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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 455

Senator NEWMAN(6.25) —I must say at the outset that I welcome this defence statement. A lot needed to be said and I am glad to see that the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has put his views on record in certain areas. The Minister sets out initiatives which I believe are needed and I think the security of the region will be that much better as a result of the initiatives. I do not believe that they go far enough and I hope that I can demonstrate that during the course of my speech. I still give credit where it is due and say that this statement has been needed and it is good that it has been brought down.

It is important to note that the Minister has emphasised in his statement the significance of the region. Mr Dibb, in his Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, says that this is one of the most stable regions in the world and I think all Australians would hope that that is and will remain accurate. I have fears on that score, and I know Senator McIntosh has been claiming that we on this side of the chamber continually see reds under the beds. I remind Senator McIntosh, however, of the well known example of the British Empire managing to train its guns on the wrong side of Singapore Island. We cannot be wise after the event; we cannot afford not to be careful about where our strategic interests and threats lie. Therefore, one must watch what is happening to this region.

Our interests are served by maintaining stability in the region and one of the ways we can do that obviously is by assisting in the region's economic stability, but tonight I want to examine more the changing strategic factors which should be kept under close watch, as I hope Senator McIntosh would agree. I do not want to put any of these points too strongly but I do believe that, if we take them together, one cannot rely on this region remaining stable. Given that it is so important to us-I think Senator McIntosh was casting doubts on whether it is so strategically important, but I insist that it is-we should keep close watch on the strategic changes in the area. Obviously one of the most widely publicised changes of recent times is the defection, if I can put it in those terms, of New Zealand from the ANZUS Treaty. I regard that as a great shame and I feel that it has diminished to some extent the value of ANZUS. The importance of ANZUS I do not think can be diminished. It is extremely important and I welcome the fact that this Government says that it is committed to ANZUS. I only wish that it had expressed its feelings, or our feelings, more strongly to the NZ Government when it opted out of that treaty.

I am concerned also at the presence of Libyans and Cubans in the Pacific. That is not something, according to their history, which will be conducive to stability. I am concerned also about the buildup of Soviet military presence in the region. It is easy to dismiss this but when one recognises that two out of Moscow's three aircraft carriers are operating in the Soviet's Pacific fleet and when we look at the continued development of Cam Ranh Bay-as was revealed recently to Australians by way of photos in the media-we must take serious account of the situation. A third of the Soviet Navy, nearly a third of its air power and a third of the available SS20 intermediate range ballistic missiles are in the Pacific theatre, not to mention the 53 Army divisions available to that theatre. So it is something that we must continue to watch carefully.

Equally, we must watch the buildup of Soviet commercial and diplomatic actions in this area. I believe that there is heavy pressure on the Association of South East Asian Nations countries at present, quite apart from the South Pacific nations, to improve diplomatic as well as commercial activities. The Soviets are not prepared to take no for an answer and they are knocking very hard at the doors of our neighbours in order to have increased influence in our area. It is a matter we must watch. When we take into account also the speech of Mr Gorbachev in Vladivostok, the politics I believe they are playing with the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, and also the fact that the Tongan Government, which has traditionally been so conservative, now has its Crown Prince in Moscow negotiating on undisclosed matters with the Moscow Government, we must be wary; we must keep an eye on these things.

I am not the only person concerned about these issues and I would like to quote some people who have much greater reputations in this area than I to confirm my view that we should keep a close watch and that action is needed to maintain good, friendly relationships with our neighbours in both the ASEAN and South Pacific areas.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator NEWMAN —Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was drawing the attention of the Senate to the changing factors which apply to the strategic situation in the southern Pacific. We must take the changing factors very seriously. Whilst we may not be in a position described earlier by Senator McIntosh of looking for reds under the beds, a number of world authorities on this area speak of their concern. I am not just mouthing my own right wing reactionary views. I draw attention to the comments by Admiral Synnot on the Dibb report. He says that he is concerned that Mr Dibb has said that Australia is one of the most secure countries in the world. He finds this statement very dangerous and he draws attention to the fact that we have threats to our overseas shipping and to our trade. He said:

The report unwisely seems to discount the importance of trade to Australia. It is only discussed from a submarine threat aspect. For instance, if our trade were interrupted outside the 1000nm zone by missile-armed surface raiders with helicopters to extend their range of action, the country could suffer very serious economic trouble.

There could also be serious threats to our offshore resources zone . . .

In addition, Captain Jack Roome of the United States Navy, a member of the United States Defence Intelligence Agency, examined in an article in the Pacific Defence Reporter last year Soviet military expansion in the Pacific. He said:

Moscow's use of all the instruments of foreign policy-military assistance, diplomacy, trade, aid, propaganda, and overt and covert activities-demonstrates a determined effort to extend Soviet power and influence and to promote the USSR as the dominant world force. To this end, it is becoming more apparent that the Soviets are also building a military force in the Far East which surpasses any reasonable defensive requirements.

Last year, Dr Robert O'Neill, in the keynote address to ENSA/NAVTEC'86 said:

But scepticism and willingness to see the Soviet point of view will not hide the fact that the Soviets are a real challenge through their peculiar ability to give such continuing high priority to their military requirements in time of peace . . . The greatest challenge of all in those circumstances is to maintain a credible deterrent posture which does not undermine stability nor create new tensions of its own. Management of the naval balance is one of the most crucial elements of meeting that challenge.

The Japanese Foreign Minister warned just recently that Soviet intrusion into the South Pacific would be very bad for regional stability and security. He said that Japan and Australia had to co-operate and to remain in close contact to ensure that the Soviet Union did not gain a strong foothold in the region. I am glad to say that our own Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, was reported in December last, while speaking during a visit to New Zealand, as saying that such a deal as was proposed in Vanuatu, for fishing rights, would lead to Soviet infiltration through lack of security surveillance. He said that a country the size of Vanuatu could not afford to keep tabs on Soviet activities and he made it clear that he was deeply suspicious of the Soviets' motives. He went on to say:

The Soviet Union on the ground, on past experience, will take the opportunity to engage in other than commercial activity.

It is very clear that we have a lot to be concerned about, despite comment from Senator McIntosh that we in the Opposition are rather paranoid on the subject. We await with interest the White Paper on defence which the Government has promised is coming shortly. I hope we will see in it that ANZUS and regional security arrangements will be much more thoroughly covered than they were in the Dibb report. I believe that there was great value in the Dibb report, particularly because it raised the question of defence to a matter for national debate. That in itself is rare enough in this country in time of peace. I hope we will see in the White Paper that the strategy of denial is modified.

We simply cannot accept the strategy of denial, nor can we accept the assessment that we are in a totally benign region. I believe that our defence policy should provide the nation with the widest possible range of options. We simply must not allow a blinkered view of the role of the Russians to prevail. We would be restricting our range of options for preparedness. There is an old saying that if an enemy has three options he will usually choose a fourth. We must build a defence force which is relevant to Australia's needs and which will have the equipment and the material infrastructure base to achieve it. Australia's needs have to be taken into account in the light of the changing situation amongst our neighbours. Australia's shipping has to be protected outside our brown waters. Evasive routing or becoming self-sufficient in basic commodities will not be enough.

An airborne early warning system is still not being implemented. We recognise the fact that the haemorrhaging of our defence personnel has to be stopped. The loss of morale and the waste of scarce resources cannot be allowed to continue. One has to wonder whether we will have submariners and pilots for the equipment that we are buying. I do not intend to pursue these matters of detail on this occasion because, as I said, the White Paper is coming.

I particularly welcome the announcement in the Minister's statement of the establishment of a maritime surveillance course at the Australian Maritime College. It would be unusual if I did not welcome that as a senator for Tasmania. It is obviously a recognition of the important role which this college is now playing in the life of our maritime community. It is giving strong leadership and great academic backing for people whose lives are involved with the sea. I welcome the fact that we have something which is of such world class quality that it is attractive to people from other nations to have their students trained there. From that point of view, as well from the point of view of our Pacific neighbours, I feel it was an excellent decision to establish this maritime surveillance course at the Australian Maritime College.

In the efforts made by the Government in the South Pacific area greater emphasis could be given to the training of Pacific island personnel, both in Australia and in their own countries, by Australians. I recognise that such training is being given, but I believe that for a number of reasons it could well be increased in volume. All countries involved would be the better for that, including our own, if for no other reason than the understanding which such exchanges can generate.

I also question the restriction to one engineer construction unit project per year. From the point of view of our own Royal Australian Engineers and from the point of view of our neighbours in the Pacific, we could look at increasing such activities. As I said, I welcome the initiatives which the Government has taken. I also welcome some of the statements which have been made by the Minister in his speech. One of the most important parts of his statement is on page 4, where he describes the island countries as lying across important lines of communication between Australia and Japan, our major trading partner, and the United States, our major ally. He also describes how they lie across important trade routes and approaches to Australia's east coast, where many of our major population centres are located. He points out that 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 material.

I welcome that statement from the Minister because it really is, I believe, a retreat from the position set out in the Dibb report. I hope that is a sign of the sort of thing we might come to expect shortly in the White Paper. It is a recognition of the realities of our situation and it shows which way we should be heading in our force structure and in our outlook on the world. I feel that there are things in this statement which could have been improved upon; more could have been done and more could have been done earlier. Nevertheless, I do welcome the statement.

Motion (by Senator Gareth Evans) put:

That the debate be now adjourned.