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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1035

Mr DRUMMOND (FORREST, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Has the Minister for Defence seen reports that Russia has established supply buoys in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, apparently as part of the Indian Ocean supply system for Russian submarines and warships? Is this report correct? What steps are the armed forces taking to monitor or keep under surveillance Russian naval movements off the coast of Western Australia? Is there any threat to Australia's security? Can the Minister assure the people of Western Australia that the defence services in that State are adequate for the continuing security of Western Australia?

Mr BARNARD - Yes. I have seen the statement referred to by the honourable member. The Directorate of Naval Intelligence has no information to confirm today's Press story by Mr Baudino that the Soviet Navy is believed to have established at least 2 supply points off the Western Australian coast in international waters. The Soviet Navy is believed to have a number of anchorages in the western Indian Ocean where its ships can shut down their main engines and carry out minor maintenance tasks. At two of these anchorages buoys have been laid; these are located in the vicinity of the Seychelles and near Chagos Archipelago. There is no evidence to suggest that these buoys are anything other than mooring buoys. They are in exposed anchorages and are unlikely to contain special equipment. Soviet ships receive their fuel and supplies from Soviet auxiliaries deployed to the area. Soviet warships presently in the Indian Ocean comprise one diesel submarine, a destroyer, 2 escorts, 2 minesweepers and a tank landing ship. To supply this force there are at least 3 auxiliaries in the area. In addition there is a force of minesweepers and auxiliaries in Bangladesh assisting in port clearance operations. Soviet oceanographic operations are carried out in the western Indian Ocean.

At present a fishery research vessel is operating in the Australian Bight after having called at Fremantle on 27 July. Merchant ships in the area move on the normal trade routes and have never been seen engaged in questionable activities.

Ms Snedden - Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Will the Minister table the paper from which he is reading and will he make his statement after question time?

Mir SPEAKER - No point of order arises but I ask the Minister-

Mr BARNARD - I table the report.

Mr Snedden - As the Minister has tabled the report from which he was reading does this not mean that he is flouting the Standing Orders? Questions are supposed to be asked without notice.

Mr SPEAKER - Last week I made an appeal to Ministers to be brief with their answers. Apparently this question must be a Dorothy Dix, as I call it.

Mr BARNARD - Mr Speaker, there was a report in the Press this morning, as the honourable member for Forrest pointed out. Naturally I would inform myself of the circumstances under which .that report was made and the reasons for it. There was no intention on my part to answer a Dorothy Dix question. I have given the honourable member the information for which he asked. I thought it important and proper that I should outline to this Parliament the number of Russian ships that are actually in the area, and it is quite insignificant. Finally, since the honourable member asked me about the activities of the Rusian fleet, it should be made known to the honourable member and to this House that Russian activities are largely confined to an area off the southern Indian sub-continent and an area off the African continent. Very few Russian ships operate in Australian waters. The number of ships that I have just indicated to the House shows how small the force is. Finally, I come back to the 2 buoys which were mentioned by the honourable member and which were referred to in the report this morning by Mr Baudino. They are merely buoys that are used by elements of the Russian fleet to moor their ships while repairs are being carried out. If the honourable member wants to satisfy himself about the size of the buoys and whether it would be possible to use them for refuelling purposes, I suggest that he might care to have a look at the photograph of the buoys - they are well known to Australian naval elements - which I have in my office.

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