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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1052

Senator DURACK(9.08) —The Opposition welcomes with relief-I suppose that is the right way to express it-the White Paper on the defence of Australia, together with the tabling statement of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) which was presented to the Parliament yesterday. Again the Opposition expresses its gratitude for the co-operation of the Government in both chambers in allowing this most important and vital matter to be brought on for discussion promptly and for what appears at this stage to be an adequate time. I am sometimes critical of the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans). It gives me pleasure to be able to commend him for at least one sensible decision so far.

Senator Colston —Can we have it in writing?

Senator DURACK —In writing? It will be enshrined forever in Hansard. It may be the only occasion on which I am moved to speak in such warm terms about the management capacities of the Manager of Government Business. This paper will attract enormous public interest, and rightly so because nothing could be more important. There is no higher duty for us in this Parliament than to attend to the defence of our nation. This White Paper does so and the Minister has to be commended also for the great intellectual effort that has obviously gone into this whole exercise. The reason we on this side are able to express such warm praise for this effort is that the policy setting of the White Paper-and now the Minister's policy-is basically consistent with the policies that the Opposition has always followed, either in government or in opposition. These policies were expressed very clearly in the last White Paper on defence which was a product of the Fraser Government in 1976. I would like to quote from that 1976 White Paper. It states:

For practical purposes, the requirements and the scope for Australian defence activity are limited essentially to the areas closer to home-areas in which the development of military capabilities by a power potentially unfriendly to Australia could permit that power to attack or harass Australia and its territories, maritime resources zone and near lines of communication. These are our adjacent maritime areas; the South West Pacific countries and territories; Papua New Guinea; Indonesia; and the South East Asian region.

It also states:

Australia's defence interest is not confined to the presence or absence of military threat itself. We are concerned with developments that could directly or indirectly support Australia's security from military threat, or favour the development of threat sooner or later. Unfavourable developments in mainland South East Asia would not necessarily mean of themselves that threat or direct attack upon Australia was developing, but they could introduce uncertainties into our strategic prospects.

That is an approach to the defence policy which was laid down by the Fraser Government. It is one which we have consistently followed both in government and, as I said, in opposition and which we will follow on return to government.

One of the reasons why there has been so great a debate on this subject in recent months-indeed years-has been the uncertainty of where this Hawke Government and the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, stand in relation to Australia's defence. That is why great interest and widespread concern has been expressed about the subject. We have been giving clear expressions to those concerns in a number of defence debates in this chamber while we have been in opposition.

The final concern was fuelled by the report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities and by the commissioning of Dibb by the Minister for Defence himself. The Dibb report essentially challenged the basic concepts of defence which we have always entertained, which I believe the Services have entertained and which our allies have expected us to entertain. Mr Dibb certainly threw grave doubt on that direction. I am bound to say that many people felt that Mr Dibb was commissioned by a Minister of Defence who also had, in his mind, doubts about those traditional defence settings and who may have been influenced in his thinking by Dibb. When Mr Dibb put down his report I think it gave very clear support for all those doubts that had been raised by so many people.

As I have said, this White Paper and the Minister's tabling statement are really a basic rejection of Dibb. Of course, there is quite a bit of Dibb input in it still. I am not saying that Mr Dibb's report was a bad report or that it was all wrong; I have never said that and the Opposition has never said that. In fact, I think in many ways Mr Dibb, within the confines of dealing with the priorities of defence capability, defence hardware and so on, made a valuable contribution to the debate. Having said that, Mr Dibb's basic defence thinking was, nevertheless, at fault. There was a real concern-I think with justification-that the Dibb thinking may well be the thinking of the Minister and the Government. As I said when I commenced my remarks, it is a great relief to find from these documents that we are now debating--

Senator Watson —Great pressure from public opinion.

Senator DURACK —I agree that there was great pressure from public opinion and great pressure from the defence people themselves and, no doubt, very great concerns have been expressed by our allies as a result.

Senator Harradine —And the debates in here.

Senator DURACK —I have already talked about the debates here and we have expressed those concerns on many occasions in this chamber. There has now been a very considerable reverse in the thinking of the Government and the Minister and that emerges very clearly from this valuable and important paper. Mr Dibb's phrase `strategy of denial' gave justification to the concern that we would just return to a Fortress Australia type of thinking. That whole phrase encapsulated worries about Dibb.

The Dibb view that there is no substantial threat to Australia for 10 years and that it would take 10 years to mount such a threat has been dropped in this paper. When I saw the Minister being interviewed this morning he was explaining shortly the basic concept of this policy. He said-he says this in the White Paper-that it is a policy of self-reliance within the context of our alliances. That is a most healthy and welcome point of view. I believe that it is a change in the point of view of the Government. It may well be that some members of the Government have not gone along with his view and I cannot say that the Government has specifically denied that view as being formal Government policy. But all the indications in the world have been coming from this Government for four years that it would be abandoning that traditional view.

We also have in this White Paper a very welcome reiteration of the mutual benefits of our defence relationship with our allies and with the United States of America in particular. The paper sets out a detailed program of the new capital equipment which will be required and presumably that program will be laid down for the next 10 years or so. I do not propose to go into the details-the nuts and bolts, so to speak-of the defence White Paper. I want to confine my remarks to the broader questions.

The Government has also abandoned, I believe very sensibly, the firm ring that Mr Dibb placed around Australia, not just confined to the Australian mainland. He drew a line to create a zone within which was our direct military defence interest and beyond which was simply a matter of diplomacy. The Government has very properly fudged that line. We cannot draw hard and fast lines, as Dibb tried to do, between the area in which we have a direct military interest and in which we have to concentrate our forces and the broader strategic interests that Australia has in this region of the world-a vast region of growing importance of which we are part.

Australia cannot finally divorce itself from the world as a whole. We have a vital interest, the same as every other country has a vital interest, in the arms race and the need to pursue policies of deterrence on which the peace of the world has depended for the past forty-odd years. There is a need to encourage the super-powers to proceed towards nuclear disarmament and disarmament of conventional weapons. The questions of world strategy and how peace is to be preserved are of vital interest to Australia. Those questions are part of our defence and we play a major role in that world strategy because of our alliance with the United States of America and the joint United States facilities on our soil. All of this is very clearly acknowledged in the statement and the Opposition is very relieved about that.

It seems almost churlish-if I were not a politician, I might sit down now-but there are criticisms and doubts which have to be expressed. They are more at the point of implementation and financial detail. The basic concern is about defence personnel, which we believe has not been addressed adequately in this statement. On the broad issues of foreign policy, the defence and strategic interests of Australia are properly addressed in this statement. It is very important that that has been achieved. It may be that it has been very hard to get this Government to that point, but these matters are now in the defence White Paper, which is presumably the blueprint for what is left of this Government's days in government. Maybe that is not so important now, because it will not be there for long, but it is important that the Government is getting a consistent and bipartisan approach to defence at last. I commenced my remarks by quoting from the 1976 White Paper. This White Paper on the broad issues is now totally consistent with the 1976 White Paper. It is very important for the future defence of this country that we have this basically bipartisan view of basic defence policies.

I regret that the Minister had to engage in a bit of politicking when he tabled the statement yesterday, he made some criticisms of the coalition's defence spending. He said that it was not adequate, was rather erratic and had led to all sorts of doubt as to the willpower of the Government on defence. The Minister has made the statement-I heard him say this on this morning's Today program and he has also said it here and in many other places-that Australia is in a position of strength within our immediate region. He says that we are the major military power within our immediate region, within the area of direct military interest to Australia.

If we are the major military power in the region, that position has not been achieved in the four years of this Government. Indeed, the major reasons for our strength in the region, as are mentioned by the Minister in the paper, are the F111 and FA18 aircraft, both of which were initiatives of previous coalition governments. Of course, the FA18 was the major defence initiative of the Fraser Government. Indeed, the purchase of the FA18s was the greatest single military equipment purchase in our history, war time or otherwise. The Fraser Government made an enormous undertaking in this regard. Of course, that initiative was carried forward by this Government. I am not criticising the Government; I am simply criticising Minister Beazley for his snide politicking in what is otherwise a very good statement.

Senator Kilgariff —This applied to Jindalee and to the patrol boats.

Senator DURACK —There are many more examples. I do not have the time to mention all of them but no doubt Senator Kilgariff and other honourable senators will go into more detail.

Then, of course, we have the question of spending. The paper contains a guideline for spending on defence. A similar share of gross domestic product will be allocated to defence as has happened in recent years, namely within a range of 2.6 to 2.9 per cent of GDP. The Fraser Government's guidelines for defence was at the higher end of that scale. We were aiming to achieve a guideline of 3 per cent of GDP. In fact, I think the Fraser Government achieved something like 2.9 per cent in its later years. This White Paper's guideline is no different. In fact, if anything, it is less than that guideline. But the Minister has some ways and means, he says, by which more defence can be provided without more money. Good luck to him if he can do that. He gave some examples of how he hopes to achieve that. Although valuable, they are really peanuts. He says that there should be greater efficiencies. We support efforts to create greater efficiencies within the defence establishment. No doubt there is a great deal of room for that but that in itself will not enable us to achieve significantly greater defence effort.

One must wonder whether this Government will in fact, when the crunch comes, be prepared to allocate the money necessary to achieve the actual defence requirements which the Government has set down and committed itself to in this paper. For instance, the five-year defence plan sets the targets for average annual real increases in spending. During the life of this Government the target from 1983 to 1988 was set at 4.5 per cent but the latest figure for the 5-year period 1986 to 1991 is 3 per cent. This Government has never achieved a figure for annual real growth in the defence budget better than 2.7 per cent. So there is the proof of what this Government can achieve in defence. We know that it is about to bring down a mini-Budget in May. Will the Minister give us a guarantee that there will not be further cuts in defence in that May mini-Budget? I think the sorts of things I have mentioned are what people really want to know from this Government.

The last matter I want to deal with is the question of personnel. Unfortunately, the White Paper contains no really sound proposals to stop the drain of personnel from the Defence Force. No amount of new initiatives will provide security for our nation without skilled and dedicated personnel. Vague proposals such as those that appear in this White Paper to consider the recommendations of the Hamilton Review of Effect of Service Life on Spouses are hardly good enough. The White Paper certainly acknowledges the problem but it fails to provide an integrated program to tackle that problem. Expenditure on personnel is certainly to be restrained and the spending priorities are obviously the acquisition of new equipment and facilities. We see here that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force are again relegated to the bottom of the pile. The paper does have one silver lining in relation to that problem. It commits the Government to a program of improved defence housing; but, like so many of this Government's solutions to problems, it is setting up a defence housing authority, as though by doing that it is going to solve the problem. The paper does say that the Government will commit $750m over 10 years to improving defence housing. That is not going to be adequate.

The Government has got to tackle this problem of defence personnel morale. It has done things which have contributed to that lack of morale. The decision to change the non-taxability of Reserve pay was a stupid decision, which fortunately the Government has now reversed. But it cannot do those sorts of things without creating morale problems. Just restoring what was originally allowed is not good enough. The Government should not do those sorts of things in the first place. The introduction of the tax on lump sum superannuation received by defence personnel on their retirement--

Senator Newman —And the 2 per cent on pensions.

Senator DURACK —And the 2 per cent on pensions. These are the sorts of things that this Government has done which have exacerbated this problem, and it is not adequately addressed in this paper by the one or two matters that it refers to and which I have just mentioned. This paper is full of great interest and great detail, and it is a very appropriate matter for detailed consideration by this chamber and this Parliament. I would have liked to raise a large number of other matters--

Senator Watson —It is too full of platitudes.

Senator DURACK —Well, there are lots of platitudes; but in fairness, it does contain a lot of very specific matters and statements which I hope are going to be addressed by others in this debate. I am sorry that I have not got the time, and I do not propose to embark upon any further matters now. But in general terms, as I said, we support the paper. We are relieved that it is adopting the defence policies and strategies which we, on our side of politics, have traditionally held and implemented. I very much resent the snide remarks that the Minister made about the Fraser Government's defence efforts, because had it not been for the policies that the Fraser Government implemented, and the equipment which was acquired, it would not have been possible for the Minister to make the claims that he has about Australia's defence preparedness and power today. I think that is an unfortunate feature of the paper and I regret that the Minister raised that question. This paper certainly has a great deal of promise for the future. I doubt whether this Government will have the willpower or the financial commitment to carry it out, given the influence of its left wing and of Senator Walsh on its front wing who wants to cut everything in sight in defence, no doubt. So there are very grave reservations about whether this Government can carry through its own White Paper. That is a matter of concern on which this Opposition will be watching the Government very closely, and we will be pressing the Government to give a full-blooded commitment in every respect to the future defence of the nation.