives on 15 September 1983. He stated:

The Government has completed its review of the ANZUS Treaty, first as a national act and then in association with Australia's alliance partners. The review has led us to a firm and unequivocal reaffirmation of the alliance as fundamental to Australia's national security and foreign and defence policies. In saying this, I do not say that the Treaty guarantees Australia's national safety and welfare, nor do I place us in that position of happy dependence that has satisfied the foreign policy ambitions of many Australians in the past both within and without this Parliament. However, although the Treaty was drawn up a generation ago, and in very different circumstances, we have reached the conclusion that the commitments and obligations that were accepted then remain as valid and appropriate today. The Treaty has the full support of this Government, but we recognise that we must still pull our full weight in our own protection.

A little further on in that speech, Mr Hayden said:

Let me now explain why, on attaining office earlier this year the Government decided the time had come to put the ANZUS Treaty under the microscope-to subject it to a searching examination and to compare our findings with our partners. Our objective was not to revise the Treaty, nor was it to seek to weaken it. On the contrary, we were convinced that by stripping away the misconceptions, and the unrealistic expectations which surrounded the Treaty, we would strengthen it and bring it back to terms with reality.

Perhaps the Opposition cannot understand simple language, but the Australian people know and fully appreciate the Hawke Government's stance on these issues. It may be that if the Opposition is not prepared to accept the Foreign Minister at face value it will at least believe the words of the United States, Australia and New Zealand, expressed in the joint communique issued at the conclusion of the ANZUS Council in Wellington on 17 July last. I quote from the relevant passage:

Council members reaffirmed their commitment to the maintenance of peace, stability and democratic freedoms. They expressed their belief that the ANZUS partnership, based as it is on common traditions and shared interests, contributes to this. They welcomed the increased exchanges that had taken place on political, economic, security and defence issues and agreed that defence co- operation, including combined exercises, visits and logistic support arrangements played an essential part in promoting mutual security.

Access by allied aircraft and ships to the airfields and ports of the ANZUS members was reaffirmed as essential to the continuing effectiveness of the Alliance.

I will come back in just a moment to the issues raised by that last part of the passage and also by the urgency motion here today. Let me move to the question of the joint defence facilities which, as might be expected, come in for yet another demonstration of mock heroics on the part of the Opposition-mock heroics that were conspicuously absent, as I recall it, on one occasion in the past when the then Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, raised the question of the future of the joint facilities as some kind of bargaining coin when discussing better access with the Americans. If the bases issue can be debased to that extent, it is very obvious that the mind of the Opposition is simply unable or unwilling to get straight the seriousness of the issues which are here involved. The attempt to score cheap political points here, as in the past, is utterly misconceived.

The Government's views on the joint defence facilities issue were laid down unequivocally and clearly in what must be the locus classicus on this issue, that is to say, the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in the House of Representatives on 6 June this year in which he set out the fullest official statement ever made to date on the role and function of the joint facilities in Australia. The role of joint defence facilities has been debated both within and outside this Parliament at very considerable length. Again, the Government's commitment to those facilities has been fully outlined. However, specifically on the question of the future of these facilities, the Prime Minister made a statement which bears repetition here today because it simply does not seem to penetrate the minds of those opposite. I repeat what he then said:

Some Australian groups and individuals 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. I do not expect that such calls will now cease. But I ask those making them to consider very seriously the implications of what they are demanding. 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. Moreover, I draw attention to the early warning function mentioned in the statement I have just made, and to the significance of that function for the avoidance of nuclear war. In an uncertain and suspicious international climate, no action should be taken which would reduce stability or increase the risk of war through miscalculation.

Thus the statement covers stable deterrence, the capacity for monitoring and verification, the early warning function, all the things that are crucial if we are to survive in an atmosphere of continued, albeit unsteady, world peace. Nobody denies that the issue of Australia's involvement as host to these facilities raises very serious and very difficult questions. There could not possibly be a clearer or franker articulation of the Government's position and justification for it than occurred in the course of that address by the Prime Minister. There is simply no need to demonstrate Australia's commitment to the ANZUS treaty. It is crystal clear from everything this Government has said and done.

The remaining matter dealt with in the urgency motion submitted by Senator Durack today was, of course, the question of access to ports. The Government's policy on the access question of allied warships to Australian ports is really now quite clear. The Australian Labor Party and this Government have gone on record as supporting the visits of naval ships of our ANZUS allies. That policy applies equally to our other friends and allies, particularly the British. We endorsed the statement contained in the communique issued at the end of the 33rd ANZUS Council meeting to which I have already referred and which was held in Wellington in July. The statement read:

Access by allied aircraft and ships to the airfields and ports of the ANZUS members was reaffirmed as essential to the continuing effectiveness of the Alliance.

Questions have arisen as to how that policy should be applied in practice. Senator Durack has referred to some of the issues which had to be confronted, a couple of them for the first time, in the context of the question that arose at the end of last year. As a result of that, as I explained on several occasions during debates as they unfolded, policy was formulated to cover the situation to the extent that it had not been previously necessary to do so. On 26 February this year the Minister for Defence, in an important statement, laid out with some precision and clarity exactly where we now are on the subject of visits by allied and friendly naval ships. That statement bears some repetition to make it clear that there is both a principle and practical foundation for the Government 's policy in this area and that policy is clear. I shall read the extract from that statement in relevant part:

Visits by allied warships are fully consistent with our responsibilities as a sovereign nation which must protect its fundamental security interests, as is the provision of necessary repair facilities;

As a matter of record, we wish to state that this Government does not require that allied governments reveal whether their ships carry nuclear weapons. Both the United States and British Governments have a policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons. We accept the reasons for that policy;

The United States and British Governments are aware of Australian concerns with respect to the storage of nuclear weapons on Australian territory.

That, I interpolate, is simply not on. The final element in the statement of policy expressed by the Minister for Defence was as follows and it followed discussions between Australian, United States and British officials over the intervening week when it was agreed that each request for the dry docking of such ships in Australian ports would-and I quote:

have to be considered on its own merits taking into account technical and safety factors and the strategic and operational circumstances obtaining at the time. As Ministers have stated, Australia would not in any way endanger the safety of any allied or friendly ship or crew in need of access to Australian facilities.

The attempts by the Opposition to generate some uncertainty or anxiety about the policy of this Government as it applies in relation to the porting of ships, either nuclear powered or carrying nuclear weapons, is mischievous and misconceived. One of the underlying themes that no doubt prompted the Opposition to bring forward this motion at this time has been the discussion that has arisen in recent days and weeks about the position of the New Zealand Government in this respect. It is perfectly appropriate to state again for the record precisely the position of the Australian Government in relation to those developments across the Tasman. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have informed the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr Lange, of the Australian Government's attitude towards the hosting of visits of allied warships. In doing this, we did not try to impose our view on the Government of New Zealand, nor were we acting in any sense as emissaries of the United States Government. New Zealand, as a sovereign country, determines its own policies in accordance with its own priorities. As a treaty partner, the Australian Government hopes that given time the United States and New Zealand governments will be able to reach an accommodation on this issue in the context of ANZUS. The Government sees no useful purpose in further speculation about hypothetical situations involving the ANZUS allies and visits by nuclear warships to New Zealand.

It must be said that the issue has been given further impetus by the resolutions adopted recently by the New Zealand Labour Party at its annual conference. I have no doubt we will hear more about that in the course of this debate. The situation is this: Such resolutions have to be considered, we understand, by the New Zealand Labour Party's policy council before the New Zealand Government itself considers the relevant policy options. Obviously, we do not know when, how or to what extent that process might be set in train. The basic element in Australia's whole position on this is that we respect New Zealand's sovereign right to pursue its own political processes and adopt national policies accordingly.

Our own policies and positions, as I have already said, are well known to the New Zealand Government. That Government has been in office barely two months. Clearly it requires considerably more time than that to consider and consult about the options and opportunities open to it. Further statements by this Government are neither necessary nor helpful to the resolution of that process. So there it is. Our position in respect of nuclear ships is clear. We have had extensive talks about it at the highest level with the United States in particular. When Mr Shultz was in Canberra and Wellington he talked to the Prime Minister the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister. There is no doubt that the Australian position is thoroughly understood and accepted by the United States in respect of nuclear ships, as much as it is in respect of joint defence facilities, and indeed as much as it is in relation to the whole question of the future of the ANZUS alliance, all of which have been called into question by this motion today.

The reality of the matter is that, in calling these matters into question, the Opposition, predictably and inevitably, has done absolutely nothing by the force of what it has said or the questions it has raised to generate any serious concern or any concern at all on the part of the Australian people as to how these matters are being handled. The reality of the situation is that the Quixotes opposite cannot even find the windmills they are trying to thresh at. As far as this Government is concerned, Opposition members have advanced their cause not at all today in calling into question the nature of the Government's commitment, the rationality of that commitment, the principles underlying it and the relationship with the United States. They have not only acted foolishly, they have also acted in a way that can only be described as irresponsible.