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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 592

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence and concerns his non-answers last week and his half answers this week about the Soviet base at Cam Ranh Bay. I ask the Minister whether he recalls his own statements to the Senate on 16 and 17 October last year, including the following statement:

The reality is that what I said yesterday is perfectly straightforward. What I said was that the Government has no evidence that the Soviet Union has deployed weapons systems in Vietnam which directly endanger Australia.

In the light of satellite evidence recently released and his statement yesterday that the Government accepts this evidence, will he now admit that he was wrong and that he misled the Senate in October? In particular, can the Minister still deny that the Soviet Union has deployed at Cam Ranh Bay nuclear armed Echo-2 submarines and a squadron each of Bear and Badger strike bombers? Can he any longer deny that they are equipped with nuclear armed cruise missiles capable of reaching Australia? Finally, why has the Minister never endorsed Mr Beazley's statement on page 2259 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 13 May 1985 that the Bear bomber `unrefuelled radius of action . . . operating out of Cam Ranh Bay . . . describes an arc which runs approximately between Adelaide and just north of Brisbane'?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I see no need whatsoever to change the language I employed last year, which was a denial of the proposition that there is anything going on in Cam Ranh Bay which could be construed as directly endangering Australia. There is no doubt that there are some weapons systems based there which could be regarded, on extreme logistic analysis of the kind that Senator Teague, with his new found enthusiasm for another discipline, is regaling us with, as capable of constituting some threat and some hypothetical scenario. That is not deniable. But if we are talking about a real world situation of a force based there of a kind which could be construed as directly endangering Australia-they were the key words in the question I was responding to last year-I have nothing to add to or vary what I said then. Equally, as I said yesterday, what the Opposition was talking about with the Cam Ranh Bay base is essentially something which is of very great strategic significance in a North Pacific and South East Asian context, but not in the context of the South Pacific, which was the particular context of the debate over the past few days.

Beyond that, the further point I was making yesterday, which I repeat today-nothing which anybody else has said is at variance with this-is that it is not the practice of the Australian Government, nor of previous governments, nor will it be in the future, to comment directly on the value or otherwise of intelligence-derived material. We do not propose to vary or divert from that principle in the context of alleged photographs of Cam Ranh Bay from United States of America intelligence sources, any more than we would diverge from it in any other context in which questions about the proper evaluation of intelligence material are concerned. That principle obviously must be fully maintained.

Senator TEAGUE —I have a supplementary question. Is the Minister saying that the Soviet forces and weapons systems deployed at Cam Ranh Bay do not endanger Australia?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The particular expression used was `directly endangering Australia'. That was the question I was responding to last year. There is nothing I am aware of that has changed the situation since then. I will ask the Minister for Defence whether he wants to add anything further to what I have said in the light of any recent developments that may have occurred, but I do not believe that he would wish to, for the reasons I have just indicated.