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Wednesday, 8 May 1957


Mr CASEY (La Trobe) (Minister for External Affairs) . - We are debating defence, which is, quite simply, the means of Australia being able to ensure its own survival. There is an intimate link between defence and external affairs - a very intimate link indeed - which is reflected in the fact that my friend and colleague the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) and I are in intimate contact all the time, and also in the fact that our respective departments have links at all the various relevant levels. Those links are reflected in the old popular definition of foreign policy which, I expect, most honorable members will recall. That definition is still applicable to any country, and probably is applicable to Australia in particular. The definition, or principle as I should perhaps call it, is that you should do everything humanly possible to avoid war breaking out, but if, in spite of all your efforts, war does break out and you are involved in it, then enter that war with as strong friends as you can. That is a simple definition which reflects the policy this Government has been endeavouring to implement over the last six or seven years.

The first responsibility of the Government, as we assume it, is to strengthen Australia. We have been endeavouring to do so in the last five or six years in all the manifold directions in which a country can be strengthened - by increasing population, by developing our natural resources, and all the rest. In this business of defence, Australia is in a position slightly different from that of most other nations in that we have a country of continental size with a relatively small population of under 10,000,000 people. Those two factors mean that this country is very lightly populated and also that our natural resources are, as yet, inadequately developed. By themselves they impose on us tasks that are considerable and that absorb a great deal of our money and resources, which, in turn, limits our ability to have the defence forces that, in other circumstances, we would certainly have.

Apart from having strengthened Australia to the reasonable limit of our ability, and maintained our defence forces as well as we have been able to, in conjunction with the other obligations upon us we have attempted to link ourselves with strong friends - the second leg of the definition of foreign policy that I gave a few moments ago. These links, which are well known, exist in the Anzus pact and the South-East Asia Treaty Organization, which bind us to the strongest friends we can find. So, on those two scores, I believe we have done our duty, and will continue to do our duty, to the people of Australia.

We come now to this re-organization of our Australian defences which, as we know, entails an appreciable reduction of national service training, which has, over the years, proved itself as having very considerable social value and some military value, although probably not a very great deal by reason of the fact that it creates a pool of only partially trained men. Also, this proposal entails a corresponding increase of our regular forces, properly trained and equipped units, that will provide us with a highly mobile hard-hitting force that can be deployed rapidly at any point within at least several thousand miles of our own shores. Under this proposal we are engaging in a certain degree of standardization of our Australian military and air equipment with that of our strongest friend, the United States of America, with whom in the dread event of another world war - or even of a limited war - we are likely to be in intimate association so far as our armed forces are concerned. That is, in short, what is provided in the proposals before us now.

What is the background of all this? Why should we Australians be concerned about defence? At least 90 per cent, of the reason is that the world is divided into two great camps - the democratic camp and the Communist camp - and that the Communists are dedicated to the communizing of the whole world. That aim has been repeated by them time and time again, and at regular intervals, over the last generation until we, on this side of the House at any rate, believe that there can be no doubt whatsoever about their intentions and aims. I know very well that there are people who deny that that is the aim of the Communists. In spite of all the evidence of the past - very considerable evidence indeed - these people say that the Communists are reasonable people capable of being influenced and persuaded by argument. They say that they are people capable of being persuaded by appeasement and of responding to moral gestures. I believe that that section of public opinion is very small in this country, and possibly in some other countries. We on this side of the House disagree with the opinion of that section. We believe that the available evidence over the last generation contradicts the assumption that the Communists are the kind of people with whom we can deal in that way. We have had warnings, on countless occasions, of the ultimate intent of the Communists, and we believe that we have to be prepared to meet them. That is the main background, and the main reason why we Australians and all other democratic countries are intent on seeking to maintain our integrity and sovereignty and survival in the latter end, if it should come as a result of the exercise of armed force.

The second consideration which is part of the essential background of defence is the complete redistribution of power in the hemisphere in which Australia lies - that is, broadly speaking, from the Mediterranean on the west to the west coast of the Americas on the east. In that hemisphere Australia is the only country, apart from our friend, New Zealand, that has a European-based population in an area that is something like 60 per cent, of the earth's surface. In that area there has been a tremendous redistribution of power in the last fifteen years. I do not need to detail it to honorable members, because it is common knowledge. There has been a vast potential change in the situation. I do not suppose that any country in the world has had its defence situation, its security situation, its survival situation, so altered as Australia has had as a result of the last great war. I believe that these two simple facts, which are well known, I expect, to all honorable members, are inadequately appreciated in Australia as a whole. I believe that there are too many people in Australia who are looking at the situation of Australia, and the defence of Australia, in the light of a position that existed before the last war.

I know that in these matters there is a lack of appreciation, particularly of changes that are not physically visible, among people who are not intimately dealing with them day after day. As we know, the things I am talking about exist some thousands of miles away from where we are now; but I believe that the points that I am making should be made, and repeated often, so that the average Australian can become aware of them. It is said sometimes that geography is a static factor, and that, of course, is true. A country's geographical situation has been fixed once and for all, and it does not change. So far as geography has affected Australia, we are, in some ways, fortunate and, in other ways, unfortunate. We are fortunate in that we have no land frontiers with any other country and that, at present, the nearest potential enemy is something like 5,000 miles from our shores. That is, I think, the fortunate side. On the unfortunate side, the fact is that we are something like 10,000 miles from our nearest strong friend, the United States, and something like 13,000 miles - half a world. - away from our mother country, Great Britain.

But, more important even than geography,, in the context in which I am endeavouring: to speak, is what is called geo-politics - that is, the politics of geography. That, I think, is infinitely more important than the geographical situation. The significance of the politics of geography, so far as Australia is concerned, needs no repetition.. We know what has happened as a result, of the last war. We know what has happened in Communist China. We know of the great redistribution of political power in the whole of South and South-East Asia. So, I say that this rather strange word, geo-politics - the politics of geography - has to be seriously taken into account by Australians in any assessment of our defence situation.

Then there is the vast change in weapons,, which has altered the tempo of war. It has introduced a factor into war that we have never had to consider before - the time factor. I am rather surprised that no member of the Opposition has, so far. referred to the time element, which really is the factor, beyond all others, that has brought about this reconsideration of the Australian defence situation. In the past, as we know very well, we had plenty of time to recruit, train, equip and despatch by sea Australian forces of consequence to any theatre of war to which we cared to send them. So, the time factor, in the past, was not important. But we know very well that, in the future, in view of the circumstances I have very briefly mentioned - this geo-politics business and the advent of new weapons, which has introduced the time factor - things are going to bc very different indeed. Whether the next war will be a world-wide war - which God forbid! - or even a local war, in any sort of war we shall have this time factor hammering at our minds all the time. As 1 have said, the most important of the factors that have induced this change in our defence set-up is the time factor. The significance of the altered time-table is. I think, clear, and it is unnecessary to labour it.

The strongest friend with whom we are linked on the Anzus side is the United States of America. The Americans have very substantial forces in our part of the world. If we take a line running from South Korea down through the island chain off the east coast of the Asian continent, it will be found that the Americans have something like 500,000 men under arms, something like 500 vessels of war and something like 2,500 military and naval aircraft. Those figures may not be precisely accurate, but I would expect that the figures are of that order. That represents a very large force indeed. This force is located, not on the American continent, but very close to the Asian continent - from South Korea and through the island chain down towards the north of Australia. It has modern equipment. It is highly mobile. It is a hardhitting striking force right on the spot. It is strategically placed, so that wherever trouble may break out the spearpoint of this force can be directed towards the source of the trouble.

I should not expect that there is an Australian who would be venal enough to wish to have our wars fought for us by somebody else. I do not suppose that any member of any Australian political party would say that. Consequently, we Australians have to prove to the world - in particular, to our strong friends - that we are worthy allies and that we will do all that we possibly can, by ourselves and for ourselves, to be worthy partners in the dread event of war.

These things are not new, but some of them have not been said before in this debate - at least by members of the Opposition. I have heard a good deal of this debate and I have read in " Hansard " the speeches that have been made on both sides of the House. I have been rather surprised and somewhat disappointed by the speeches - except for some rather notable exceptions - which have come from the Opposition side. I have not heard my right honorable friend, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) yet. Maybe we shall hear him later, and perhaps he will introduce a new element of reality into the views of the Opposition on this matter.

There are various ways in which the Opposition might have debated this matter. Honorable members opposite might have said that what we are trying to do is too much. I would not agree with that, and I am sure that nobody on this side would agree. But they might have said that, and such a view would have been arguable, politically at least. On the other hand they might have said that the Government was doing too little. But I have heard neither of those suggestions from the Opposition - neither that we are doing too much nor that we are doing too little. I may have missed some remarks of the members of the Opposition, but I do not think so. Such statements would be at least arguable, whether or not one would agree with them.

I believe that there is an inadequate realization on the part of the Opposition of the vulnerability of Australia in the world to-day. I believe that the lag in thinking, which I have mentioned earlier, has been applicable to a great many members of the Opposition. But I believe, also, that there are many people in this country - and possibly a good many members of the Opposition - who are living in a fool's paradise. They do not realize the extreme vulnerability of Australia. After all, Australia is no more than a link in the worldwide chain of democratic countries. We cannot survive in Australia by the strength of our own right arm alone. We have to make our link as strong as we can. Unless all the links of the chain hold fast the chain may break. If the chain does break, Australia will break with it. So there is a great responsibility, not only on the members of the Government, but also on all members of this Parliament to adopt a realistic and non-party political attitude to defence.

My time has almost run out. I had proposed to say a few things about some of the remarks that have fallen from the lips of quite senior members of the Opposition in this debate - remarks which, I believe, they might live to be ashamed of. I believe that the Australian people, as a whole, have a greater realization of the importance of defence than that which is reflected in the Opposition's speeches. But still, we can take comfort from the fact that the Opposition is not the Australian people. I suppose the Opposition would claim that their function in this Parliament is to oppose. That is how they interpret their task, but it is different from the way that I would interpret it, because 1 believe that in certain matters of high international importance, party politics should go by the board. I believe that one of these matters is international affairs and that another is defence.

I believe that those who play party politics in respect to defence are not worthy to represent the people in this Parliament.







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