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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 534


Senator SHORT(8.15) —I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I am sorry that this debate did not take place yesterday and that we lost the time that we did last night in a futility exercise by the Government. But, to come to the substance of the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), which is a very important statement, I raise at the outset the question of why the initiatives outlined by the Minister in relation to the South Pacific have taken so long in coming. I raise a much more important question: Why are they so weak? The provision of a few extra patrol boats-a decision which had already been announced-trials by patrol boats off Fremantle, some more maritime surveillance and the provision of technical assistance will naturally do some good. But, when we look at the totality of the Minister's statement and strip it of its rhetoric, how seriously can we take that statement in terms of the Government's intent towards the South Pacific? I proffer the view that we cannot take it very seriously at all. If `the islands of the South Pacific have always been regarded as fundamental to Australia's strategic well-being'-to quote the Minister-why did it take this Government so long, in fact three years, even to send its Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) to the South Pacific?

In the limited time available tonight, I want to look at some of the recent developments in the region and at their political and strategic import in the context of what the Minister has announced. In that context, one can come to only one conclusion, which is that the initiatives that have been announced are very lacking in substance. They are really phoney. They show a complete lack of sincerity in terms of the Government's intentions towards strengthening our relationship with the South Pacific countries. I can outline a few statistics that will prove that.

But, of course, the real rationale for the Defence Minister's statement, although he failed to mention it in his speech-he did not use the word once-was the Soviet Union's encroachment in the South Pacific. Honourable senators may recall the strong words of the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Kuranari, during his visit to Australia and the South Pacific at the end of last year. Following that visit, the research fellow in international relations at the Australian National University, Dr Paul Keal, in a radio interview-I am sure this is an accurate description of the situation-said:

It-

that is, Japan-

certainly is concerned that perhaps Australia and New Zealand have become a little soft on what it sees as Soviet expansion and perhaps has a different perspective on the Pacific than does Australia and New Zealand. It-

that is, Japan-

sees for instance Australia as having been far too soft in terms of its involvement with the South Pacific nuclear free zone and it sees some kind of dangerous portents in that and would like to see Australia taking a stronger line.

I am sure we will all recall that it was a disagreement over the strength of Australia's role in the South Pacific region and our defence arrangements that prevented a joint communique from coming out of the ministerial meetings that the Japanese Foreign Minister had when he was in Australia. It was to Fiji that he had to go to outline the strategic importance of the South Pacific nations and Japan's intentions to step up its aid activities in this region. I do not think I would be misquoting the Japanese Foreign Minister by saying that in essence he was accusing Australia of not pulling its weight in the region in the light of the subtle but nevertheless very real changes in the stability of the region over the past decade.

This failure on the Hawke Government's part to come clean and admit that the Soviets are threatening stability in this region may be summed up by the confusion within the ranks of the Australian Labor Party on the question of the Soviet Union and on the cornerstone of our defence policy, the ANZUS agreement. Senator Sir John Carrick described that fundamental weakness and vacillation in the Australian Labor Party's attitude towards the ANZUS agreement in his remarks tonight.

We have witnessed great hopes of Russia's new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, transforming the Soviet Union from a grizzly bear to a cuddly bear; yet if one looks at the record one realises that the release of some political prisoners and talk about decentralisation and democracy are hardly the necessary ingredients for real and sustained change. Somehow we in Australia seem to have forgotten about the atrocities being committed by the Soviets against their own people and against the people of other nations. In Australia there seems to be no longer any spectre of Afghanistan, a place which is still suffering dreadfully from the Soviet occupation and from a dreadful deprivation of human rights. We seem to have forgotten the situation in Vietnam. We seem to have forgotten that the Soviets have committed human rights violations which outstrip anything else seen around our globe today. The Economist, the distinguished British magazine, has recently cautioned:

For all his personal force, Mr Gorbachev is still not making much headway where it counts, in the Communist Party itself.

In fact, very little of substance has been achieved in Gorbachev's Russia. Mr Gorbachev's First Secretary to the Soviet Embassy here in Canberra, in a letter to the Australian newspaper earlier this year, even denied reports that the Soviets had established a military base at Cam Ranh Bay. Instead, he claimed that it was a marina. The well-known journal of the Australian Peace Movement called Peace Magazine in Australia gave a similar description. I wonder why. That description was:

It looks more like a yacht marina than a naval base.

So why are warships there? The short answer, said the author of that Peace Magazine article, Owen Wilkes, is that, `it seems to be that they are saving fuel. The Soviet navy always seems to be having to scrimp on fuel'. That was the explanation that he gave for Cam Ranh Bay.

That this base in Vietnam is the Soviet's largest naval base outside the Warsaw Pact countries was incontrovertibly confirmed by aerial photographs published in the Australian Press a few weeks ago. The base is located in Vietnam, which receives Soviet military aid at the rate of $3.6m a day, as well as the services of currently over 2,500 military advisers. Theoretically Cam Ranh Bay has the capacity to strike anywhere in our region, including the northern part of this continent, and much of the South Pacific as well. But the significance of Cam Ranh Bay does not lie only in its military significance; indeed, it is probably unlikely that it would pose a military threat during war time because, being situated below the Sea of Japan, it is likely that its vital servicing source of Vladivostok would be cut off by swift action by the Japanese and the United States in concert and so render it impotent. The significance of Cam Ranh Bay lies in its political and strategic importance. It is a bargaining chip and will be, and is being, used accordingly.

In his now famous Vladivostok speech last July the Soviet leader, Mr Gorbachev, made no bones about his country's imperialistic intentions in our backyard-the South Pacific. Writing in the latest IPA Review, Michael Danby, a respected commentator and, indeed, a member of the Labor Party's foreign affairs committee in Victoria, illustrated the extent and the nature of Soviet encroachments in our region. Of the recent developments, I suppose the fishing deals are the most public and the best known. For a mere $1.3m, Father Walter Lini's Vanuatu has agreed to provide to the Soviet Union not only fishing rights but also shore access to Port Vila's deep water harbour and landing rights for Aeroflot. It is also reported that Vanuatu was prepared to offer additional on-shore facilities. In addition, Father Lini has opened up relations with Soviet clients Vietnam, Nicaragua and Libya. Non-resident Cuban diplomats from Japan and Australia regularly visit Vanuatu and Barak Sope, the General-Secretary of the ruling Vanuatu Party, visited Cuba in September last year as Castro's guest. It is worth reminding the Senate that Prime Minister Lini, only last May on the Carleton-Walsh Report, told Australians `we do not consider Libya a terrorist nation' as no one had `proven it in a court of law'. They are some of the developments and thinking taking place in our region of the world that ought to be of the greatest concern to this country.

Developments in New Zealand echo these slow but steady Soviet successes in our backyard. The consequence of that country's anti-American, anti-nuclear stance has been Australian participation in costly separate military exercises with it. In fact, things have become so bad that during his visit to New Zealand a couple of months ago the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bill Hayden, explicitly warned Prime Minister Lange that Australia could not continue to subsidise Wellington's defence; and nor should Australian taxpayers subsidise the defence of New Zealand. A cosy relationship has developed between Moscow and New Zealand radicals-that group which Frank Corner, a respected former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs, has described as the hijackers of New Zealand's foreign policy. So the situation in New Zealand obviously also requires the most careful monitoring by Australia, as does the situation in New Guinea, about which time prevents me from going into detail tonight.

In essence, Moscow's aim has been to discredit the United States and the Western alliance while at the same time upgrading its own presence in our region. These developments point to the very real possibility of a Cuba developing in our own backyard. It is salutary to note that last year-I think for the first time in our history; certainly since Castro came to power-the Australian Government, through the world food program, gave Cuba just short of $1m worth of aid. How any country such as ours can do that and not receive any publicity about it as yet absolutely escapes my comprehension. It is symptomatic of the problem and of the slow drift towards an anti-Americanism and pro- Sovietism that is posing very grave problems and risks for our country. These things highlight the very real potential for the South Pacific region to be transferred from a friendly Western democratic sphere of influence to a Soviet one. It is this gradual erosion of Western influence in our region that has prompted many Australians-I dare say including the Minister for Defence-the Japanese, the New Guineans, the Cook Islanders and other South Pacific islanders to impress upon our Government the urgent need for Australia to put on a friendlier face towards our vulnerable yet friendly neighbours and to uphold our responsibilities in this region.

The irony of the Defence Minister's so-called initiatives-through the statement last week-in our backyard, the South Pacific region, is that those initiatives appear to be contradictory to some of his fellow Ministers' policies in other areas. In Australia we have experienced an increasing trend to anti-Americanism and pro- Sovietism. John Halfpenny's Pacific Trade Union Forum's activities have been aimed at abetting the Soviet thrust into the South Pacific. Fo- menting anti-Americanism in the Pacific is another well-known activity of that Forum. Often, it is at the Australian taxpayers' expense. This is the same John Halfpenny who recently won Australian Labor Party Senate endorsement in Victoria, my own State, for the next election; the same John Halfpenny whose union, the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, has been the happy recipient of the ALP's litany of payola over the past 3 1/2 years of the Hawke Government. To date, nearly $100,000 of Australians' hard earned tax dollars has been diverted to Mr Halfpenny's AMWU for various so-called worthwhile activities. The sorts of things that that $100,000 has gone to include banner making projects, union workshops, art classes for unionists and paying unionists on visits to a range of dubious countries. It is the same union whose leadership has called for an immediate halt to aid to the Philippines and a boycott on French products.

Then there is the open letter to Mr Hayden from Pat Clancy, the Chairman of the International Department of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia, calling for mutually beneficial trading policies in the Pacific between Australia and the Soviet Union. Mr Clancy, in his letter to Mr Hayden, an open letter which has been published, rapped the Foreign Minister over the knuckles for daring to be concerned-I acknowledge that Mr Hayden was concerned-at the agreement entered into between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Vanuatu. Mr Clancy said:

We question both the wisdom and propriety of your statements.

Despite this glaring interference by an extreme left wing union leader into this nation's foreign policy, Mr Clancy's own union is yet another to have received taxpayers' funds of well over $100,000 since the advent of the Hawke Government.

In the area of aid to foreign countries, this Government's record is nothing to write home about. For instance, aid has been lavished on a range of Soviet proxy states, including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Kampuchea. Latest statistics from the Australian Development Assistance Bureau reveal that we are even giving funds, as I said earlier, to Cuba. On my reckoning, Australian aid to Soviet proxy states during the Hawke Government's term of office now exceeds $20m in constant 1979-80 dollar terms and, of course, much more in current dollar terms. Those are truly amazing figures. Bilateral aid to Soviet proxy states, excluding any aid to Ethiopia, in the first three years of the Hawke Government amounts to almost $12.5m in constant 1979-80 terms, and multilateral aid amounts to an additional $7.3m-a total of $20m, excluding various other figures.

During those three years, total aid to Soviet proxy states has shown a progressive increase. Quite frankly, the Government must change direction on these unconscionable aid flows. Such aid must be seen as counter-productive to the policy of countering the influence of the Soviet Union in our region which the Defence Minister's statement implies but which he has not had the courage to articulate for fear of upsetting the left wing of his own Government and his own Party.

Not only has aid to Soviet proxy states been on the increase but also, on the South Pacific front, the opposite picture emerges. Whereas bilateral aid to South Pacific nations for each of the Fraser years averaged $263m, in 1979-80 dollar terms, over the past three years of the Hawke Government that figure has fallen to $237m-a fall, in real terms, of 10 per cent. That fall has occurred despite a real increase under the Hawke Government of about 10 per cent in total bilateral aid to all destinations. In other words, the South Pacific's share of Australia's total bilateral aid has fallen since the advent of the Hawke Government from 65 per cent of our total bilateral aid to only 54 per cent. So much for the Government's claims of interest in and concern for the South Pacific. What hypocrisy the Government shows in its statements that it intends to strengthen our relations with our South Pacific friends and neighbours. The Government's statements on these matters, like most of its other statements, are not worth the paper on which they are written.

There are many other things that one should say in a debate of this importance. Time precludes me from going into them in detail, so I will conclude by saying some of the things that this country ought to be doing if we are really serious about strengthening our relations with our South Pacific friends and neighbours and increasing the security arrangements and security umbrella that encompass all of us in this region. Nowhere in the Defence Minister's statement are any solutions or suggestions given. There are just a few old, tired decisions, most of which were announced previously.

There is a lot which the Government could be doing to ensure the long term stability of the region but which, it seems, it has not even bothered to think about let alone act upon. For example, the Government ought to take immediate steps to increase aid to the nations in the South Pacific. We should also be offering military and police training to the nations of the South Pacific, just as the Libyans have offered to train Vanuatuan police. Why on earth are the Libyans interested in training the Vanuatuan police? It is because they have a subversive attitude and approach towards the region. We are leaving a great gap there for them to fill.

We should be making totally clear to the Soviet Union our concern at its encroachments and not engage in the silliness of consensus and the denial of those encroachments. We should be forging stronger links with our greatest ally, the United States, and other friendly Western democratic states, and not promoting ludicrous treaties, such as the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, which only the serve the interests of the Soviet Union at the expense of our allies.

We should stop bankrolling groups and activists whose sole purpose is to undermine the United States alliance and either advertently or inadvertently promote the expansion of the Soviet Union. We should also stop bankrolling Soviet proxy states such as Vietnam, or at the very least insist that any aid be conditional on a major improvement in human rights in those states-states in which the whole question of human rights has been almost totally forgotten. We should increase the funds to countries with which we have genuine strategic interests and which share our broad values and democratic traditions.

It is a matter of the gravest concern that the statement by the Minister for Defence alludes to none of these possibilities, despite its rhetoric and hype. Perhaps the White Paper on defence which we are all awaiting will do better. However, on the basis of what we have seen to date and on what we have heard to date from this Government and this Defence Minister, I very much doubt it. I am sure that few, if any, honourable senators on this side of the chamber will be holding their breath.