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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1065


Senator MacGIBBON(10.34) -The Opposition welcomes the Government's White Paper on the defence of Australia. We have some points of difference in detail, but those points of difference will be corrected when we come into office in a few months time. The paper represents a huge shift in the thinking of this Government from the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities which was presented over a year ago. Given the magnitude of the shift that has taken place in writing this paper, even if by some strange quirk of fate this Government stayed in power and survived the next election, there would be a reasonable expectation that those minor blemishes would be corrected with the passage of time.

The report accepts Opposition criticisms made since the Dibb report was presented. It accepts the criticisms I have made. More importantly many of the reports of the Senate Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and the Joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee over the years that have not been acknowledged by the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, are dealt with or picked up in some way in this report. This report is a very good report. It incorporates orthodox professional thinking, and it is time we got back to that in the management of Australia's defence.

Most of the points I addressed in my speech of 19 November 1986, which has come to be regarded by others as being the definitive critique of the Dibb report, have been addressed in this White Paper. I refer to the points I made about Fortress Australia, the inability to project power and keep peace in the region, the myth of the benign environment-although I must say that the curious ambivalence of the Minister for Defence is something to worry about. A few weeks ago he told us that there were no Soviets in the area who were any threat to us. He went part of the way to acknowledging their existence in his tabling speech when the report was presented in the other place yesterday, but it is a very grudging acknowledgment. I do not know why the Minister for Defence cannot see the obvious. Australia is not situated in a benign environment. It is a changed environment from what it was 10 years ago. It is a very unpredictable environment where the Soviets have declared that they will play an increasing part and will have increasing influence, if they can, in the years ahead.

To return to the report, it gets away from that foolishness of Fortress Australia which characterised the Dibb report and it puts great strength on the value of alliances and defence in depth. I quote from a speech I made on 19 November 1986 when I said:

Given our geography and population, Australia's first objective must be to avoid large land battles. That means that defence in depth and the development of mutual supporting pacts with nations in the region.

If there is one theme in this report, it is the embodiment of that concept of defence in depth and the need for alliances with nations in our region. Enough of the irrelevant past. We support this report in its general direction because it is the Liberal-National Party 1976 White Paper re-written in 1987 terms. It is a restatement of the common-sense orthodoxies of professionals in the Australian defence field.

My major concerns with the report are twofold. First of all, the funding demands on the Department are understated. Whether or not this is done intentionally, I do not know. But I have very grave doubts about whether this Government can fund the commitments, which I fully support, with respect to new equipment. Given the record of Labor governments in the past with their penchant for welfare taking precedence over the essential management of the nation, one must have very little confidence that the ideals and objectives of this report will be attained.

The second problem-the conditions of service-is also related to finance. There are a lot of platitudes about what the Hamilton Review of Effect of Service Life on Spouses has done for housing, but very little has been spent and the Hamilton report was written 18 months ago. The conditions of service, the way servicemen live, the way they are rewarded for their service, are appalling. They have some of the worst standards of service and that is evidenced by the very high resignation rates the services are suffering from at present. Those points-the inability to fund the equipment programs listed and the ignorance or denial of the problems relating to conditions of service-are the two crippling defects of this report.

I now go to the report in some detail. Chapter 1 relates to Australia's defence policy. The opening statement says that the policy of defence self-reliance must be pursued within a framework of alliances and agreements. It restates the value and fundamental importance of alliances to Australia. We are a small country amongst some of the most highly populated countries in the world. Our nearest neighbour has the fourth largest population in the world. China, the population of which cannot be measured, is within aircraft range of this country. It is very important that Australia, with its 15 million people, has alliances with nations which will support us in time of need. I suggest that all Labor senators and members should read this report and read the justification of the alliances with other countries. It will go some way to overcoming the latent xenophobia that characterises the Labor view of foreign affairs, because this is probably the most compelling argument ever put in print for the need for alliances.

Chapter 1 also looks at alliances other than ANZUS. It reconfirms the value of the five-power defence agreement, which gets very little publicity these days. I am pleased to see that there is a reference to the Radford-Collins agreement. I have not seen any reference in print to the Radford-Collins agreement for many years, and that applies not only to this Government but to the previous Government. The Radford-Collins agreement is important because it relates to responsibilities we have entered into or obligations we have accepted to control shipping in the event of an emergency. Sea protection gets very little publicity in the Australian defence debate.

Turning to chapter 2, which relates to Australia's strategic environment and defence interests, there is a minor point, after the discussion on joint defence facilities, on which the Government indicates:

Accordingly, there is a need for the appropriate government bodies at various levels to undertake basic civil defence planning for the protection of the population in the areas concerned.

That is talking about civil defence planning for the joint defence facilities. That is something that all governments have neglected in the past. I would like to see some civil defence planning extended to the whole of the Australian community. The defence of Australia turns on having a deterrent capability. We want to make it too expensive for anyone to attack this country. If we are to have a defence deterrent posture, we have to be seen to have the will to use the resources we have. We have to have resources and we have to be seen to have the will to use them. We will have the resources for a deterrent, but we have to develop the will in the community. The Australian community is totally unprepared psychologically for the sacrifices that are involved in an armed conflict. Without the support of the community, all the defence forces in the world are not worth anything. There is not a great need in Australia to build nuclear shelters and lay down food stores for all the population. That is quite impractical for us to do. But it is absolutely vital to develop the will in the community to protect our sovereignty if it is challenged. I hope that the statement that there will be some basic civil defence planning for populations around the joint defence facilities is a harbinger for wider actions for the whole Australian community.

In chapter 2 there is a reference to the Treaty of Rarotonga. We agree to differ with the Government on that. It unnecessarily closes off options that the western alliance might need to use in the future. Chapter 3 deals with the priorities for force development. The opening part of it deals with the possible threats, which it calls `military pressure' against Australia and starts with low level conflict. The report states:

Successful reviews of the strategic basis of Australian defence policy have noted the advantages an opponent might see in a campaign of sustained low level military pressure against Australia.

The second paragraph states:

The adversary could, if he wished, sustain low level activity virtually indefinitely.

The Government is saying that a low level threat could come over a huge geographic area. It could be mounted at very little cost to the attacker, yet we could exhaust ourselves over time just meeting these attacks and feints over the huge geographic area involved in the Australian theatre. That statement is one of the flaws of the report because it is hopelessly defeatist. That analysis of that type of low level attack on Australia postulated in that section, is only true if we let it occur. It should be abundantly clear to any potential attacker that if we are faced with low level attacks we will take out the bases from which those attacks are originating. We must behave the way the Israelis behave. We have no other option. That point must be very clearly understood. Otherwise, we can stop paying money for the Australian defence forces. We can be beaten by low level threats and feints and theorised out of existence. It must be clearly understood by every other nation and power that Australia will defend its sovereignty and that we will go and take out the bases from which these attacks arise.

The chapter also deals with the old 10-year no threat scenario, although this is done sotto voce in the report. The Opposition, ad nauseam, has on numerous occasions, made it clear that a threat based scenario is no basis for planning Australia's defence capabilities.

When we turn to the latter part of the chapter on Australia's defence strategy, we come to the signal difference between this report and the Dibb report. It says that Australia's defence strategy is based on a concept of defence in depth-and that, to anyone who has had any interest in Australia's defence, is the only practical way it can be done. The report does go on to talk about the sea-air gap. There is no such thing as a sea-air gap around Australia. There are numerous islands in the so-called 1,000-mile sea-air gap of Mr Dibb, and those are areas where bases will be established by any adversary against Australia. The primary requirement is not to have an air and naval strike capability against ships approaching the Australian coast; it is to have an air strike capability against the bases from which those forces are operating.

Chapter 4 really is the heart of the report. It deals with the Australian Defence Force and its development. It opens with an intelligence and surveillance section, and again the Government persists with its emphasis on Jindalee. Jindalee is an enormously useful asset for the Australian intelligence and surveillance capability, but it is still in its developmental stages and there is no justification at all for going ahead with another two, three or four Jindalee stations until we have worked up our present one. The requirement is for airborne early warning and control aircraft, and again, as in the past, this gets very low priority from the Department of Defence and the Government. Yet the ability to know precisely what is going on in the region around and over Australia is paramount to us, and the only way that can be provided in the short term is by the provision of AEWC aircraft.

The section on anti-submarine warfare is extremely weak. Again, it carries on the low priority that the Department and the Government assign to anti-submarine capability. If we get into any sort of trouble, the ability to find submarines is going to be paramount. We have a very great need there, but I regret to say that there is very muddled thinking in the Navy and in the Department of Defence on the priorities required for anti-submarine warfare for Australia. There are an awful lot of submarines that can come from regional powers into our area.

The next part of chapter 4 deals with electronic warfare. I want to pick this up and comment on the Defence Science and Technology Organisation which is mentioned later in the report. We spend very little money on DSTO. If we accept the argument, as I do, that Australia's defence relies very heavily on high technology, we cannot argue that the money we put towards the Defence Science and Technology Organisation is an adequate amount. In fact, in 10 years it has come down from 3.86 per cent of the Defence vote in 1976-77 to only 2.3 per cent in 1986-87. Australia spends only one-twentieth on research and development in the defence field of what the United Kingdom spends, and the United Kingdom in turn spends only one-tenth of what the United States of America spends. Electronic warfare is really the crux of modern combat. Because of our isolation, we in Australia give it very little attention. I think the amount of the budget of the DSTO which goes to electronic warfare-this is from a published figure-is probably about 6 per cent. In my book, it ought to be around 35 or 45 per cent, because we simply cannot survive over the battlefield or in defended airspace unless we have the latest electronic countermeasures. It is also very important for the Navy. It is important for the Army. But while there is some recognition of the need for electronic countermeasures capability in the Air Force there is very little in the Navy and almost none in the Army.

We have very little in the way of training facilities. The Navy and the Air Force have some, but it is a very much understated and unrecognised need. The importance of it is that electronic warfare packs are mobile. They are transportable. They can be carried on aircraft in pod form, moved on trucks and placed on ships. Unless we have countermeasures for electronic warfare we will not survive. It is as simple as that. We have an example of this in the aircraft the Israelis lost in one of the wars with Egypt. Israel had enormous loss ratios because it did not have effective ECM capabilities in its aircraft, but that position was turned around within 24 hours when the Americans supplied Israel with them. Later on, with one of the conflicts with Syria-I forget what the kill ratio was, but it was something like 80 Syrian aircraft to nil Israeli aircraft-again there was a demonstration of the absolute necessity of an electronic warfare capability. It is one of the great defects that we have.

The next part of the chapter deals with mapping, charting and infrastructure knowledge. We simply do not have adequate charts and maps of the Australian coastline. Evidence that has been given to Senate defence committees in the past, and which is still valid, is that at the rate we are going it will take us 50 years to get the charts up to date. This is a nonsense, because the civilian sector has the resources and the capability to improve this situation, as was demonstrated with the mapping of the pipeline for the North West Shelf, where the latest technology in the world was used. We have the resources in the civilian sector. We cannot do it through the hydrographic services of the Navy and the Army survey corps and the Air Force. We have to put it out to the civilian sector. We could get it all tied up in about five years, depending on how much money we put into it.

The next section concerns nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. This is also one of the weaknesses. No one seems to think that we will ever be involved in biological and chemical warfare. I think it is a great reality, and to me it is much more a real threat than being involved in nuclear war. For a variety of reasons, I do not believe we will be involved in a nuclear war. But as the Iraq-Iran war has demonstrated it is the sort of thing that could well erupt in this region and to be unprepared, as we are, is not wise.

Chapter 4.37 refers to the strike and interdiction capability of the Air Force. Again, it does not get the emphasis it deserves. As I said before, any threat to this country will emanate from bases and our first resort must be to eliminate those bases. We should therefore be looking at a ground strike capability, the ability to penetrate highly defended hostile targets, not at a priority for maritime attack, which is what this report suggests.

In the maritime section considerable space is devoted to the new surface combatants. I would hope that we came up with a design there that had a universal platform, a hull and propulsion system somewhere between 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes, probably diesel powered, with a speed of about 27 to 30 knots, which platform could be fitted either in an anti-submarine warfare role or a gunfire support role-because we do need the ability of shore bombardment in this South Pacific region-and an air defence capability. I do not think it will be practical to be able to put kits on the ships and change them for different roles in the way that some of the discussion has gone. I think that the technology is probably not developed enough for that. But I do believe that there will be considerable savings if we can come up with a common successful platform on which to mount the various specialist weapons and sensors that the Navy needs. Clearly, all of those ships must have a helicopter capability, and I am sure that that will be dealt with in their design.

The submarine force is mentioned. We in the Opposition have grave reservations about the way the whole of that program has been managed. While I do not wish to debate that today, there is no pressing need at all for the Oberons to be replaced at this time. We have at least five years in which to consider and refine the proposals that are before us, before we have to move to the replacement of those submarines. But that is not in any sense to downplay the importance of a submarine capability for Australia.

The final point I make in relation to chapter 4 is that the amphibious force section is misleading. Australia now has no effective amphibious training capabilities, let alone any ability to practise the art. I am not talking about the ability to land against high opposition; just the ability to move over the shore and get Army units ashore in the Pacific region where we may need to do it.

Part of the Navy section deals with the two-ocean Navy. I have no quarrel with the concept that both the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean are areas of our responsibility. It is common sense to have ships that are operating in that area based on the Indian Ocean side. But there is a bit more to it than the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has acknowledged. First of all, there is a huge capital cost involved in building the base facilities and keeping them going on a continual basis as opposed to having a bare base facility in the way that the Air Force has gone with Learmonth, Derby and various other airfields in the west.

The other thing is that there is a very big human cost in moving families to areas such as Stirling, or Tindal for the Air Force. Most servicemen are married and their wives do not like living in isolated areas. They find that the schooling facilities for their children are not very good in some of these isolated areas. Even more importantly, there are no employment prospects for the kids when they get to 15 or 17 years of age and are leaving school. I think we will have real problems in Tindal and I can see some problems arising with the Navy's move to Western Australia.

The other point about the two-ocean Navy is that the Navy is inherently a small force, as are all the Australian forces. If we split it in half, the concentration of units for essential training becomes so much more difficult or impossible. I would rather have seen the development of bare base facilities in the west and the porting of ships in the west as the need arose, while maintaining a central position somewhere on the east coast.

In the air warfare section, the Government recognises the importance of the F18 to our needs. The strategic transport section is a bit weak. One has to recognise that the C130 aircraft, which provide the basic air lift capacity for the Air Force, are tactical transports. In Australia, with 3,000 miles from coast to coast, we really are looking at the need for a strategic air lift capability.

Most of the land warfare section is quite acceptable. The one division training is weak on amphibious warfare because we do not have the facilities. One of two points I want to pick up in regard to the Army relate to the battlefield helicopter decision. This has been opposed by the Opposition and we will reverse it in government because it is quite the wrong thing to do. What the Army needs is a battlefield taxi. It wants the lift capacity to get troops from here to there and put them in place. It does not want to buy the airline. I have been buying aeroplanes for 20 years and I love them. But, despite all the time that I spend travelling on Ansett Airlines of Australia and Australian Airlines, I have not the slightest wish to invest in an airline. Putting it precisely, I want the convenience or the facility to be able to travel from here to there. That is precisely what the Army wants.

The Army has not thought through what is involved in crew training and maintenance for the helicopters of the sophistication of the Black Hawk variety. It just wants to be able to have access to helicopters 24 hours a day. That could be done by saying to the members of 9 Squadron of the Air Force, who are going to operate these helicopters: `You go up north. You do not go to Garbutt. You go to Lavarack, wear khaki, live in the mess and talk to the soldiers. They are your friends. You develop doctrine, you develop operational procedures, and you develop tactics with the Army. You are responsible to the brigade commander. You are not responsible to the officer commanding Amberley'. If that happened, we would have the most cost effective scheme for battlefield helicopters.

Of course, the Minister, like Mr Dibb, confuses battlefield mobility with tactical mobility. What we are really talking about here is tactical mobility, not movement on the battlefield itself. Battlefield mobility relates to the M113 armoured personnel carriers that the Government, in its stupidity, is to persist in retaining. There is no greater defect in surface warfare today for Australia than the inability to protect our soldiers under fire on the battlefield. That comes about because we are going to keep this first generation M113 which provides no defence for people in it. Light calibre armour piercing bullets will go through its armour. With its very poor power to weight ratio it is not mobile in the field. It has been a good APC. But it is a first generation one. It is 30 years old. We should be getting into something else.

Moving through the rest of the report, we really have very little quarrel with chapters 6 and 7, except where the Government talks of getting 30 per cent of offsets. I am glad that the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, has come into the chamber, because it now seems to be Government doctrine that 30 per cent of offsets will be provided for defence purposes. Last week Aviation Week and Space Technology noted that France ordered three Boeing E3 airborne early warning and control aircraft and took options on two more. At the same time, Britain signed a formal contract for six aircraft. The French order, like the British order, calls for 130 per cent of the contract value to be placed with French industry. In other words, the British and the French have negotiated 130 per cent offsets with the Boeing company. The best that Senator Button and Mr Beazley can do is a miserable 30 per cent, and I do not think that Australian industry is served by that.

We support this report, apart from the details we have listed. It is a triumph of the professionals over the amateurs and we hope it signals a return to the bipartisan approach to defence that those of us on this side demonstrated when we were in government.