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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1073

Senator COOK(11.30) —The Senate this morning is debating the defence White Paper, a paper published by the Government setting out its defence planning for the future. Thus, we are not debating legislation which we will carry; we are expressing views about the Government's plans for defence organisation in this country.

With that in mind I must say that I endorse heartily the remarks of my colleague Senator Barney Cooney who, in an earlier contribution to this debate, started by saying that one great salutation in the world is the salutation, `May peace be with you'. That ought to be the starting point for a consideration of defence issues. I agree. The best defence is to achieve a situation in which we have universal and lasting peace in the world. That is the priority to which I believe this Government is dedicated and the end which this Government pursues through its diplomatic work abroad, through its trade contacts and regional cultural ties. Most properly, that is where the emphasis should be. However, it is true that we live in a world in which not all peoples are equally dedicated to those goals and, therefore, we have to look at the development within Australia of a viable and effective defence force.

As a consequence, in the focus that I now draw, we should debate this White Paper. But in debating this White Paper we should not forget the context that I have referred to as being basically our primary defence context-diplomatic, trade and regional and cultural aspects-because the one thing about a defence force is that if we have to commit it to conflict, we are in serious trouble. The avoidance of conflict and the protection of regional imperatives are best pursued by other means.

The Government proposes in this White Paper to guarantee the defence of Australia and its strategic interests by increasing reliance on ourselves to defend ourselves. That reliance should be sharply increased in the context of a series of formal alliances that we have with nations with which we are sympathetic. The emphasis on greater alliance in this White Paper also ought to be endorsed strongly; that emphasis occurs within the context of the formal alliances that we hold. I am reminded at this stage that Senator MacGibbon, who is one of the more-if I can use this term; I am sure it will not offend him because I think he would accept it as a proper description-right wing of our colleagues in the Senate in the Liberal Party, said that the White Paper ought to be read by every Australian Labor Party member and politician because it contains the best explanation of what our alliances are about that has ever been put in print. Hansard may prove that I got the wording of Senator MacGibbon marginally wrong, but I think the thrust is right. I know it is a trite point but I answer it only in passing.

The Australian Labor Party, therefore, according to Senator MacGibbon, has published the best explanation of our alliances ever put in print. The Labor Party Government has written that and it represents a significant contribution to the defence debate. It is a pity that we have waited so long for such an explanation to be produced. In the many years that Senator MacGibbon's Party was in power there was a deafening silence, no explanation. However, as I said, it is trite to get into a nitpicking argument about this defence White Paper because there is substantial support from all parties here about the thrust of it.

Senator Harradine, the previous speaker in this debate, said that he gave it an endorsement which was caveated in several ways but not in any significant way. The defence White Paper has significant support throughout the community and the innovations that it contains are equally supported. Even the critics who have argued about areas of weakness have conceded that those areas are not substantial. That in itself is quite an achievement for any government. This Government takes a particular pride because this is the first time in the peace-time history of Australia that a long range defence plan has been published. That defence plan has arisen because of the commissioning by the Government of the Dibb report on the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities. It analysed for public debate and criticism our strategic and defence needs. The report was subjected to a period of public debate and we now see this White Paper which, as I have said, is the first long range peace-time defence plan. Previously, we have had uncertain responses to what often have been vaguely identified threats which empirically never materialised. So we have had debate of defence by invocation of a series of beliefs, fears and worries which have never been properly and intelligently articulated. This paper does the nation a great service because it brings those things together in an intelligent plan.

It is a well-rounded paper too, because defence in Australia until now has been debated pretty much only on strategic interests or a fascination with the toys that make up the defence budget. This paper has focused on the industry implications of a defence effort by nations such as ours with an economy organised in the way in which ours is. It has looked in some detail too at the personnel needs of the defence forces. Thus housing, retention rates of military personnel and so on have come in for a degree of analysis that has not previously been available. Most speakers in this debate, however, have still concentrated on the military strategic threats or the lack of them and on the equipment details. In this debate I want to comment on the industry and procurement implications and the military personnel implications of the White Paper and on the economic effect of defence expenditure on our economy given the straitened economic circumstances that under this Government the nation is moving out of.

If we committed an Australian defence force to the field, Australian clothed infantrymen firing Austrian rifles would be landed from United States made helicopters next to German manufactured tanks. They would have air cover from French Mirage fighters and United States FA18s, the pilots of which would have been trained in Italian trainers.

Senator Watson —Yet you think it is a good report!

Senator COOK —I am talking about what we have inherited. Paratroopers would be dropped from United States or Canadian made aircraft. Only the ships may have been made here. The submarines would have been manufactured under licence in Australia to Swedish design. In fact, an Australian defence force in the field is pretty much a multinational equipped force made up of Australian citizens.

Senator Watson —But this is your vision for the future.

Senator COOK —This is not my vision for the future. In terms of logical development of an argument, this is to state what is the case so that we can look at what should be the case. I am sure that Senator Siddons, a champion for Australian industry, would understand that what Senator Watson is saying is not what we want; it is what we have inherited and what, in terms of the industry implications of this defence White Paper, we wish to move away from.

Senator Siddons —You have taken the words right out of my mouth.

Senator COOK —I am sure that that is true. That is a theme we share in this chamber. The major aircraft in the Air Force fighter wing are the FA18s and F111s from the United States, and the Mirages from France, which are now being phased out. The Hercules comes from the United States and the Caribou from Canada. The Orions, the long range maritime surveillance aircraft, are of course from the United States. The Macchi jets in which our pilots train are Italian made. The FA18s and the Mirages were assembled and are maintained in Australia; nonetheless the technology is not our own.

The weapons systems and the ammunition all come intact with the purchase of those aircraft and our maintenance is under licence. In the Army field, the Bell helicopters are of United States design, so are the Sikorsky and the Boeing. Our defence forces are now going to equip themselves with a rifle invented in Austria. Our Leopard tanks are designed and made in the Federal Republic of Germany. In the Navy, some of our FFG frigates were built here but on United States plans. Only the Fremantle patrol boats are designed and built in Australia. The submarines will be built here.

As I have said, the history of industry input into the Australian defence effort is a history of our purchasing equipment off the shelf from foreign suppliers. In some cases we have made the equipment under licence in Australia to provide employment for Australians and to transfer skills. But by and large we have not developed until now an integrated and comprehensive defence industry plan, which is what this White Paper does. We have seen in recent times project Nulka, the development of a decoy missile system for the Navy. The system does not destroy or shoot down foreign missiles but decoys them away from their primary target so that they expend their warheads uselessly. The project has been developed by Australian scientists but it is such a major project that at the current development of our own industry, we do not have the ability to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars to perfect that technology. We will now move into joint development of that weapons system with the United States.

Previously, we have distinguished ourselves in the field of military technology. The Jindivik target drone is a particular example. This White Paper also proposes that we perfect the technology of the Jindalee over the horizon radar system. Defence purchases amount to $2.8 billion in the 1985-86 Budget year. There is tremendous ability to encourage Australian industry to invest in developing the capacity to train the personnel to get the expertise to invent the technology and to take part in supplying the Australian defence effort. Where Australian industry is not a primary supplier there is scope to take advantage of our offsets program, some of the technology for which we have to purchase from overseas. We insist on 30 per cent of our total offsets, which are estimated in this Budget year to be of the value of $40m, being done in Australia. That is a major contribution.

If one is looking for the incentives this paper provides for industry one has to go to chapter 6, headed `Defence and Australian industry'. Set out in those pages is quite a comprehensive analysis of our defence equipment needs. For the first time an Australian government will be notifying Australian industry of its forward plans for the acquisition of defence equipment so that Australian industry will know what we will be seeking to purchase from it and can gear its industrial production to bid for contracts to supply those needs. We will be providing thorough briefings to industry on an ongoing basis so that industry not only knows what the plans are but also knows what the details and intentions are so that in it can be key bidders for contracts in design and development programs at the private level. We will be providing a register of Australian organisations which are able to make proposals and which might be invited to tender. So we will be encouraging Australian industry in that sense. We will be providing a 20 per cent discount on Australian tenders so that if an Australian tenderer is in competition with a foreign tenderer a 20 per cent discount will be given to the Australian tenderer so the contract can be kept in Australia and our Defence Force can be an Australian-made defence force-not, as I have said, a foreign-supplied defence force. In particularly sensitive and strategic areas of our defence equipment acquisition the discount can be much higher.

Because modern defence is a quite highly specialised, technological and sophisticated operation we will be concentrating on providing major encouragement to Australian manufacturers to adapt overseas equipment to Australian needs. The defence of Australia requires a defence of the continental base of the country. We have an environment, a climate and a series of terrains and circumstances which are different from those of most other countries. Australian industry is best equipped to adapt foreign-made equipment to meet these needs. Australian industry will be encouraged by this Government's program of 150 per cent tax write-offs for its research and development effort. So a major incentive to Australian industry is being provided in this area. We will also be encouraging the defence equipment manufacturing sector of Australian industry to collaborate in its export efforts and work together with powers within our alliance structure, where the economy of scale or the run of production is beyond local resources in the manufacture, maintenance and adaptation of equipment. The effort and encouragement we will be providing will be quite significant.

If one looks at defence expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product over the last 20 years one can see that there has been a rise in defence expenditure under this Government. Most of that increase has gone towards the purchase of capital items, which represents a major imbalance on our balance of trade. Purchasing huge capital items overseas-items such as aircraft, tanks and ships-biases our balance of trade in an undesirable way, given our balance of payments problems. Our incentives will have a major impact on righting what is a problem for our economy. They will have an impact, too, in that many of the items required as defence purchases have as their main priority commercial or civilian use. If Australian industry is given the capacity and incentive to participate in this area it will be able to exploit civilian and commercial adaptations of defence items and thus will be better able to compete in the local and export trade of goods and services associated with these items.

I commend the White Paper as being a valuable contribution. I note that it has the major support of all the political parties, although there is some nitpicking criticism of some minor aspects of it. It is the first time in the history of peacetime Australia that a major defence plan has been promoted. The incentives it provides to our local manufacturing industry are quite significant and address one of the major problems in the whole defence debate over the last several decades, that is, that unless Australia can provide much of the technology, equipment and manufactured goods necessary for a viable, modern and sophisticated Defence Force we will not be able to defend ourselves adequately. While we rely on foreign technology, on off-the-shelf purchases, we are to some extent vulnerable. Even if the source of that technology and those purchases is from within our major alliances, nonetheless we are vulnerable. A viable industry sector is required as a prime commitment to a viable defence sector. The White Paper puts those things in an important and patriotic context. I commend the paper.