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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 470

Senator MacGIBBON(9.32) —I wish to speak in support of the amendment to the motion that the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. The relevance of what I have to say falls into three categories. The first is the context of the report. It is a most important report. A slim and slight volume it might be but it does have a great deal of importance to Australia. It demands the attention and the examination of the Senate and debate that comes from that examination because it flies in the face of traditional Australian Labor Party policy, which is essentially pacifist and non-aligned. It is proposing that Australia's Defence Force be committed into the South Pacific region. The second point of relevance in what I am about to say relates to national security. There is simply no more important task before a parliament than the welfare and protection of its people. The third point of relevance relates to the fact that there is a breach of faith on the part of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans).

We were promised on Friday, when this report was brought down, that we would be given an opportunity to debate it fully. That opportunity has been denied us. No amount of dissembling by the Minister can get away from the fact that we have had our rights taken away from us. The Minister was dissembling when he said that we would get a chance on the White Paper. We never had a chance on the Dibb report, the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, a most important document on the whole of the defence structure of Australia. Promises were made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) in the other place and promises were made by the Minister in this place that there would be a full debate on it and yet the definitive critique of the Dibb report which I put down in this place had to be done in an adjournment speech. I could not find a time to do it through the legitimate course of business.

The Senate is the home of debate on foreign affairs and defence matters. When a Labor government is in power-if this Government is any guide to what Labor practice is-we have no opportunity to debate any foreign affairs or defence issues. We have not done so since this Government assumed office in 1983. It is not correct for the Minister to claim that if a matter is debated in the other House it does not need to be debated in this House. If that is so, why do we ever put Bills through the Senate? The fact is that, both legally in the eyes of the Constitution and in practice, every bit of legislation has to be debated and passed by both Houses. When we come to the field of foreign affairs and defence, I yield to no one that this is not the home of reasoned and informed debate.

The debate that we have had on this report has had only two speakers speaking in favour of it. They have both raised charges which need to be answered. Senator McIntosh took a line of support for the non-recognition of Soviet activity in the Pacific. In fact, he ridiculed people who thought that the Soviets were a threat at all. He said: `For 30 years I have been comfortable with them-never seen one in the Pacific'. Yet the very reason this statement was brought down by the Minister for Defence, the Hon. Kim Beazley, was a very belated response by the Government to the presence of the Soviets in the area. The Soviets had been trying to get bases, both port facilities and landing facilities, in the South Pacific for ages. Over a decade ago at Nuku'alofa in Tonga they sought port facilities. There was a fishing agreement with Kiribati in October 1985. The negotiations started in 1984 and the Government knew about the matter but did not react to it. An agreement was just signed with Vanuatu. On 28 July 1986, Secretary-General Gorbachev, in the famous Vladivostok speech, signalled where the Soviets were going in the South Pacific. That was further ammunition for the Government to act. Seven months after the Gorbachev speech we now have this slim document before us which we cannot debate. We have Senator McIntosh ridiculing the Cam Ranh Bay--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! Senator MacGibbon, I must remind you that the amendment before the Chair now is that this debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day and I would like you to direct your remarks to that particular amendment.

Senator MacGIBBON —Senator Mason has taken the usual strident, anti-American line of the Australian Democrats, ridiculing Admiral Thomas Hayward, former Chief of Naval Operations and a man who has now made a very successful professional career in the field of international relations. He is very intelligent, very well informed and a very rational human being and just because--

Senator Tate —Mr Acting Deputy President-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I accept the point of order that I think you are going to make, Minister. Senator MacGibbon, I said to you that your remarks must be relevant to the particular amendment that we have before us. That amendment is that this debate should be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. I would ask you to make your remarks relevant to that. As far as I can see, the remarks that you are making at the moment are remarks that you might make in the debate on the statement and that cannot be permitted.

Senator MacGIBBON —Very well, Mr Acting Deputy President. I must then turn to the content of the report itself and relate it to urgency. The report makes several proposals. It neglects to recognise the instability in the region that we have with the New Zealand Government, New Caledonia and Vanuatu and the deteriorating situation in Papua New Guinea. The report makes proposals about the provision of patrol boats, Royal Australian Air Force flights through the area and the provision of survey crews, among others. Those matters are relevant at the present time in this debate because, as Senator Tate would remember, when the contract was let for the Pacific patrol boats there was a very tight time constraint. The present contract is at least six months late and it is causing a great deal of trouble to Papua New Guinea because it is going to have to refit some of its ships.

Senator Tate —Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator MacGibbon might be talking about time constraints in relation to letting of contracts to do with certain vessels, but he should be talking about the time constraints which would require that the debate be held now rather than tomorrow or on some other day. I do not believe he is directing his remarks to that matter.

Senator Durack —I wish to speak on the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I have moved that this debate should proceed at a later hour of this day rather than be postponed to the next day of sitting. We all know that the adjournment motion means that the Government intends to bury this debate. There is a difficult question of relevance, I admit, in handling a matter of that kind, but it is clearly necessary for any speaker in the debate on my amendment to be able to refer to the nature of the statement and the great significance of the matters the statement deals with. In support of my motion that the matter should be debated today speakers must be able to bring out arguments which are clearly related to the nature of the subject. In fact this debate has proceeded this evening with, I think, a proper attitude from the Chair on questions of the relevance of the contents of the statement. It is not just a matter of the contents of the statement itself, it is a question of the relevance of the subject matter to which the statement refers. Senator MacGibbon has been referring, I think quite relevantly-as speaker after speaker tonight has been referring quite relevantly without being interrupted by the Chair-to the great seriousness of the subject, and it is of great importance to Australia. One of the major issues in this debate is the question of Soviet penetration and Soviet intentions in the Pacific, which is of such vital interest to Australia. We are right in the Pacific region. What are the Soviet's intentions and what is the Government doing about them?

As has been pointed out, we will be having a visit from the Soviet Foreign Minister to this country. What is the Government's attitude going to be to discussions with that gentleman about these matters? These are all questions that are totally relevant to the debate on this statement continuing tonight, or tomorrow, or for the rest of the week if necessary. The Government wants to bury the statement indefinitely. The motion of the Government is to postpone this matter to the next day of sitting, but we all know what that means. We know perfectly well that governments use this device to put off debate indefinitely, way beyond the visit of the Soviet Foreign Minister next week and probably way beyond the current session. If honourable senators look at the Notice Paper they will see that probably over 100 items have been postponed under this device, employed by Senator Gareth Evans tonight, of moving the adjournment of the debate to the next day of sitting.

I plead with you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to exercise some common sense in the application of the relevance rule. It has been exercised from the Chair tonight on this matter and I would be very disturbed indeed if you were now to clamp down on a speech in which Senator MacGibbon is quite properly referring to the matters that he has mentioned in the debate so far. It may be fair enough to remind him of the need to be relevant, but there is no need to adhere to nit picking points of order by the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate), who seems to be just as bent on stifling proper debate in this matter as the Minister who was in charge of it earlier.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Before I call Senator MacGibbon, I say to Senator Durack that I hope that I do use common sense at all times when I am in the chair. Senator MacGibbon, I understand that a point of order was called. I understand that you would have to make certain reference to the document or to other matters which you think are relevant, but such references should be directed towards the motion that we have before us; in other words the urgency of carrying on with the debate tonight. I ask you, when you are speaking, to remember the motion that we have before us and to direct your remarks around that so that they are relevant to it. I expect that you will be making remarks about the document, but I would ask you not to go into the full scale debate that you may go into when this matter is next before us.

Senator MacGIBBON —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I know you would not wish to apply different standards to me than to other speakers in this debate, and I will respect your rulings. The very first point I made when I rose to speak on this matter was that the relevance of my statement would be related first of all to the content of this report, and that is something that I will do scrupulously from now on.

The importance of time is that one of the central features of this report is the provision of 12 patrol boats. We all know that there is at least a six months slippage on this program, and the consequences of further slippage are very important, and very important for Papua New Guinea. It will have to spend a lot of money refitting its old patrol boats, because the expectation was that it would not have to do this.

Another important point is the increase of five flights a year through the region to 10 by the Royal Australian Air Force long range maritime patrol aircraft. We have a critical crew shortage with at best about seven crews per squadron. The Minister said in his statement in the other place that none of the present long range maritime patrol flights by No. 10 and No. 11 squadrons would be cut back to cope with this doubling of activity in the South Pacific region. Again, the relevance of time is very acute, because the training of long range maritime patrol crews takes about a year and a half to two years. If this has to be done this must be brought to the Government's attention today and it must take corrective action.

As for the provision of survey crews, it is a good move to survey the islands in the South Pacific. But the Senate has been given evidence repeatedly by the Chief Cartographer of the Royal Australian Navy that there is over 50 years survey work to be done on the Australian coastline alone. Nothing in the report deals with the conditions of service in the Australian defence forces. People are leaving now at record rates because the conditions of service are so bad. If that matter is not addressed today we will not have any people to send into the South Pacific to implement these policies. I come back to the central point that we all started on: What is the Government trying to hide? Why can we not have debates on foreign affairs policies? Why is such a debate always swept out with the guillotine or the gag or buried down the list on the Notice Paper? We want these great issues of state to be debated here. There really is very little of more importance to Australia than the security of its people. This is the home of it and that is why we want to have this document debated today.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Senator MacGibbon, I thank you for your latter remarks, which were well directed towards the motion we have before us.