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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 454

Senator McINTOSH(6.19) —This ministerial statement on Australian defence initiatives in the South Pacific brings together in one place the Government's specific defence aid proposals for the small island states to our east and to our north. It seems to be a fair, low key approach and would appear to serve the immediate interests of Australia and the island states. In addition to the Pacific patrol boat project, which has been in the pipeline for some time, the statement indicates the Government's intention to upgrade Royal Australian Air Force maritime patrols, Royal Australian Navy ship deployments, defence co-operation through technical support, hydrographic surveys, and maps. The statement does not cost these additional measures but they would not appear to require an enormous increase in spending. I have little doubt that all island states receiving this aid will welcome it, even though there are specific political differences between Australia and some of the countries. Any aid which will assist them to protect and use their sea resources is clearly in their interests. The patrol boats will certainly assist them to ensure that fishing boats from countries with whom we share political and economic relationships do not illegally poach their fish resources.

As the statement makes clear, this aid is also in Australia's interest. Such programs assist us to keep an eye on the area of our immediate strategic interest. Hydrographic surveys and mapping clearly serve our long term interest in having detailed knowledge of the geography of our immediate region-in the same way that the mapping of Indonesia, Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea serves our interests. In addition to these obvious benefits, such programs keep the island states in a condition of dependence on Australia-a point that will not be lost on the islanders.

The statement says that the islands of the South Pacific have always been regarded as fundamental to Australia's strategic well-being. The fact is, however, that it is only very recently that we have again turned our attention to their importance. The statement says:

. . . the island groups of the South Pacific have developed into independent nations (and) they have developed their own strategic perceptions and concerns.

What this really means is that they are thinking for themselves and are no longer prepared to be just taken for granted as an appendage to Australia. By looking elsewhere, for example for agreements to protect their fishing resources, the island states have brought this message home to us in a powerful way. So I think the Pacific states have been quite successful in telling us that we have to pay a price for their compliance with our interests.

It is this give and take which will promote the growth of inter-dependence between ourselves and the island states. If they are entered into willingly, such arrangements are a proper basis for relations between countries. I would like to think that this is the major basis of the program outlined in this ministerial statement. It is certainly a better basis than that promoted by some members opposite who hear the words `South Pacific' and immediately start shouting `the Russians are coming'. This scare-mongering tactic has continued unabated for more than thirty years and I will not be holding my breath waiting for it to stop, but I do suggest that those opposite who continue this tactic-and that is all it is-have a look at what Peter Hastings says about the Soviets in the South Pacific in yesterday's National Times. Mr Hastings has a lot more in common with conservative party thinking on defence issues than he does with mine but he does occasionally drop pearls of wisdom. He begins his article by quoting none other than the retiring Defence Force Chief, General Bennett, as dismissing Soviet strategic penetration of the South Pacific as a threat to Australian security. Hastings writes:

In strict strategic terms the South Pacific is a tiny stop on the road to nowhere. This is why Moscow found it so easy to sign the Rarotonga Treaty and watch the US shoot itself in the foot. It didn't have to give up anything.

Hastings lists the reasons why Soviet influence in the region, even though it is increasing, is likely to be very limited. On one of the other magic scare terms, `Cam Ranh Bay', Hastings say that the force Russia can project from there is `demonstrably inferior to that deployed by the US at Subic Bay.' I have given up hoping for a more balanced assessment from Opposition members on the Soviet Union, but perhaps they might spare the time to read Hastings's article in full.

The statement notes the fact that the South Pacific has begun to attract increasing international attention. This fact, in the words of the statement, `carries the potential risk that disputes between the major powers, and influences which could be harmful to our longer-term interests, may be introduced into the region'. I would only say that we cannot blame people in this country, as well as those in some of the island states, who feel that we can reduce the possibility of super-power conflict in our area by keeping all super-power presence at a low level. New Zealand, Vanuatu, and to a lesser extent some other island states, do question the presence in our region of United States facilities and nuclear-capable ships. So far there is little sign that Australia is directly penalising these countries for their views and actions on this matter, and I can only hope it stays that way.