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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 522


Senator KILGARIFF(5.18) —The statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) on Australia's defence initiatives in the South Pacific covers a very wide subject. The subject has even wider horizons as far as Australia's future is concerned. In commenting upon the statement by the Minister, my support for the positive elements of the statement is tinged with concern about what has been left unsaid by the Minister. The sentiments of the Minister and the thrust of the paper, in its recognition of the fact that Australia's future security is closely linked with the future of our South Pacific and South East Asian neighbours, are to be commended. I agree with the Minister's view that closer defence relationships with the countries of our region should be complemented by equally supportive trade, aid and immigration policies. Indeed, I have spoken before on this subject in the Senate.

I believe that, despite our economic problems, we cannot cut back on aid to our neighbours who are so in need of such aid. We have an obligation to see them through their very troubled times. Indeed, the future existence as democracies of a number of countries in our region will depend upon the support given by countries like Australia.

The Philippines is a good example of this. There President Aquino faces communist insurgents of the New People's Army on the left and the Marcos loyalists on the right as she attempts to rebuild her country. The New People's Army is very highly trained, very well equipped and numbers about 30,000-plus. The New People's Army is very active now and many Aquino troops have been killed recently since the recommencement of fighting. Marcos troops are still in the countryside under the warlords and some of the governors of the various provinces, so I do not think we have heard the last of the Marcos loyalists. That is all the more reason why President Aquino must be given not only Australia's sympathy but also considerable support.

In spite of Mrs Aquino's popular support, as evidenced in the overwhelming vote for her new constitution, she faces an uphill battle. The legacy of the Marcos years will take time to overcome. It will not be easy to restore the country's economy in the wake of the hijacking of billions of dollars-I mean billions of dollars and not millions of dollars-out of its coffers by Marcos and his so-called cronies. If Mrs Aquino and her Government are to survive they will need both our moral and practical support.

There are other Pacific nations which are at risk. Recently Vanuatu negotiated an agreement granting the Soviet Union fishing rights in its waters and the right to dock fishing vessels. This has been seen as an attempt by the Soviets to extend their influence in the Pacific, which we are very well aware of when we look at the broader scene. It is reported that the Crown Prince of Tonga is in Moscow to discuss diplomatic and defence arrangements, and so the tentacles stretch out. It cannot be ignored that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is becoming increasingly active in the Pacific. That it is intent on strengthening its presence in this region is quite obvious. It has built up its largest naval base outside the Soviet Union at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. It seems that a lot of people do not understand the size and significance of this base. The installation at Cam Ranh Bay provides a base for Bear and Badger strike bombers equipped with nuclear armed cruise missiles which are capable of reaching Australia and other Pacific countries. Soviet naval presence in the waters of the Pacific has increased alarmingly over recent years and, as I say, overtures are being made by the Soviet Union towards some of the smaller island nations like Kiribati and Vanuatu. They are not the only island nations receiving overtures.

It is quite clear that the Soviets are going to exploit the financial and political problems of smaller Pacific island nations to pursue their wider strategic interests. The people of Vietnam already know only too well the price which must be paid for the assistance which the Soviet Union provides. As I said the other day in another debate, Vietnam has already paid dearly for the millions of dollars worth of Soviet support-about $4.8 billion since 1979-required to keep the Vietnamese armed forces operational in Indochina, Laos and Kampuchea particularly. At Cam Ranh Bay the Soviets have at least 26 ships, as well as a squadron of MiG 23s and a considerable number of the latest large continent-spanning reconnaissance bomber aircraft such as the Bear and Badger bombers which I have mentioned previously. The Soviets maintain about six to eight sophisticated warships at the base and as many support ships, as well as about five or six submarines amongst which are the Victor-class nuclear powered attack submarines. It is obviously no small base. As I said before, it is the biggest base outside the Soviet Union.

Only two years ago the huge Soviet battle cruiser Frunze entered the Pacific Ocean. This vessel is a 35,000 tonne nuclear armed and nuclear powered cruiser and its entry into the Pacific represents a major escalation of Soviet forces in the region. The Vietnamese have been systematically excluded from the area of Cam Ranh Bay and the naval, communications and intelligence facilities established there are operated exclusively by the Soviets. There should be no doubt that the Pacific has become an increasingly important part of Soviet military strategy.

A United States admiral indicated the other day the strength of the forces at Cam Ranh Bay. I thought it rather surprising, he having made that statement, that here in the Senate the Government is still not prepared to recognise or acknowledge the strength of the Soviets at Cam Ranh Bay. As information is available to the Australian Government from reconnaissance aircraft that operate throughout this region, it is even more surprising that the Minister representing the Minister for Defence here in the Senate is not able to make a more positive statement than he has been prepared to make up to now, particularly over the last two weeks. There should be no doubt that the Pacific has become an increasingly important part of the Soviet military strategy. Australia should be aware of this, in planning for our own defence and our role in the defence of the region.

While the paper before the Senate does indicate some of the initiatives being undertaken by the Australian forces to liaise with and assist in the defence of the South Pacific region, there are, as I mentioned earlier, some aspects of our South Pacific defence considerations which apparently have been neglected. I refer to our alliance with the United States under the ANZUS Treaty. Senator Hill had much to say about that, particularly in regard to New Zealand. I draw the Senate's attention to an article which appeared in yesterday's Australian. The article was headed `US Admiral concerned over Dibb proposals', and it told of the concerns of the former Chief of United States Naval Operations that `a big policy shift in Australia's defence policy, detrimental to the ANZUS alliance, was being shaped by the Hawke Government'. I prefer to believe that this is not the case, but I must say that I am concerned that this statement of defence initiatives in the South Pacific does not even mention the role of the ANZUS alliance. I hope that that is not a forerunner of what is to come in the Federal Government's White Paper in response to the Dibb report that has been forecast by Senator Gareth Evans. Any response in similar terms would certainly warrant the concern of the United States that our defence policy is being realigned away from the ANZUS alliance.

This White Paper is due in some two to three weeks and in it, hopefully, we will see the Government move away, to some degree, from Dibb's recommendations, which certainly would have made Australia more isolated from its neighbours. I will await the Federal Government's full response to the Dibb report with great interest, as will my colleagues and many other Australians who desire to see that Australia adopts a realistic approach to defence requirements in the future. One aspect of the Federal Government's response to Dibb and its overall defence policy which will be critical for the future defence of Australia, and our armed forces, will be the measures taken to build up our forces in both physical numbers and morale. The forces have been suffering great losses of personnel in recent years, as outlined by Senator MacGibbon, and we have now reached the situation where the armed forces have been so hard hit by resignations that the forces could be said to be made up of chiefs, with very few indians. The fact is that Australia has insufficient troops to have an effective front line of defence either in Australia or further afield.

For all the Government's grand plans, whatever they may be, it cannot ignore the reality that, without men and women to carry out Australia's defence policy, that policy is useless. There has been a mass exodus from the forces of highly skilled, experienced personnel who just cannot be replaced by raw recruits. It takes many years to train the professionals who now make up the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Recruitment is not keeping up with attrition rates in the forces, which are exceptionally high. They are going backwards at a very disturbing rate.

Our Navy, which it appears is equipped to carry out only a coastguard role-that is no criticism of the Navy but, the way it is going, it seems that it will have only a coastguard role-does not have sufficient weight of numbers to carry out any real role as called upon in the defence of Australia. It is not that those serving in the forces are not up to the job; it is simply that there are not enough of them. It is a physical impossibility to carry out the tasks without the manpower.

Other senators will have received a paper dated 13 February from J. Whitelaw, the National President of the Regular Defence Force Welfare Association. The paper, which is headed `Pension Discount', pleads with parliamentarians to note the problems that beset those in the defence forces, whether they are the 106,000 pensioners or the 400,000 superannuation contributors affected. I look at the paper with considerable concern. The patron of the RDFWA is His Excellency, the Rt Hon. Sir Ninian Stephen, our Governor-General. The paper states:

I bring to your attention that there is a growing mood of exasperation and resentment among pensioners and serving members at the Government's action now that the long term effects are being understood.

That was in response to the changes to the defence forces superannuation scheme. That is one of the main reasons so many are leaving the forces these days. I have shown the letter to the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate). I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

REGULAR DEFENCE FORCE WELFARE ASSOCIATION

P.O. Box 166 Kingston

A.C.T. 2604

(062) 73 3642

Patron: His Excellency the Right Honourable

Sir Ninian Stephen, AK, GCMC, GCVO, KBE

Governor-General of Australia

Dear Senator Kilgariff,

PENSION DISCOUNT

During the Parliamentary recess, which I trust you have enjoyed, this Association together with other organisations with an interest in Commonwealth occupational superannuation schemes, has taken stock of the situation resulting from the passage during the Budget session of the Superannuation and Other Benefits Legislation and Amendments Act 1986.

I feel it proper to advise you briefly of the widespread concern about the Act. This concern is not limited to pensioners; it is echoed by contributors and their dependants. It is not confined to Defence Force schemes; it is shared by contributors and pensioners of the Public Service Superannuation schemes included in the Act. In all, some 106,000 pensioners and 400,000 contributors are affected.

Our considerations covered a range of subjects. Inter alia we looked at: rights and trust, the need for certainty, the wage/pension nexus, cost savings, Government integrity, bi-partisan action, the handling of supply legislation and permanently reduced base for future adjustments to pensions.

This last is the matter of most enduring and general concern. The Government has averred we face a short term economic crisis. Sacrifices were called for and indeed imposed, such as the ``one time'' deferment of the social security pension increase. Defence and Public Service pensioners would no doubt accept a similar ``one time'' sacrifice with reasonable equanimity despite a generally held belief there has been a breach of trust. But they are called on to suffer a permanent reduction of their pensions from October, 1986 until death, or the death of their spouses-and the reduction is compounded as the years roll on.

This is patently unfair. We submit that urgent legislation is needed to ensure the 1987 pension increases be based on the pension applicable as at 9th October 1986. Thus pensioners will have made equitable sacrifice in 1986-87 but will not be required to make a continuing contribution for the rest of their lives.

I bring to your attention that there is a growing mood of exasperation and resentment among pensioners and serving members at the Government's action now that the long term effects are being understood. We commend to you the need for legislation now to obviate life long effects from 1 July, 1987.

Yours sincerely,

J. Whitelaw,

13th February 1987...National President


Senator KILGARIFF —I thank the Senate. One of the major problems before us concerns the welfare of the men and women in the forces. As I have said earlier, it is pointless having arms in the Navy, the Army or the Air Force without having in the Services professional people who make a career of their work. The problem that faces the Federal Government in implementing any defence policy will be to have people to carry it out. That hurdle has to be overcome. It will require changes to conditions of service which will make a career in the Services just that-a career; a rewarding career which can compete on equal terms with those on offer in the civilian world, which is poaching so many of the forces' professionals with its offers of better working conditions, better pay, et cetera. That very basic but critical issue must be addressed urgently.

To return to the direction which the Federal Government will be taking on defence in general, I refer to developments in the north. The continued development of bases such as Tindal and Derby is to be commended. But, harking back to the personnel problems, there is concern at the suggestion that we do not have the air crews and sufficient technical personnel to use our front line aircraft to full capacity. I refer to what Senator MacGibbon said. One would have to say to those who are responsible for the security, the defence, of Australia that surely they must face a charge of criminal negligence if they allow air crews to erode to such an extent that there are insufficient crews to allow our maritime aircraft to be flown in a way that is in the interests of Australia's security. When one considers the fact that there are now insufficient crews to man reconnaissance aircraft, which range far out into the eastern ocean, one wonders what the future of the FA18s will be. It has been suggested that the training programs are such that there will be insufficient young fighter pilots to man the FA18s in the defence of Australia.

I now refer to the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar, which is to be made operational. Plans for further stages to increase and extend its offshore capacity surveillance are in the pipeline. Having watched the development of Jindalee in the outback over the years, I believe that it is an excellent support to Australia's security. However, it does not identify the vessels or aircraft it locates. Additional aircraft are required to seek out and identify any threat or intruder. It indicates that there is an aircraft or a vessel, say, in the Indian Ocean, but air crews from the Army or the Navy-whichever service is in the area-are required to go there and identify that aircraft or vessel. The development of Jindalee is an excellent thing, but it certainly needs the back-up of our defence forces to ensure that they work together in the best interests of Australia. While some of the initiatives of the Labor Government are ones with which I would not take issue, I believe that there are some very fundamental problems which must be addressed in looking at Australia's future defence requirements.