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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr NEIL (St George) -The Government is to be congratulated on the production of the White Paper on defence. It provides a reasonable, realistic assessment of the basis upon which we can plan for the future. There are 2 matters to which Opposition members have referred which I reject, even though I believe they are sincere in their views. I reject the concept that we have time to prepare. I assert that we may not have time. Nobody can predict the future or choose with certainty between the 2 alternatives. But the emphasis must be placed upon the fact that we may not have time. Secondly, I reject the concept that a country, for the purpose of defence, must spend what it can afford. I assert that this country must spend what is reasonably necessary as a bare minimum to provide for the security of the nation. Any other approach is in direct conflict with what is stated in the first sentence of the introduction to the White Paper. It states:

The first responsibility of government is to provide the nation with security.

Therefore, it is the first priority of the Government. The White Paper is the culmination of this year's activities by the Government to reinstate defence to its true position in the Australian political and social scene. Throughout the year the Government has shown the necessary political will. The leadership has been given to the community. The Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) and his assistant Minister, the Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay), are to be congratulated. They have done what is required of them. Together with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), they have been instrumental in providing the drive that obtained the money which is so vital to the future development of our defence forces. They have shown a degree of leadership to the forces. The have encouraged members of Parliament to go out amongst the forces and to attend exercises to show to the Australian community that members of the Government- I know that members of the Opposition have done this also- are vitally interested in the welfare of the Services.

We have seen during this year that the defence forces themselves have proved themselves in exercise Kangaroo II and in other exercises. Certainly, there are lessons to be learnt. But the performance of the forces on those exercises has shown that Australia can have great pride in the performance of its servicemen and in the current state of our forces. The White Paper has set out the equipment procurements that are to be undertaken in the near future. It has set the basis for a most valuable debate in the community. But it is absolutely vital that we do not forget that this is the commencement of the real decision making process. The task now is for the nation in general, but in particular for the Department of Defence- the defence planners- to give us now the decisions that are required to put the nuts and bolts into those parts of the White Paper which do not go into detail. In particular, we must amplify any areas of the strategic assessment which are necessary to give clear guidance to the forces. We must continue to amplify the point of self-reliance because this nation is to be substantially self-reliant in the future. We must continue to amplify the types of potential threats that this country might face- the various levels of threat from the low level to the high level. We need to work on our doctrines to produce the new concepts that are necessary.

There are some gaps in the White Paper. The current requirements for defence capabilities are set out, but we do not have the force structure established. The most vital and urgent task is to settle the force structure. Then we can start to purchase properly for the force structure that we ave determined upon. Then we can start to put our doctrines into effect and enable everyone to get on with the job. The other thing upon which, in my view, the White Paper could be a little more specific is the time tables for equipment procurement. I understand that some of the decisions which are obviously very important will not be made for some time; for example, I refer to the actual fighter aircraft replacement and the establishment of the requirements for the tactical transport replacement. A number of tactical transport aircraft are well known throughout the world. Those requirements probably could be set out in the very near future and a decision could be brought forward quite quickly. I suggest that it is vital that we now develop the timetable and a plan for the all-round defence of Australia within our strategic assessment. We must settle the force structure. We must look at the types of concepts that other countries apply. I think that the best approach is to look in broad terms at two of the concepts adopted by the Swedes. Firstly, there is the doctrine of deterrence. We must ensure that we are able to deter any potential aggressor. We do not seek the offensive. Australians are not a warlike people. But if required, we are a fighting people and we will deter any person who attempts to interfere with the territorial integrity of this nation.

Secondly, we must look at the doctrine of the marginal force of the aggressor. No aggressor can apply to this country any more than a specified percentage of his resources because he is committed elsewhere. The Japanese were never able to allot a substantial force to Australia compared with those that they had in Burma and China. We must realise that we can do a lot with a little but nothing with nothing. If we have a balanced, reasonably sized, efficient force structure and the equipment to go with it upon which we can expand, we will be able to do a great deal to make the price of entry into this country by an aggressor absolutely prohibitive. Our force structure must be based around a proper maritime and air strike capability. We have to decide how many squadrons of aircraft we want and how many ships we want for particular jobs. Our land defence forces ought to be based around one regular division and 2 reserve divisions. They may not operate necessarily in accordance with their divisional structure all the time. Obviously, we need highly mobile task forces as subsidiary elements. We obviously need a presence in the east of Australia, in the west of Australia and in the north of Australia. We need a presence there with forces that can respond quickly and can move very speedily to deal with small scale eventualities or can be the basis of build-ups for large scale problems. We also need naval forces that are mobile and that are able to cover all those areas. The force structure is an important task. We must continue also to exercise and to train the forces as they now stand.

There is a great deal we can do if the purse strings are opened just a little to ensure that the forces are active, that we do not run out of petrol going out the front gate so preventing troops reaching training areas and getting on with the job. The recent Kangaroo II exercise has shown that we can exercise at a high level. We must learn from those exercises the importance of communication, electronics and radio equipment. All these lessons must be collated and for relatively small sums of money we can provide the equipment on which the forces can train. The Germans trained on cardboard tanks. Guderian and his fellow generals developed their doctrines on most primitive equipment and then when their war came they got their equipment into order and were able to put their doctrines into practice with great effect in the early stages.

We must retain key personnel and ensure that our skilled people in the forces are able to continue their vital roles. We must look for more training areas. The Americans benefited from the Shoalwater Bay exercise as much as we did because they have a limit on training areas which they can use and which are so large and extensive as to allow that type of training. We should be looking around Australia to purchase tracts of land at reasonable prices on which we can train. The British have to send some of their forces to Canada for reasonably large-scale exercises because they are limited in this regard in Europe. We must look towards a further study of the joint force concept, including command and control and, most importantly, we must look at logistics because I doubt that exercise Kangaroo II could have been carried off in the north-west of Australia. For example, there are very few rail flat-tops which could transport tanks or heavy tractors and the like. We could have a tremendous problem with water supply. We have insufficient roads, railways and ports and these go with the development of the nation. They are not solely related to defence. They assist us to develop this great country to what it should be.

We must look at technology and be prepared to purchase the precision guided weapons which will be necessary and in the far future we must look to those technological advances which, albeit costly, will give this country a sensible anti-nuclear system. There are, for example, potential energy sources such as lasers which the Americans have very much in the embryo stage. The Japanese are experimenting with some types of electronic counter measures and the like. These would be expensive but we must coordinate with the leaders in the world in these spheres so that we can get in on the latest technology so that if the worst ever occurred we would have some means in the far future of deflecting missiles which might be aimed at this country. At least we would let the people realise that there is some way in which this can be done.

We have to look at all the details of equipment procurement. I suggest that we need a small amount of the best equipment which the core force can use but also a larger amount of second line but good adequate stock equipment because there is no substitute for numbers in some circumstance. If we are to have a 200-mile economic maritime zone we will need a reasonably large number of ships to control that area. However we need a small and effective amount of very high technology equipment. The core force has to be able to train on it and expand and have the gear available with which to expand. Undoubtedly the figures I have suggested for a land force would enable that expansion.

The reserve must be tied in with the total force concept. No Australian conscript should ever have served in Vietnam and the reason conscripts did was that the Army reserve was not capable of commitment as units. I do not say that that was the sole reason. Many individuals from the reserve served and some subsidiary units served, but in general the Government was unable to commit the reserve. A full effort must be made to ensure that the reserve is brought up to strength and is given the equipment, training and the necessary wherewithall to be activated if need be. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) recently spoke to the Army reserve and I am sure that his speech gave it great heart. The legal obstacles to the use of the reserve in certain circumstances are referred to in the White Paper and the sooner we get a debate on it, the sooner we get employers coming to the party, the sooner the Government subsidises employers for the extra time young men might have to take off from work the better. Young men nowadays will be asked by their wives not to forsake their annual holidays to go into training camps. They will take a couple of weeks extra a year and forsake the lathe or the assembly line. We must ensure that the reserve is given a full military aid to the civil community role. We must ensure that industry is given full support and in this regard I agree with what the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) and the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) have said about industry. I am on the same parliamentary committee as the honourable member for Wills.

It is absolutely vital that our electronics and design facilities m particular are operating, that the skills are maintained and that we build our industries and their defence capability. In doing that we will help build this nation. It is also vitally important that we do not neglect research and development because in that field we are going to provide for ourselves the potential to fulfil the equipment needs we are going to have to keep in the game, and the price of staying in the game is high. If the international situation deteriorated this country could become the biggest sore thumb in history. People do not always go to war when they are ready, certainly not when they are willing, and very often not when they are able; it is usually when their political masters send them or an enemy dictates that they should. It is vital that we recognise the fine role of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and that we have a combined foreign, domestic and defence policy that is integrated to plan for the future. A timetable and plans must be developed as soon as possible. Then this country will be defended by its people under any circumstances.

Debate (on motion by Mr Fry) adjourned.

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