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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1069


Senator HARRADINE(11.03) —I rise to offer the Government and the Defence Minister, Mr Beazley, conditional congratulations on the defence White Paper which is before us today. There are a number of things in this White Paper which I am glad to see. I note that, most importantly of all, the White Paper confirms the thrust of the Defence Minister's statement on defence initiatives in the South Pacific. The White Paper, on page 16, adverts to the strategic importance of Australia's sea lines of communication in the following terms:

Although remote from areas of major contention, the South-West Pacific is important for Australian defence planning because of its geographic proximity to Australia. Important lines of communication with Australia's major trading partner, Japan, and with our major ally, the United States, run through the region. The countries in the region lie across important trade routes and approaches to Australia's east coast, where most of our major population centres are located. An unfriendly maritime power in the area could inhibit our freedom of movement through these approaches and could place in doubt the security of Australia's supply of military equipment and other strategic material from the United States.

The Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities chose to dismiss the sea-lanes as unimportant to our nation's defence. On this major point of strategic principle, the White Paper represents a departure from the Dibb report. This divergence from the Dibb report appears to have taken a concrete form. I refer to the decision to tender for proposals for a frigate designed to meet specifications considerably superior in range, weight and weaponry to that proposed by Dibb. By so doing the Government has signalled its belief that Australia needs to have some capacity to deploy forces beyond Dibb's 1,000 nautical mile limit and into Australia's zone of primary strategic interest. The recognition by the Government of the need for strategic flexibility in dealing with threats to Australia and to our interests is a welcome development.

As I argued in my several speeches last year on the defence question, Australia's security depends on the security of our sea-lanes. In so far as the Government has been prepared to admit that the security of the sea-lanes impinges at all on our national security, the White Paper represents an advance in the Government's thinking about national defence. Although the advance has not been deep enough-and I will say more about this later-any advance against the deeply entrenched political, bureaucratic and academic opposition to power projection into the area of our primary strategic interest must be counted a victory.

There are many other points in this defence White Paper which are worthy of favourable mention. Closely connected with the question of the sea-lanes is the Government's recognition of the ANZUS Treaty as a Pacific area security treaty. This implies that Australia shares practical responsibility with the United States for preserving the security of the non-communist world's strategic interests in the Pacific. In particular, I draw attention to the fact that, contrary to the intention of the Dibb report, the White Paper accepts Australia's responsibilities under the Radford-Collins naval control agreement. I note also the Government's declaration of support for the five-power defence arrangements. Furthermore, the reconfirmation in this document of the Government's support for the joint United States-Australian defence facilities points to a belief by the Government that national security policy should enhance global security. I believe that a national security policy must be founded on the principle that local national security cannot be separated from regional and global security considerations. The Government also accepts this principle.

Taken together, the White Paper's statements on the sea-lanes, the ANZUS Treaty, the five-power defence arrangements, and the joint defence bases have gone a long way toward dispelling, at least in theory, the incipient isolationism of the Dibb report. It is clear, then, that the Government has recoiled from the prospect of embracing the full implications of the Dibb strategy. However, the Government has not been willing to explore, let alone accept, the full strategic significance of Australia's sea-lanes. Instead, the Government has sought to compromise. While preserving as the centrepiece of its strategic policy Dibb's preoccupation with defence against direct threats to the Australian mainland, the Government wants to keep open the option of deploying military forces deep into our region. These forces could be used to defend our vital sea lines of communication in concert with our major allies, neighbours, and trading partners. It must be pointed out, however, that the Government has made this compromise, not primarily to give Australia some sea-lane defence capability. The reason why the White Paper takes a different position of the issue of power projection is that Dibb denied altogether the need for it. The Dibb strategy would have deprived the defence forces of the ability to respond offensively against a direct attack on Australia. To restore this necessary element to national defence planning, the Government had to depart from Dibb's purely defensive defence posture.

Still, the Government has kept open the option of mounting a sea-lane defence, for which we must be thankful. It would have been a tragedy if the Government had sought to deprive the defence forces of the potential to defend our sea-lanes. But let us be clear about the Government's achievements in defence policy. Though the achievement is real, it is a strictly limited one. At best, the White Paper has stemmed the trend toward a doctrinaire, purely reactive, and isolationist national security policy. True, the White Paper rejects the Dibb view that the sea-lanes are irrelevant; however, the White Paper preserves Dibb's peculiar emphasis on defending this country from direct assault against the mainland. Of course, Australia must be able to defend itself against incursion or invasion, but the over-heavy accent which this White Paper puts on developing a mainland defence is strategically misconceived. This just goes to show how poorly the Government has understood the sea-lanes issue.

As I have pointed out before, the preoccupation with threats to the Australian mainland does not address the strategic realities posed by our country's geographic isolation. Because of our isolation, Australia's links with the rest of the world are long and highly vulnerable sea and air routes. Australia stands or falls on the security of these. The most economical way of bringing military pressure to bear in Australia would be to attack these lines of communication. In comparison to these sorts of attacks, a direct attack on Australia would be absurdly complicated and costly for an enemy to undertake. Consequently, an attack on Australia in the form of a campaign waged against our lines of communications is the most likely threat with which Australia's armed forces will have to deal. A direct assault on Australia can only develop after an enemy has won control over our sea lines of communication. Therefore, the correct strategy for Australia is one designed to deter threats to and, if necessary, to defeat attacks on, the sea-lanes. A mainland defence strategy should serve as a fall back strategy to be employed should the defence of our lines of communication fail.

Let me make it perfectly clear: I am pleased that the Government has formulated a strategy for the defence of the continent from direct attack. Such a strategy should form a permanent and integral part of our national security policy. My objection is that the last-ditch defence of this country should form the principal part of national security policy. This is to turn what ought to be our rear line of defence into our front line. I believe that this is a major strategic blunder.

I note that on pages 27 and 28 the White Paper attempts to address some of the arguments which I put forward last year in favour of a sea-lane defence strategy. I am gratified that the Government felt the force of these arguments sufficiently to reply to them. But the attempt to answer my case shows how unsophisticated the strategic thinking of the Government and its advisers still is. The White Paper concedes my point that passage of the narrow waters to our north could be denied us even during levels of conflict short of all-out war. However, the White Paper claims that the cost to Australia only amounts to `reduced living standards and adverse economic impact on some regions of the country, rather than a threat to national survival'. What an extraordinary claim for realistic politicians to endorse. Here we have a government which is under such pressure from our economic crisis that, in some areas, it is exchanging traditional Labor policies for those of laissez-faire capitalism. Yet the same government tries to tell us that economic pressures have no political implications for a nation or its government. I repeat the arguments that I put forward on this precise issue in July last year:

In time of all-out war and national mobilisation . . . trade losses would not be critical. However, under conditions of sustained but limited warfare, in which the community and the government would expect to deal with an enemy without putting the whole of national life on a war footing, the pressure generated by attacks on merchant shipping would pose a serious threat to the government's freedom of action.

The limited war, moreover, is an option with a lot of appeal, especially for a totalitarian enemy. Controlled and circumscribed military action, taken to focus maximum force on an opponent without provoking a full-scale reaction, is a tempting strategy for a totalitarian regime. It offers an opportunity to use to advantage the political control which such governments ordinarily have over their human and material resources, but which democratic governments cannot exercise except in conditions of total war.

Small wars waged to exploit the natural political divisions within a liberal democracy, can be an highly effective way for totalitarian governments to achieve their objectives. This is one of the great lessons of this century . . .

Limited military action taken against our trade, which was calculated to energise the centripetal political tendencies of liberal democracy, but was not sufficiently potent clearly to threaten our national existence, would place the government in a serious dilemma.

Given the direction taken by our current strategic thinking and military planning, Australia would be in no position to defend effectively with peace-time armed forces against this sort of attack. The government, therefore, would be faced with three alternatives, each of them untenable: to accept unchecked trade losses and a gradual erosion of living standards; to attempt, without full public support, to mobilise for a higher level of armed conflict; or to meet the demands of the enemy.

As the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) states, Australia is facing the worst economic crisis since World War II. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) says that the crisis has been brought about because of the collapse of our overseas trade. What are the defence implications of those two authoritative government statements for our sea-lanes of communication? Surely, if a potential enemy can interdict those sea-lanes of communication, it will place Australia in the worst economic crisis since World War II. I request that the Defence Minister, or his representative in this place, provide the Parliament with a considered response to this analysis. All members and honourable senators would be interested to know how to avoid the political consequences of an economic crisis.

To return to the subject of indirect threats: It would not be sufficient for Australia merely to possess forces capable of defending the sea-lanes. Australia's chief objective should be to forestall the development of indirect threats. To achieve this, Australia needs an integrated foreign and defence policy designed to preserve our greatest strategic asset, which is that the lands adjacent to the sea-lanes should be controlled by powers friendly to Australia's interests. They are now. Our foreign-defence policies should be designed to ensure that they continue to be in control of powers friendly to Australia's interests.

One of the ways Australia can achieve this deterrent effect is to have the capacity to deploy forces far forward of the Australian mainland and in positions which give those forces the capacity to deal with threats to our sea lines of communication. The most important of these is the shipping route through the Solomon and Bismarck seas. This route cannot be defended seriously from Australia. To do it Australia needs bases in Papua New Guinea. The White Paper makes much of the importance of Papua New Guinea. But I do not find in this document any recognition of the need for Australia to deny Papua New Guinea airfields and harbours to any foreign power. The only way we can achieve this goal is by a treaty with Papua New Guinea which will give us access to these bases and by a resolution to develop Papua New Guinea facilities, especially Manus Island, and to deploy forces there.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Julius Chan, was in Australia recently. He called for a defence treaty with Australia. Discussions are taking place now. Mr Diro was in Australia only this week. An Australia-Papua New Guinea treaty should form part of a network of formal and informal arrangements between Australia and its Association of South East Asian Nations and South West Pacific neighbours for the mutual defence of the regional waterways from extra-regional threats.

It is not, however, just a proper appreciation of the Papua New Guinea role in our defence which is lacking from this White Paper. There is a contradiction between foreign policy and defence strategy generally. The White Paper wants to have relations with our neighbours which will enhance regional security. But the Government does not really want to back up these regional connections with armed force. It prefers merely to have the option of so doing. The Government should face the problem that, unless it grasps opportunities that it has now, the options may dwindle into the distance.

In reality, a strategy pitched exclusively at defending the Australian mainland must risk emptying our relations with regional friends and allies of any strategic value to Australia. The only way these friendships and agreements will enhance our security is by Australia being prepared to contribute to the defence of mutual strategic interests, and the most important of these is sea-lane security. While the sentiments of regional responsibility found in this document might be temporarily heartwarming, in the long run Australia's refusal to give military substance to these sentiments could easily turn our present friends into cynical, unco-operative and perhaps hostile neighbours.

In addition to this conflict between foreign and defence policy, the White Paper reveals a rather unpenetrating grasp of strategic developments in both the Indian and Pacific oceans. How extraordinary that in this White Paper there is no assessment made of Mr Gorbachev's Vladivostok speech and of the strategic implications for Australia of the new Soviet activism in the Pacific.

I suggest that one objective of increased Soviet activity in the Pacific would be to disconnect the Japanese economy from the Western alliance and to harness it to Soviet economic development. A communist regime in the Philippines friendly to the Soviet interest would provide an excellent means of putting the squeeze on Japan. Soviet access to naval and air facilities in the Philippines, combined with bases in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, would give the Soviets control over the South China Sea and over the Japanese economy whose oil flows through these waters. All this could be achieved without the Soviets going to war with the United States. Control over the Japanese economy would in turn give the Soviets leverage over Australia's economy, unless Australia were to convert itself into a first class industrial economy and exporter of manufactured goods. Here is another form of the indirect threat to Australian interests-a threat to the sea-lanes, and hence to the economy, of a nation on which Australia depends for trade. Would Australia like to see Japan switch to Siberia as a source of raw materials? Surely then it would be in Australia's interests to help preserve the South China Sea from Soviet domination. Would this objective not in turn demand a firm and clear commitment to assisting the democratic Government of the Philippines defeat the New People's Army?

The White Paper expresses concern over the future of the Philippines, but fails clearly to draw the connection between the fate of the Philippines, Soviet policy toward Japan, and their implications for Australia. But since the Government does not take sea-lanes or indirect threats seriously enough, this omission is not surprising. Moreover, the White Paper proposes no concrete action in support of democracy in the Philippines. This illustrates the continuing failure of Australia to develop a national security policy which integrates both foreign and defence policies.

The Government has recently been making great play with its decision to develop a so-called two-ocean Navy, one half of which will be deployed into the east Indian Ocean. Despite this, there is nothing in the White Paper about developments in the Indian Ocean-not a word about the Indian Navy, its growth, its tremendous reach, its two-going on three-aircraft carriers, its bases in the Anderman Islands which cover the Malacca Straits, its evident capacity for sea-lane defence and interdiction. Perhaps it is significant that a White Paper which eschews a sea-lane defence strategy would refrain from mentioning India's vigorous endorsement of just such a policy in waters which lap Australian shores. Australia has had a long and friendly relationship with India and maintains that relationship. She is one of the most influential members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Surely it would not have been too much to expect the Australian Government to have sought information from India as to the basis for its Indian Ocean buildup, how it links in with our strategic interests, and then informed the Parliament in this White Paper.

There is no time today to discuss in detail the great issues concerning the Soviets, Japan, India, and Australia. I mention them to indicate the practical, as distinct from theoretical, gaps in the White Paper's appreciation of our strategic environment-gaps which are there because the Government seems incapable of making a realistic commitment to co-operative regional security arrangements and of truly grasping the nature of the indirect approach in strategic policy which could be pursued by a potential enemy.

Finally, this document should be welcomed. I believe that the Defence Minister has done a service to this country in developing documents over a period and finally the White Paper on defence. I think it is 11 years since the last occasion that this occurred. I welcome the document; it is, as I have said, a considerable advance on the Dibb report. However, Australia's defence plan will not mature until we realise that the fate of Australia hangs on those fragile and exposed threads which link us to Asia and to America.