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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 464

Senator HARRADINE(8.54) —I support the amendment moved by Senator Durack. I do so very conscious of the fact that the question before us-namely, the defence of Australia and particularly the security of our near region-is one of the most vital issues to come before the Parliament. Indeed, it is for the Federal Government a key issue. It is for the Federal Parliament a key issue. The real reason this debate should take place tonight is that the Government is pursuing, as to defence, a policy of public relations rather than subjecting defence policy to the parliamentary procedures. That is an insult to the people of Australia. I say that quite deliberately because, last year or the year before last, the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) announced that there would be an inquiry into Australia's defence capabilities. It was announced that that would be conducted by Mr Paul Dibb. When the report was prepared and submitted to the Government, did the Government immediately present the report to Parliament? It certainly did not. Members of parliament had to read it in the Press, because there were deliberate leaks to the Press of the details of the Dibb report on the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities. After there was a debate throughout the community and, eventually, in this Parliament, the Minister announced that the Government would prepare a White Paper that has been in preparation for some considerable time. Today we heard that the White Paper was submitted to Cabinet and received Cabinet endorsement. We have been told that the Parliament will be given an opportunity to debate that in three weeks' time.

Senator Durack —Perhaps.

Senator HARRADINE —Yes. What did we hear tonight on the news? We heard a detailed analysis of what is contained in the White Paper. Again, the Government is pursuing a policy of public relations. It is pursuing a policy of selected leaks of documents, such as the White Paper, which should, in the tradition of our parliamentary Westminster system, be debated in the Parliament before they are given to the Press.

Senator Gareth Evans —On a point of order, Mr President, I suggest that Senator Harradine is diverging from the particular subject matter of the amendment now before the Chair.

Senator MacGibbon —On the point of order, Mr President: I have been listening with great attention to what Senator Harradine has been saying. What he has been saying has perfect relevance to the amendment proposed by Senator Durack. He is instancing the double-crossing that has gone on in earlier agreements. We were given an assurance that the Dibb report would be debated in this place and it never was. That is the ground Senator Harradine is using to support his argument.

The PRESIDENT —I have listened carefully to what Senator Harradine has said. I remind him of standing order 419, which deals with relevancy. I ask him to continue but to address his remarks to the amendment moved by Senator Durack.

Senator HARRADINE —Thank you, Mr President. In addressing my remarks to that amendment, I wish to point out that the amendment will ensure that the debate, at least on that part of the response to the Dibb report-namely, the Minister's statement on defence initiatives in the South Pacific-will be debated tonight. The reason I would like to see that debated tonight is to ensure that the Minister is made aware of what the response of this Parliament is to that statement-not only the Minister but also others who are responsible for the practical implementation of the defence of this country and others in various parts of the South Pacific for whom this statement is relevant. I feel that insufficient has been drawn out of the statement and that no attention has been given to the key thrust of the statement. Tonight we should have at least the opportunity of saying that the significance of the Minister's statement is in its political message rather than its defence detail.

The statement is rather thin on defence detail. It is a response to the Dibb report, but in the verbiage of the Minister for Defence there is an unmistakable signal to friend and potential foe alike that Australia regards the Pacific area as one of vital strategic importance to it and intends to act accordingly. That is a very important and welcome change. What ought to come out tonight is that the statement, taken as a whole, is really a means by which the Minister for Defence is distancing himself and the Government from Dibb. One will find in the White Paper, if what is reported in the media tonight is correct, that that will continue to a certain extent, but the Government is not prepared to put its money where its mouth is or ought to be. That is the crucial point.

I do not wish to transgress Standing Orders, but it is very difficult to address properly the importance of having this debate today without referring in detail to the statement which the Government is attempting to gag. Finally, it has been suggested that there have been discussions and arrangements. There have been no discussions or arrangements with me. For the Australian Democrats to enable the Government to adjourn this debate, after they have had their say--

Senator Gareth Evans —Your name was not on the list. We didn't think you were interested in speaking.

Senator HARRADINE —I said to the Government Whip and the Opposition Whip last Thursday, when this matter was going to come up, that I wanted to speak. This is a matter in which I have had a great deal of interest. The Whips said that the debate would be on today. I do not always run and put my name on the list, but Senator Gareth Evans ought to know, as many people in the defence area know, that on defence matters and the Dibb report I have said as much as, if not more than, anybody in this chamber.

I was one of the two senators who went to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in the first parliamentary delegation to visit those countries. Indeed, I was the only back bench member of the Federal Parliament to be invited to the opening of the new House of Assembly in Papua New Guinea. I have had a long and abiding interest in this question. Indeed, one of the other reasons why we ought to be debating this defence paper tonight is that talks are proceeding currently with Papua New Guinea. The Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Julius Chan, when he addressed the National Press Club in Canberra a couple of weeks ago, virtually appealed to Australia to enter into a defence treaty with Papua New Guinea. Those discussions are likely to have concluded before we get back on to the statement by the Minister for Defence.

Senator Gareth Evans —Not true.

Senator HARRADINE —They will still be going?

Senator Gareth Evans —Too right.

Senator HARRADINE —How am I to know that, when Senator Gareth Evans said that this debate is to be adjourned to the next day of sitting? I have seen things adjourned to the next day of sitting which have not come on in 12 months. I have stated openly and clearly the need for a joint defence facility on Papua New Guinea soil. I believe that that matter should be firmly on the agenda during these discussions.

It is vital that members of Parliament have the ability to perform their express functions. I recognise that one should not go on and on and I do not intend to do so, but we have the responsibility to express the views of those people who have elected us. I say to the Australian Democrats that they have not insulted me-I cannot be insulted-but they have insulted the electors in my State of Tasmania by trying to cut off this debate at this point, and the State of Tasmania will remember that.