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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 599

Senator SANDERS —My question, which is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, follows on a question asked by Senator Vallentine, to which the Minister referred as codswallop. I now draw the Minister's attention to a letter to Dr Peter Wills of Scientists Against Nuclear Arms in New Zealand from the Assistant Secretary of Defence of the United States of America, Mr Robert B. Sims, dated 22 September 1986, in which he informed Dr Wills of his decision to release the United States Base Requirements Overseas List. I ask the Minister: Given that Mr Sims is directly responsible to Defense Secretary Weinberger, does this not prove that the Reagan Administration regards North West Cape, Nurrungar and Smithfield, which are on the list, as US bases and not as joint facilities? The list reveals that secret operations are being carried out in Perth, and that anti-submarine warfare operations are planned to be conducted from Darwin. Will the Minister give full details of those operations and plans? If he is unable to supply these details, is this not further evidence that these bases are not joint facilities, but rather US bases?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The fact that Assistant Defence Secretary Sims may have acted formally, under the terms of the United States Freedom of Information Act in releasing the document, indicates absolutely nothing about the status of the report, and certainly does not imply any high level endorsement of the report. I think any Australian Minister would hate to think that some of the documents prepared by officials and released under the Australian FOI Act are to be somehow taken thereby as endorsed as to their content by the Minister thus releasing them. Manifestly, there is no connection whatsoever between those two propositions, and each document has to stand or fall as to its correctness or endorsement on its own terms.

The particular document we talked about, labelled `US Base Requirements Overseas', does not reveal, as I said in detailed fashion in answer to Senator Vallentine on 20 February, that so-called secret operations are being carried out in Perth or that anti-submarine warfare operations are planned to be conducted from Darwin. It does not reveal anything about anything and it certainly does not reveal anything about the existence of alleged US bases in Australia, because there are no such bases. As I said, there are some joint facilities, but not bases, and there are certainly not bases in the areas that are described with a great deal of enthusiastic excitement by those relying on this document.

The document appears to be nothing more than a notional planning document, and one of a peculiarly clodhopping kind, which compiles a list of facilities which are seen by the officer in question as potentially useful to US forces in peacetime and in wartime. To the extent that it has any significance at all-and that is a matter for doubt and further investigation, as I said-it would appear to reflect US contingency planning and no more.

Senator SANDERS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister concede that the United States itself feels that these are bases and not joint facilities?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I would hesitate to make any generalisation of what the US Administration feels, believes or thinks about anything, because the viewpoints vary from department to department. Certainly there has never been any belief or use of terminology, that I am aware of, at any high level in the United States which thinks, talks or describes the facilities in question at Nurrungar, Pine Gap and so on, as US bases. They are not properly so described. Anyone who described them in those terms would be using a form of shorthand which is in fact quite inaccurate.