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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2042

Mr MacKELLAR(9.55) —I am glad that the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards) has recognised the work that has gone into the compilation of the White Paper. I am afraid that the latter third of his speech was a classic example of words expanding to fill the time available, but he did have some real appreciation of the moves the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has made in the development of this White Paper. I believe the Minister is to be congratulated for the intellectual energy that he has brought to his portfolio. I am very pleased that he has exhibited a capacity to move away from the naive foreign policy attitudes which the Australian Labor Party brought into Government in 1983.

When looking through this White Paper we see that the irrelevant posturings have now gone, for before us-I think it can be truly said-we have a well argued and a well presented document. The Minister states in the policy paper `The Defence of Australia' the full range of matters before the Government in the defence area: Policy, strategy, forces, industrial and scientific support, personnel, and associated resources. Tonight, I would like to direct comment to the issue of strategy and the special way the Minister manipulates the concept. He talks of defence strategy and associated military strategy. He describes this as `self-reliance set firmly within the framework of our alliances and regional associations'. He makes a major acknowledgment, a one-liner of overwhelming significance. This is it:

The support they give us makes self-reliance achievable.

That is the major gesture to the concept that Australia cannot go it alone, that we are dependent on a system of alliances. Yet for so long, so much of his Party has for years attacked the consistent support for alliance strategy, founded, framed, enlarged and sustained by the parties on this side of the House. Because of the acknowledgment of the role the alliance plays in our defence, and having in mind his limited employment of the word `strategy', I think it is important to open up the debate on a wider basis.

Let us look again at our strategic environment, the environment which dictates the responses we have to make if we are to give adequate guarantees to the people of Australia that Australia can defend itself. The strategic environment is conditioned by the fact that Australia is centrally positioned by her geography to supply critical support to Western security interests in the Indian Ocean and the Western and South Pacific, because the outcome of security issues of those regions fundamentally determines the nature of the residual problem left for Australian defence. As the Minister correctly states, this area is one where no regional power has the capability to mount a major attack on Australia. Within that framework he discusses the defence requirement of contingencies of a major attack. But I submit that this does not describe the process by which the residual is a problem we can adequately-given sensible processes-cope with. Major attacks are not merely those which are held at bay by estimates of success. They are deterred by a mix of factors, not least by the diplomatic environment.

Here, I believe that the Minister has shown skill and acumen by his emphasis at a time when we are making estimates of defence needs and not expectations. In this section his statement notes that we are fortunate in having near neighbours with peace-loving intentions and a policy of retaining that relationship as an important aspect of our diplomatic effort. It is useful to note here that this positive aspect of our strategic environment is the outcome of sustained policies and interaction and support with our neighbours on the issue of defence. Here at last is the confession by a Labor Government that the defence co-operation policies, and the diplomatic policies of coalition governments, have resulted in a neighbourhood environment which considerably enhances the security of our nation. That is exactly the outcome predecessor governments of the coalition worked for and developed over many years.

It is fair to note that there are growing pressures on the stability of South East Asia, notably the Soviet presence in Cam Ranh Bay. Here I draw to the attention of honourable members to page 13 of the Minister's distributed text. The Minister is talking about the dimension of our continuing co-operation with the United States. I quote the Minister because not only is the passage a major confirmation of coalition government policies but it offers a sound basis for consolidating public opinion in support of our alliances. The Minister says:

This Government has had several opportunities to view the situation afresh and has concluded that there is substantial political value in our co-operation.

The Soviet Union's naval and air presence at Cam Ranh Bay is a significant concern for Australian defence policy. The Soviet Union does not enjoy naval and air dominance in the region, and in the event of global conflict its military assets in Vietnam would be very vulnerable to US forces in the region. Nonetheless its presence is an adverse element in regional security.

Its primary significance lies in the political influence it provides the Soviet Union. It gives added importance to our defence co-operative activities in the region, particularly our maritime surveillance of the South China Sea and the north-east Indian Ocean, and our naval deployments to the region.

That is a quotation from the Minister. I ask the House to note the start of it:

This Government has had several opportunities to view the situation afresh . . .

Having taken those several opportunities, the Minister has, to his credit, come to the conclusion that the policies that were put in place by the coalition were, in fact, correct.

The Minister also makes it quite clear that New Zealand Defence policy subtracts from the total sum of allied capacity to balance the Soviet buildup. The word `buildup', I acknowledge, is one that the Minister avoids. The fact is that New Zealand has not got the message that most Australians regard the New Zealand Government as doing in defence security what her citizens are doing here in unemployment security; that is taking a free ride. It is a matter of some perplexity that the New Zealand Government can continue its approach in the light of the overwhelming evidence that the Soviet Union is penetrating the New Zealand region of primary strategic interest. What the Minister's statement in effect demonstrates is that the New Zealand disease should not rub off on us, although it is sad to remind ourselves that the Minister felt obliged to go to such a considerable length to demonstrate the negative contribution that New Zealand is making to the allied security profile and the stability of our strategic environment in the Pacific, a region now under primary threat from the Soviet Union.

The essential fact is that the stability of the Asia-Pacific region is not something to be taken for granted. The great economic benefits we desire from the region are accessible only if the region maintains its inherent security strength and the United States continues to sustain a confident view that the active presence of her strength is not only necessary for the United States but is also perceived by its allies to be necessary for their security. The element of mutuality in our interests with the Association of South East Asian Nations and Pacific Forum nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans is a fundamental one. It should not lose emphasis because of the copious eccentricities flowing from New Zealand.

Moving on from a discussion of the issues in our strategic environment, I point out that the steady development of a growing capacity for self-reliance has been a growth much sought after by our allies, particularly the United States. We see in the statement by the Minister the justification for those decisions once questioned by his Party. As we know, the Government has been in office for four years. It is only reasonable to accept that there will be new decisions required, but what are those decisions? It is hard, I submit, to come to grips with an answer to that question on the basis of the documents produced.

The Minister knows that the economic situation places any form of defence purchase in jeopardy. We know that defence is being traded off for other demands. The Government has, quite clearly, brought our dollar into international disrepute. It is not only the mortgagees who are finding the high interest rates and the low dollars a problem; it is also our Department of Defence because modern defence equipment is extremely expensive, and our dollar simply does not buy as much as it once did. Thus the defence purchases from the United States, so highly praised by the Minister as a supplier, have to be slowed down.

The Government finds that it cannot be specific about re-equipment. Particularly is this true in respect of the Navy. We know that submarines are to be the new investment, but we look in vain for specifics. When will the Government make a decision on the type of submarine? When will it say how many? When will it say where they will be built? When will it say when they will come into service? I call on the Government to be more specific about future re-equipment proposals. A White Paper needs to come to grips with the basic issues. Industry is being kept in suspense and key service personnel are resigning because of the dithering and the uncertainties. Not even the country of source of the submarines has been decided-Germany and Sweden are contending. Why is there not a clearer situation to report to this House instead of the generalities that have been produced in the White Paper?

The weakness is that the Government believes in something it cannot afford. Will it now come forward and say what we can afford and why? Let us stop the shilly-shallying and get on with the business of decision making. That is the job ahead that needs to be done, but the Government simply cannot get its act together. The reality is that self-reliance is no more and no less a policy of doing the best we can within the framework of alliance priorities. Despite some claims that the Minister invented the concept of self-reliance, in fact he did not. My colleagues in this House will know that the idea of self-reliance is present in all coalition policies and has been so for many years. We do not see the advantage in pretending that Australian defence priorities are capable of being met other than in the context of an alliance. As the Minister now recognises, such a concept demands a recognition of the world responsibilities of the United States. It involves an understanding that the role of the United States in Europe is not divisible from the responsibilities of the United States in the Middle East, or the Pacific or Indian oceans.

There is, thankfully, in this statement a long awaited departure from the irresponsible approach of many of the Minister's colleagues. The plainspeak injunction `We need to get our act together' is one which applies to the issues now emerging in the Pacific. It is to be hoped that the reflections of the Minister demonstrated in his statements will be given much more general reception by his Party. It is really not good enough that he be left to carry these issues to his Party on his own. The time is coming when strategic developments in this region will not wait for the differing viewpoints opposite to compose themselves into a whole-hearted support for the alliance. If there is one thing to emerge from the White Paper pluperfectly clear, it is the Minister's and, hopefully, the Government's understanding that we exist in the defence field only in the context of an ongoing alliance. Self-reliance for Australia demands that that alliance be maintained and at all times strengthened.