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Prime Minister's statement on the deployment of Naval ships in the Persian Gulf and the Opposition Leader's response

JENNY HUTCHISON: This week's extensive debate on the Prime Minister's statement about the Persian Gulf, involved not only the leaders of all political parties but a total of more than 40 MPs - a fifth of the Parliament. Most speakers regarded it as probably the most important parliamentary debate they'd participated in. We'll just bring you edited highlights of the two key speeches. First, the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke.

BOB HAWKE: The Government will now authorise the ADF to deploy ships of our task force, from the Gulf of Oman, into the Persian Gulf, to exercise and operate with allied naval forces, in preparation for that role. The ADF will also now participate in allied military planning.

Mr Speaker, these steps need to be taken now, because they are essential to ensuring that our ships are fully prepared to operated as safely and as effectively as possible, should conflict erupt. I do not formally commit Australian forces to any action, ADF units will remain at all times under Australian national command. As well as maintaining the task force of three ships, the Government will send another two medical teams, totalling some 20 people to join the two already serving on hospital ships in the Gulf. It is not proposed to make any other contribution of naval, air or ground forces. Australia's naval task force will be maintained at the present level of two combat ships and a supply ship. The frigates HMAS Darwin, and HMAS Adelaide will leave the Gulf region to return to Australia in the next day or two, after being replaced by the frigate HMAS Sydney and the destroyer HMAS Brisbane.

This, Mr Speaker, is a significant commitment which is proportionate to the interest we have at stake and to our national resources. It is also a practical commitment, our ships are in the area and they are trained and equipped for this task, and we are confident that they will be properly prepared for the role they may have to play. Should conflict break out, naval forces in the Gulf could face a serious threat, particularly from Iraqi aircraft. The role of our ships will be, help to defend against that threat, it will be a hazardous role. The decision I am announcing today is therefore a very serious one, I've consulted with the Leader of the Opposition on it. In taking that decision, I am fully conscious of the difficult task we are asking our Navy to perform. We recognise the great contribution they are making to Australia and to world peace.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Now the Opposition Leader, Dr Hewson.

JOHN HEWSON: Sometimes the indication of an unmistakable intention to use force is the best means of ensuring that such force is not used. The time has come to give that tactic a chance to work in the current crisis. We hope that the current planning for offensive action does not need to be implemented. We hope that Saddam Hussein will come to his senses and that the principles laid down by the United Nations will be respected. But equally, we believe that these objectives will only be achieved if the pressure on Saddam Hussein is maintained, and if the intentions of the international community are made unmistakably clear. It is in that context that the Opposition supports the decision concerning the role of the Royal Australian Navy ships in the Gulf which the Prime Minister announced in the House today. It is a decision which is consistent with the view, which both the Government and the Opposition have expressed, about the significance of the Gulf Crisis, and Australia's interests in its outcome. Our support for the Government's decision is based on a thorough and careful analysis of the issues it raises.

The Shadow Cabinet, had the benefit yesterday of an extended briefing from the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Hudson, and other senior officers. We are grateful to Admiral Hudson for his assistance, and we appreciate the speed with which the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Defence responded positively to our request. Last night I wrote to the Prime Minister, to convey the Opposition's in-principle support for his decisions to broaden the geographic deployment and operational role of our Navy ships. I also indicated the Opposition's support for the Government's decision to send additional defence force medical teams to the Persian Gulf.

JENNY HUTCHISON: To the visible and audible annoyance of the Prime Minister, Dr Hewson then noted that Mr Hawke had had to accommodate different factional viewpoints within his party. Both the Left and Centre Left factions, had insisted that Australia's commitment would be limited to a maximum of three ships, two medical teams, and definitely no ground troops. However, by Thursday the Prime Minister said, that if the possibility of an additional military contribution arose, the Government would consider, and have discussions about it.

And then other international issues discussed this week - on Thursday the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Evans, made a ministerial statement about progress to settlement of the Cambodian conflict. The Senate unanimously agreed to a motion from Australian Democrat Vicki Bourne, supporting the struggle of the people of Tibet, for freedom and self determination. During private business in the House of Representatives on Thursday, backbenchers debated the rate of world population growth. And the Government responded to a parliamentary committee report on Third World debt.