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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2284

Mr COLEMAN(12.09) —In welcoming the statements this morning of the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) and the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) , I also welcome the remarks made by the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison) in his speech. He made the point that in dealing with these grave matters it is necessary to look beyond making points by political sparring and to think in terms of the national interest. I know that the honourable member has made that sort of point before. If I may say so, it is a statesmanlike attitude that many honourable members on this side of the House would share. Nevertheless I feel that when the honourable member says we must avoid political sparring, he sometimes smudges or overlooks the fact that there are real and basic philosophical differences between the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia. If honourable members express themselves through political sparring, it is simply one form of expression of the real differences that exist. I do not think it is enough to dismiss all disagreements based on these philosophical differences as mere sparring. Still, Mr Deputy Speaker, I join with the others on this side of the House in welcoming the statements. I certainly welcome the general approach as outlined by the Minister for Defence when he espoused the concept of what I hope I may still call 'the free world'. In one part to his statement he said:

The Government's stance in regard to the relations between the two super powers has been frequently expressed by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and is unequivocal. We are part of a community of nations with common ideals of open democratic government. That is not a matter of political posture or rhetoric. It reflects the deep-seated political and social values of the nation.

That is a very fine statement. It is certainly an improvement-one may as well be blunt about it-it is a great improvement on the statements made by the now Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) who when in Opposition, was shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was able time and again to give speeches and addresses on the global balance without even mentioning the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the United States of America, the Association of South East Asian Nations, Afghanistan or Vietnam. He made that famous statement in Brisbane a year or so ago that the principal source of conflict between the USA and the USSR was control of strategic areas and resources and that Australia has no interest in this struggle; that is, that Australia has no interest in who controls the world. That sort of neutralism and isolationism was very characteristic of the Deputy Prime Minister and is quite thoroughly rejected in the statement by the Minister for Defence. This statement is also certainly an improvement on what the present Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) and former Leader of the Opposition used to say; he insisted on an Australia veto of the use of the base at North West Cape, otherwise, he said, we will close it down. He was extremely outspoken in his opposition to the previous Government's commitment in the Sinai.

So there has been a change in rhetoric, and it is an improvement, but nevertheless it would seem that very little follows in fact from the change in rhetoric, because we have what boils down to an isolationist defence policy from the Minister. No serious commitment has been articulated in any detail in any defence decision made in regard to the world alliance. No serious statement has been made on Soviet expansionism in the world. How could there be, because the same influences are still there. The Deputy Prime Minister has not renounced the views that I quoted earlier. The Foreign Minister has not renounced the views that I quoted earlier. Indeed, the awful deterioration in our relations with ASEAN is one of the main consequences of his policy.

The Minister for Defence Support has been most outspoken, and I have not the slightest doubt about his sincerity, on the need for Australia to give humanitarian and economic aid to Marxist Grenada and Nicaragua. When he is criticising Indonesia, when he is criticising the Philippines, when he is criticising Dr Kissinger, these influences are still there, and they are possibly more prominent now than when the present Government was in Opposition. We find the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) defending the Gaddafi regime in Libya. So although the rhetoric has improved, the influences on the hard decisions are still there and the consequence is what amounts to an isolationist defence policy. As I have said, there is no serious articulation here, no serious awareness of any aspect of Soviet expansionism. Of course the Minister for Defence knows of Soviet activity in Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay. Everybody now knows about Soviet-Cuban activity in Grenada. The Minister of course knows about Vietnam-Soviet activity in Cambodia and Laos. All these things are well known, but no awareness of it is expressed in the Minister's statement.

As I have said, the rhetoric has changed but the decisions are unsatisfactory. The rhetoric is not carried through. This unsatisfactory state of affairs in the defence policy began almost immediately after the change of government in March this year. It began within days of the election with the decision, while the HMAS Melbourne was corroding and being cannibalised in Garden Island in my electorate, to abandon any plans to purchase a replacement aircraft carrier. This was carried through with the decision on the Fleet Air Arm. It was carried through further later with the decision on the superannuation tax, with the decision to tax the incomes of members of the reserves, and with the undermining of the school cadet system. It is possible that one could say, given the isolationism of the Government's general philosophy-in practice as distinct from rhetoric-and given the financial restrictions on the Minister, that he has done the best he can. I am prepared to concede that, given those terrible restraints. Nevertheless, the consequences are an unsatisfactory policy and an increasing and grave morale problem in the Services, of which the Minister is very well aware.

Let us refer, for example, to the members of the reserves, who are to be taxed, who are to have their training time reduced, who are to have their real funds reduced and who are now to have the increased responsibility for the cadet system if the new system works. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be aware that I have three fairly distinguished cadet corps in my electorate-at Scots College, Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Grammar School. I have to say that the Minister's handling of this matter has been fairly shabby. There has been no consultation with the cadet corps. There is to be-obviously there will have to be in the end- but consultation is coming only after the decisions have been made.

Clearly, we have a scheme which undermines the school cadets, which is of course what the Government is interested in. We are to have a new scheme of cadets, but outside the school framework for the most part. They will become open units and the headmasters will lose the authority to approve the officers who are appointed. In many cases they are masters, parents or old boys of the schools. The cadets' activities will presumably be undertaken at night time. The questions that have not been answered are: How can the reserves possibly handle the cadets? How can they replace the officers of the school cadets? Indeed, how can they possibly absorb many thousands of boys in the existing cadet system, to mention the figures in New South Wales only?.

Two other points about this development are worth noting. Because it is attaching the cadets not to the schools but to the reserves it means, does it not, Mr Deputy Speaker, a return to the emphasis or the over-emphasis on military training-that is what the reserves are about-and a getting away from the way in which the school cadets were being developed since they were restored by the former Government in the late 1970s, with much more emphasis placed on non-military aspects of their work? Further, it is worth noting that the schools which will suffer the most will be the State schools. If some schools want to maintain the school cadets-I am sure, say, Scots or Grammar in my electorate will want to do so-they will, with difficulty, and by adding to their burdens, be able to manage it. But many of the State schools with fewer financial resources at their disposal will not be able to do so even if they want to. The school cadets will disappear into the proposed new system. It seems to me that the whole thing is a pretty shabby deal and a pretty unsatisfactory way of negotiating or not negotiating these developments. I think the Minister must be censured for the way in which he has handled this matter.

Let me refer now to the statement of the Minister for Defence Support. He has taken up the themes of the Hamer report, the Katter Sub-Committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence report and the Utz Defence Review Committee report and he is to be congratulated on that. Those aspects of his statement are to be welcomed. The Minister said: 'The run-down had to be reversed' and 'More self-reliance is necessary'. These are the sorts of statements that the Minister has made and they are good. However, again, it would seem that the rhetoric is good, but we are not satisfied on the follow- through.

The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) made many points in that respect which I will not repeat. But I ask the Minister why he did not use the opportunity to say some of the things which we were hoping he would say and explain some of the policy decisions that he has made. I am referring, for example, to his decision to suspend the planned visit to the Philippines by officers of his Department to inspect the Swedish Bofors gun mountings on vessels belonging to the Philippines Navy and the blocking of the proposed technology transfer by which Australia would supply the know-how and equipment to set up a propellants manufacturing plant in the Philippines. This was a decision which we learnt of a couple of weeks ago which was reported, for example, in the Australian Financial Review under the headline: 'Government Gets Military Supply Lines Confused'. I do not know what loss of finance is involved in that decision. This newspaper report quotes the Minister's office as saying:

. . . that reports that the frozen deals might be worth as much as $15million were highly exaggerated.

We are also told that the Minister regarded the existing guidelines as too loose . He said that he would withhold approval of several arms deals involving his Department until the guidelines were overhauled. This is a pretty serious decision setting us in confrontation with the Philippines. It cuts across the policies of the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs. It complicates further our deteriorating relationship with ASEAN and it raises questions about many other programs that may also be under threat from the Minister's decisions. This is pretty important, but the Minister did not explain why he had taken this decision. We have on record his public attitude to Indonesia, with which we also have defence support arrangements. But it would seem that they too are under threat. Again the Minister has not told us why.

I conclude by referring briefly to the modernisation development on Garden Island, which is in my electorate, mentioned by the Minister. Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope to have an opportunity later in the day to refer to it at greater length. This is a matter of very great controversy. The Minister referred to it, but he seems to be unaware of the very great complaints from residents, particularly those associated with the Potts Point Protection Association. I am not asking the Minister to accept the residents' complaints entirely, but they are very deep and seriously meant complaints. I am disappointed that, in referring to Garden Island, the Minister did not go into that. It is another case of being pleased with what the Minister had to say but being displeased at what he did not have to say in his statement.