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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 529

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(6.15) —The Senate is debating a statement put down by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) entitled `Defence Initiatives in the South Pacific'. I think honourable senators would agree that that subject is an important one indeed. The statement itself says that the South Pacific is very important. Unfortunately, if one studies the statement-I hope to analyse it in the next few minutes-one comes to the conclusion that it is a very disappointing statement. It acknowledges the problem; it acknowledges that the region is of immense importance to Australia; but when one examines the initiatives one sees that they are almost non-existent. In the opening paragraph of the statement we learn:

The islands of the South Pacific have always been regarded as fundamental to Australia's strategic well-being.

So they are fundamental to our strategic well-being. On page 3 the statement says:

This Government is concerned to explore and develop the opportunities for defence co-operation among our island neighbours.

I remind the Senate that the Government is exploring and developing defence co-operation. We will see whether there is any such co-operation. The next paragraph says:

Naturally the specific nature of our defence co-operation with the South Pacific requires careful adjustment to the needs and wishes of the countries themselves.

We will see as we go what the initiatives are. On page 4 it is stated:

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 materiel.

Of course that is so. Everyone of us would surely recognise that except, I fancy, Mr Dibb because his report, with its fortress Australia concept, with its defence by denial, did not see us having a primary role in preserving peace in our region. He did not believe that that was imperative to our own survival. But-here we go-page 5 states:

In the future, as in the past, our international security will be inextricably bound up with that of our island neighbours . . .

Our international security is bound up with that of our island neighbours, so if we are to have defence initiatives those initiatives will have to be strong and keep the region strong. On page 7 the statement reads:

. . . our position as a natural partner to the island countries in defence matters.

We are a natural partner, so one presumes that there is some kind of a defence pact, some kind of a defence understanding, and that there will be some kind of help provided by us if there is a defence need in the islands. No one would deny that the region is imperative to us and no one would deny that if there is a threat to the region it is a threat to Australia-except, if I may say so, the Dibb report. We await with great interest the White Paper which, depending upon the newspaper one reads, either supports or rejects the Dibb report. The statement says:

The Government has recently decided upon a number of initiatives to help protect and extend the strategic interests we share with our island neighbours.

It then goes on to say that the initiatives include four matters, which I will deal with. We must keep in mind when we deal with these initiatives that they are to help protect and extend the strategic interests we share, so clearly they are fundamental defence initiatives that will show that if there is some kind of a threat we will collectively deal with it. The first initiative is that we are moving to help island countries to upgrade their national maritime surveillance systems by providing patrol boats, naval advisory assistance and training. No one could deny that patrol boats are useful for the area, but patrol boats are what their name suggests; they are surveillance surface craft. They are very puny in their ordinary military capacity. Essentially, they are to see whether there is an intrusion and, if so, the nature of the intrusion. They are quite incapable within themselves of dealing with the intrusion. At best, the patrol boats involve surveillance.

The next initiative is the deployment of Royal Australian Air Force long range maritime patrol aircraft to the region. Again, who is to deny that it is important that our patrol aircraft should do more surveillance of the region? What would be the purpose of that? It would be to identify intrusion, to identify a threat. But there is no suggestion that they will carry out other than a patrol. The next initiative involves increasing numbers of Royal Australian Navy ship deployments to the island countries-for what purpose? Nothing is said. Is it to sail around to show the flag? It is good stuff but for what purpose? That is not stated. Finally, defence co-operation activities providing technical support to island and defence security forces are mentioned.

These are the initiatives. They are good in themselves but they are small beer in terms of defence. They are initiatives which, of themselves, if well done would locate some kind of threat, intrusion or aggression. Nowhere in the statement is there any suggestion of how the Australian defence forces, the Australian nation, would co-operate in the defence of the region. In other words, we would be very expert and vigilant to locate a potential enemy but, according to the statement, that is the end of it. The statement deals basically with surveillance. I do not want to be cynical. Co-operation in training with our colleague nations in the Pacific and co-operation in intelligence are good things but, when it comes to the crunch in the end, what is the message that those nations want to hear and that we must give them if we are responsible? It is that if there is a real threat in the region Australia will do something in terms of co-operative defence; not simply that we will observe the threat but that we will take action. This statement, of course, does nothing in that regard.

This is a very real problem because the Dibb report, which now has been very largely condemned by military experts, saw Australia as not having a primary function in this area. The extraordinary situation-it has been suggested by Dibb proponents that it is not a fortress Australia policy-is that the report states that there is no need for Australia to make any defence preparations for a primary or secondary role outside the continent. Lest anyone should think I am misquoting the report, it states:

The Review also recognises a sphere of primary strategic interest encompassing South East Asia and the South Pacific generally. Developments here can affect our national security, but any military threat to Australia would be indirect. Our defence activities and projection of military power in this wider region should not determine our force structure, as they do in our area of direct military interest.

In other words, Dibb says-and it has not been rejected-that we should not structure any part of our defence hardware or troops to deal with this region outside, the region of `indirect' military threat. How do we relate the Dibb report to this statement? Dibb says that the developments can affect our national security but any military threat to Australia would be indirect. But what does the Minister who has applauded the Dibb report say? He says that our international security will be inextricably bound up with that of our island neighbours. In page after page of his statement he rejects Dibb on this. But, of course, he does not do anything about it. Clearly how, the concept of defence by denial must go out the window. It is a concept which the Government must have nurtured but which I hope it will find untenable in the White Paper. How can we as Australians support a concept that we will wait till a potential aggressor comes within the boundaries of our seas and then decide that he is an aggressor and try to defend ourselves? The whole aim of defence is to stop any kind of aggression before it sets out on its journey. The fundamental point is that the Dibb report and the Government policy-and no doubt the White Paper-are based on utter fallacies. They are based upon the fallacy of the doctrine of the perceived threat. That doctrine has bedevilled everyone from William Pitt the Younger and Lloyd George to John Curtin.

Senator Button —All contemporaries of yours.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I remind Senator Button, who has cheerfully interjected, about the doctrine of the perceived threat and about a man who is well respected for his contribution to Australia. On 2 November 1938, 10 months before World War II and with the whole of the nazi tyranny clear to the world at large, John Curtin, in another place-I read from page 1095 of Hansard of that date-said:

Defence expenditure must depend entirely upon the conditions which prevail in the world from time to time. Obviously that must be the position. I say that any increase of defence expenditure after the Munich Pact so far as Australia is concerned appears to me to be an utterly unjustifiable and hysterical piece of panic propaganda.

The Minister at the table, Senator Button, laughed at this. Does he now believe that John Curtin understood the theory of perceived threat? Does he know what happened? Does he know that step by step in every one of the major wars that have occurred the theory of perceived threat has been an absolute failure? Nobody predicted the development of the Korean War or the Japanese war.

Senator Button —In every major war the Australian people have always got rid of your lot to stop you selling pig iron to Japan.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —The Minister, now finding himself embattled, is calling out because he has no other defence. He has made a cheapskate interjection. I say this so that it is put in Hansard. On one of the most important subjects that can be discussed in the Senate Senator Button sits there grinning cheerfully and making inane remarks. After all, 40 million people died in World War II because the Senator Buttons of this world did not understand the threat.

Senator Button —Sit down. Don't be such a silly old thing.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Oh, he gets cranky and irritated now because he does not like being attacked. Forty million people died in World War II and 20 million have died in wars since then because the people of the world have not understood this matter. Not one example in human history can be pointed to in which the theory of perceived threat has worked. After the resumption of the sitting I will point that out further. And here are a government and a Minister putting forward such a policy. It is an impossible situation to have a Minister sitting laughing and jeering in one of the most important of considerations. Who was right? Was Mr Beazley right in saying that this area is of immense security importance to Australia, with a possibility of real threat, or is Senator Button right in his jeering? This is a nonsense situation. The government of the day has always tried to show that the defence of this country did not matter, that it was irrelevant and that in fact there was no threat.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was pointing out the difference between the assertions in the paper before us tonight on the defence initiatives in the South Pacific and those in the Dibb report. I was also pointing out the tremendous fallacy of the theory of perceived threat. I said that not in human history is it possible to point to conflicts that have been perceived and anticipated. I remind the Senate that nobody had perceived the German thrust of Hitler when he came to power in 1933. Nobody had perceived the danger of the Japanese war. There was no significant warning of Korea, of the Malayan emergency, of the Iran-Iraq conflict or of the invasion of Afghanistan. There was no real warning of the escalation of the Vietnam War and the present developments there. I had pointed out that perhaps understandable, but nevertheless important, message of John Curtin 10 months before World War II-in which 40 million people were killed-when he, like so many others, could see no threat at all.

The fact of the matter is this: The theory of perceived threat is an impossibility for the simple reason, firstly, that no enemy signals his punches and, secondly, the length of time to build up the arms and train the troops is longer than using a telescope to perceive the threat. In other words, the important thing that people must understand is this: Australia's defence potential six to eight years from now is the actuality of our defence at this moment, plus the plans that we have put in action to train troops, to acquiring aircraft or naval vessels or other armaments. In other words, it takes a lead time of six to eight years to get any kind of real change in defence and of course nobody can predict that far ahead.

I am sorry to say this, but I have to say it: The Government has misled the people of Australia and the Senate as to the nature of any threat in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Over the months and recent years the Hawke Government and its Ministers have indicated that they did not believe that there was any significant military Russian base in Cam Ranh Bay. In fact when this question was raised the Government and its members would always argue that we were exaggerating the situation. That assertion has continued, with Senator Gareth Evans, the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, repeatedly saying that there was no evidence of significant Russian involvement there. Only two weeks ago I posed the question-which today has had a somewhat wintery answer-of whether those satellite photographs that the Americans have taken of Cam Ranh Bay, and the analysis made by them, are true or false, because those satellite photographs show that there is an immense buildup, a buildup of significant importance of very modern and long range Russian armaments at Cam Ranh Bay. They show the modern long range aircraft that are capable of carrying nuclear missiles. They show nuclear submarines and they show major and modern surface naval craft in Cam Ranh Bay.

Today for the first time, and only because we have flushed the truth out, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister representing the Minister for Defence here, admitted that there is a significant Russian air and naval base at Cam Ranh Bay. The Prime Minister sought to bedazzle the people of Australia with the nonsense that he would not go into details, that he could not reveal the intelligence secrets of these photographs; as if the interpretation of aircraft on the tarmac, or submarines in the pens, or ships at dock, is of intelligence importance and as if their recognition is something that should be denied to the Australian people. But now the whole basis of things is altered, because the Prime Minister himself has said that here is a major significant warm water port for the Soviet Union. That warm water port is, of course, in a sphere or region of Australian concern and influence. So let us not have any nonsense spoken in the future that there is no development or growth of Russian influence in our region. That has now been flushed out, but it took two questions on my part, over a week, to get even an answer. The hedging that went on-when in fact it must have been quite clear that as soon as the photographs were published the Hawke Government and the Department of Defence must have known whether it was true or false-shows that the left wing of the Australian Labor Party still haunts the Labor Party, and the Labor Party talks to its left wing and not to the people of Australia.

The reason that this was not disclosed is that the Labor Party is more frightened of its left wing than it is of the Senate. There is no reason at all why this Government should not have instantly reported to the people of Australia what those satellite photographs of Cam Ranh Bay revealed, no reason at all; except that it would have blown the gaff. It would have shown that everything it has said in the past has been wrong, that it has in fact misled the people of Australia as to the nature of the defence system being set up in Cam Ranh Bay. It also would have shown that all its soft words about Vietnam and its arguments that Vietnam with its new communism offered no threat, were of course wrong, and that it would reveal that the whole circumstances had changed.

In this chamber we have groups of people who take a pacifist line to defence, in the worst sense of the word. We have the Australian Democrats, who are pledged to oppose the ANZUS Treaty which is regarded by most of us as the most important defence treaty with Australia. They not only oppose the ANZUS Treaty, but they oppose the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Nobody could be so way out as that. We have to get a telescope to see how far to the Left they are on that. Significant elements of the Labor Party would want to undermine the ANZUS Treaty. Indeed, one of the significant things about the Dibb report-which we were not allowed to debate in this chamber, and well we should be reminded of that-is that Dibb himself, throughout his report, sees the ANZUS Treaty as an intelligence gathering and tea party arrangement. There is no mention at all in the whole of the document on Australia's defence of what military role, what defence role and what co-operation role Australia has to play with America. Indeed he says that all the hardware, all the training of troops and the nature of the troop formations shall be for the continental defence of Australia. There is no mention at all of what our commitment is towards ANZUS, towards the naval, military or air manoeuvres in the situation. Dibb has emasculated ANZUS in his text, as indeed the left wing of the Labor Party and the Democrats have tried to do.

If we pick up this statement on the proposed initiatives in the South Pacific, we cannot find where the ANZUS Treaty would, in this region, be one of co-operation. How can we have defence initiatives here without teamwork? We are committed to ANZUS in this region and yet nowhere in the statement is there any kind of discussion about that. We can look at what a very distinguished American admiral, Admiral Thomas Hayward-a number of us have had the occasion in the past to get to know Admiral Hayward very well indeed-has said about American concern over the weakening of ANZUS. One cannot look at this defence initiative without wondering what is happening to ANZUS. A newspaper article states:

A big shift in Australian defence policy detrimental to the ANZUS alliance is being shaped by the Hawke Government, says the former chief of United States naval operations Admiral Thomas Hayward.

Admiral Hayward says developments in Australian defence policy under the influence of the Dibb report ``portend a far more serious problem'' for the United States than New Zealand's policies or Soviet gains in the South Pacific.

The article also states:

The concepts of the Dibb Report ``if allowed to prevail, could set in motion a strategic retrenchment unlike any seen since the days of (1930s) isolationism in the United States,'' Admiral Hayward says.

So what we have in this statement is a series of information which represents, first of all, a serious misleading by the Government about the Russian buildup in the Indian and Pacific oceans and, secondly, a serious weakening, as seen by America, of the ANZUS pact. We have a series of platitudes on the South Pacific initiatives. Let me recall what I said at the beginning: This is a document that gives a new meaning to the word `bland', a new meaning to the word `platitude', because it says in the first place that this is an area of immense strategic importance to Australia's safety and defence, that we need to co-operate fully with our neighbours, those eight nation states, and that we have some defence initiatives.

But I will read out four initiatives. They are that we should build some patrol boats so that we will know who is moving around the area, that we should have some Royal Australian Air Force reconnaissance flights as reinforcements, that we should send a few ships out to look around and that there should be talks and co-operation. But there is not a word in the statement about what is to happen if there is a detected threat or if something should happen. Do we say that we would go to the aid of our neighbours? Let us look at this in terms of our neighbours. What they want to know is whether they are among friends and whether they can rely upon help. We know that our ability to manoeuvre in this area would be very limited. The Dibb report says that we should not take any particular notice of what might be required outside Australia in building up hardware and armaments because the primary situation is the defence by denial of Australia.

This statement has been brought down a few days before the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Shevardnadze, is coming to Australia. We also know that Russian diplomatic officials have said in recent days that there is no Russian military base in Cam Ranh Bay. But did the Government, which knew that that was wrong, deny that? Did the Government say that the Russians had misled us on this? No. The only reason that we know today that there is a significant build-up by the Russians in Cam Ranh Bay is that, by force of repeated questioning and debate in the Senate, we flushed out a very unwilling answer which shows that the Government has been misleading the Senate. It is no use the Government bringing before us a paper full of platitudes if the whole scenario is based on a falsehood. It is no good bringing forward a paper unless it tells us what the Government would propose to do if our friends in the Pacific were under threat. The statement says nothing about that. It says: `We will go out and look and tell you if there is a threat. But, after that, boys, you look as though you are on your own'. I cannot think of anything more likely to drive our friends away rather than to grapple them to us. I regret the paper.