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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1120


Senator KILGARIFF(3.13) —The paper before the chamber today is one of considerable significance. It is the first major review of Australia's total defence and security planning for some 11 years. The last one was the coalition's defence review. This is a comprehensive paper and time does not permit me to even begin to respond to all the issues that it raises. However, I wish to comment on a number of aspects of the White Paper and the tabling statement of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley). I note that in his opening remarks the Minister refers to the strategy dictated by the White Paper that Australia develop a defence force capable of meeting any hostile force within our area of direct military interest, with successive layers of military forces capable of detecting, identifying and gauging any hostile approach. I certainly support that principle but I have some grave reservations as to how this strategic objective can be achieved, given the present state of the Australian armed forces.

A good deal of publicity has been given to the problem of the armed forces, with so many of their most experienced personnel resigning to take up more promising careers in civilian life. I note that the White Paper refers to the need to `attract, train and retain skilled men and women for combat and support roles', yet I do not see a live-wire recruitment campaign on offer. At a time when so many of our fine young people are unemployed, they should be given the opportunity to make a career in the armed forces. Indeed, the trades that they learn within the armed forces can make a career in civilian life later.

There are some elements of this paper with which I take issue and others which I heartily support. But my support is tinged with concern and doubt about the capacity of the depleted Australian armed forces to stretch their resources to put these policies into place. Recently I received a letter from J. Whitelaw, National President of the Regular Defence Force Welfare Association. In his letter he says:

I bring to your attention that there is a growing mood of exasperation and resentment amongst pensioners and serving members of the Government's action now that the long term effects are being understood.

He is referring to pension discounts and the Superannuation and Other Benefits Amendment Act 1986. As he says, some 106,000 pensioners and some 400,000 contributors are affected. I suggest that this type of situation contributes to the lack of morale within the forces and has to be rectified. I seek leave to have this letter incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Regular Defence Force

Welfare Association

P.O. Box 166, Kingston

A.C.T. 2604

(062) 73 3642

Patron: His Excellency the Right Honourable

Sir Ninian Stephen, AK. GCMC, GCVO, KBE,

Governor-General of Australia

RDFWA

Dear Senator Kilgariff,

Pension Discount

During the Parliamentary recess, which I trust you have enjoyed, this Association together with other organisations with an interest in Commonwealth occupational superannuation schemes, has taken stock of the situation resulting from the passage during the Budget session of the Superannuation and Other Benefits Legislation and Amendments Act 1986.

I feel it proper to advise you briefly of the widespread concern about the Act. This concern is not limited to pensioners; it is echoed by contributors and their dependants. It is not confined to Defence Force schemes; it is shared by contributors and pensioners of the Public Service Superannuation schemes included in the Act. In all, some 106,000 pensioners and 400,000 contributors are affected.

Our considerations covered a range of subjects. Inter alia we looked at: rights and trust, the need for certainty, the wage/pension nexus, cost savings, Government integrity, bi-partisan action, the handling of supply legislation and a permanently reduced base for future adjustments to pensions.

This last is the matter of most enduring and general concern. The Government has averred we face a short term economic crisis. Sacrifices were called for and indeed imposed, such as the ``one time'' deferment of the social security pension increase. Defence and Public Service pensioners would no doubt accept a similar ``one time'' sacrifice with reasonable equanimity despite a generally held belief there has been a breach of trust. But they are called on to suffer a permanent reduction of their pensions from October, 1986 until death, or the death of their spouses-and the reduction is compounded as the years roll on.

This is patently unfair. We submit that urgent legislation is needed to ensure the 1987 pension increases be based on the pension applicable as at 9th October, 1986. Thus pensioners will have made equitable sacrifice in 1986/87 but will not be required to make a continuing contribution for the rest of their lives.

I bring to your attention that there is a growing mood of exasperation and resentment among pensioners and serving members at the Government's action now that the long term affects are being understood. We commend to you the need for legislation now to obviate life long effects from 1 July, 1987.

Yours sincerely,

J. WHITELAW,

13th February 1987...National President


Senator KILGARIFF —I note that there is to be a housing program. That will be very acceptable, because housing has been very much a problem within the Services. Even so, that is not going far enough. If the forces are to be able to participate fully in assisting the Government's program there will have to be a marked difference in the Government's attitude to serving personnel in an effort once again to build up morale.

To turn to the specific measures within the White Paper, I wish firstly to make some comment on what I believe are some positive steps in our defence planning. The stance taken in this defence paper on our relationship with the United States of America and, in particular, our joint defence facilities is a rational and logical one. The Government has continued to recognise the importance of Australia-United States co-operation. Although our own intelligence satellite is planned for Western Australia, a move which is certainly worthy of support, the Australian Government has acknowledged the benefit to both Australia and the United States of our joint participation in the operation of the existing facilities. Through them we contribute to our regional and global security. The facilities enable verification of arrangements and agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. Arms limitation agreements between those two countries specifically provide for verification. The general purpose of the facilities at Pine Gap and Nurrungar contribute to this verification objective.

Amongst the functions performed by the facilities are the provision of early warning by receiving from space satellites information about missile launches and the provision of information about the occurrence of nuclear explosions, which assists in nuclear test ban monitoring and supports nuclear non-proliferation measures. On this issue I wish briefly to answer the suggestion, repeated as recently as this morning, that the existence of the base at Pine Gap makes Alice Springs a nuclear target. This sort of alarmist claim totally ignores the harsh reality that, in the event of a nuclear conflict, whether Alice Springs is a direct target or not will make no difference to the future of those who live there. It is generally and widely accepted that the nuclear winter which would follow a global nuclear exchange would change climatic conditions to such an extent as to make the survival of the human race practically impossible. That being the case, our objective must be to prevent the first missile from ever being launched. The verification role played by the Pine Gap facility, I believe, contributes to this objective.

This defence paper also recognises the importance of the ANZUS alliance and our long-standing defence relationship with New Zealand. On this point it is disappointing to see that New Zealand is no longer participating in the ANZUS defence arrangements. It is to be hoped that the already weakened ANZUS alliance will not founder on New Zealand Prime Minister Lange's unreasonable insistence that our United States treaty partner divulge confidential military information. Mr Lange's antics may have made him a household name but he has done a great disservice to all those who seek peace and stability for the Pacific region. One can only wonder at what Mr Lange has to say now with reports that a very sophisticated Soviet communication vessel was sighted off the New Zealand coast a little while ago.

The paper also devotes some attention to other near neighbours with whom we have defence relationships. It particularly mentions Papua New Guinea, a country with which Australia has a very close defence relationship and commitment. I commend the Government's decision to continue this relationship and to provide specialist advice to the Papua New Guinea defence force and consult on regional defence issues. I also commend the Federal Government's decision to maintain our Royal Australian Air Force presence at the Butterworth air base in Malaysia by rotational deployment of FA18 aircraft which I understand will be based at Tindal. I hope that Australia's presence continues to be welcomed by both the state and the people, in view of our mutual regional defence concerns. We are fortunate, as this paper points out, to share a region with peace-loving nations with which we enjoy good relations. It is, however, important that we be ready in the event of any deterioration of relations between nations and any resultant threat to our own security.

It has been suggested by some that this White Paper paints Indonesia as the enemy. I think this was stated on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation program just the other day. Of course, that is nonsense, and I certainly did not read that into this paper. Indonesia has an important part to play in South East Asia. It is a leading member of the Association of South East Asian Nations. It has shown quite recently its willingness to pursue peaceful relations with its near neighbours. It has signed a treaty with Papua New Guinea which hopefully will resolve the border dispute between those two nations. As a part of South East Asia and a country that shares sea borders with Indonesia, Australia has an interest in maintaining good relations with Jakarta, and I feel confident that these relations will be maintained and suggestions to the contrary will be shown to be ill-founded.

Closer to home-in fact closer to my home, the Northern Territory-this defence paper has also put forward some important and overdue initiatives. As honourable senators will be aware, I have often mentioned my concerns about the vulnerability of Australia's vast northern approaches. I have called for an increased military presence and an upgrading of northern coastal surveillance facilities-as I guess 90 per cent of the population of the north have done. It is gratifying to see that the Federal Government has put forward a policy document which places far greater emphasis on northern defence. There are a number of elements of this northern basing policy. Recently the Government announced that it would be moving the second cavalry regiment from Holsworthy to Darwin to provide a reconnaissance capacity. I was pleased to see that the White Paper has announced that the unit's present tracked M113 vehicles will be replaced with wheeled armoured vehicles carrying weapons and surveillance equipment suitable for northern conditions and contingencies.

I also welcome the announcement that the Government is considering the relocation of a brigade to the north-which would involve, if one includes support staff and accompanying families, some 6,000 to 7,000 people. The Northern Territory will soon be experiencing a substantial influx of military personnel as the new Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal becomes operational. That is not very far away. The base will house our new FA18 aircraft and will be one in a chain of air bases across northern Australia.

The other major element of the emphasis on the north is in the area of surveillance, with the development and deployment of the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar system. As the paper notes, the Australian Defence Force requires a capability to conduct surveillance of our vast sea and air approaches out over the Indian Ocean. There must be a capability both to detect and to identify, and if necessary to respond to, sea and air activity within our sovereign air and sea space out into the Indian Ocean. Jindalee has the capacity to sweep large volumes of air and sea space from a single location. The Government's decision to upgrade the existing Jindalee radar at Alice Springs will allow for testing of important new features, and is to be applauded. While Jindalee would enable broad sweeping surveillance, in its present form it is only capable of detecting sea and air activity. It does not have an identification capability. This is where the backup facilities such as those which will operate out of Tindal will be essential. It must be possible to seek out and identify the intruder.

At this point it might be timely to resurrect another issue which I have occasionally raised in connection with coastal surveillance generally; that is, the possible use of airships in coastal surveillance. Until recently I suspect there were many who did not take this option too seriously. In fact, it was the subject of various cartoons. However, we now see that the United States Navy is about to spend millions of dollars on airships-possibly those built by the Bond Corporation-for surveillance purposes. The advantage of these craft over fixed wing aircraft is that it is claimed they have the capacity to stay aloft for up to 30 days. Even if they stayed aloft for two, three or four days this would be a great improvement on fixed wing surveillance aircraft today. It should be noted that airships are almost invisible to radar. They could prove to be a far more economical and effective means of surveillance than that provided by fixed wing aircraft.

The difficulty with northern surveillance arrangements at present stems from the lack of surveillance flights and the predictability of those which are actually carried out. This is not meant as a criticism of the crews which carry out their instructions. It is a criticism of the inadequacy of the resources allocated to northern surveillance. It has been said that one can set one's watch by the surveillance flights over our northern coastline. One has to question the effectiveness of such arrangements. I urge the Federal Government to consider, or at least investigate, the possibility of using airships as a surveillance tool in conjunction with over-the-horizon radar.

I mentioned at the outset of my remarks that there are some matters covered in this paper with which I take issue. One of those is the paper's failure to provide any real promise of the development of an Australian armaments industry. Australia could and should encourage an integrated and co-ordinated industry which would be compatible with the industries of our ASEAN neighbours. `Self-reliance' is a key word in this paper. One would have thought that, given the emphasis on self-reliance, more attention would be paid to the development of our own armaments industry.

Another matter arising out of the report which gives some cause for concern is its downplaying, to an extent, of the significance of the Soviet Union in our sphere of strategic interest. I am very pleased to see that at this point Dibb's unrealistic conclusions were largely rejected. The Minister for Defence has obviously been unable to ignore the indisputable evidence of the Soviet military buildup in our part of the world. Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam is the largest Soviet naval base outside the Warsaw Pact countries. It is the base for long range Bear and Badger strike bombers which are equipped with nuclear armed cruise missiles capable of reaching Australia. The presence of the Soviets in the waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans has increased alarmingly in recent years. Over the past two years it has increased to the point where the Soviets have some 30 to 40 per cent of all general purpose naval vessels, 28 per cent of major combatant vessels, 35 per cent of all submarines and 39 per cent of nuclear powered, nuclear armed submarines. The entire Soviet Pacific fleet consists of 826 vessels.

The overtures of the Soviets to small Pacific nations have lent support to the belief that the Soviets are, indeed, turning their attention to the Pacific in a very big way. This is a situation of which Australia should remain watchful, particularly in relation to its impact on countries like the Philippines where the communist New Peoples Army, which opposes the Aquino Government, could well take up an offer of assistance from a sympathetic communist power with a strategic interest in getting a further foothold in the region. I think that anyone who takes note of the problems in the Philippines would be even more concerned following recent reports of the ambushing of Aquino forces. The New Peoples Army terrorists are getting increasingly strong. As I have said before, there have been very many casualties in the last few days. I would say that this insurgency is developing at quite a rate in the Philippines. The prospect of another Vietnam might seem unlikely to some but the possibility of Soviet interference in the internal affairs of the Philippines at some future time cannot be ignored.

Getting back to the paper itself and its extensive and ambitious recommendations, I again commend its emphasis on northern defence at Tindal and Jindalee and the movement of personnel to the north. I take the opportunity to make the very important point that many of the initiatives outlined in the defence White Paper are the continuation of the sound defence policy decisions made by the previous coalition Government. It was a coalition Government which saw the Jindalee project commenced. It initiated the development of the Tindal RAAF base and the ordering of the FA18s. The coalition was also responsible for the decision to supply the Fremantle class patrol boats and develop patrol boat bases in Darwin, Cairns and other places.

While I am pleased to see that the present Federal Government has picked up many of these major decisions, it is a pity that the Minister, in his tabling speech, has seen fit to play down the contributions made by the coalition, simply to get in a political jab. The Minister has implied that the coalition did not put its policy into practice. However, the impressive list of initiatives, to which I have already referred, puts the lie to that suggestion. I can only hope that the Minister is able to see that all of his government proposals are converted from paper talk to reality.

I would also like to see the issues that this paper has ignored taken up by the Federal Government. For example, I note that the defence implications of a northern rail link have not been addressed. Given this renewed concentration on our northern defence, such a link would surely be a necessary adjunct to the rapid and efficient deployment of equipment. The sort of equipment which would need to be moved north would be large-tanks, trucks and fuel. Personnel deployment would also be facilitated by such a link. I indicated this concern today when I asked a question of Senator Gareth Evans, who represents the Minister for Defence. I asked whether the Government would be conducting a review of transport facilities and would make appropriate recommendations to the necessary authorities to ensure that there is adequate freight support by road, rail, air and sea to allow the Government to put its ambitious northern defence policies in place. There is a very real need for this whether we are looking at rail up through the centre of Australia, which I believe will prove to be economic and efficient, or the fact that roads in the north will have to be made into all-weather roads to bring about better movement of troops and defence material at any time of the year. Gove-Nhulunbuy-is cut off in the wet. This also happens along the base of the Gulf of Carpentaria from Borroloola to Normanton. All that country can be out of reach during the wet. So I believe that all-weather roads must be put in as a very real defence and development project in the north.

On the issue of northern defence and the relocation of a full brigade to the north, I take this opportunity to put in a bid for the Northern Territory, which could offer a number of strategically located sites for further personnel establishments. Some southerners tend to think of the Northern Territory in terms of only Alice Springs and Darwin. There are, of course, many other locations which provide excellent bases for ground forces. I suggest that Mataranka is ideally suited for a brigade headquarters. As I have said, I support quite a number of the measures announced in this paper. But again I question the capacity of the defence forces to implement the theory into practice.

I wonder whether a total review of the capacity of the defence forces, given their present levels of funding, is not warranted. Certainly I am convinced that steps need to be taken to alleviate the serious wastage problem which is leaving us with seriously depleted numbers of defence personnel. There needs to be a complete overhaul of service conditions. Perhaps it would be timely too for a review of the Department of Defence to ensure that, efficiently and without waste, it is possible for it to administer the enlarged responsibilities which are suggested in this paper. I believe that the ambitious objectives of this document will never be realised unless Australia has the men and women in its armed forces to implement those objectives.