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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2288

Mr KATTER(12.35) —I would like to thank the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) who, with his characteristic consideration, has been kind enough to make part of his time available to me particularly in view of the fact that he chairs the Sub-Committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. The Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) has made reference to the ANZUS pact and the importance of certain aspects of that pact. With the few minutes at my disposal I would like to have a look at this area generally; that is the South East Asian area and the Pacific and northern Pacific areas. I have learned that over the years we have not had formal agreements with Indonesia but we have had what we propose to call arrangements. I think it is fairly clear that those arrangements are pretty critical and vital to the security of this country. It is quite obvious that if Indonesia were to have a change in government, a change in attitude and loyalties, we could well be faced with a very difficult situation. Hence, though we would not in any way forsake our principles or our international attitudes, I think it is most unwise to jeopardise that relationship unless it was very valid.

The other matter I would like to mention is the north Pacific area. We are inclined to overlook this area. I think it came out in stark reality recently just how sensitive that area is. Two facts have emerged: Firstly, the Russians are deeply entrenched. I have mentioned this on previous occasions in this House on no lesser authority than that of Admiral Long. As I have said before, if we were to name the most powerful military person on earth we would have to name Admiral Long because he is the Commander-in-Chief Pacific-CINCPAC-he is the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Ocean area and more recently he has been given the responsibility in the Persian Gulf area. He is a man who inevitably must have his finger on the pulse of the threats that would exist in any of these areas. In a briefing that I was privileged to have with him, it was pointed out that the Soviets in the northern Pacific area have a base which is every bit equal in capability and equipment to that which exists in the European zone. It is capable of carrying on a global war from that area. That would explain the extreme sensitivity of the Soviets in the area and what they would consider an intrusion; hence the shooting down of the Korean 747 aircraft.

The other matter I would like to dwell on in this context is the redeployment of the two mirage squadrons from Butterworth. I can appreciate the necessity for this. I would like to stress-I think it is obvious to any of us who have been close to the defence scene over a period of years-that there is a sensitivity about face and a sensitivity about belonging in that area. I will explain that. I well remember when I attended the United Nations some years ago that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr McMahon, pointed out that it was extremely important that one gets to know, to understand and to try to relate to South East Asian delegates. His particular argument there was that it has got to be understood that we are not just one great European country which had very little in common with all of our Association of South East Asian Nations and other ethnic groups in the area because we were just one out. I attempted to get to know the South East Asian delegates and found that they were very amen- able, provided one did not put on a big brother attitude. Another thing that was stressed by Mr McMahon-I was able to confirm this at the United Nations-is that the matter of face and presence is extremely important. I want to discuss the matter of presence for a minute or two. I repeat that perhaps there were good reasons for the redeployment of our two mirage squadrons. One is already out and the other is to leave that area before very much longer. The Minister in his statement said that future arrangements would be considered at an appropriate time, or words to that effect. I am terribly interested to know what those arrangements will be. But from my own experience and from information from those who know much more than me and from their briefing it would appear to me that it is extremely important that we maintain a real and effective presence-not just a gesture-in that area. I sincerely hope that that does happen.

I would again like to make one or two comments on the aircraft carrier. I agree with the shadow Minister for Defence that a decision on this matter should be made very promptly. It was decided to-if one likes-scuttle HMAS Melbourne. This was worrying. I did make note of the fact that the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) pointed out that he was not arguing the merits or demerits of the matter of an aircraft carrier. Quite specifically, the inquiry that was held in relation to the desirability of an aircraft carrier for our general spectrum of defence was done with a great deal of care and extended over a very long period. Inquiries were held in many States and evidence was taken at all levels from Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot down. So there was a perfectly bipartisan approach to the whole matter. I went to one of the inquiries-I must be honest about this-convinced that we should have an aircraft carrier. I came out convinced that we should not have an aircraft carrier unless we were prepared to set aside the requirements of many other items which were critical to our defence, such as forward warning aircraft.

It is with great sadness that we depart from what was a major part of our equipment; that is, an Australian aircraft carrier. If we could have had three moderate aircraft carriers and we could have also had our new generation equipment and our new generation weaponry, which is vital to Australia, we would have made the most of it. We do that on the basis of three things: What we can afford, static defence and the ordinary conventional mobile defence. I could speak for hours on that matter, not just the few minutes that I have at my disposal. So much for the aircraft carrier. I sympathise with the many retired naval officers who have been particularly rude about my committee and its findings. I can understand their reactions, but I must ask them to have a look at the whole spectrum of consideration that we had to give to that matter. The decision of the committee, which was a totally bipartisan committee, was unanimous.

In the remaining minute I have, I would like to deal with the matter of cadets. I agree with the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Coleman) on one aspect; that is, it does affect more particularly the under-privileged schools. If I might give an example: When I was Minister for the Army I was driving through a little town called Mount Morgan. Mount Morgan, as my friend, the honourable member for Brisbane would know, has about 95 per cent Labor supporters. I happened to be passing by and saw a group of cadets in the backyard of the State school getting ready to go out on adventure training. That would have been the most enthusiastic, probably the most efficient group of cadets, the sons of miners-I do not know about the daughters, I do not know if they are included; there was not much sex discrimination about then-and ordinary toilers and battlers. They constituted one of the best cadet corps I had-not in the Kennedy electorate but in the whole area for which I was responsible and that was all of Australia by the way. I appeal to the Government-I do not know whether it is possible at this late stage-to have another look at this matter of cadets and, if possible, reverse the decision and give the State schools and the little blokes a bit of a go.

Question resolved in the affirmative.