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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1135

Senator RICHARDSON(4.43) —The White Paper sets a course for a decade of development towards self-reliance. Such a strategy requires both a coherent defence strategy and an enhanced defence capacity. The program outlined in the White Paper, I believe, does meet these objectives. Before going into them in depth, I congratulate the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, on the White Paper. Mr Beazley is one of the better Ministers that this Government has had and, I might say, one of the better Ministers that any government has had since the Second World War. He is an extraordinary person who has done a remarkable job.

Senator Tate —The Prime Minister said `since Federation'.

Senator RICHARDSON —If the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said `since Federation', that must be right. The White Paper deals with the full range of defence matters-from policy strategy to force structure, industry, personnel, defence science and infrastructure-and I want to expand upon a couple of those elements today.

The first is strategy. Defence self-reliance must be set within the framework of our alliances and our regional associations. As Mr Beazley said, I think in his Press release, the support they give us makes self-reliance achievable. Defence self-reliance is a pretty daunting task, given the vastness and harshness of our territory, the length of our coastline, the size of our fishing and resource zones, and of course our disproportionately small population. The strategy that we have developed can be described as one of layered defence, or defence in depth. It dictates an Australian Defence Force capable of meeting any hostile force within our area of direct military interest and involvement with successive layers of force capable of detecting, identifying and engaging any hostile approach.

Obviously, in the broadest political sense that is defensive; however, that does not mean that Australia has abandoned its offensive military operations in the defence of territory and interests. An important role is given to offensive operations. Obvious examples are our long range strike capabilities, such as the FA18 aircraft, supplemented by in-flight refuelling; our enhanced submarine force; continuing commitment to the F111; and the substantial strike capabilities of the P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Inherent in the defence paper and in the Government's implementation of defence self-reliance is the linking of a practical defence policy with our allies and our role in the region as a military power. At the heart of that, at its core, is Australia-United States co-operation. It is a basic element of an effective and efficient system of Australian defence. The first essential of any defence system obviously is good intelligence. Australia has significant indigenous capabilities in this regard, and the White Paper indicates that the Government intends to expand upon them. However, it is the access to complementary United States intelligence, and particularly access to United States satellite intelligence-which Australia obviously could not afford to duplicate-which completes our comprehensive knowledge of regional problems.

The US relationship also makes a major contribution to the development of self-reliant capabilities through the purchase of major equipment, such as the frigates and the FA18s-obtained, it is worthy of noting, as a result of our favoured customer status. Access to the latest military technology and our status as a favoured customer with the United Kingdom will also retain our technological edge in regional terms. The US relationship gives us guaranteed access to ready resupply or to essential war stocks which would otherwise not be available or would be too expensive.

Of course, the American alliance also provides a substantial deterrent. Whilst it would be irresponsible, indeed foolish, to depend on direct United States combat support for our security in the case of any conceivable threat, the possibility that such support could be forthcoming at any time would greatly complicate the offensive strategy of any possible aggressor. The availability of American intelligence, advanced technology and logistic support makes a self-reliant defence capability for Australia achievable and affordable. American co-operation enables the development of effective Australian defence with a realistic level of financial allocation. Of course, in any major defence embarkation such as the White Paper suggests, the burden on the taxpayer, how much the taxpayer can afford to bear over the coming years, is obviously of significance, no matter who is in Government.

The Government has accepted advice that a strategy of comprehensive defence in depth requires military superiority in the sea-air gap to the north and across the vast expanse of northern Australia. I would like to go through the various layers of this defence in depth to show just what the Government has in mind. The first layer comprises that high quality comprehensive intelligence that I referred to earlier-a direct benefit of the alliance with the United States. We plan to add to the tactical value of this information by constructing a network of up to three over-the-horizon radars in the north. Also, we will develop a national system of air defence and air space control, and-this has received much publicity in recent days-the Government plans that a substantial new intelligence facility be built in Western Australia.

The second layer is a naval-air capability to destroy enemy forces in our approaches and to protect focal points in shipping lanes. The key components of that strike capability obviously are the F111s, the FA18s and the submarines. The value of the FA18s strike and defence capacity will be enhanced by the acquisition of airborne refuelling techniques using Royal Australian Air Force Boeing 707 aircraft. This will be a tremendous boost to our strike capacity. When it is coupled with the submarine program, we can really see what the second layer is about. The new submarines will be among the largest, the longest ranging and the most lethal conventional submarines anywhere in the world. They will increase the size and the capability of the Navy.

The project to build eight new light patrol frigates is also worthy of note. I know that later on we will debate where they should be built and who should get the benefit of that. However, I know that the Government will see the wisdom of building them in New South Wales. When these frigates are fitted out with the most modern weapons and technology and the most modern sensors, we will have a navy whose size and capability is increased to a point where the objectives of the second layer of that defence can be met. Equally importantly, the Government has decided to have a genuine two-ocean navy by dispersing half of the Navy to HMAS Stirling in Western Australia. This is long overdue, particularly in view of activity in the Indian Ocean in recent years. This will enhance the Navy's capability of operating anywhere in our area of direct military interest.

The anti-submarine capabilities of the Navy will be developed by the purchase of the Seahawk helicopters and the development of surface and submarine towed acoustic arrays. The Seahawk helicopters are a key element in developing the Navy's capability. Despite the constraints of recent Budgets, the Seahawk helicopters have been protected. I am sure that the Government will continue to view the matter in this way.

One squadron of FA18 aircraft is to be based at Tindal. Air bases are to be established at Learmonth and Derby in Western Australia and one is planned for the Cape York Peninsula. When one looks at all of that, obviously our capability is greatly enhanced.

We can see some of the real changes that the Government has in mind when we come to the third layer-the role of the Army. What we are now talking about is a flexible ground force. I think Australia has been in need of such a force for decades. Many governments have talked about it but no one has ever got around actually to doing anything about it. If we are to protect our dispersed population centres, the concentration of the Army in New South Wales and Victoria has to change. We are to develop a highly mobile army and for this layer it will have state of the art battlefield helicopters. Priority needs to be given to dispersing Army operations to where they are needed and obviously that is in the north. I think many more of our Army personnel will be based there.

It is also worth looking at the initiatives that are under way in the vital areas of command control and communications. Computer based information systems are being developed to support the decision making of operational and high level commanders. This new communications system will support our operations and administration. Again, this development is long overdue. It is pleasing to see a White Paper which actually sets down some sort of time table when we can all expect to see the benefits of the work that has been done.

The benefits for Australian industry are really the exciting part of this defence White Paper. We are embarking on the largest and, if you like, longest defence capital investment program in peace-time history. This program will be tremendous for Australian industry. We now have 33 per cent of the defence vote being given over to long term investment, all of which will produce Australian jobs and Australian wealth. At current levels, the defence budget provides nearly $40 billion for capital expenditure over the next 15 years. That is a very significant boost for Australian industry at a time when so many people have urged purchases from overseas. It is great to see our Government, the Hawke Government, deciding to end any thought of this by making sure that much of the benefit will flow to Australian industry. Benefits will flow to Australian industry from these defence projects not just in terms of important technology, new skills et cetera but also, of course, in the area of quality control which has for so long been overdue in many Australian industries. We can expect to see a real boost in this area. Participation can lead to ongoing work in repair, maintenance and adaptation and to work on civil production for export.

I would like to refer to the two elements of Australian industry involvement. Defence designated and assisted work-or DDAW, which is one of those quaint little acronyms that we see so often-involves government insisting on elements of defence purchases to be manufactured, assembled or set to work in Australia. The second element, of course, is the offsets program. This program has been revised and I think we all acknowledge that it needed revision. The offsets program in the last decade, particularly in the last six or seven years, has not worked well. This Government has set about ensuring that the real commitments of it are now met. Technology transfer and work to the value of 30 per cent of the import content of a project valued at $2.5m or more must now be placed with Australian industry. That phenomenal benefit is, again, long overdue. It can only lead to the revitalisation of so many Australian industries that have been under pressure in recent years. One can contrast this with past projects. The FA18 program had very little or almost no local content. Such an arrangement will not be possible with future defence purchases under the new rules outlined by the Government. New projects involving the submarines and the light patrol frigates will have very high local content and there will be particular benefits for the industrial sections of our country. Looking at the direction of programs, it is clear that South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland will all benefit from those defence initiatives.

The Government, in looking at that area, also has to look at the management of defence factories and dockyards. A lot of people have been highly critical of this area in recent years and that is something that the Government has to look at very closely. There have been difficulties at Cockatoo and Williamstown which nobody could have avoided hearing and reading about far too often over the last five to ten years. The major beneficiary of the self-reliance policy will be the local shipbuilding industry. Our local companies will have leading roles in the construction of submarines and long range light patrol frigates. It is in that area that we are really looking at the injection of many billions of dollars. This largest shipbuilding program in Australia's peace-time history will revive the industry, which has been lying dormant for so long. It will bring considerable high technology skill in ship construction and maintenance to this country. We have been losing out to Singapore and Taiwan for far too long in the area of ship maintenance. This program will substantially enhance our ability to support independent maritime operations.

I also have to stress that we are finally going to look at real competition for defence contracts. This is a great departure from past practice where too often work was allocated on a non-competitive basis. Firms got exclusive contracts. Sole sources were established and often that meant high costs and poor performance. Now defence work will be allocated on a competitive basis with incentives for improved performance. This is a major program of great benefit to all Australians. I commend the white Paper to the Senate and hope that it is not merely looked at in political terms but is looked at for what it is-a document of real vision.