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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 651

Senator MASON(11.10) —Mr Acting Deputy President, in Wellington last week I was able to talk with the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr David Lange, and the Defence Minister, Mr Frank O'Flynn, concerning aspects of New Zealand's nuclear ship bans and the possibility of closer defence co-operation between Australia and New Zealand. I would like in this Address-in-Reply debate to raise some points arising from that discussion. Before I take up that theme in any detail I want to deal with two other minor matters. The first concerns Senator Sibraa who, according to our speakers list, will speak in this debate a little later today or perhaps on Monday. However, in the Senate on 26 February he expanded on his threat to the New South Wales Australian Democrats in regard to Australian Labor Party preferences in the forthcoming Senate elections. This threat was made by Senator Sibraa, with all respect to him, rather arrogantly at the declaration of the poll in New South Wales. I understand from his remarks on 26 February that he intends to raise the matter yet again, a third time, when he speaks in the Address-in-Reply debate. I thought I would anticipate his remarks to an extent and remind him that his statement that the ALP may at some time find it reasonable to direct preferences to the Nuclear Disarmament Party, or against the Democrats, is not as simple as it may appear at first sight. On 26 February Senator Sibraa said in his speech:

The NDP may by then-

he meant at the time of the next election-

be an established political party with an identifiable party platform and the Labor Party could well direct its preferences to the NDP . . .

Let me say initially that in recent New South Wales Senate elections the ALP has been quite scrupulous in directing its preferences to parties it perceives as having ideologies close to its own. I refer to the fact that in the last two elections the ALP has directed its effective preferences to the Liberal Party, presumably in support of its fellow conservatives. To suggest that his party may endorse another with which it shares no policy items, and indeed is a proscribed organisation formed by those who disagree with ALP policy, seems to me at best entertaining.

I point out what options would exist if another hypothetical situation arose-if the Australian Democrats took the attitude towards preferences that Senator Sibraa is taking. On a very conservative estimate the New South Wales seats of Hunter, Lowe, Macquarie, Barton and Eden-Monaro would change hands if the Democrats chose to direct preferences to that end. This is based on a conservative one-third shift of Democrat second preferences and a one per cent swing to the coalition. It also assumes the worst case-that the Democrats do not increase their vote share. I might add that most of the seats I have mentioned have strong Democrats organisations and it would not be difficult to organise strong organisations in the others.

Senator Peter Rae —On that basis you are claiming credit for having the present Government. It is one that I would avoid if I were you.

Senator MASON —It is a fact that it governs by our leave. I do not know whether anyone has thought of that; I am sure Senator Sibraa has not. I say to Senator Rae that it is not because of any action we have taken that Labor governs; as he would know, the Democrats have always taken the scrupulous action in the past of sharing their preferences equally between the two parties so that there is no particular effect. Because of that I do not think the honourable senator can say that we take the total responsibility for a Labor government being elected. The Democrats have very heavy responsibilities but I do not think we can go that far. I am saying to Senator Rae, but mainly to Senator Sibraa, who I hope will become aware of these comments, that, if we chose to direct our preferences to that end, following the next election-which I anticipate will be a fairly close thing; if the Government thinks it will not be close it is fooling itself-Senator Sibraa would probably be debating the proposition from the opposition benches.

Given that Senate preference allocations are lodged long before nominal printing deadlines for lower House how-to-vote cards, I would warn Government senators to tread warily in this regard. It is charitable and reasonable to tell them that discussions on this matter have already been held by the executive of the Democrats in New South Wales and we will make our preparations according to the warning that Senator Sibraa has given us but I do not in any sense state what action we will take. I do not intend to signal our punches in any detail but it should be abundantly clear that, with a close election next time, the Hawke Government will govern then, as it governs now, by our leave. That might lead Senator Sibraa to take a more reasonable view on this matter, different from the arrogant one he has already put forward twice-once at the declaration of the poll and again in this place. The Democrats are peaceable people. We do not like to pick fights, as all honourable senators know, but we are certainly in a position to defend ourselves if others pick fights with us. I do not want to expand much more on the consequences of Senator Sibraa's continued kite flying except to remind him that another politician, Benjamin Franklin, found that flying a kite resulted in a quick and salutary response from a bolt of lightning.

The second minor point I want to raise is the Opposition's circulated amendment to the motion that the Address-in-Reply be agreed to. The Australian Democrats will not support the amendment. I say to the Opposition that blunderbuss motions of this type, which evidently try to express the Liberal-National Party views on almost all the problems of the world, are totally unrealistic if they are put up in this place with any real hope of achieving success. We could live with some elements of the Opposition amendment and there are others with which we certainly could not agree, and of course that places the obligation on us not to support it.

Senator Peter Rae —Why don't you propose an amendment then, if you oppose it?

Senator MASON —We have looked at that but we would have to draft a complete motion of our own.

Senator Peter Rae —Try, and let's see if we will support you on it.

Senator MASON —I do not think that is relevant in this case. The reason for that-I was not going to say it but I will-is that the Opposition is excited about what it claims to be 'continuing pressure within the Government for new taxes on assets'. That is a bit of plain politicking because if it is so the Government seems to be giving very little indication of it. Rather, the Government has been saying in recent days that it intends to ease the effects of the existing assets test, particularly on farmers and primary producers. I do not think one can really bring forward a motion of this kind and expect us to take it seriously. It is sabre rattling of the worst type; action of the lowest common denominator. Our view is that a motion with the inadequacies of this one cannot be taken seriously, and certainly it cannot attract our support.

I am pleased to say that the Australian Democrats support a call from the Australian Conservation Foundation for an organised buying campaign of New Zealand goods to support New Zealand's anti-nuclear stand. I applaud the action taken by the Foundation. It is of some interest that I discussed this matter in Wellington last week with Mr Lange and Mr O'Flynn and they indicated that support of that kind would be most welcome. Mr Lange said he did not think that there would be as much retribution against New Zealand in the trade field as has been touted in the world media. He thought that there may be some individual action in the United States where some people have a strong view about New Zealand's actions but he did make the point-I think it was a good one-that a label is not put on a lamb chop. He does not think there will be a specific attack on New Zealand in the trade sense. Nevertheless, the Democrats believe it is vital in the world scene at present that the New Zealand Government's courageous stand on this issue be properly understood and supported. We shall certainly do everything we can, in co-operation with the Australian Conservation Foundation which, I point out, is very much a respectable group of people in middle Australia and very representative of the views of enlightened and intelligent Australians. We are pleased to co-operate with the Foundation in this regard. Purchasing New Zealand foodstuffs and New Zealand holidays are obvious ways of expressing our support and there is no reason why people interested in peace and disarmament should not consider adjusting their spending patterns to favour New Zealand wherever they can and also promote this idea as far as they can to support Mr Lange's Government.

The second point of interest is that in my discussions with Mr Lange I invited him, on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Democrats, to speak at major public meetings in Australian capital cities which the two organisations are already jointly planning to organise. Here again the Australian Democrats are happy to be associated with the Australian Conservation Foundation. I asked Mr Lange whether he could do this when he comes to Australia on 17 April, I think, to have meetings with the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke. Mr Lange asked me to make it clear that he could not accept that because his visit will be a brief one at that time, with a very tight itinerary, and he will have important international commitments to meet on his return to New Zealand, so his return cannot be delayed. However, he is considering whether he will be able to meet that commitment later this year, probably in September, when he may be here for a Foreign Ministers meeting. I made the point to Mr Lange, and he agreed with it, I think, that I thought it most important that his point of view be put to Australian audiences in a mass way, because it has been widely misrepresented in Australia. We foresee having very large and highly publicised functions in the Sydney and Melbourne town halls and in all other Australian capitals, if indeed the New Zealand Prime Minister has the time and wishes to do that. That is a matter on which he has not given a final decision, but which he is considering favourably.

I say that Mr Lange's views have been widely misrepresented. In my discussions with him he made it plain, as he has many times, that his view is not intended as anti-American or even anti-ANZUS. Mr Lange told me he sees the Treaty as being still in existence, and the Defence Minister, Mr Frank O'Flynn, confirmed that. The only thing New Zealand does not want is nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships coming to New Zealand. The reason is exactly the same as that of the Democrats, which I put to Mr Lange and with which he agreed absolutely: If we have cities with naval bases, as we have in Sydney and Perth, where those ships come regularly, and that is known to that dangerous, unstable society, the Soviet Union-I say those words deliberately because I have no brief for the Soviet Union-it is logical that the maniacal military planners in the Kremlin will put those cities on their target list. I think it is stupid and hiding our heads in the sand to believe that anything other than that could happen. The reason is, of course, that about 190 of 600 United States warships are being fitted with Tomahawk or some other form of sea cruise missiles, which are first strike weapons and which must be attractive targets in the first minutes of a nuclear war.

As a senator for New South Wales, I feel this most keenly. I have said time and time again in this place that it is a fundamental stupidity to have Garden Island, a major naval base, stuck in the middle of our largest centre of population and our largest area of property value. It is insane. I remind honourable senators that when the miniature submarine attack took place on Sydney Harbour in the Second World War, it was not an attack on an Australian installation. Garden Island was attacked because the United States cruiser Chicago was there and she was the target. There is a saying that those of us who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but the repetition would be of much more serious consequence to my home city, of which I am very fond. It would mean the total destruction of the largest population centre of Australia. The area around Garden Island-Kings Cross, the eastern suburbs and the city-is the most densely populated part of Australia.

If it was lunatic before to have Garden Island in the centre of Sydney and insane for the Labor Party when it came into power to continue the expansion program and to spend even more money on the place, instead of getting rid of it as it should have done, then it is even more insane-if that is possible to say that-for the Labor Government now to say, with the connivance of the National and Liberal parties, that it is perfectly okay for ships to come there and for us not to know whether they have nuclear weapons on them. I ask honourable senators of every party, especially those from New South Wales, to consider carefully these things because we are talking of the life and death of our city.

If Sydney were on the Indian Ocean and Russian submarines and ships were passing every day, one might see a certain rationality to it; we could at least see that there is some reason for the policy. As it stands now, there is no reason for it whatsoever. I have tried again and again to get statements from various areas, including the United States Government, on why it is important that ships should go there. The only answer I get is that it is a convenient area for rest and recreation for United States sailors. I do not think it is good enough to put our major cities at risk so that American sailors can get around with our girls at night; and that is what it boils down to.

The situation is a continually deteriorating one, as we know. The Liberal Party may take the view it does, but Mr McMahon, as he then was, a former Liberal Prime Minister, gave an assurance in this Parliament during the Vietnam war that there would never be any nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships coming to this country, and the first person to agree with him was the then United States President, President Nixon. What has changed since? What has changed is that our position has been eroded. We have allowed ourselves to be conned into allowing our major cities, such as Sydney and Perth, to become nuclear targets. I do not believe that anybody here who supports that can have thought carefully about the degree of treachery that is involved, because that is what it is. It is an old-fashioned word that means putting the interests of a foreign power grossly above those of one's own people. We are elected by those people to represent them and serve their interests.

That is not an anti-American statement, far from it. It states merely that we have a reasonable case for saying to the United States that the same policy as applies now in New Zealand should be applied by amicable agreement to both countries; that we should have a nuclear free area. Co-operation, defence and the many other strong connections between Australia and the United States-a country I recently visited, which I greatly admire, and many of whose people I am very fond of-should continue in a proper way. It is a fact that that attitude is held by many millions of Americans. I was among their number when I was in that procession to Central Park in New York two or three years ago, in which nearly one million people marched. The New York Times said, the following day, that it was the biggest demonstration of American grass-roots opinion since the Declaration of Independence. That was an editorial comment by the New York Times, which is far from being a left wing publication.

The discussions with Mr Lange and Mr O'Flynn indicated to me that New Zealand was anxious to co-operate with Australia, with the objective of giving both countries a strong, independent defence potential. I think that is something which both countries perceive as being reasonable and rational. The ANZUS Treaty obliges us to do that, among other things, but we have not carried out that function.

I would like to look at a worst possible case and a second worst possible case. The worst possible case could well be that there is a major nuclear war. We know that all of us would be dead. I think any of us who have any rationality know that all of us would be dead. There is a slight possibility-I would not put it much higher than that-that there could be a limited nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The consequence of that-I am not at all convinced that that is possible, but let us say that it might happen-is that civilisation in Australia and New Zealand might remain reasonably intact. Where would we stand then, if we had not provided ourselves with a strong defensive capability and the capability of producing weapons here? We would be at the mercy of any South East Asian adventurer, because the United States, with the best will in the world, would not be in a position to help us. Surely, that in itself is a consideration of great importance.

Senator Cook —We would be on the beach.

Senator MASON —I have read On the Beach, and I tend to take Senator Cook's view that there is no such thing as a limited nuclear war, if that is what he means. I am saying merely that one has to look at every contingency, and that that is a possibility, although a slight one. It is interesting that New Zealand is considering actively a change of emphasis for its defence forces, which would concentrate much more on the defence of the country, the South West Pacific area and the Cook Islands, with which New Zealand sees itself as being closely associated. It is not considering the replacement of weapons that would allow foreign adventuring in the company of larger allies. Mr O'Flynn made it plain that the frigate replacement in New Zealand was probably beyond the financial resources of New Zealand and that it would be looking for some other kind of weapon. I put to him our view, and I think I got a sympathetic hearing, that we believe it is a reasonable thing for smaller or middle powers, such as ourselves and New Zealand, to have weapons of defence rather than weapons of aggression. There is a difference.

I would like to mention a number of significant differences over the next few minutes. The first one is that the Government is providing a clear foreign policy message to the world, including our neighbours, that it is not going to go and attack them, but that they had better not come and attack us. Surely it has been a lesson of the Falklands war, if there was any lesson of the Falklands war at all, that in the modern world of smart weapons and highly diverse missile carriers it is much easier to defend a country now than to attack it. In fact, there are some very interesting intelligence reports, or leaks of them, from Britain which do indicate quite strongly that if a few Argentine bombs that should have gone off but did not go off because some Argentinian did not know how to fuse them properly, had gone off Britain would have been in serious problems and may well have had to have withdrawn from the Falklands. That is an interesting situation, looked at from our point of view because it would indicate, I think, that if we had those types of weapons in sufficient numbers we would probably, for the first time, be able to defend our lengthy coastline and be able to repel an invasion fleet from the coasts of this country. I think that ought to be the major idea of our defence potential.

I was in Seattle a couple of years ago. I think I am the only Australian member of parliament to have been on the final sea trials of the American Pegasus class hydrofoil which is a very fast, lightly manned vessel which carries enormous clout. The fact that it has eight Harpoon missiles on lightweight launchers gives it more clout than any-

Senator Peter Rae —Is that the Boeing one?

Senator MASON —Yes, that is the Boeing one. These missiles give it more clout than any current warship afloat in Australia or New Zealand. Yet it costs under $100m and, in its present form, has a crew of only 21 men. As honourable senators will know, the major cost of big ships is their crewing. The light carrier we are thinking of would have involved us in a crew of 1,000 men. The Australian Democrats' suggestion-this is the point I put to Mr Lange and Mr O'Flynn-was that this kind of weapon should be considered because of its versatility and its great speed. In fact it is not like a Manly hydrofoil, it has a wing under the water so that when it is foil borne it is a completely stable missile platform in waves up 25 feet high, which gives it considerable clout.

Senator Peter Rae —It was considered for transport across Bass Strait.

Senator MASON —I gather so, yes; that is the civilian form of it. It may have been the smaller one, I think. The ship's top speed is classified. When I was on board a bit of tape had been stuck across the speed indicator so that I would not know the speed. We were operating up to half throttle on the trials and I was told that on half throttle the ship was travelling in excess of 40 knots. When it is foil borne it is very difficult to attack with torpedoes and so on. It carries a 76-millimetre Oto Melara gun which is completely self-laying and has foil launchers. It has a tremendous advantage over a slower ship in that if a missile goes for the foil the hydrofoil is well out of the way, whereas a smaller, slower ship is still there and cops a certain amount of the flak even when the foil is attacked by the missile.

I understand from Boeing, only in the last few days, that the United States of America is thinking of getting four more squadrons of six of these ships built and that the whole of the Caribbean operation will probably be turned over to it. Those 24 ships will be seen as a replacement, at much lower cost, for 21 frigates. The Caribbean operation for the United States is very similar to the types of operations we need around our shores. We need patrol and surveillance operations and all that kind of thing. The other interesting thing that I have heard from Boeing over the last days is that because of the economies of scale, the Pegasus class will probably be available at lower cost than it has been in the past, which is a most interesting situation. Also, Boeing has said that it would like to have them built under licence here. The only things that would have to be imported would be the front foil-this would be an enormous thing for us to undertake ourselves; it is very expensive-and the engines which are the same turbines as in the FFG frigate. So we would have no maintenance problems looking after the engines of this class of ship. I discussed this with Mr O'Flynn who is quite interested and I have undertaken to give him what-

Senator Peter Rae —They are fossil fuel guzzlers, aren't they?

Senator MASON —Not particularly, Senator. When they are foil borne they have a very light use of fuel. In fact they do not have much more fuel consumption foil borne than hull borne. The point there is that they cover much greater distances. I think the honourable senator will find that foil borne-I do not have the figures-they would be a much cheaper proposition to run than the conventional displacement hull, for the obvious reason, of course, that it moves through the water more easily. The information I received from Boeing is that that is, in fact, the case.

I have undertaken to give Mr O'Flynn a copy of the letter I sent to Mr Sinclair who was Defence Minister in the Fraser Government at that time. I understand this vessel has been taken seriously and is being considered by the Royal Australian Navy. I suggest that since Mr O'Flynn and the New Zealand Government apparently have a strong interest in the potential of complementary forces with Australia, which is rational and sensible for both countries, that would be, as he said to me, on the basis of New Zealand acquiring ships or other weapons built in Australia. This would be very much to Australia's advantage because it would provide an additional market for ships built under licence and help our economies of scale again.

It is a fact that other small nations, such as Sweden and Israel, build their own weapons very effectively and export them. There is no reason why we should not do the same. There is, of course, another incentive for us that if we do we would avoid the huge and regular shock to our economy of spending so many defence dollars in foreign countries.

Senator Cook —Be a merchant in arms, selling arms to the world.

Senator MASON —I would not necessarily say that. Would the honourable senator say that it was selling arms to the world to provide, say, New Zealand with the sorts of weapons which fulfil the sort of philosophy I mentioned when I began my speech? In other words, they would be the sorts of weapons which were plainly designed to defend our country rather than for foreign adventuring. I think it is quite possible and reasonable for us, if we are going to go into arms manufacturing, to do that sort of thing. I would like, like many people, to believe that there were no weapons on the face of the earth. That would be great. Maybe in a million years time the human race will reach a standard of development in terms where that is possible. I do not believe that it will happen soon.

Senator Cook —I thought your point was selling arms to other countries, not only New Zealand.

Senator MASON —We could do that. These ships could be made available to other countries. There again, philosophically, the sorts of ships we build and the sorts of things we do in our own interests would reflect on what we would have for sale elsewhere. I see no objection to that whatsoever.

The final point I make is that there should be some degree of sanity on the question of the New Zealand issue. Mr Lange has become a world figure because of a gross overreaction in the United States to what he has said, which I thought was a fundamentally reasonable statement and a fundamentally reasonable point of view. Mr Lange said he was rather wounded because the American reaction sort of assumed that any elected Western government would immediately break its election promises, whereas all Mr Lange was doing was keeping an election promise. That seems to me to be not entirely unreasonable. I am glad that there has apparently been some quietening down in the United States now and that the more rabid statements about commercial retaliation against Australia and New Zealand because of the ship ban and the MX missile argument appear to have disappeared. I do hope that those crazy people such as Mr Chaney from Wyoming, to whom I wrote a letter to that effect some time ago, will realise that we are their friends. If they treat their friends badly and heavily-handed that is not a very good beginning to an intelligent foreign policy.