Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2039

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(9.40) —I am pleased to rise in support of the defence White Paper. I know that my colleague, the honourable member for Brand (Ms Fatin), who has a particular interest in defence, will be making some very intelligent, as always, and worthwhile remarks on the matter. I know that people in her electorate will look forward to that.

It is interesting to follow the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Webster) because he is a well meaning member of the Parliament. One observation I make about his contribution is that he talked about the level of defence spending. I think that is one of the problems we have got into in this whole debate about defence-we think that somehow qualitatively it is always better to be spending more on defence but we never ask the appropriate question whether the defence spending we are engaging in is the most effective. I say that with well meaning. I think it is a very important issue to address. I am pleased that the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has spoken about that. The Australian community understands that these are difficult financial times. The Fraser Government attempted to set levels of defence spending and it was not possible to maintain those levels. For example, in the defence White Paper in 1976 there was an attempt to set a level of defence spending of 5 per cent real growth each year for five years. It lasted for one year. By 1977-78 real growth had fallen to zero.

I am not choosing this debate to try to focus on defence in a very partisan way, but I do want to say that the important thing that the Minister for Defence and people on this side are addressing is whether or not we have a proper understanding of our defence responsibilities. They are looking at whether we are using our resources in the most effective way. That needs to be understood and I think the wider community does understand it because, as I said earlier, these are difficult financial times. It is important that we recognise that it is the quality and the commitment that we get from our expenditure that is significant.

It is also interesting that the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, from our point of view, made some substantial advances. Paul Dibb concluded that a self-reliant defence posture can be achieved within the planning guidance of 3.1 per cent real growth, which was the basis of Department of Defence planning when he wrote his review. He did not, of course, conclude that it could not be done for less. As the Minister for Defence said in his speech, we are showing that it can. We on this side have heard the comments of the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Webster) but it is important to understand that we are concerned about the quality of defence spending and about having a defence focus.

This defence White Paper offers a departure from the past. Many people who have come to this place with a great degree of political motivation will recognise that very often our past defence spending has been in relation to some perceived threat, some dreamt of threat or some external involvement, we have tended to beef up our defence commitment to try to meet that. But this defence White Paper sets about putting together an appropriate structure for defence during peace time while recognising that we may have to encounter hostile circumstances.

At the outset, this defence White Paper is very sensible. It says that the Australian community has a commitment to defend itself. To some extent that has been understated in the past, but we need to say very strongly in the current debate that we have a commitment to defend ourselves. That is the first obligation. Defence self-reliance is what it is all about.

Further to that, this White Paper offers a discussion of defence in depth. I would like to talk about what that means in technical terms. There is a recognition in this paper and in this Government of our allies and our regional commitments. They are very important matters because any defence strategy of the Australian Government and the Australian people must also recognise our alliances and our regional role. Previous speakers have referred to that. I reiterate that and I commend to the Australian community that within this White Paper there is an understanding that Australia has appropriate commitments within our region.

The defence White Paper also pays attention to Australia's relationship with New Zealand. Many who have followed this debate in recent times will recognise that that has been a thorny area of defence considerations because of New Zealand's determination to take some decisions of its own. This White Paper very properly recognises that we can have our own alliance relationships with New Zealand while at the same time maintaining effective and stable alliance relationships with the United States of America. In my opinion that is a very important contribution, we have the notion of our alliance relationship and our regional involvement.

I say to the Australian people and to this House that this defence White Paper makes a substantial step forward in our debate on and understanding of defence involvement. But I also go back to the point I made earlier when I quoted from a speech by the Minister for Defence. One of the important things to understand is that we are not simply saying that there are ideals in defence that we would seek to set out towards but that we should recognise that we have to be realistic and careful in our spending and planning. That is what this paper is all about. It is a question of self-reliance in defence and realising that it is not just a matter of spending more and more but recognising what that spending is aimed at.

I will talk for a moment about some of the issues that I think are relevant. In talking about defence in depth, this paper addresses the question of intelligence. I note that there is a very important initiative here-the proposal to establish a satellite communications station in Western Australia near Geraldton. From the point of view of the honourable member for Brand and myself-we are both Western Australian members-this defence White Paper has that important understanding of the structure of our continent and our regional and continental defence involvement. That is very significant.

This White Paper also pays attention to broad area surveillance and addresses over the horizon radar capability and the development of Jindalee. To what is coming towards us, it is important not only to have the intelligence that I referred to-satellite communication, our alliance involvement and the intelligence we share with our powerful ally the United States-but also to know what over the horizon radar capability we have.

This paper also pays attention to the air surveillance and our airborne early warning capability. Our in-flight refuelling capability is also something that I think we ought to be signalling in this White Paper. These are important steps in understanding not only intelligence but also effective surveillance. Maritime surveillance is another important issue in the layer of defence that we are talking about. The Australian people would be pleased to know that this paper pays attention to the role of 20 P3C Orion long range maritime patrol aircraft. I say to the House and to the community that there is an understanding in this paper of the importance of intelligence, surveillance, anti-submarine surveillance and anti-submarine warfare.

I suggest to the Australian community that this paper provides some important new initiatives in that respect because it looks at our resources, at the deployment of those resources and the achievable level of resources in the short term. The achievable level of resources, of course, relates very specifically to the arrival of our new submarines, which will replace the Oberons, and to the effective deployment of FA18s.

This White Paper, in a very important way, has a lot of good news. It says that, in this sparsely populated continent we are not just looking at defending Botany Bay, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as the Minister for Defence said in a speech recently, but at defending this continent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That is a very important statement to make to the Australian people because, in a sense, it is reassuring. As has been the case in the past, it is not a statement made with the beating of drums in some frenetic endeavour to get involvement in some foreign expedition; it is a statement about what we have to do to defend the Australian people and to give them the sense of reassurance that this Government knows what it is about. The defence White Paper makes it very clear that we know what we are about.

Another important issue to be addressed in terms of the defence White Paper is mobility. Again, attention is paid in this Paper to the question of helicopters. The development of battlefield helicopters-the Black Hawk helicopters-will be an important addition to the Australian Army in its ability to be highly mobile and highly effective.

As the member representing Stirling in Western Australia-recognising that I represent Australia in the broadest possible sense-I am particularly pleased that this defence White Paper pays attention to mine countermeasures. It is true to say that this has been a vastly understated, untreated, and underrated issue in the past, but if one looks at some of our important strategic ports-and many of those are on the coastline of Western Australia-one can imagine the impact of the mining of those ports. We have seen recently the impact of the United States mining ports in Nicaragua. One can imagine the impact of mining in ports such as Port Hedland in Western Australia, or Sydney Harbour. This defence White Paper pays attention to how we would effectively deal with mine countermeasures.

I am suggesting to the House and to Australians that this White Paper is a recognition of our capabilities and of our resources, both immediately and in the near future. It is not charting the unmanageable or the unattainable; it is laying down a plan for defence and a defence strategy which is entirely achievable given our resource base and given our regional and alliance commitments. In terms of that we not only have to thank Paul Dibb for his contribution, his Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities presented to the Parliament last year, but also we must thank the Minister for Defence, his staff and the Department. They have put a great deal of work into what I think is viewed, not only within this chamber but within the other place and in the community, as being a very important statement about defence.

At a more personal and local level, I know that the Returned Services League sub-branches within my electorate of Stirling are very pleased that they will have the opportunity to have a discussion in the near future-just before Anzac Day-with the Minister for Defence. They are able to engage in discussion with a man who they highly respect-as we all do in this place-and to engaged in an issue which they regard as important in terms of their past commitment to this country. From the reception that this White Paper has received from the RSL itself, from the defence associations, from the Australian Democrats, and from the media, I think there is much to say in commending this report. It seems to me that it addresses a number of issues that previously were either not addressed with a proper understanding of defence or were left out of our consideration completely.

Other members wish to speak on this Bill and I want to give them some opportunity to speak this evening. I conclude by saying that we can reassure Australians that the Defence White Paper is an important document, an important statement about our defence capabilities, recognising our resource limitations. Ultimately, and importantly, it talks about defence self-reliance and defending this continent. It is a credit to this Government, to the Minister and to the people who have put work into this issue that this has been given such priority and has been addressed in such an effective way. Accordingly, I am pleased to commend the White Paper to the House.