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Tuesday, 9 November 1971
Page: 3170


Dr GUN (Kingston) - I want to make a plea to the Government to make a more sober approach to the important question of the Indian Ocean. Firstly, the Government has, I believe, overestimated the size of the Soviet naval presence there. Secondly, it has inflated the significance of that presence. Finally, by its response of sabre rattling it is clearly taking an approach which is at best irrelevant and at worst harmful to the security of this country. First of all I refer to the size of the Soviet presence. In this House on 14th October the Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay) said that the Russians have more than a score of surface warships and an unknown number of submarines in the area. I believe that his authority was 'Jane's Fighting Ships'. However, I would like to draw upon the authority of a Mr Spiers, the Director of the Bureau of PoliticoMilitary Affairs of the United States State Department. This Bureau is the section responsible for the Indian Ocean. Mr Spiers stated:

We have some figures of the most recent Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean and as of now it consists of about 4 ships. As of July 20th, the Soviet presence consists of t destroyer, 1 LST and 2 fleet minesweepers. The Soviet presence fluctuates but that is the most recent reading unless my defence colleagues have something more up to date.

So there appears to be considerable uncertainty as to the accuracy of the Minister's figures. What is the significance of the Soviet naval presence? Again I quote from the evidence given by Mr Spiers to a Congressional committee. He said:

Specifically, we would be concerned if Chinese or Soviet influence in the area extended to control of the water areas or significant parts of the littoral. We do not envisage an immediate threat of this nature, however.

He went on to say:

Therefore, there appears to be no requirement at this time for us to feel impelled to control, or even decisively influence any part of the Indian Ocean or its littoral, given the nature of our interests there and the current level of Soviet and Chinese involvement. We consider, on balance, that our present interests are served by normal commercial, political and military access.

So the Indian Ocean situation seems to he causing enormous concern to the Australian Government, but this feeling does not appear to be shared by the Government of the United States. Let us also remember that the Soviet Union has some perfectly legitimate interests in the Indian Ocean. It is from there that they get about one-third of their fishing catch, and it is of enormous importance to Russian shipping itself. It should not be forgotten that al least during the winter ships going between European Russia and the Pacific ports such as Vladivostok must traverse the Indian Ocean. If these facts are considered, the Soviet naval presence is clearly modest indeed. In fact, its 4 ships reported on 20th July seem to be comparable with the United States presence of 3 ships. Furthermore, the Russians have no bases in the Indian Ocean, even in Indian ports, and India is the country which has just signed a treaty with the Soviet Union. Only last week Mr Gandhi told a meeting of the Royal Institute of International Affairs that India had no intention of offering military bases to the Soviet Union. So it is quite clear that in measuring our response to the Soviet presence we are responding to something whose size and significance has been greatly over-stated by this Government.

The reaction of the Government has been to make sabre rattling gestures; we are going to build an $80m naval base at Cockburn Sound, we are going to acquire a couple of dozen destroyers at $70in or $80m a pop and the Prime Minister has apparently cajoled the United States Government into saying that United States vessels will use the facilities at Cockburn Sound. What a disastrous policy. What a short-sighted policy. Surely there could not be a quicker way to start an escalation of arms build-up than by such a hawkish response. Why does our policy always have to be defence first and diplomacy last?

Let us compare the attitude of the Australian Government with that of the other governments in the Indian Ocean area. I would like to quote from a statement issued after a conference of non-aligned nations at Lusaka in Zambia in September 1970. It said:

A declaration should be adopted calling upon all States to consider and respect the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace.

The Government of Ceylon has repeatedly stated its interest in declaring the Indian Ocean a zone of peace. This was propounded by the Ceylonese Government at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference earlier this year and supported by the Governments of both India and Pakistan. In fact, the Ceylonese Government submitted this as a formal proposal to the United Nations General Assembly in its current session. The subject of declaring the Indian Ocean a zone of peace was the main subject of the address of the Ceylonese Prime Minister, Mrs Bandaranaike, to the United Nations General Assembly. The Indian Government is clearly very interested in the proposal, as shown in the Soviet-Indian communique of 30th September which I unfortunately do not have time to quote.

What is the Australian Government's response to all this? A naval base, gun boats and trying to push the United States Navy into a commitment, but not a word on the subject of a zone of peace. Why the silence? The answer, of course, is that the Government is scared stiff of the Democratic Labor Party. I implore the Government to disregard short term electoral considerations and make a genuine move for world peace. This is the age of nuclear weapons, remember, and there can be only one policy for wars in this day and age; that is to prevent them from taking place.

But I want to ask one more question to take this argument a stage further. What could be the significance of naval commitments anyway? Even if there were a substantial Soviet force in the Indian Ocean, what would it mean? I think it is time that we seriously questioned the thesis that you can exert great influence on governments by deploying gun boats on trackless wastes of ocean. The battle for influencing people's minds depends on whether you can also help raise people's standards of living. As far as Australia is concerned, we must seek to do what we can for peace in the Indian Ocean, not by floating ships on it but by helping the countries around it.

For about the fourth time this session I ask the Government to act in the interests of the security of the area in which we live by taking real diplomatic initiatives, particularly having in mind India and Pakistan which are going through a particularly critical period. This is what we should be doing to try and advance the security of our nation. By continuing to cave in to DLP blackmail the Government is acting against the national interest and against the interests of world peace. If the Government will play its part to achieve world peace and disarmament, I am sure everybody in this House will support it.

Over the years man seems to have developed a conditioned reflex of settling differences by bloodshed. I think we can no longer afford this. I think it is time our altitudes on defence were completely rethought. I conclude by drawing attention to this paradox: We are faced with the strong possibility of disaster from a world ecological crisis, but little danger from foreign invasion. Where therefore is the logic in spending $ 1,200m annually in preparing for imminent invasion but nothing, almost literally nothing, on defending ourselves from ecological disaster?







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