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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1146

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(5.48) —Before I make my contribution to this debate, I would like to pick up a few of the remarks made by Senator Elstob. I was disappointed in his assessment of aircraft carriers. Far more detailed thought and analysis should have gone into the unfortunate decision to reject the concept of aircraft carriers than Senator Elstob's simple point that as we would have needed three it would have disrupted defence purchasing in coming years.

Senator Elstob —That committee was a joint committee.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I am not objecting to the nature of the committee. All I am concerned about is its conclusion. The conclusion that one must inevitably have three aircraft carriers simply does not stand up against the experience of the way in which other seagoing platforms-for example, converted bulk carriers and so on-can be used as an auxiliary to the carrier concept. As we saw in the Falklands war, bulk carriers can be a platform for one of the most effective style of aircraft that we have seen for many a long day-the jump jet type of aircraft, the Harrier. I hope that developments in that field of aircraft will encourage people such as Senator Elstob and the members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence to keep an open mind on the question of carriers. There is no doubt that Australia, being an island continent, is in a particularly vulnerable position if it does not have the benefit of aircraft carriers. It is nonsense to say that there is a worldwide trend against carriers; on the contrary, there is a worldwide trend toward them. For example, the Indian navy is equipped with aircraft carriers, but the Royal Australian Navy cannot afford them.

I looked with concern at the concept of putting isolated, undefendable strips of concrete and large amounts of equipment in areas of Australia which are very remote. Effectively, these would be stable, constant aircraft carriers which were less capable of being defended and certainly less useful than real carriers. Senator Elstob suggested that we need another 25 FA18s on top of the 75 that are coming. I think that that is a most extraordinary policy view. In view of the uses to which these highly sophisticated aircraft are likely to be put in Australia, such an increase represents very much a sledge-hammer to crack a nut approach.

I now wish to deal with my main concerns about this defence review and this Government's approach to defence in general. I quote from the Dibb report of the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities. One of the most disturbing remarks that could possibly be made about defence in Australia was made in this report. It said:

. . . the Department-

that is, the Department of Defence-

and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) do not agree on the appropriate level of threat against which we should structure the Defence Force.

Ultimately, of course, the Government will determine the size of our defence forces, but when there is no common understanding between the Government's military and civilian advisers about what the Australian Defence Force should be structured to do, decisions about our defence priorities cannot be properly informed. That is the background against which there was clearly a need for a defence White Paper, but unfortunately the defence White Paper comes down with what seems to me to be the most old-fashioned and, in effect, unacceptable approach to defence. With its concept of self-reliance it said:

The first aim of defence self-reliance is to give Australia the military capability to prevent an aggressor attacking us successfully in our sea and air approaches, gaining a foothold on any part of our territory, or extracting concessions from Australia through the use or threat of military force.

I am afraid that that does not represent my first aim. My first aim-and, I hope, the first aim of every Australian who thinks about this matter-would be deterrence. The first aim of a defence force should be to deter a potential aggressor. It is only when deterrence fails that one then seeks to prevent an aggressor attacking us successfully. This Clausewitz sort of approach-that the way to solve one's defence problems is to fight a battle-seems to be monumentally old-fashioned and out of date. The Chinese sage-I suppose that one could call him that-Sun Tzu, said:

To win without actually fighting is the acme of skill.

And again:

The highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy's plans rather than defeat his forces in battle.

In that situation it seems inevitable that we should look at the appropriate ways of making certain that that takes place. I regret that in this White Paper, as in so many other documents, there does not seem to be an effective answer to that question. For example, when we hear the case against aircraft carriers it relates to their alleged vulnerability to being sunk. I would have thought that British experience in the Falklands would have damaged that to some extent. When talking about aircraft carriers, there is no discussion of the impact that they have as a deterrent. In our region there is no more evident display of strength than a carrier with effective aircraft on its deck making friendly visits and steaming around. During the period of confrontation with Indonesia, the British kept an aircraft carrier off the western end of Java and that certainly caused a degree of concern to the Indonesians during that unfortunate period, which I trust will never be repeated. However, it concerns me that this Clausewitz sort of approach-is there a detectable threat and how do we match that threat itself; how do we fight an opposing army?-seems to dominate defence thinking here and now.

I am very concerned indeed that because of this kind of thinking there has been a diminution in the resources going to that part of the Defence Force which provides the greatest effective deterrent in our region, and that of course is the Navy. I do not wish to be disparaging of the other sections of the Defence Force, but after many years of the other two segments of the Force getting much larger amounts of money than the Navy, we have a situation that is far from satisfactory. We have an army of 32,000 which, I understand could only produce a company group within seven days and it would take four weeks to field a brigade. Despite the considerable resources that have been allocated to the Royal Australian Air Force, it still has some degree of a credibility problem in its two principal strategic missions-strategic air strike and national air defence. By comparison the Navy is still able to maintain about two-thirds of the fleet at no more than four hours notice to deploy, fully prepared for combat. The Navy's major weakness is that it has inadequate protection against air and submarine attack and that, of course, is due to the lack of naval aviation at sea; in other words, this Government's decision not to proceed with the acquisition of an aircraft carrier.

The need for deterrence to be the primary objective and the failure to respond to that need as evidenced by the funding of the Navy out of the Defence Vote can be seen by looking at recent equipment purchase figures. Over the last 10 years the Army has been allocated overall, not simply for equipment, almost $2,000m more than the Navy and the RAAF has been allocated almost $3,000m more than the Navy. If one compares those amounts with the oft quoted figure of $1,500m for the cost of purchasing an aircraft carrier, its aircraft and all the necessary shore back-up, one sees that it is simply half the difference of the funding for the RAAF over the Navy for the last 10 years. The key point that would emerge from that is that the purchase of an aircraft carrier and support facilities-a floating platform such as a converted bulk carrier-would eliminate the one serious deficiency the Navy now has, and that is inadequate protection against air and submarine attack.

I must admit to being disappointed that once again Australia appears to be going down the road, not of deterrence, but of seeking to repel boarders. I accept that the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has quite properly said that a wider concept of self-reliance than has been adopted in the past rejects the narrow concept of continental defence. There is no doubt, it seems to me, that the fairly narrow approach taken by Mr Dibb has been broadened by the Minister, but not entirely satisfactorily. He has gone down that road, which is the essential road, but has not gone down it far enough. Nonetheless, it still relates very much indeed to defending-to fighting an actual war, fighting an opponent-and that is the basis upon which this paper has been prepared. But, for heaven's sake, every analysis in the past that has looked at the potential attacker has been consistently wrong. I do not need to outline what happened before the Second World War. Everyone realises that the concept of a perceived direct threat has consistently been nonsense, and this is one of the unfortunate attitudes that has been perpetuated.

The Dibb report used hypothetical threats, as did Mr Katter in his report some years ago, as the basis for his proposals for the future development of Australia's defence strategy. One thing has cheered me up on this score, and that concerns Mr Dibb's statement that the Soviet Union's activities in the South West Pacific represented no threat to Australia and New Zealand at present or for the next decade. At least the Minister now appears to be disagreeing with that proposition. I just hope that there is a greater awareness that the approach now being adopted is not a satisfactory one.

On the other hand, let us acknowledge that the Government's decision now to assist our neighbours in the small nation states to improve their maritime surveillance systems, to increase RAN ship deployments in the area, to engage in, defence co-operation, including training, advice and technical support, to assist with both hydrographic and land surveying tasks and to double the RAAF's P3 Orion patrols-doubling the number of five-day deployments from five to 10 each year-is not an enormous decision to get excited about, but at least it is a move in the right direction. I think it is important to note that the Minister for Defence has rejected the Dibb conventional defence wisdom that Australia need not worry about potential threats to its sea lines of communication. The Minister has referred specifically to the fact that the island countries of the South West Pacific lie across important lines of communication between Australia and Japan, our major trading partner, and the United States of America, our major ally. They also lie across important trade routes and approaches to Australia's east coast, where many of our major population centres are located. An unfriendly maritime power in the area could place in doubt the security of overseas supply to Australia of military equipment and other strategic materiel. That is very sensible stuff and I must say that I am glad to see it.

What concerns me is that, having acknowledged the problem, the Government has not gone down the track of seeking to solve it and instead, as I said, think in terms simply of getting a military capacity to prevent an enemy from attacking us successfully. Clearly, the best possible defence force we can have is one that is never called upon to fight because it has effectively deterred anyone from wanting to attack us. As a result, I have a personal regret about the nature of this paper and the direction we are taking.

I am also very concerned, as was Senator Hamer, about the Government's ability to put even the limited objectives in this White Paper into effect in terms of the capital program. We have here clear evidence that it is most unlikely that the capital program suggested by the White Paper can be met within the resources available. There will be continual pressure on the defence forces to limit their requirements, particularly if we have members of the Government suggesting that those limited resources be used to buy another 25 FA18 aircraft on top of the 75 already purchased. I believe that in that event we will be going further down a course that is the wrong course for Australia. Admirable though the FA18 aircraft is, I am quite sure that, as Senator Hamer said, if the capital requirements of the Defence Force had been looked at as a whole-what we want, how much capital we have and what sort of a defence force we have overall-the FA18 would not have been purchased. I support Senator Hamer very strongly on that. I repeat that I am very concerned indeed that at this stage we still have Government members of a defence committee talking about the need to purchase more. I suggest that there is a basic need for rethinking, which does not exist in this paper; about the directions of our defence policy and in particular this question of deterrence.

I agree once more with Senator Hamer that one of the major things one could do of benefit to Australia would be totally to re-organise the Department of Defence. It seems to me that where we have the sort of situation that Dibb outlined, where there is no agreement between the defence forces and the Department about how we should structure the forces, we have to decide that one has to go or be massively changed. It is intolerable for a government to be advised so totally differently by the defence bureaucrats and the defence professionals. This situation has not been addressed in this paper, and I believe that it is absolutely essential that it be addressed very speedily.

In conclusion, I simply repeat that I am concerned that the Navy, certainly the most effective of the deterrent forces, has done so badly in the past and that it appears to continue to be limited, to be put in the shade by developments in the other forces, particularly the Air Force. I regret, and I think Australia will live to regret, that the number one priority in our defence policies has not been the deterrence which wins wars without ever having to fight them.

Debate (on motion by Senator Tate) adjourned.