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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1143


Senator ELSTOB(5.28) —I rise also to congratulate the Government and the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) on bringing down this White Paper on the defence of Australia. It is an important document. I have always felt that this document should have been brought down earlier, but I am very pleased with the whole of its contents. The Australian people have always expected Australia to be able to defend itself, and the Australian Government most certainly accepts its duty to provide Australia with the defence forces able to meet that expectation. This White Paper, of course, will determine for a decade or more the development towards self-reliance in the defence and the security of this nation.

I, like so many other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, have served on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. It is one of the great committees of this Parliament. Over the years there has not been a great deal of political partisanship on the Committee. Rather, the members of that Joint Committee have looked to the defence and security of this nation. I simply pay tribute to that. I congratulate all of the members and senators who serve on that Committee. They put in many hundreds of hours of work, of which the public would be totally unaware.

I am very pleased with the overall acceptance of this White Paper. It is very gratifying to see so much agreement from members of all political parties and from people outside those parties. One needs to look back over the years at the planning that has probably gone into this document. I, along with other members of that Joint Committee, was asked by the government of the day-it was a Liberal government-whether we should support the building or acquiring of aircraft carriers. That Committee recommended that we not proceed with the purchase of aircraft carriers. It would have meant that Australia would have had to purchase or build three aircraft carriers-one to serve in the Pacific Ocean, one to serve in the Indian Ocean and one to be serviced or refitted. The actual cost would have been astronomical. We worked out that the cost at that time would have been in excess of $2 billion. Most certainly, the running of those carriers would have put in jeopardy the whole of our defence capabilities. The cost would have been too great for the Australian population to bear.

Mr Deputy President, I know that that is a great loss to you as an old Navy man. I realise that you may have an argument which is different from mine. But I think that when Australians look at the overall benefits of this White Paper, the way in which we have organised our defence forces and the new equipment that is coming on-stream, they will feel proud of their defence forces. Some people in this Parliament do not go along with the fact that we should have such a very good defence force. Defence, as we all know, is very costly. People of every political persuasion would very dearly like to reduce that cost. But once that was done, people in this country would be very vulnerable. There is always someone out there who is ready to take over one's country.

With the purchase of the 75 FA18s, we have purchased one of the finest fighters in the world. It is a multi-role fighter and is capable of carrying Harpoon missiles. It is also capable of fighting in a dogfight fashion and carrying air-to-air missiles. It has a multi-role use. It is, of course, the desire of Australia to have that type of aircraft. Most certainly it is superior to anything that our neighbours have. We also have 23 F111s. They are bomber aircraft, and they are the most capable bombers in this region. They are extremely costly to run, but they will most certainly be in service for a very long time. I would support their being kept in service. Unfortunately, this aircraft is out of production. It may pay Australia at this time to look seriously at purchasing another 25 FA18s, because eventually the F111s will go out of service. This is one of the reasons, I suspect, that the Department of Defence decided not to go ahead with in-air refuelling of the F111s. We are going ahead with the in-air refuelling of the FA18 aircraft. I think that is the right decision because they are much newer aircraft and they will serve this nation well past the year 2000.

I am very pleased that Australia has also purchased the Blackhawk helicopters and given the operation to the Army. It was found in Vietnam that the Air Force operated helicopters did not always serve the Army in the best manner. The Army must fight day and night. Unfortunately, helicopters were not always available to take out wounded troops or give support to those ground forces. I have always maintained that the Army should have control of helicopters, because today they are taking the place of tanks and other armoured equipment. This paper is not saying that we will do away with armoured equipment, but in a highly mobile defence force-and that is the way we have planned it-it is essential to have helicopters. If ever our troops were in trouble in fighting in any part of Australia, most certainly the armoured equipment would be brought in at a later time. But often today it would be too late. One must use helicopters in the role of gunships. They are as capable of firing missiles as any tank. They will be invaluable as a fighting tool for our defence ground forces.

We will build for the Royal Australian Navy six submarines that will be very capable for our type of region. The diesel electric submarine that we will build is one of the quietest and most efficient submarines that we could possibly use. The new homing torpedo that the submarines will have means that they will be very deadly weapons. They will also be capable of firing the Harpoon missile, which will add to the defence of this country. They will be built in Australia. As a South Australian, I hope that they will be built in South Australia. The South Australian Government, the unions and industry have got together very successfully to compete for this project. They have put forward a proposition that we believe is possibly the best in this country. We believe that the submarines must be built on time and on price. That is essential for the future of this nation. Too often in the past, in regard to our defence equipment, there have been overruns in price and time. That simply cannot be tolerated. If we are to build our defence equipment-and I believe that many benefits will flow from that-we must make sure in the future that all of this equipment is built on time and on price.

A lot of work has gone into the submarines project. Undoubtedly, a lot of work will go into the new light frigates project, of which eight will be built. This will all help industry. The work does not stay in the industries in which these defence projects are being built. Already, in regard to the FA18 offsets work, industry has learnt to handle the carbon fibres of which much of this aircraft is built. It is a new material and most certainly this material will go into production for civilian use. Australia is starting to enter these high technology industries. We are now building the rotor blades for helicopters, which is a very highly technical area. A lot of work is being done in our defence factories. It is essential that we do this sort of work. It is, I believe, outrageous that we should simply buy equipment overseas, because we do not gain any experience. I am very happy to see that this position is altering.

We are changing our rifles. We have decided after nearly four years of probably the toughest evaluation that we will build the Steyr rifle here under licence. It will be built at Lithgow. I used the Steyr rifle in a demonstration at Duntroon. Indeed, I have used many rifles in the past, ranging from the old .303 to the Bren, and many rifles since. The Steyr is one of the best rifles I have used in my life. I am sure that when eventually our defence forces get to use that rifle they will agree with my assessment. I hope that the rifles and other equipment will never be used in anger, and I am sure that every honourable senator agrees with that sentiment. However, experience has shown that if defence forces are not provided with the best equipment eventually somebody will attack the country concerned. Indeed, that is what happened in the Second World War.

I have seen the tragedy of men going to war with second rate equipment. If people had seen our pilots flying the Wirraways and trying to fight Zeros with those machines, or our troops operating with .303 Enfield rifles trying to fight an enemy who had much better equipment, they would realise the truth of what I am saying. I believe that the fact that a country has good equipment and well trained troops prevents war. I honestly believe that if England had been better equipped and its forces better trained in 1939 the Second World War may never have broken out. I doubt whether Hitler would have invaded all the European countries he did if that had been the case. People should never forget that lesson. It has been the hope of every defence representative I have spoken to that we shall never go to war, but it is agreed that Australian forces should have top equipment. There is agreement on that score on all sides of the political spectrum. That is an excellent attitude and I hope that it will continue.

I am sure that the Australian people are pleased with what is happening in terms of defence in Australia. Certainly there have been criticisms and any problems should be ironed out. We can always improve our performance. There have been problems in keeping trained personnel in the armed forces, and the debate continues. I believe that tax free sums should be paid to personnel that the nation needs to persuade to sign on for further engagements. I can see such a suggestion being implemented in the not too distant future.

I have always believed that Australia is probably one of the best aircraft carriers. Therefore, I am pleased that a new airstrip to accommodate the FA18 is being built at Tindal, with a base at Learmonth, and an airfield at Derby which will be completed in 1987. A further airstrip is to be built on Cape York Peninsula and our forces also have the use of civilian airstrips in that area. These facilities will be of immense value to our fighting planes that will defend this country, if ever that happens. We now have sufficient airstrips that our forces can use if ever invading forces come into this country. Those forces will have to come by sea and we have the capability to destroy that enemy at sea. Many Australians I have spoken to do not believe that, but perhaps they can be brought to understand the defence capabilities of this nation. I believe that these matters should be explained in greater detail to the public and that they should be made to realise that Australia is capable of defending itself.

It is a great pleasure to me as an Australian to see that over the years throughout our history we have always paid our defence bills. We have never asked for any help. Three weeks after the ending of the Second World War we had paid back our lend-lease. I am a great supporter of the ANZUS Treaty and always will be. Some people in the community do not agree with that view, but I have always been a supporter of that concept and I make no apology for it. I believe that the great majority of Australians support the ANZUS Treaty. Reference is made in the White Paper to the ANZUS Treaty and it is true to say that the majority of people in the major political parties have no disagreement on that score and that is an excellent state of affairs.

Australia should also be encouraged to defend itself. It is possible that our allies may not be able to come to our help at a given time, and it always pays to have sufficient arms to defend our country. That is what this White Paper is all about.

Certainly our defence forces need improvement in the area of mine hunting and that aspect of defence is being taken care of. Australia lacks mine hunting equipment, but in a short space of time that deficiency will be rectified. Some 70 helicopters are to be acquired for the Army. I believe that eventually we will need 100 helicopters and another 25 FA18s. Certainly we are well on the way to achieving a satisfactory defence force and we could defend Australia against most comers. A committee on which I served examined this possibility some years ago and I believe that we could defend our nation against every nation, except the United States and Russia. We do not believe that either of those countries would attack Australia, and that is based on a careful assessment. I believe that politicians should read the reports because the matter has been investigated by people of all political persuasions. That is the prevailing attitude about the future and I believe that it is satisfactory. I fully support the White Paper and congratulate the Government and the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, on its production. It can only be for the good of the defence of this nation.