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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7278

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2:19 PM) — Sorry, Mr President, that I was a bit slow to my feet. I was waiting for a supplementary question, but Senator Mason seemed a bit sluggish out of his chair. I cannot understand why. My question is directed to Senator Hill, as Minister for Defence. Can the minister confirm what military capability we would use in a first strike against threats in the region? Aren't our F111s the ADF's primary long-range strike capability? Isn't it a fact that for most of this year only six of the fleet of 35 F111s have at any one time been operational? When six F111s flew to the US for a recent exercise, didn't that leave us just one operational F111 in the country? Won't it be at least another three years before the F111s will be able to use the new long-range precision missile? What ADF capability would be used to carry out your policy of first strike?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —There is no issue of first strike within the region. The only ones I know who are talking it up are those on the other side of this chamber. As I have said, we have good relations with our neighbours. From a defence perspective and particularly in addressing the issue of terrorism, which I think is what Senator Evans is talking about, as I said, we are cooperating with each of our neighbours in a number of practical ways in order to address what we see as a joint threat—a threat to their interests and a threat to our interests.

In relation to the F111s, I think that Senator Evans is referring to an answer to a question that I gave him on notice. I have to say that their recent performance in exercises with the United States was first class. They are a very capable aircraft. They give us a capability that we would not have with other of our platforms. It is true that, as aged aircraft, they cost a lot to maintain; but we believe it is nevertheless necessary to maintain them as an important deterrent.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to his speech on 18 June where he endorsed in principle the first-strike doctrine, and made it very clear that the government supported that. Prime Minister Howard has only been continuing his public words on it. Minister, given that we only had one F111 operational at one point this year, why is it that every time you are asked about a first-strike capability you are unable to justify its use or say how it might be carried out, and unable to explain the circumstances and what forces we might commit? Will the minister tell the Senate how we could actually carry out this policy? Doesn't it in fact highlight the view of experts that your first-strike policy cannot actually be implemented against the terrorist targets, which do not present themselves as targets for military action in most cases in any event?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Anticipatory self-defence has always been permitted—

Senator Chris Evans —Not the way you interpret it!

Senator HILL —Senator Evans says, `Not the way you interpret it.' What that does mean—

Senator Bolkus —Why do you want to change the charter?

Senator HILL —You can read article 51 of the charter, if you wish, and you can look at the ways in which it has been interpreted during the last 50 years. Anticipatory self-defence is permitted. On the issue of in what circumstances it might be utilised, obviously that is a hypothetical question and it is difficult to answer, other than to talk of a specific instance. In relation to the interjection from Senator Bolkus, `Why do you want change it?' there is no doubt that there is a lack of clarity in the interpretation of the rules as they relate to self-defence. I have been suggesting that the international lawyers might play a part in helping to overcome that lack of clarity.