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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 451

Senator MASON(6.00) —The statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) is very important because it sets out not so much a course of action as a dilemma for Australia. The statement begins:

The islands of the South Pacific have always been regarded as fundamental to Australia's strategic well-being.

I would agree with that. The statement continues:

This was proved correct in World War II, when battles on land and at sea in the island chain to our north turned the tide of Japanese expansion. It was at Milne Bay that Australian forces won the first significant victory against Japanese land forces in the Pacific war.

The bottom line, or the crunch, in this matter is that our Pacific neighbours on the whole are not at all well-equipped to defend themselves. Furthermore, they are divided by huge expanses of sea. As we have found before in history, that is a very difficult area to defend. Even the largest of the islands has an armed force of only a few thousand men, virtually no air force and a small navy with only one or two patrol boats. It is the view of the Australian Democrats that it is totally unrealistic to expect that Australia should be able to contribute to much of the defence of all or even most of these island territories in the event of a major war even approaching the scale of the Pacific war during World War II. That seems to me to be absolutely axiomatic and a nettle which the Government ought to grasp, but which it does not even begin to deal with in the statement. The nettle is at the top of page 4, where the Minister makes a statement with which I agree. He says:

The island countries lie across important lines of communication between Australia and Japan, our major trading partner, and the United States, our major ally. They also lie across important trade routes and approaches to Australia's east coast, where many of our major population centres are located. An unfriendly maritime power in the area could inhibit our freedom of movement through these approaches and could place in doubt the security of overseas supply to Australia of military equipment and other strategic materiel.

The key to this is the position of Papua New Guinea, particularly its geographic position. Of all the South Pacific nations, except for Australia and New Zealand, Papua New Guinea has the largest armed forces, but still with an army of just under 3,000, five patrol boats, one landing craft, a squadron of Nomads and some other patrol-type aircraft. It is also very close to Australia geographically, forming a kind of geographic shield right across our northern approaches. There is not a large area of sea between us and Papua New Guinea, and that area of sea is fairly easy to get across. In the Democrats' view the practicality is a closer concentration on reality than this statement appears to achieve. I believe that the Government and all Australians must look to a greater concentration on Papua New Guinea and the corridor it provides to the north. If one looks at that as a fundamental priority achievement, one begins to see some line of sense in the whole situation, embracing the Minister's statement that it is necessary for us to maintain some line of communication to our north and not to be utterly cut off from that area.

How far should that consideration go? I believe that it should embrace all kinds of options, up to and including something such as the American Monroe Doctrine which, as honourable senators will know, involves a commitment by the United States of America that an attack on any part of the American continent will be regarded as an attack on the United States itself. That statement should and must be limited by the fact that Papua New Guinea is an independent nation. Her political future is her own affair; and the degree to which she might want involvement with or protection by Australia must be her decision as a sovereign nation.

That said, I assert that our diplomatic and governmental efforts ought to be directed at a closer and more effective defence co-operation with Papua New Guinea that with the rest of the Pacific area. It is a hard decision, but not to make that sort of distinction would place us at grave peril. That sort of dangerous indecision about our defence planning has created a situation in which so much has been spent over recent years, but it has resulted in a largely ineffective defence force. This has been conceded, not only by me but also by committees of this Parliament and virtually every expert who has looked at it. The general consensus has been that that waste-that is what it is-and lack of proper concentration on what our defence efforts should be, have been due to a failure to perceive the real strategic requirements of this country. There is also the idea, which goes right back to the time when this nation was a colony, that somehow our only means of having a reasonable defence potential would be as the associate of some kind of father figure-first the United Kingdom and later the United States-and that the only possible way we could defend ourselves would be to throw in our little bit of weight with that father figure and hope that it would take our hand and defend us in the event of a major war. In these days of nuclear war, nuclear-powered attack submarines and the like, we all know how unrealistic that view is. It is quite absurd to accept the idea that anybody could protect us in a major war or that our sea lanes would be in any way protected by even the closest possible concentration of forces by our allies, even if they were in a position to put those forces there. There is no way, for instance, that a submerged submarine carrying missiles could be prevented from attacking our shores and cities. We must look reasonably, as we are doing with the Dibb report on the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, at the idea that we can defend ourselves only in a non-nuclear situation and that what defence potential we have ought to be directed to defending this continent and our northern approaches.

In doing that, we are doing two things. For the first time we are providing a practical means of defence, because it is a fact that in these days of smart guided missiles and relatively cheap, lightly manned missile carriers, even major naval forces which seek to invade other countries are at risk from that type of weapon. The Falklands war and the Israeli and Middle East conflicts have made this abundantly plain. Therefore, it is possible for us to defend this continent, or at least to create a defence potential which would probably deter anybody who wanted to attack us-not that I believe anybody does at the moment.

A second advantage of that stance is that it gives a clear foreign policy message to the rest of the world that we are not in the business of foreign adventuring or meddling in the internal affairs of the countries of South East Asia; that we will do the best we can to defend ourselves; that if other countries come here they will come at their own cost; and that we have the materiel and weapons with which to defend ourselves. That is basically Dibb thinking, there is no doubt about that at all. I might say that it was Democrat thinking years before it was Dibb thinking.

Unfortunately, the idea, which seems to be coming through the Minister's statement rather muzzily, is that somehow we can defend the whole of the South Pacific by sending a few reconnaissance aircraft to the island countries helping them to upgrade their surveillance systems, increasing the number of Royal Australian Navy ship deployments to the area and engaging in defence co-operation activities such as providing technical support to island defence and security forces. As Senator Durack said, that is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. The danger is that if it is taken further it will run foul of the excellent plans in the Dibb report for the effective defence of this continent.

I comment briefly on the Pacific patrol boat plan, which I hope will be effective in the sense that there ought to be some compatibility of weapons and some planning for the future with these ships. We do not want another disaster like the Fremantle class. These first-class small warships are absolutely incapable of firing even a shot across the bows of a Taiwanese fishing boat proceeding upwind, because the main armament is the World War II Bofors gun. We tried for years at least to have ships built so that they could have the space for wiring channels and so on, for future conversion to missile deployment-mainly to Harpoon, the missile in which we are specialising. I understand that some of the later ones have wiring channels. I hope that is the case. It would be prudent, I think, that these patrol boats that are going to Pacific nations-plainly, there is no way they can be given Harpoon missiles as they are enormously expensive weapons-have a wiring channel space. But it is possible that new owners may want to provide that capability at some future time. In that case at least one would hope that the ships had the wiring channel space and the space for the necessary control systems. The fact that the very small craft that are being built in the United States could carry missiles effectively makes it plain that provided we have a reasonably fast, low profile platform they will deliver a missile as well as anything else.

I was concerned to see the statement, which Senator Durack mentioned, by the former Chief of the US naval operations, Admiral Thomas Hayward, quoted in this morning's Australian. Senator Durack seems to take the view that because we do not do everything that even unofficial opinion in the United States asks us to do somehow we are allies of the Soviet Union. I really cannot understand that. He advanced the views of ex-Admiral Hayward in just this way. I find the tendency by aging and retired civil servants in the United States to intrude in the affairs of friends rather unfortunate. I do not believe that statements of retired servicemen should be given the weight that they are sometimes given. If there is a serious public official statement from the United States Government we should take some heed of it, but we should not boost headlines, which are inaccurately quoted, with statements of a retired admiral. Admiral Hayward is quoted as saying:

It is not easy to avoid the conclusion that a major shift of Australian defence policy is being shaped, placing at risk one of the foremost assumptions underlying the ANZUS alliance, that Australia and the US share their commitment to regional stability as a whole.

That certainly is not the case on my reading of the ANZUS Treaty. I would think that Admiral Hayward has not read the Treaty. If he did he would find out that there is no commitment whatsoever on Australia under ANZUS to defend regional stability as a whole-whatever regional stability as a whole might mean, we are not told what it means-but merely to consult with our ANZUS allies and then act according to our constitutional processes. The United States has reminded us on a number of occasions that it regards us in that light, that it does not see any particular need or any commitment under ANZUS to defend us. That has been made absolutely clear by the same sort of high official of the same rank as Admiral Thomas Hayward. I find it rather incongruous that he should now turn around and make requirements of us-he seems to make requirements of us-even though the United States has been very careful to withdraw itself from where we are concerned. I hope someone will tell Admiral Hayward that planning for our own defence is our affair. When he talks about commitment to regional stability as a whole he might mean things like seeing that perhaps the Philippines is anti-communist. I hope that the Philippines stays anti-communist-I fervently hope that-but I feel that as things are going in that country that is not very likely.

The people who see a forward defence system as controlling that kind of situation ought to go into some of the Filipino barrios or slums in Manila such as Tondo and have a good look around. They will see why there is a danger of the Philippines becoming communist. It is because of the gross social inequalities which persist in that country and which are likely to persist until a very determined effort is made by somebody to overcome those inequalities that mark the contrast between Tondo and Forbes Park. Forbes Park is a suburb of Manila where there are houses of the very wealthy, defended by barbed wire and high walls with broken glass on top and armed guards. Fleets of air-conditioned Mercedes and large Fords go through the slums every day. In 1981 when the Pope visited the Philippines the Government spent large sums of money erecting large white lines of palings along the route so that the Pope, other important visitors and the television crews with him could not see the appalling slums through which they were driving. If we feel here that we can talk about the defence of our region and feel that that is not a factor we are fooling ourselves and, of course, Admiral Thomas Hayward is fooling himself too. If he thinks that this country will go in consort with the United States for something like the Vietnam war, it is something very few people in this country would require. If that is what he means by a commitment to regional stability as a whole it is something we do not want.

I spent an hour or so earlier on this afternoon reading through the Pentagon Papers again and looking at that disgraceful history publicly revealed in those papers, in the Pentagon's own statements, of its involvement in the Vietnam war. One sees from those statements the gross association of Ambassador Lodge, the American generals, and the connivance of the Central Intelligence Agency in the murder of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother in 1963. An ally of eight years was destroyed quite soullessly and with the knowledge of the American President at the time, according to the Pentagon Papers.

That is probably what one's last word ought to be on this ministerial statement. There is no way we will maintain the peace and stability of the region to our north by military means. That has been proven I would have thought in our generation a couple of times. It will however be maintained by a proper emphasis by the friendly powers of the world-and I include the United States naturally, and Australia and New Zealand, among their number-in respect of the problem redressing the economic problems of that part of the world, of creating there a series of prosperous democracies where there is not the sort of gross inequality that we find in Manila and which we are finding increasingly in Jakarta and in the other main capitals of the area, but instead a group of ordinary, reasonably, self-respecting peoples who are given a chance to progress according to their own lives in their own way. As has been proven again in our generation, there will not be the growth problems of population pressure and so on, because once people are given certain economic horizons they will limit their population through their own means. The issues behind this statement are far more profound than anything which the Minister has seen fit to set forth. It is high time that a Minister of the Crown, who is there as a servant of the people of this country and there to diligently pursue their best interests, came forward with something better than this when it comes to such a matter of great importance.