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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2228

Senator PRIMMER(5.07) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The Committee was asked by the Senate in 1981 to inquire into Australia's defence co-operation program with its neighbours in the Asian-Pacific region, but shortly afterwards the Committee also received a reference on East Timor. As a result the Committee deferred consideration on the defence co-operation program until the report on East Timor was completed.

While the defence co-operation program was formerly established in 1972, Australia has been providing military assistance to a number of countries in South East Asia since 1963. However, despite 20 years of informal and then formal operation very little has been written about the defence co-operation program and no review has ever been undertaken. This financial year the program is worth over $46m. The Committee received evidence on a number of issues that were beyond its terms of reference. These included human rights in recipient countries, a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific and the possible provision of military assistance to small island states in the Indian Ocean. The Committee acknowledges the importance of these issues by making some preliminary remarks on them in the report.

It became obvious during public hearings of the Committee that there is little information available for the public to gain an understanding of the workings of the program and as a result there is a large degree of misunderstanding or ignorance. The Committee hopes that this report will redress this imbalance and provide a basis for an educated debate to take place in the community. The report begins with a study of the purpose of the defence co-operation program. It became clear to the Committee that the purposes of Australia's participation in defence co-operation programs were given different emphases by the three Government departments that gave evidence-Defence, Foreign Affairs and Defence Support. The various policy objectives of the program are explored in the report .

The Committee was informed that the purpose of the program is to provide defence assistance for those countries in South East Asia and the south-west Pacific that are within Australia's primary area of strategic concern. It was argued that by contributing to the security of the region we are also enhancing our own security. Overall, the Committee supports the general concept of a defence co-operation program. The bulk of the program is directed to the training of military personnel in Australia and the transfer of low level technology to recipient countries. Countries of the South Pacific receive assistance which is more of a civil nature involving, for example, the provision of such assistance as a search and rescue communication project and an exclusive economic zone base points survey. The report provides for the first time a detailed breakdown of all of the projects which Australia has with individual countries.

It should be stressed that it was never the intention of the Committee to conduct a financial audit of the program, project by project. Nonetheless, it became obvious to the Committee, from the evidence received in hearings and submissions, that there are a number of contentious issues relating to the program. Briefly, the issues are: Inadequately defined purposes and objectives of the program; consequent difficulties in assessing whether individual projects are in fact achieving the objectives set out; human rights considerations as a factor in determining the provision of defence assistance; the conduct of civil projects under the program; the linkage of aid and trade, particularly in military equipment; the type of defence assistance provided; parliamentary scrutiny of the program; and the possible receipt of assistance by Indian Ocean Island states under the program.

The Committee believes that the Department of Defence, as the Department responsible for co-ordinating the program, should address itself to these issues to ensure that the program is efficient in its operation and is publicly accountable. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.