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Thursday, 18 November 1976
Page: 2900

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -In debating the White Paper on Defence which the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) brought down a few weeks ago, I wish to refer the House to what was said in the introduction:

The first responsibility of government is to provide the nation with security from armed attack and from the constraints on independent national decisions . . .

The statement continues:

This White Paper sets out the Government's position in this respect It states the Government's estimates of the circumstances that . . . could jeopardise Australia's security.

I do not think that the Paper does that. If the Opposition has a complaint about it, it is that perhaps there is not enough precision in the White Paper. It way well be that the state of our national affairs and international relations are such that one cannot be precise, and I am prepared to admit that. I am prepared to say that it is time for an open-ended debate in which both sides of the House and the nation itself can take a close look at what this is all about and make some consequent decisions in the more distant future than today.

One ought to say now that there is a remarkable change in the Government's position from that of the last few years. No longer do we hear of threats from the north. No longer are there battle cries resounding around this building with talk of the surging hordes up there which are going to descend upon us and demands of conscription and everything else. That is a big improvement. If one reads the Paper carefully one will see this point made quite often: No longer are we going to rely so absolutely on our great and powerful friends. But there is the constant theme that we have a new and special relationship with Indonesia. Unfortunately, the theme of the past continues with the reference to the Indian Ocean. I think that is overstated and can only confuse the debate.

I hope that my colleagues on this side of the House will take up some of the general issues about equipment and so on which are raised in the Paper. At this stage of the debate I wish to make it clear to the House and to the rest of the nation that the consistent attacks upon the Labor Government's defence policies are quite erroneous. The attacks are good political ploys but completely ignore the facts of the situation. The facts are that the Labor Government set the defence forces of Australia and the whole defence establishment upon a very solid course of progress. Although we were not responsible for buying the FI 1 1 aircraft, the Cabinet of which I was a member finally had to make the decision whether to proceed with it or not, and we did so. Whether the Fill is the most appropriate aircraft for us could well be open to doubt, but there is no doubt whatsoever that in acquiring it we gave the Air Force a pretty effective set of teeth.

I come now to the Leopard tanks. We ordered 63 of them in April 1974 and 34 more in August last year. That was another Labor initiative. We ordered two of the Perry class patrol frigates back in 1974. We ordered 8 new Orions, 12 new

Hercules and Rapier missiles. Something which seems to have passed unnoticed by the recipients themselves, if one takes any notice of their election voting habits, is that the Labor Government gave the servicemen of Australia a completely new deal. In 1974 we put $330m into new equipment and $2 80m in 197S. I think this White Paper refers to something like $2S0m, and that is going to be spent on Labor initiatives. I think that the record ought to be kept straight. In its 3 years in office the Labor Government took very effective steps towards the maintenance of an effective defence capacity in this country.

I should like to address myself to what I call the defence problems. We have now reached a stage where it is an intellectual rather than a strategic exercise. We have to find out where we are going, what it is all about and what is the new defence environment and foreign policy environment. We have to look at the nation in various ways. We have to overcome the national inferiority complex. We have to understand now that the world looks at this part of the planet in a different way. The Timor exercise has shown that the rest of the world will leave us to make our own decisions. They are not going to bother over much about what goes on in this part of the world. So Australia is challenged to think for itself, probably for the first time since about 1910 or 191 1 when the first Labor Government established new defence priorities and new defence policies. We now have to think for ourselves. Fortunately, we can take our time about most of it. We can take our time about the kind of equipment that we need in this environment. We can take our time about the answer to the challenge; it is a completely new challenge. No longer can we look at a situation where we are going to be part of a regular scheme of international conflict in which we supply one part of the forces in one part of one of the theatres. We have to look at Australia as a continental theatre, as a nation facing a challenge on its own, perhaps being very much on its own and having to be very selfsufficient. I do not think that the Paper answers those questions. I do not think it even poses them strongly enough for the general reader.

While we are taking our time about decisions in relation to aircraft and other forms of equipment, we have to maintain the continuing establishments. We must keep industry at the stage where it can continue to supply the Australian forces. We have to keep the people who are concerned with defence, whether m a civilian capacity or in the forces themselves, on the alert and ready, properly equipped mentally and in every other way, so that they know they will not be left behind in any great change. The first question we have to ask ourselves is this: what is Australia's capacity to be self-contained? I do not think this is spelled out enough in the Paper. Perhaps we do not know enough about it. I have always believed, and I have said it here many times, that Australia underrates its own capacity to do for itself, both in the construction of equipment and in relation to defending itself. This country has a very large industrial base- the ninth or tenth largest in the world or thereabouts. In some areas we are quite significant, and even in such things as the automotive industry we are ninth or tenth in the world.

It is part of the continuing theme of Australian conversation to look at our defence forces and underrate them. We are inclined to overlook the fact that in sheer numbers we may not be so very large, but in the actual equipment which is available to our defence forces, by comparison with the equipment of most of the other nations of the world, and I exclude the very large nations, we are well able to look after our own. Perhaps the next stage of the Paper ought to spell out this question more emphatically so that the community can turn its mind to it.

We have to look more emphatically at our own immediate environment. Our largest neighbour of course is Indonesia. The Government has chosen to make our relationship with Indonesia pre-eminent in both its foreign affairs and its defence policies. I do not think we can rely upon the Government of Indonesia, nor do I think we need to be unduly afraid of Indonesia, but we do have to ask ourselves what we would do if Indonesia's next step were to do something about Papua New Guinea. Let us presume that Indonesia considered the situation in Papua New Guinea to be so unstable that it was a threat to them, and from what Indonesia has said about Timor I can imagine it doing that. What would Australia do? How would we prepare for that? We have never faced up to the fact that we ought to be able to take part in United Nations operations.

Could I just examine for a moment some of the problems involved. In relation to the equipment problem, what is the score at sea? A continuing debate is going on throughout the whole system of international defence about what is needed at sea. What is the best thing to have at sea? Basically, I regard the question of discovering submarines in the waters off Australia, as I suppose would most people, as a scientific problem, one to which we have not found the answer but one to which Australians on the whole have been able to attend with as much success as anybody else. In the course of this debate I would like to pay a tribute to the Australian defence science and its ancillary services in private industry with regard to the capacity to challenge and take up some of these issues. There is, I think, a very great under-considered strength in the Australian scientific base which ought to be given more money, more resources and more capacity to research these issues.

With regard to sea defence, we do not know what the equipment ought to be. Should we have more carriers of the sort of HMAS Melbourne"! Should we take up the opportunities that are available to implement the use of vertical take-off aircraft, such as the Harrier? I doubt whether we have applied ourselves enough to this debate. I have no doubt that this debate has been going on pretty thoroughly within the defence Services but, in the final analysis, defence is a question for the whole community. I turn to the provision of equipment. How many of anything do we want? Let us consider for a moment the question of tanks. Australia has purchased over 100 Leopard tanks. There would be sufficient for, I think, a bit more than a regiment plus reserves and things of that nature. Should we go ahead and start to manufacture our own tanks and build the number up to the 500 or 600 mark? Should we hold our industry available to do something about this matter? Is it possible to keep industry ticking over in such a way that at a given moment it has 6 or 12 months notice in which to produce these items? We are not sure.

One of the great difficulties concerning this debate is the tendency of Australians to say: 'Oh, it is too expensive. We ought to buy them overseas'. Of course, it is not possible to buy 400 or 500 tanks overseas off the shelf like that. The same thing, I think, applies to aircraft. My own feeling is that we are showing a tendency to try to procure too much sophisticated weaponry. If we look at our environment within 3000 miles of Australia, we see no country with aircraft which would be able to take on even the Mirage. In fact, I do not suppose that there is anything that could take on the Mirage effectively. There is certainly no force within 3000 miles of Australia, as my colleague the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) pointed out, which could land on Australia's shores. I suggest that the time has come for an open-ended debate. I feel that as far as equipment is concerned Australia should hold the line. If it means retaining the kind of equipment we have rather than taking expensive new steps to acquire some of the highly expensive specialised or fighter aircraft, we should hold off. I am not sure whether it is possible to continue with the equipment we have for another ten or 15 years but industry could probably continue to manufacture some of this equipment. It is important for Australia to reserve the capacity by keeping the people at work.

I have been a member of a sub-committee in the last few months which has been looking at these factories. I make a plea to the Government to take steps to keep them in effective continuing work. There is no way in which we can hold Australian workmen on the job if they feel they are not doing something that is worthwhile. At the present time, I would say, the greatest challenge we face in the field of defence is to maintain the industrial base and its capacity to take up the strain when we want it to and when we decide what is to be done.

I make one final plea for a continuing and more effective study of the reserve capacity of Australian forces which lies in the civilian community. I do not think we have adequately recognised for many years the potential strength in the civilian base, or the importance of it. It we are talking about small wars, the regular forces will be adequate but if we are talking about a major war- the Armageddon, one might say- then, of course, that means a total mobilisation. We have done little enough to retain a reserve base in the community in such a way that we can deal with a potential war or take up the capacity of the Australian community. I close with the comment that we under-rate Australia's capacity. I think we must concentrate more on developing selfsufficiency in every part of the defence area and put a lot more faith in the civilian capacity of Australia to support a defence effort.

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