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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1076


Senator WATSON(11.53) —The defence White Paper presented by the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, yesterday is a blend of platitudes and what we might call overdue steps forward. I say this because of the various contrasts in the document, which on the one hand, quite sensibly, emphasises the importance of a highly mobile force which is capable of rapid deployment-few people would argue with those sorts of major steps forward-but on the other hand continues with certain fictions. I refer to one such contrast. Paragraph 1.33 of the paper states:

The ANZUS Treaty remains in place, and the mutual obligations under it between Australia and the United States and between Australia and New Zealand are preserved. This includes the security commitments embodied in the treaty.

This is absolute hogwash. This hogwash is continually peddled by the Labor Government when all realistic people in Australia know that ANZUS is dead. It died because of the international irresponsibility of our friend across the water, New Zealand.

I want to emphasise and examine the strategic importance of what is happening in the Pacific region. Since the mid-1960s the Pacific Basin has undergone a geo-political metamorphosis. Whereas there were a number of island colonies whose foreign affairs were managed either from Paris or from London, today we have as near neighbours many newly independent nations, each with its own foreign affairs policy, its own global aspirations and its own view of the world. The difference in the Pacific now is that whilst most of these states have very small populations they have huge areas of sovereign territory which they have to administer, so they have pretty expensive overheads because they have to maintain their parliaments, their executives, their public services and their social security systems. As a consequence the Pacific region is now becoming an area of great strategic importance to middle powers such as Australia as well as to the two major super-powers-that is the big difference. Both the major super-powers are very keen to establish influences for defence advantages rather than for commercial gain. The White Paper, in paragraph 2.43, coyly says that these mini-states are fundamentally affected in their ability to protect their interests.

I believe that Australia has a rather special role in the South Pacific in several ways. First, we have an historic role, sharing, as we do, the British tradition-which is diminishing-of many of the former colonies. It is rather tragic that with the disappearance of the British and French influence a vacuum has been left which Australia and the United States, and some other powers, have failed to move into. Australia has this special economic role providing aid, specially for education and in what we might call the skills based development of these Pacific island people. We have what one could perhaps term a paternalistic role-a `stewardship' role-because of our great economic and political advantage over these sovereign mini-states. This last role has been neglected too much in the past. New Zealand has always had a very much higher profile in the Pacific than Australia has had. It was not until the 1970s that this country began to play a significant role at all.

Let us look at the foothold that the Soviet Union is seeking to gain in the South Pacific. The White Paper says that certain of these strategic interests could be `inimical' to Australia's interests. I would go further and assert that the Soviet interest should be of great concern to the Government and that it should take steps to do something a little more concrete rather than produce a generally bland discussion paper with reference to the Soviet threat. Let us look at the prospects of this threat. In March last year at the Twenty-seventh Congress of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Communist Party the General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, foreshadowed new Soviet initiatives, in his words, to `stabilise the situation' in the South Pacific. This was followed in July last year when Gorbachev put forward the Vladivostok initiative. In this speech, which forms the basis for recent Soviet moves in our neighbourhood, the Soviet leader supported the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. Paragraph 2.44 of this White Paper says that the Treaty is a gain for Australia, regional security, and that it will protect Western strategic interests in the region. I for one find it difficult to accept this assertion in the paper when it is coupled with Gorbachev's obvious glee about the Treaty. Gorbachev, in his speech, proposed extending ties with the independent members of the region with the youngest political life. He named Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Moscow, Gorbachev states, would lend dynamism to its bilateral relations with all countries in the Asia-Pacific region

Let us go another step forward in this Soviet initiative. In early 1986 the Russians set up, for the first time, a Pacific branch in their Foreign Ministry to cover not only the mini-states, but also Australia and New Zealand. In August 1986 Moscow established diplomatic relations with probably the most left wing of the mini-states, Vanuatu. At the same time the Russians began negotiations with Father Walter Lini's Government for shore access to Port Vila and landing rights for Aeroflot, the Soviet airline. Lini in turn opened up relations with Soviet clients such as Vietnam, Nicaragua and Libya. In fact, he went so far as to defend Colonel Gaddafi, saying that the Libyans are not really a terrorist nation. At the same time, Cuba, on the other side of the world, offered to assist in the training of Vanuatu's police force. Kiribati, with a population of only 60,000, is strategically placed because the United States has a rocket splash-down zone in the atoll region; hence its strategic importance to the USSR. In fact, the USSR recently stepped up invitations to the Kiribati Government and its officials, especially to students and trade unionists, to visit Moscow and other Eastern bloc countries.

The Soviet Union is also trying to raise its level of influence in Tonga. For a number of years it has been pressuring the tiny Tongan Government to allow the Soviet Union to establish an embassy in the state capital and so far, to the island's credit, without success. Colonel Gaddafi also made offers of an international airport and unlimited free oil if Tonga would change its foreign policy to an anti-Israel stance. The Russians have been trying to lure Tongan students and trade unionists with offers of study tours of the Soviet Union. Only recently did the threat of a Tonga-USSR fishing agreement fade when the United States at last signed a fishing treaty with the Tongans.

New Caledonia remains very much a hot spot in the region. The Russians have been able to exploit the problems in this country, with some success because of the problems with the Kanaks and the French testing at Mururoa Atoll. The increasing resentment voiced by the South Pacific Forum about the French colonial presence has been fuelled by Moscow. In March last year Colonel Gaddafi hosted a summit in Tripoli for delegates from the New Caledonian FLNKS, the Irianese separatist organisation, the OPM, and the ruling party in Vanuatu. It maintained the Libyan commitment to military training for Kanak separatists. All this is happening in our Pacific region.

Let us turn to our great friend and ally New Zealand. As I have said, New Zealand has an historical role of assistance and aid to many South Pacific nations. In the past it has disgraced Australia in this important role. As a consequence, the Government in Wellington has great influence with many of these young countries. The New Zealand abrogation of its responsibility to ANZUS has been of great concern to many nations in the Pacific basin area. Sir Thomas Davis, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, whose defence is provided by New Zealand, has roundly condemned the Lange Government because of its policy on nuclear ships. Sir Thomas Davis shames this Hawke Labor Government by taking the stance that Mr Hawke and Mr Hayden have avoided taking and have vacillated on ever since 1984 when the ban was first announced.

The United States has ceased providing military intelligence and assistance to New Zealand because of its policy and this has seriously worried the Polynesian states which depend on New Zealand for their protection. What did Mr Hawke do? He decided at the last minute not to attend the South Pacific Forum-a serious omission which can only increase the concern of Polynesian nation leaders, who are now more dependent than ever on Australia and New Zealand. The South Pacific is increasingly becoming an area of fragile stability. The Hawke and Hayden attitude of not doing anything because of the historically peaceful nature of the region is a head in the sand attitude and is dangerously unsatisfactory.

The theme which runs through the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities is an assumption that the only threat to Australia and her interests comes from direct invasion. I would assert that the protection of a nation's interest and security extends way beyond its territorial integrity. This White Paper at least goes a little away from the isolationist attitude that ran through the Dibb report. Our defence programs will have a major impact on the way in which smaller states view us and the way in which they will develop their own defence and foreign policies. Our role in the Pacific should be and remain significant and responsible.

Around the corridors of power in Canberra there is an undervaluation of the traditional ANZUS arrangement. This attitude prevailed before Dibb and was reinforced by his report. One could well ask: What is the future of ANZUS? This Labor Government has a track record of devaluation. It has devalued standards and principles within government; it has devalued our currency; it has devalued our defence commitment to our neighbours; and it has devalued, in an irresponsible way, the traditional but fragile good relations we have maintained with our allies in the Pacific basin area.

It is important that Australia maintains its influence in the South Pacific. The Russians and the Libyans have been making cunning and effective overtures to the various mini-states. Even that staunch friend of the West, Prime Minister, Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji, has indicated that the Pacific is growing in importance and should not be ignored by either the United States or Australia. Deterrence should be the first priority in security matters. For this reason, it is important for Australia to take note of the Russian presence in our region. Let us look at the vital statistics. In 1986 the Soviet Pacific fleet had over 385 ships and 510 aircraft. The Soviet Foreign Minister has said that it is `only interested in the fishing'. Under the leadership of this Government, it is likely that he will be believed, but that attitude will not be in the long term defence and foreign policy interests of this country.

In conclusion, I express my disappointment that this White Paper does not adequately examine the question raised by Senator Cook of increasing the defence capability by diverting more supplies and equipment production to Australian factories. We should take note of the Auditor-General's comments yesterday with regard to the Williamstown naval dockyard. One can understand why the Department of Defence is wary about giving contracts to some sectors of Australian industry, because Williamstown is a case where the unions, if they are not running the dockyard, are sabotaging it. They are doing as they please. I will tell the Senate what I saw at first hand recently. People were lifting steel without gloves; they were in the wells with cranes and jibs overhead without protective head gear; and they were walking around in sandshoes, rather than protective boots, carrying loads of steel. One man was assisting another cutting a piece of steel and he did not even wear protective goggles. All through the dockyard there were signs warning of the need for protective equipment to be worn. The unions were not insistent on enforcing these things and the management was not insistent on following them. It is a disgrace. One can understand why the Department of Defence is reluctant to commit orders to these areas.

It is time that the Government took steps to ensure that work is directed to these dockyards and other such areas, but it is essential that they be run efficiently. While everybody attacks the inefficiency in the protection afforded to Australian manufacturing industry, there is a failure to focus on what is happening in some key areas where it is essential that we improve our management lines of communication and productivity. The management and reporting structures in factories and dockyards are absolutely atrocious. Local management is not given the opportunity to manage. Managers do not even have control over industrial relations; matters have to be referred to a committee in Canberra. That is no way to run industrial relations in a manufacturing operation.

I had hoped that this White Paper would have given a major emphasis to producing a lot more, yet it has failed to do so. This Government should be putting a lot more emphasis on trying to improve efficiency so that more work can be directed to Australian companies and enterprises such as the dockyards, but that cannot be done while these inefficiencies and bad union work practices are allowed to continue. Australia is not self-sufficient in enough equipment. We have to make sure that this situation is changed around.

In conclusion, I say that the White Paper at least offers some encouragement, but at the same time we have to acknowledge that it has major deficiencies and it is the responsible role of the Opposition to point out those deficiencies. I have highlighted two; the failure to address the increasing Soviet threat in the Pacific and the failure of this Government to encourage defence production or to lay down the law on unions standing over important defence establishments such as the Williamstown naval dockyard. I believe that at long last we have a document-it has resulted from the pressure of public opinion and pressure from within the defence forces-which more adequately realises the defence needs of this great Australian nation.

Personal Explanation