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Thursday, 18 November 1976
Page: 2920


Mr FRY (Fraser) - I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the defence White Paper. I consider this Paper to be one of the most significant documents that the Government has issued. I consider that it is significant because for the first time a government document- a defence White Paper- has come out with a very clear message to the people of Australia that we cannot continue to rely on the support envisaged in the ANZUS Treaty. It sets out m very clear terms that there are severe limits on the extent to which we can rely on that treaty. I refer to paragraph 9 on page 2 of the paper which states:

The United States has now disengaged militarily from the mainland of South East Asia.

It goes on to say:

There must be large questions about the circumstances that could move the US Administration and Congress to agree to become militarily involved there again, particularly with ground forces.

This is reinforced later in the report at paragraph 8 on page 10 where it says:

Short of this major, and improbable, situation, one could face a range of other situations that we should expect to handle more independently. It is not our policy, nor would it be prudent, to rely upon US combat help in all circumstances. Indeed it is possible to envisage a range of situations in which the threshhold of direct US combat involvement could be quite high.

That is very significant because for many years it has been stressed on the Australian public that the ANZUS Treaty is the linchpin of Australia's defence and many people in recent years have questioned just how strong is that linchpin. It is very good to see this paper, and I commend it for saying clearly that there are very severe limits to the effectiveness of the ANZUS Treaty. If we look historically at how we have fared under the ANZUS Treaty it is apparent that it has served the American interest much better than it has served the Australian interest. Since the last World War we have been involved in 2 land wars, in Korea and in Vietnam, both of which I would say were in the American rather than our interest, and in the interest of the now discredited domino theory. American forces have not been involved in our interest in any way. If we had wanted to take a more independent policy in West Irian or, more recently, in Timor we would have been inhibited in doing so because of the lack of American support. America just was not interested in looking after our interest in those areas.

This is a very good statement and I commend it for saying clearly that there are severe limitations on the ANZUS Treaty. That is the positive aspect of the paper. However, it also is significant because of its negative aspects and although it points out the different situation in which we are now placed strategically and says that we have to take a more independent role in the continental defence, it does not tell us how we are to do that. It does not indicate any new analysis or reassessment of the needs to do that or tell us how we can do it. The White Paper in fact shows up glaring deficiencies in both our defence organisation and defence equipment. One of the most glaring shortcomings, and I say this in a non-partisan way because it is not something which has happened recently, is the low proportion of our defence expenditure which is devoted to equipment compared with other nations. This past year I understand it was only about 8 per cent. To the Government's credit it is increasing it to 13 per cent in 1976-77 and hopes to increase it to 22 per cent by 1981. However, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics spent 27 per cent on equipment, the United States of America 30 per cent and West Germany about 30 per cent. So we are spending considerably less than are other nations and much less than half of our defence budget goes on equipment. However, I concede that it is not a straight comparison because our manpower costs are relatively high.

The other disturbing aspect of our equipment situation is the emphasis on replacement by more of the same thing. There is no analysis of the different options we might follow to meet the new strategic demands which the White Paper points out very well. There is no reassessment of our needs. All we see is that the usual sorts of equipment are being replaced with the same sort of equipment but in later models. This applies to tanks, destroyers and reconnaissance aircraft. We are getting more of the same and nothing new. There is no questioning of the cost effectiveness of these items of equipment. It has been said by many people that we should question the cost effectiveness, for instance, of destroyers as compared with fast patrol boats. Many people think that fast patrol boats would be much more appropriate to the new needs which have been outlined effectively in the strategic assessment. There is a grave inconsistency here because the White Paper points out the new defence environment in which we live and says that we have to be more independent, less dependent on the United States and we have to organise ourselves for more joint force operations; but there is no reassessment of how we should do this. There is provision of more of the same equipment.

It says that we have to respond quickly but historically we have usually been concerned with supplementing other countries' forces as we did for America and as we did during the war in the islands and in Vietnam. The White Paper however indicates that we should not do that. It says that we have to stand on our own feet but there is no mention of the equipment that would enable us to do this in the most effective way. I question too the retention of the divisional organisationa divisional structure- because the strategic assessment does not indicate that we would be likely to use divisions. We would be more likely to use regimental, battalion or brigade forces. So why do we retain the divisional organization? In chapter 7 there is no discussion on the vulnerability of defence facilities. It is all right to have all these facilities but they are vulnerable and this aspect is not discussed in any way. There is no reassessment of how they can be made less vulnerable and despite the vulnerability of some of our defence being disclosed by cyclone Tracy in Darwin, we find that those facilities have been replaced by the same sort of facilities in the same situations. They are just as vulnerable now as they were when cyclone Tracy hit them.

I am disappointed that there was no reference to military aid to Indonesia. Although I know that many people will justify this there are others who question the propriety of Australia giving approximately $30m of taxpayers' money m defence aid to Indonesia which is likely to use this aid, even in an indirect way, to subsidise acts of aggression on defenceless neighbours. Many people question this. There is no reference in the whole of the assessment to Timor. It does not get a mention. Vietnam does not get a mention although a few years ago the whole thing was about Vietnam. It was the great threat to Australia under the domino theory. Now the wheel has turned and we do not get a word about Vietnam. There is a chapter on what the objectives should be in relation to defence capability but there is no assurance that the plans outlined in the White Paper go any way towards achieving those objectives. The White Paper poses the problems but does not give the answers.

I want now to mention very briefly the inadequacy of any mention of political rights in the conditions of service. I know that the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) is endeavouring to correct this deficiency and I hope he persists with it. Other Ministers have tried to correct it but for some reason have not succeeded. I know that there is considerable opposition, particularly in the bureaucracy, to liberalising the political rights of servicemen, but now that they have been liberalised for public servants they should be liberalised to the same degree for servicemen.

What we should be really concerned about in this paper is that there is no overall strategy set out for our continental defence. There is no indication of how we are planning to handle this continental defence and to meet contingencies. Perhaps the public should not know, but when people in the Services, including high ranking officers, do not know what the overall strategy is or what the contingencies are we should be concerned. There is a lack of clear direction and purpose in our defence planning. That is a serious deficiency and I hope the Minister will say something about it. There is no existing command control organisation in the Australian defence organisation. There is no Australian defence command. All we know is that there is a CommanderinChief who lives at Yarralumla. If there were a war tomorrow there is no on-going organised command which could take over. Certainly we have a Chief of the General Staff and heads of the various armed forces, but the process of setting up a command organisation would have to start from scratch. In other countries these are permanent establishments. The command organisation is there ready to be put into operation at a moment's notice. We have no such organisation.

Debate interrupted.







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