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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1225

Mr KATTER(9.47) —When one looks at the Estimates, particularly in the realm of defence, they are never near enough. I do not think there has been a defence Minister who has not done everything humanly possible to work through his committees to try to bring pressure on the Government to get additional funding. So much for the Estimates and the contribution they have made to the defence spectrum in this Budget. Anyone who has had a continuing interest in defence and who has appreciated and watched the contribution that the Citizen Military Forces and citizen forces generally have made would have been saddened by the decision of the Hawke Government to withdraw from the CMF members the taxation benefits they had previously enjoyed. I can well imagine the present Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) sitting at the Cabinet table and being extremely distressed over this decision, knowing his thinking and attitude. The Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) may have been equally disappointed. However, that decision is now written into the legislation and we cannot do very much about it, at least for the time being.

I wish to speak for a moment on the aircraft carrier and the general argument which seems to be continuing. As the Committee will be aware, the committee which I chaired until recently was given the term of reference from the Senate to go into the proposed purchase of an aircraft carrier profoundly and with a good deal of serious responsibility. This was done over a period of about six months. The evidence came from all quarters, but it was rather remarkable to observe that people like myself who went into the inquiry convinced that we should have an aircraft carrier came out of it equally convinced that it would have been irresponsible to decide on the purchase of the aircraft carrier. Let me explain that statement to honourable members. When the inquiry began we were all very content with the thought that we would get the aircraft carrier Invincible for $400m. That was not a purchase, it was a steal. I have on record a comment by a very senior American admiral who said that the Invincible in its own category was possibly the finest ship afloat. We were unable to purchase the Invincible; it was withdrawn from sale. We considered the purchase of another ship of its class. A ship of its class built only some months after the offer of the Invincible, fully equipped with the type of Harrier we would have wanted, would have cost about $2,000m.

Why did we decide, after taking evidence from all quarters, that this would have been irresponsible? I have nothing but the greatest respect for retired senior defence personnel. They still have the experience of having seen our equipment in action. Some honourable members may refer to them as members of Dad 's Army but that is nonsense. One particular rear admiral having only very limited knowledge, conducted a campaign against me, my Committee and the decisions we made, confined to a traditional and almost unreasonable loyalty to the Royal Australian Navy. We could have said: 'Okay, we will recommend buying an aircraft carrier. But do not worry about the Harpoons or the new generation weapons and equipment that this nation must have which is vital to our future'. I mention that the Committee's decision was unanimous. It was based on very impressive evidence.

Let us look for a moment at the present world situation. I wish to refer first of all to the conflict in the Lebanon. It is all very well to say that Lebanon is a long way away. Anyone who has examined even remotely the history of the Middle East will inevitably come to the conclusion that the small area known as the Lebanon is a strategic area which is critical to our interests in respect of the East and the West. It is the gateway to the Middle East. The present conflict in the Lebanon is of extreme importance to the strategy of that area generally. I will not go through a long rigmarole about things that are being said every day of the week but I wonder what the future holds.

Let us look at the alternatives. Will the Syrians and the other occupying forces remain there? Would one be foolish enough to suggest that the various countries involved have some sort of incentive based on some traditional claim that they think they have to that area? Or could it be that, once more, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, using the insidious techniques of infiltration which it used in Afghanistan, will actually occupy the Lebanon through the Syrians? In South East Asia it fought to the last Vietnamese. Maybe in the Middle East it will fight to the last Syrian or the last Palestinian. I do not know. I do know that this represents a terrible dilemma for the Western world. I suppose the United States of America has sufficient forces to blast these people out of existence. What will happen if it does that? Will the Soviet Union pour in arms to the Syrians and retaliate? It is a very difficult and very serious situation. But we should note one thing: While this is continuing genocide is occurring in its most vicious form. I have the utmost sympathy over the killing of the Leader of the Opposition in the Philippines but he was just one person. Every day of each week thousands of people are being slaughtered in the Lebanon. We cannot turn away from this situation. The three parties in this chamber have not turned away from this; members of each party have given recognition to this terrible problem.

I would like now to talk about Norforce. I hope that the Minister for Defence will continue with his present policy of developing Norforce into something that is really worth while. What is Norforce? I live where Norforce is situated. It is a small unit-almost a sub-unit-which has tremendous enthusiasm for fighting for this country, or if not doing that, carrying out patrol operations and observations which are indeed critical in that northern part of the nation. I am delighted that another unit or sub-unit-I am not sure yet as we have not been supplied with the actual details-could be provided somewhere in the vicinity of the Townsville-Cairns area; perhaps based in Townsville itself.

Mr Lindsay —The nor-east force.

Mr KATTER —I am sure that this is something all honourable members would accept. If this idea is accepted it will have to be the same sort of mobile force that we have seen in operation. We do not have much relativity with confined areas such as Israel and the surrounding countries, or Vietnam. It is unfortunate that I have to quote the operations of the Vietnamese. But when it comes to mobility, the capacity to move fast, to hit hard and get away again, we would have to go a long way before finding more efficient operations than those carried out, firstly, by the Israelis and, secondly, I regret to say, the Vietnamese.

Mr McGauran —They were murderers.

Mr KATTER —They continue to be murderers. We know that. For Norforce to be effective an awful lot more money will have to be provided to expand it to the sort of mobile force that we all wish it to be. It must be provided with equipment that is highly efficient-killer type equipment, new generation type equipment-because there will not be much of it. The force has an awfully big area to cover and has to be provided with radar equipment. If we were to look at a map we would say that it is totally impossible to protect the coastline of Australia. That is absolute nonsense. It would be totally impossible if there were some sort of invasion coming from all directions. But, with the limited resources we have, we are doing a pretty good job. The point I wish to make is that we should develop Norforce. We should bring in elements of the Citizen Military Forces. Many CMF personnel will now be totally discouraged by the new legislation cutting out taxation benefits. We could bring in Aborigines who know their areas intimately. They can detect changes in the natural scene of things. I would say that Norforce is the force of the future. It is pretty silly to try to talk about defence in 10 minutes. Finally, I earnestly request, as one who has been closely associated with the CMF, that the Government review its legislation as far as the CMF is concerned.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired .