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

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14054

Mr MARLES (Corio) (10:48): As the minister has said, the nature of the functions performed at Pine Gap are such that they need to be done within the context of a great deal of security and confidentiality, and therefore the making of a statement by the minister about the operations of Pine Gap and the other joint facilities to this parliament and, through it, to the Australian people is a very important statement to make indeed, and we thank the minister for making it. It is a statement that has been made as a step in a series of statements that ministers over the years have made in relation to the joint facilities since they came into operation.

On this occasion, perhaps the most important point I can make in response is that, happily, Labor supports every word the minister has said today. We won't try to be in that habit too much, but we can say that today! But, in all seriousness, in a sense, there is a habit of doing that in relation to national security, defence and foreign affairs, where there is a great deal in common between the major parties. The significance of the United States alliance to Australia's world view, the joint facilities that are operated consistent with that alliance—Pine Gap being the most significant of them—and the policy of operating those facilities with full knowledge and concurrence have absolutely been bipartisan policy between the major parties since the joint facilities came into operation, and they are very much bipartisan policy of the major parties today.

At the heart of what underpins the joint facilities is our alliance with the United States. As the minister said, that formally began with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty back on 1 September 1951. But the relationship between Australia and the United States goes back much further than that. Last year, on 4 July, we celebrated what we coined 'the century of mateship': 100 years since the Battle of Hamel in the First World War, in which American and Australian troops fought together and General Sir John Monash, in that battle, commanded American troops for the first time. Since then, from the Western Front in France to Papua New Guinea, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan—indeed, every conflict in which America has participated since then—Australia has been there side-by-side with the United States, and it has forged a very significant relationship which is at the heart of our foreign and strategic policy.

The relationship has its foundation in shared values. They are values that, domestically, are about democracy and the rule of law but, importantly, have sought to establish a global, rules based order. Those things that emerged out of the Second World War and the Bretton Woods institutions—things like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—are all critical international norms which both Australia and the United States fundamentally believe in and try to make sure are asserted globally so that the world operates not on the basis of force but on the basis of reason.

We have a unique military relationship with the United States where we operate hand in hand with them not just in times of war but in times of peace and through exercises. Exercise Talisman Sabre, which occurs biennially and is occurring this year, is a significant exercise that the Australian Defence Force engages in—really the most significant exercise that the Australian Defence Force engages in—and is done hand in hand with the United States Armed Forces. We are embedded in a range of positions within the United States military. For example, the deputy commander of the United States Army in the Pacific is institutionally an Australian. Right now it is a position occupied by Major General Roger Noble. It's a position that has been occupied previously by the current Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr. We need only to look at the marine rotation in Darwin to again see an example of the extent of cooperation between the United States and Australia. It's in that context that the joint facilities operate.

Australia and the United States established joint facilities at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory, Nurrungar in Woomera and North West Cape in Western Australia back in the 1960s. Nurrungar was commissioned in 1969 and then decommissioned 30 years later, in 1999. Pine Gap, which is the most prominent of the joint facilities, was commissioned back in 1967. It was in 1976 that we can perhaps first see it as a joint defence facility where the full policy of full knowledge and concurrence began to operate. As the minister articulated, that is full knowledge on the part of Australia as to what the function of Pine Gap is and what it does, and full concurrence in the authorisation of those functions. In other words, what it does, it does with the permission of Australia and the United States together.

In 1984, as the minister alluded to, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, in one of the first statements to the parliament about the operations of Pine Gap, pointed to its significance in maintaining a strategic balance between the then superpowers during the Cold War. But, as the minister pointed out, he also explained Australia's national interest in the operations of Pine Gap. He made the point that Australia enjoyed the protection of America's extended nuclear deterrence and that in enjoying that protection it was important that Australia played its part, and Pine Gap was a perfect example of that.

In 1988, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke again made a statement to this parliament about Pine Gap, he reiterated the extent to which Pine Gap not only served the United States' national interest but served Australia's. In 2007, the then Minister for Defence, Dr Brendan Nelson, again reinforced the contribution that was being made by Pine Gap to Australia's national interest and to the policy of full knowledge and concurrence. This, again, was affirmed by the then Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, back in 2013. And it's in that line of statements that the minister has added his own today.

As the minister outlined, Pine Gap is involved in the collection of intelligence data on a range of security priorities, including terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, along with monitoring foreign weapons developments. It also provides ballistic missile early-warning information.

In my role, I have been fortunate enough to visit Pine Gap, which I did last year, and to see firsthand what a remarkable institution it is. It's an institution which employs hundreds of people. The notion of it being joint can be felt the moment that you walk inside that place. There is a sense in which, actually, nationality between Australia and the United States seems to dissolve; it is just a group of people working on an endeavour. It's really clear—embodied, in fact, by the deputy manager of the operation, who is an Australian—that Australians occupy senior positions throughout the facility. Australians manage Americans and Americans manage Australians. Indeed, national identity inside that building doesn't seem to matter. It is a place where there is a unified aim in terms of the objective between both Australia and the United States. It is actually a wonderful thing to see. It is, obviously, a place where you see science at the cutting edge. This is a deeply high-tech facility which, in turn, in that sense, provides Australia with an enormous capability dividend.

I had dinner when I was there with our American host. It was clear in talking with our American host and those in Alice Springs that the American community who work at Pine Gap have been received by that town really well. And, indeed, the Americans seem to get into the spirit of life in the Centre and enjoy the time that they spend in Alice Springs.

As I said, obviously, there is a lot that we cannot say about what happens at Pine Gap. But it is clear that the sensitive nature of what goes on there and the high degree of cooperation which occurs between Australia and the United States in the performance of those functions almost define Pine Gap as being the centre of trust as it is expressed in our alliance with the United States. Pine Gap is one of the joint facilities. It is the most significant, but there are others, as the minister has noted. The Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station, which was established in 1955 and which also operates in Alice Springs, is jointly run by the US Air Force and Geoscience Australia. As the minister indicated, it was originally established to monitor nuclear explosions during the Cold War, but it does now play a critical role in monitoring the international system in respect of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The minister referred to the fact that it was there that the sixth North Korean detonation was first picked up.

The Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt, on the North West Cape of Western Australia, is also a joint facility. It was originally commissioned as a United States base back in 1967. It became a joint facility in 1974 under the Whitlam government and, indeed, an Australian facility in 1993 under the Hawke government. In July 2008, the then defence minister, Minister Fitzgibbon, and the then US defence secretary, Robert Gates, signed a treaty between Australia and the United States which provided for the United States to have access to the Australian facility over the next 25 years. It provides communications for both Australian and US submarines and ships. A new space surveillance radar operating from this facility has reached full operational capability as of 2017 and serves as a dedicated sensor node. There are other joint facilities that the minister has mentioned—the Learmonth Solar Observatory and the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station in Geraldton—which also play important roles and are operated jointly by agencies in the United States and Australia.

As I said, the joint facilities go to the heart of defining the trust that exists between Australia and the United States in the context of our alliance. That we are prepared to operate at the very core of our national interests just demonstrates exactly how close our relationship is. Kim Beazley, writing on the 50th anniversary of Pine Gap, referred to a phrase used by the late Des Ball, who said, in respect of the joint facilities, that they represent 'the strategic essence of the alliance', which is between Australia and America. That statement is absolutely true now. These are really important facilities in the context of the alliance. They're very important facilities in the context of Australia's national interests. They are run with full knowledge and concurrence, and they are run and supported on that basis in a completely bipartisan way between the major parties in this country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Andrews ): This debate has now concluded.