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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2037

Mr WEBSTER(9.26) —I want to comment on four aspects of the White Paper. Firstly, I, like most others in the community, am concerned that the Government has not been willing to give clear budgetary commitments or targets for defence in this White Paper. The unanimous response by commentators on the White Paper has been `Where are the dollars?' Unfortunately, it must be assumed that the silence of the Paper on annual real term growth rates has been forced on the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) by Cabinet and is deliberate. Such silence is unacceptable. The Dibb report on the Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities identified the need for a minimum annual real term defence spending growth rate of 3 per cent. No informed commentator challenged that figure. The Minister has now tabled a paper which requires more of the Defence Department and forces than did the Dibb report. Yet we have no `money-where-our-mouth-is' commit- ment.

Let me state clearly how a responsible government should formulate Budget commitments and guidelines for Defence. It should determine what our interests are as a nation and how they are best to be pursued and protected. It should determine its defence budget on the basis of the realities of our international and regional strategy environment. Money should then be allocated on that basis, and not in the inverted fashion of setting a politically defined domestic budget and then determining which threats we will meet and which obligations we will jettison. It should remind itself and the nation that the defence of the country is, in the last instance, the most important of a Federal government's responsibilities and that, at the moment, programs which duplicate State responsibilities or are essential only in terms of favourable opinion polls are being funded at the expense of adequate Defence Force development. It should accept and explain to the electorate these words of Adlai Stevenson:

There are no short cuts to security, there are only short cuts to defeat.

Unfortunately, the Government is telling the people that there are short cuts. In his speech to the National Press Club on 25 March the Minister first asks:

Would anyone here believe the Government if it had promised defence spending growth?

All I can say to the Minister is, given this Government's record on promises, no one would have believed him; I agree. The Minister went on to argue that in `extraordinarily difficult budgetary circumstances' governments cannot guarantee defence growth. The implication is that there has been no political support in Cabinet in the past several years for giving defence the priority it deserves. I say again that the Minister's job is to create that support. Strategic and defence realities are objective, unlike the consumer demands that are crowding them out in Cabinet. They should not be traded off against domestically awkward Budget decisions. The Minister has announced capitulation on this matter. The White Paper and his recent speeches are a pre-emptive legitimisation of defence losses in forthcoming Budgets.

The worst aspect of the Press club appendix to the White Paper, however, is the Minister's claim that further defence growth is not required to sustain a credible defence policy; that current levels of spending are adequate for a self-reliant defence posture. That may be a politically necessary statement. It is certainly not an honest one. It is nonsense. In fact, I believe it is dangerous nonsense. It is not just the opposition saying this, it is outside experts who argue that major and regular increases will be required just to fulfil the White Paper's promises. Consider the litany of Defence Force weaknesses reported in yesterday's Australian: The operational deployment force is understrength and lacks a dedicated-to-task air mobility and adequate helicopter lift capability; deployment of the ODF would tie up the total resources of our existing fleet of strategic and tactical transport aircraft; we lack long-range, anti-armour and anti-air systems and the thick-skinned ground mobility needed to protect ourselves or an airhead against the sort of high-tech weaponry that even a low level lodgment force would bring; there is a critical lack of first line missile and other war stores to the extent that the Royal Australian Air Force would run out of ammunition in the first four weeks at the levels of usage needed to win the air battle; and the Royal Australian Navy is in no position to operate independently in medium level conflict because of the lack of organised air power. In passing, let me say that we need a commitment to this kind of responsible defence budgeting as much from the Opposition front bench as from the Government front bench.

The second inadequacy of the White Paper is in the area of service pay and conditions. For four years this area of defence policy-making has been neglected. This year service conditions began to emerge as an electoral issue. The Government's response was to set up committees, appoint consultants and make promises. The White Paper still does not reflect the urgency of the problems servicemen and women are facing. It still favours promise over substance, leaving unaltered the unacceptably low level allocated to this area in the Budget. Meanwhile the Government continues to oppose pay and allowance claims in the appropriate tribunals and has increased rent on housing. The problem is as Peter Young wrote yesterday in the Australian:

. . . the Minister is increasingly isolated by a staff and bureaucracy which sees the services as just another job.

Mr Young sums up the issue succinctly:

This Government has exploited to the full the traditions of loyalty and uncomplaining professionalism of the services. It has rewarded them with a selective wage freeze, poor housing, rent slugs and tax imposts, pension cuts, delays in promised reforms and an erosion of conditions of service-and then expressed surprise at why so many are leaving.

My third area of concern is the White Paper's failure to deal seriously with reserve forces, mobilisation and surge capacity. I have dealt with this concern in some detail in a speech on the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill. The fourth concern I have about this White Paper is that there is a total neglect of the social dimension of strategy-what a military historian, Michael Howard, calls `A forgotten dimension of strategy'. I refer to the attitude of the people upon whose commitment and readiness for self-denial operational, logistical and technical power depend. I refer to their willingness to maintain adequately armed forces in peacetime and their will to deploy and support them operationally in war.

I refer to the articulation of the political objectives of our armed forces as a Western democratic nation. There is an increasingly successful effort in our schools, churches, town halls and media to persuade Australians that it is wrong to maintain military forces and wrong to maintain military alliances. The effort, I regret to say, is directed in particular at young Australians. The irony of this situation is that some of those involved in this effort are in fact recipients of government grants.

These efforts must be matched by the Parliament and the Government. One response, I would suggest, would be for the Department of Defence to produce for high school students an education kit on the White Paper. I hope the Minister notes that suggestion. Another would be to examine the adoption of a legislated program for national security involving program examination via parliamentary hearings similar to the process of congressional security in the United States. Michael O'Connor has argued:

The military and the Defence Administration have made only token attempts to engage the electorate's support... Yet that very elitism denies it the support it needs for the development of an adequate National Security policy and capability. National Security, like any other product of Government, must be marketed as well as managed.

Such vigilance and concern for the social dimensions of strategy are required by the nature of Australian political life. We are a democracy. Like most other democracies we are, to quote Jean-Francois Revel, `in a state of intellectual and political indolence'. Revel argues:

Democracy tends to ignore, even deny, threats to its existence, loathes being what is needed to counter them. It awakens only when the danger becomes deadly, imminently evident. By then, either there is too little time left for it to save itself, or the price of survival has become crushingly high.

It is the Government's duty to acknowledge that reality and to nurture the moral, intellectual and political basis for our future defence. Five key aspects of its message should be: Firstly, the Pacific region and its energy supply routes are increasingly the key to the international economy and are the source of political and military friction. The shift of power from the Atlantic to the Pacific is reflected in the Soviet intrusion of late. Australians must be made aware of the geo-strategic realities of their region. They must also be reminded of the fragility of peace in South East Asia and, now, the Pacific. Secondly, Michael Howard writes:

There are certain recurrent patterns of power and of Imperial expansion in the past that have been too persistent to be ignored. I know of few occasions when small, wealthy and militarily weak states, involved in political rivalry with large and powerful neighbours on their frontiers, have retained their autonomy for very long.

Thirdly, as Professor Richard Pipes has argued, the manner in which a government treats its own citizens obviously has a great bearing on the way it will treat other nations. A regime that does not respect legal norms inside its borders is not likely to show respect for them abroad. If it wages war against its own people, it can hardly be expected to live at peace with the rest of the world. Australia's own region is the home for many such regimes. It is the focus of interest of the Soviet Union, the prime example of the truth of Professor Pipe's argument. Fourthly, it is morally right for a community to defend the freedom and lives of its members, by force, if necessary. It is in fact immoral, having accepted that, to inadequately equip and maintain those who take up the responsibility for that defence. Lastly, the view that we should fear our friends, such as the United States, and that there can be no enemies whose demands cannot be accommodated, is a distortion of reality and history.

The point which should be conveyed is that by the turn of the century our young people, as decision-makers, will face a region where the relevance of these comments will be unquestioned. They need to be informed, historically and morally, if the technology, logistics and operation blueprints in this White Paper are to be relevant in a decade's time.