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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2374

Senator WOODLEY (10.00 a.m.) —I move:

  That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The speech read as follows

The purpose of this bill is to do what has never been done before in this country—establish a high level public inquiry into the security challenges facing Australia, and how they might best be met.

The impetus for this legislation is a growing concern felt by many Australians that the resources now being devoted to national security are misdirected. In other words, that some forms of threat are attracting resources out of proportion to their severity, while more serious security challenges are not being adequately addressed.

The suggestion for this bill came, in the first instance, from a network of analysts who comprise the Secure Australia Project. When the Project launched its book Threats without Enemies in October 1992, it also released a Call for an Inquiry into Australia's Security which attracted the support of such prominent Australians as Sir Mark Oliphant, Sister Veronica Brady and Peter Garrett. The essence of the Call for an Inquiry has been incorporated into this bill.

It is not that long ago that national security was defined exclusively in military terms—the protection of national borders by permanent armed forces.

These days, there is a growing recognition that the security of nations is threatened by a range of non-military phenomena—economic decline, environmental degradation, political instability, and so on. For many nations, a reasonable scale of severity would have military threats well down the list.

And even where military threats exist, they are not necessarily amenable to a military solution. The dire challenge posed by chemical weapons is being addressed, not by force of arms, but by a disarmament process under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The awesome problem of nuclear weapons is also being tackled by largely diplomatic means.

This is not to argue that military forces have no place in our security preparations. They do, as Australia's participation in recent peace-keeping exercises attests. However, it is time to ask whether we are getting value for our security dollar—both the amount spent on defence, and the way in which it is spent.

The fact is that the world is changing rapidly, but our security policy-making continues to be formulated along largely traditional lines, largely because of outdated thinking about defence.

To understand just how rapid the change has been, it is instructive to look at the developments in world affairs which have occurred since the last Defence White Paper, in 1987. At that time, President Reagan was in office and the Soviet Union still existed. Preparedness for nuclear war was at its height—Europe was twitching with nerves as American cruise and Pershing missiles faced Soviet SS-20s across the Iron Curtain. The Pacific Ocean was the scene of almost daily encounters between US and Soviet vessels carrying nuclear arms. Bloody conflicts were taking place in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola and Nicaragua, very much the product of the Cold War.

Now, in 1994, the Cold War is over. Cruise, Pershing and SS-20s no longer threaten to turn Europe into radioactive ash. There is a Democrat President in the White House and the Soviet Union has disintegrated. The oceans are being denuclearised, and the United Nations is attempting, albeit very imperfectly, to resolve conflicts which were off-limits to it during the 1980s. There are many bloody conflicts still taking place, but they are not the product of the old ideological rivalry and carry no risk of escalation to global war.

In Australia's region, profound developments have taken place. In 1987, the region, like the world, was rent by Cold War divisions. The Asia-Pacific region, particularly South-East Asia and the South Pacific, were a source of potential threat and instability to our policy-makers. The Soviets had a large naval presence at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, the Americans had huge bases in the Philippines, the French were testing nuclear weapons at Mururoa Atoll, Vietnam had forces in Cambodia, and turmoil in South Pacific island states such as Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and Fiji were seen as an open invitation to malign foreign powers to intervene—even Libya got a guernsey. Our relations with Indonesia were about as low as they had ever been, and the prospect of a conflict between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia was a major security pre-occupation.

Our regional policy was to ensure the military dominance of the Western alliance in an uncertain and threatening world. Any talk of establishing an inclusive regional security dialogue was simply out of the question. Differences between the regional states were too great, and the United States refused to entertain any regional security initiatives because they would lead to demands for naval nuclear disarmament.

Now in 1994, all that has changed for the better. The Soviet Union has left Vietnam, and Vietnam has left Cambodia. The US bases in the Philippines have closed, the French have suspended nuclear tests at Mururoa, and naval nuclear disarmament is a reality. A regional security dialogue—through the ASEAN Regional Forum—has been established. The recent visit of an Australian parliamentary delegation to Bougainville has been the catalyst for peace talks, which we hope will lead to a just resolution of that conflict. Our all-important relations with Indonesia have seen significant improvements, and border tensions between that country and PNG are much diminished.

From an Australian perspective, to say that the world is a militarily safer place now than in 1987 would be a major under-statement. That is not to suggest that all is well in the garden. We have continuing differences with Indonesia, particularly over human rights. China remains in the grip of a dictatorship with disturbingly belligerent impulses. But there has nevertheless been a dramatic improvement in our regional security environment, and there is good reason to believe that the trend will continue. The web of interdependence is growing stronger as regional co-operation grows in many areas.

Yet our military force structure, and the policy framework on which it is based, has changed little since 1987. The signs are that the forthcoming Defence White Paper will be a `steady as she goes' document. Our defence force structure has changed little in the last twenty years, and is not expected to do so for at least the next ten.

But the longer our defence policy stands still, the more it will fall behind. The new world order, to use a phrase which sounded so unconvincing when uttered by President George Bush to justify the Gulf War, is beginning, despite all the teething problems, to mean something. The growing openness of national borders, and the increasing strength of international institutions, is undermining the rationale for traditional national defence preparations.

The argument which is used to justify this snail's pace of change is the uncertainty principle—the regional or global climate could deteriorate unexpectedly, and we need to have the forces in place to deal with traditional threats which could result.

This argument fails to take into account the opportunity cost of defence. We are spending $10 billion per year on a largely traditional defence force designed to meet largely traditional threats, even though we are facing major security challenges for which solutions have yet to be found.

Unemployment is an obvious example. Australia's underlying level of unemployment is at record levels, as is long-term unemployment, and there is little reason to be confident that the measures announced in the unemployment White Paper will work. No-one disputes that the social fabric of the nation is being damaged by this trend.

Pressure on the domestic and global environment, with causes too numerous to mention, is growing daily, with serious implications for survival of our species at its current population levels. To pick a recent example, the Auditor-General has recently stated the obvious by concluding that the Government's greenhouse response strategy is not working. The Government's reaction is likely to be to abandon the strategy, rather than get serious about solving the problem.

Global security challenges—political, economic and environmental—are mounting, and global solutions are required. Yet we lack effective institutions to co-ordinate those solutions and provide leadership. The United Nations is ill-equipped to perform this task because of the ossification caused by the Cold War, and is in any event grossly under-resourced.

The Democrats would argue that we cannot afford the luxury of spending large sums of public money to resource an obsolescent defence policy. We need a new defence policy which reflects the times we live in. And we need an overarching security policy which addresses all sources of national insecurity—economic, environmental, political and military—in a cohesive and rational way.

In the Democrats' view, a rational assessment would conclude that greater resources should be devoted to meeting non-military threats, and that our defence force should be restructured away from the Cold War model to one which is better suited to life in the new world order. With the defence capital budget dominated by the frigate and submarine programs, it is worth recalling that those vessels were justified as meeting Cold War needs. Their post-Cold War relevance is highly questionable, and the questioning needs to start now, before we embark on further naval modernisation, for example by replacing the destroyers, as though it was still 1987 and the Soviets were coming.

The Democrats favour a defence model which gives more priority to peace-keeping, peace-enforcement, and appropriate forms of regional co-operation. We believe less priority should be given to costly fighting platforms with little contemporary relevance. The emphasis should be on a more flexible and mobile defence system which is capable of providing greater peace-time benefits, such as coastal protection and fire-fighting.

However, the purpose of this bill is not to prescribe the Democrats' favourite solution—it is to establish an inquiry to analyse our security challenges in all their dimensions, and come up with credible proposals to better address them.

The bill establishes a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, consisting of 6 members nominated by the presiding officers of the two Houses of this Parliament. The Presiding Member of the Commission would be required to have experience in conducting public inquiries on complex issues. The remaining members would have expertise in defence, international relations, economics, the environment, and public opinion.

The Commission's task would be to prioritise the security threats facing Australia, and to determine whether the current allocation of national resources to meet those threats is in proportion to their severity. They would be required to make policy recommendations to improve the effectiveness with which our security challenges are currently addressed.

The Commission's hearings would generally be held in public, however provision has been made for in camera hearings where the Commission decides they are appropriate. The Commission would report to the presiding officers by December 1995, and its report, along with a transcript of evidence, would be tabled in Parliament.

The bill gives the Commission substantial resources, and wide powers to obtain documents and oral evidence. Penalties for non-cooperation are specified, as well as for attempts to intimidate or hinder witnesses.

In the Democrats' view, this bill is one whose time has come. The world is changing, and the security debate in Australia must catch up. Our foreign policy has fairly successfully adapted to the emerging new world order, but our defence policy has not. What we need is an integrated security policy, and there isn't one on the horizon. This bill is an attempt to set the ball rolling. I commend it to the Senate.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Jones) adjourned.