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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1130


Senator AULICH(4.08) —I rise to discuss the White Paper entitled `The Defence of Australia' and recognise immediately that it represents a substantial and rational approach to the defence of Australia. It has already received support from significant sections of those groups that are most interested in defence matters. For example, the National President of the Returned Services League, Sir William Keys, has described it as `a steady as she goes' recipe for defence policies and has welcomed the concept of defence in depth. Similar views in favour of the paper have already been expressed in the last few days by Opposition members. They recognise, of course, that this paper has taken a relatively realistic view of what Australia's strengths and weaknesses are, and that it proposes an approach that is balanced between self-reliance and a relationship with the United States military alliance that fills most gaps in our defence capacity.

In case the universal support for this White Paper should make the solutions appear self-evident, it is worth reminding ourselves that Australia's defence policies have not always been based on either common sense or an overall effective plan. There have been structural and conceptual weaknesses that governments for many years have been unwilling or unable to address. Those weaknesses relating to our position in the United States alliance have been a continual problem, and only now are being addressed. It would appear that we have always worked on an umbrella principle that Australian forces will be committed as an adjunct to a powerful ally, on the assumption that self-reliance is less important than the requirement to be part of a greater allied force. The mistakes we made in Vietnam, for example, clearly indicated what sort of mistakes one can be led into if one thinks of being part of a larger umbrella rather than emphasising self-reliance and independence in foreign policy. Accordingly, strategy and equipment and weapons purchasing policies have been based on those mistaken assumptions in the past.

The Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) should be congratulated on encouraging the development of a White Paper that strikes the appropriate balance in ensuring that duplication is avoided, that we benefit from the alliance, and yet at the same time ensuring that our self-defence capacity is effective and based realistically on the type of defence budget that is sustainable and affordable. In defence organisation Australia has been bedevilled by force structures that have competed with each other, especially in the years of conservative governments when separate Ministers for the Navy, Army and Air Force reinforced that competition. It seems that those days are far away, but it is fair to say that the competition that bedevilled that period is still to a large extent present in our forces. Therefore, this White Paper has been a genuine and effective attempt to bring those competing viewpoints together to ensure that we have an overall, integrated approach to defence. The losers in those days of a defence umbrella and competing ministries were the Australian public and the armed forces in general. How else could we have arrived, for example, at the ridiculous situation where Australia was left with a totally inadequate minesweeping and mine detection capacity? This, of course, was in a country surrounded by water and vulnerable to the neutralising through mine laying of our major ports and shipping lanes. Similar purchasing policies were responsible for glaring weaknesses in our amphibious and airborne assault capacities, all associated with past mistakes. There was a tendency on the part of our armed forces to buy state of the art technology, in some cases described as toys for the boys, that has not always been suitable for Australia's demographic, geographic or strategic requirements. Successive visits by armed forces personnel in the past to supplier countries have left us with orders for an unnecessary aircraft carrier, since cancelled, and Leopard tanks in relation to which the agreed offsets policy could not be met and which tanks could not be available for immediate use in the event of a sudden attack in our north. I shall not go into some of the details that have been gone into in various committees as to the reason why the Leopard tank has been such a failure. Suffice it to say that those two fiascos-the Leopard tank and the aircraft carrier-were two examples of toys for the boys thinking that had come to dominate the defence agenda over many years, a domination which occurred as a result of there being no overall, integrated viewpoint about the way defence should have been operating. Minister Beazley has set his sights firmly on overcoming that outdated thinking, and the White Paper is a major step in that direction.

Specifically the White Paper addresses a number of issues, and time does not permit us to address them all today. Firstly, I feel that it is worth mentioning the United States alliance-an alliance which in many political parties has been the subject of much debate. My guess is the certain Independents in this chamber will have a great deal to say about this matter at a later date. It is fair to say that it is still very fashionable to criticise Australia's role in that alliance. We have heard frequent criticisms directed at joint defence facilities, intelligence sharing, porting for American ships, and joint exercises. Many of the critics justify their views by recommending that Australia should follow the example set by Sweden, Switzerland and other neutral countries that are almost totally self-reliant in defence matters. Few bother to mention the fact that total independence along the Swedish and Swiss lines would involve a far greater commitment of national resources on defence than is financially possible or even desirable in Australia.

I should like briefly to examine the defence position in Switzerland and Sweden, concentrating in particular on Sweden. For example, in Switzerland there is conscription into the army and the defence forces and no provision to protect conscientious objectors. I imagine that would find no favour at all on the part of many of those who oppose our approach to the American alliance but who put forward Switzerland's example as the appropriate one to follow. Also in Switzerland defence expenditure is offset through the massive export of arms to the rest of the world. That is another point that would not find favour with those people, particularly on the Left, who do not believe in the American alliance. Sweden has military conscription of between 7 1/2 and 15 months duration, with compulsory refresher courses. Some 50 per cent of Sweden's air force, 50 per cent of its navy and 80 per cent of its army are conscripts. There is massive defence expenditure in areas I shall mention. It is interesting to note that within 72 hours the Swedes could mobilise about 800,000 troops, many of them conscripts.

Sweden has on its expenditure list-some are replacements, but it is fair to say that this is an accurate description of its present inventory-420 combat aircraft, a very significant air force, 12 submarines, two destroyers, 35 fast attack craft and numerous mine layers, mine sweepers and coastal patrol boats. About 3 per cent of Sweden's gross national product is spent on defence-very significant expenditure from a country which is smaller than ours, which is in a vulnerable area, but possibly no more vulnerable in the long term than Australia, and a country with a population far less than our own. It might be of interest to examine the per capital expenditure on defence as a comparison between Australia and Sweden. In 1981, $270 per capita was spent in Australia on defence; in Sweden the figure was $470. In 1983 Australia had lifted its expenditure to $292 per capita; the figure in Sweden came down to $350. In 1984 Australia again lifted its defence expenditure to a figure of $319 per capita, with Sweden dropping slightly to a figure of $340 per capita. Again, the comparison between the two countries shows clearly that Sweden is well ahead of Australia in per capita expenditure on defence. In 1981, 2.1 per cent of Australia's gross national product went on defence expenditure; in Sweden the figure was 3.5 per cent. In 1984 Australia increased its defence expenditure as a percentage of GNP to 2.8 per cent; Sweden was on 3 per cent.

If we want to go down the track of being a neutral country with a totally neutral foreign affairs and defence policy, we have to expect extra costs to be involved. Those costs could be expressed in another way. All the assessments that I have seen as to the additional costs that would be involved if we decided to pull out of ANZUS show that they would be more than half our existing defence budget. If one believes in defending Australia adequately, one realises that Australia has to make a choice. Australia either has to be totally independent, like Sweden and Switzerland, or has to be self-reliant under the umbrella of the United States alliance. If we choose the totally independent option, like Sweden, we should expect first to have a 50 per cent increase in our defence budget and, secondly, we should be expected to tolerate military conscription. Both judgments would have to be made in a country that is not used to decisions on those lines. My guess is that those who oppose Australia being under the umbrella of the American alliance, but moving towards a greater self-reliant role, would not find either option supportable or in most cases suitable for Australia's sociological and defence considerations.

The question is whether we must look at other aspects of the American alliance beyond that and see advantages in remaining under that umbrella. The first benefit that is clear to most people in terms of defence has to be the benefit of the intelligence gathering that accrues to the Australian Government. It has been said that wars are won or avoided by intelligence rather than force of arms. There is a good case to be made out that knowing the strengths and weaknesses of one's enemies and potential enemies is a basic first step not only in the winning but in the avoiding of wars. Thus, the sharing of intelligence, particularly satellite intelligence, would play a very significant role in the protection of Australia, both in peace time and in the event of hostilities breaking out. It would not be appropriate in this forum-and I think most honourable senators would understand this-to explain exactly how that intelligence sharing would work. However, I believe that most people in this chamber are aware that that would be a vital factor in Australia's favour in the event of a war.

The second major advantage of our relationship with the United States at this stage is the favoured treatment we receive for the supply of defence items. Since a major factor in deterring potential aggressors is the known ownership and usage of effective weaponry, it is essential that Australia should already have access to such equipment, as well as information on a preferential basis. It is obvious to those who follow defence matters closely that Australia receives favoured treatment as a United States ally. This is particularly so in the supply of up to date weapons and equipment. In the defence world where state of the art technology is expensive and is developed over a long period, it is essential that Australia receives that preferential treatment. Notwithstanding the purchasing weaknesses or gaps which I mentioned earlier in my speech and which were very much a product of a lack of overall planning on the part of the armed forces and the Government, it is obvious that Australia is one of the major powers in this region by virtue not of its manpower but of the effectiveness of its weaponry.

Finally I mention briefly the question of equipment, and the appropriate recommendations contained in the White Paper should be noted. I have mentioned the fact that Australia has a grossly inadequate mine detection, mine sweeping and mine laying capacity, and this is in a country where shipping lanes and access to trade are particularly important. Our capacity, according to this White Paper, will be increased. At present we have only one mine hunting ship but this capacity will be increased to many more in the future. Six new submarines will be built in Australia and we will watch this with special interest because it is the first time that this country has involved itself in a massive defence contract which will be an important part not only of our defence but also of the provision of offsets and the development of our industry at a particularly highly sophisticated level.

The massive capital injection, for example, of $25 billion over the next 10 years which is mentioned in the White Paper will provide enormous benefits to industry as a whole, particularly in engineering, shipbuilding, electronics and aerospace. It is worth noting that only something like 30 per cent of money for new capital equipment has been spent locally in this country. That is a comment upon the disgraceful approach to defence supply that has prevailed with governments in this country in the past. To a large extent I think this has been caused by the division of responsibility between the various chiefs of staff and the ministries, coupled with the reluctance of conservative governments particularly to hammer out a genuine defence supply industry based upon an independent approach, such as that recommended in the White Paper.

In short, I congratulate the Minister for Defence on setting in train the whole process which culminated in the Dibb report on the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities and finally in this White Paper on the defence of Australia. It is fair to say though that no White Paper, no paper produced by anyone trying to predict the future, is sufficient in itself to guarantee iron clad protection of this country. We have before us a challenge to be flexible within the constraints of long term planning. We must look towards a genuine independence in defence supply and we must look at the areas of defence morale which can be affected by, for example, improved housing and opportunities for promotion and advancement within the armed forces, particularly for women, who are not given genuine equality in their search for promotion within the armed forces. We must also look at a greater planning and involvement of our civilian industry capacity in defence matters because in the end, in the event of a long term war, the keys are not only in intelligence manpower and weaponry, but also in the capacity of the country to organise itself at a civilian level, particularly at an industry level, to provide supply in such a vast country that will at any time keep our troops in a position of advantage. We must ensure that we will never be overcome by any shortage of supply in the particular areas in which we are fighting.

Above all else, the White Paper is an integrated paper. It is the first occasion we have had in something like a decade to present to the Senate a genuine overall approach to the defence of Australia. The Minister should be commended for that. I welcome the generally purposeful and positive comments that have been made by Opposition speakers in this chamber, because it is only through this bipartisan approach to the defence of Australia that we, in this country, can be as effective as we ought to be.