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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 543


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(10.10) —in reply-I will say something very quickly in reply not because I want to occupy any more time but because the debate has occupied such an inordinate and unnecessary amount of the Senate's attention.


Senator Watson —What about some appreciation of those who went off the list?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Just play back what I have said. If honourable senators expect me to congratulate them all on their co-operation, they have another think coming. Had there been any sign of that co-operation I would have been very grateful. While most senators have welcomed the statement of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), the reality is that so many Opposition speakers, finding little to criticise and nothing to add to the Minister's initiative, wandered off on a variety of tangents which ended up with the Philippines, Indo-China-or more precisely Cam Ranh Bay-and conditions for Defence Force personnel or some other issue of importance which nonetheless is simply not especially--


Senator Durack —You don't believe Cam Ranh Bay is relevant to the South Pacific? Is that what you are saying?


Senator GARETH EVANS —No, I agree with what Senator Hill said in that respect, and I will come to that in a moment. Those and other issues of importance were simply not relevant to the matter at hand. I do not want, with the exception of Cam Ranh Bay, to say anything more about that now, but rather will wait for the debate on the White Paper which will be upon us shortly, as I have constantly said, and which is clearly the proper time to address those particular issues.

As to Cam Ranh Bay, it must be supremely evident that that is very far distant from the South Pacific, which is the region dealt with by the Minister's statement. Operations from Cam Ranh Bay focus on the South China Sea and assist transits to the North Pacific and Indian Ocean area. The reality is that there is no significant Soviet presence in the South Pacific. There is one fisheries agreement with Vanuatu but that agreement provides for no more than eight vessels to operate at any one time, obviously making monitoring a comparatively easy business. There is restricted port access to three locations which are clearly designated. There are no on-shore facilities; no aircraft landing rights; no access to territorial waters-that is to say, the 12 nautical mile limit-and there are no Soviet naval deployments to the South Pacific. The reality is, as I think Senator Hill said, that the Soviets have a negligible presence in the South Pacific. While Cam Ranh Bay is obviously extremely relevant to a debate about regional security generally and on South East Asia and the North Pacific, it is essentially in that area that it is relevant and not in the area of the South Pacific. It is regrettable that such a gigantic amount of the time devoted to this unnecessary debate was spent on dealing with matters of that kind.

The third thing I want to say concerns the relationship of this document to the report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities because there have been a great many misrepresentations made which I think need to be quickly corrected. The Opposition has presented a classic self-serving argument. In the past Opposition spokesmen or speakers in this area have deliberately misread, misinterpreted or misrepresented the Dibb report. Then when presented with clear evidence, in the form of this statement, that the Government does not favour an isolationist approach of the kind that is alleged to be inherent in the Dibb report, they simply say that the Government is walking away from the Dibb report. The truth is that the Opposition has got it completely wrong.

The final thing I want to say is this: In the South Pacific we are talking about eight independent countries. We have to adjust ourselves to this reality. The countries are very conscious of their own sovereignty, and the paternalistic and often patronising approach which was evident in this debate in so many contributions from the other side and which may have been in fashion when the region consisted of colonies and protectorates of friendly external powers is simply no longer appropriate. Unfortunately, the critics-there are many of them-who claim that the Minister's statement does not go far enough, seem unable to adjust to those present realities in the South Pacific. In this statement we are talking about an approach to the development of Australia's defence relationship with the independent countries of the South Pacific which concentrates on identified areas of common interests that lend themselves to practical co-operation, in particular, maritime surveillance-the central theme of this statement. What we are about is action, not words. That is what the Government is doing. I fear we have had nothing but the latter from the Opposition in its extended contribution to this debate over the last two days.

Question resolved in the affirmative.