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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3402

Mr CROSS —I direct a question to the Minister for Defence. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the reported comments of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen urging the abandonment of the submarine project and its replacement by patrol boats? If so, does the Government intend to accept this advice, or will the submarine project proceed?

Mr BEAZLEY —I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. Yes, my attention has been drawn to the remarks of Petersen on this matter. He said that, instead of spending millions of dollars on submarines, the Government should be building lots of patrol boats for surveillance of the coastline. I think it is worth reflecting on those remarks, given that this man would be, in his own estimation, the Prime Minister of this country and given that he says that, if he is feeling in a generous mood, he will lead the Liberal Party as well-in the unlikely event of a conservative success, a coalition no longer being in existence.

We are beginning to see emerge from Petersen some of the sorts of views that he expresses on affairs outside the interests of his State. We have heard his views on foreign policy-that he does not want to discuss them. We have now heard the first defence view from Bjelke-Petersen, that is, a proposal for the cancellation of the submarine project and its replacement by patrol boats. The submarines are a critical section of our defence capability. Without those submarines, a very substantial capacity on the part of the Royal Australian Navy to deter attack on this country is effectively removed. To suggest that the project should be cancelled in favour of patrol boats is laughable and is the sort of comment we expect to hear from time to time when the editors of newspapers decide that they will include in their letters column oddball opinions that otherwise receive no dignity at all in the estimation of those involved in the political process in this country. That Sir Joh has arrived at that conclusion is a demonstration of the most appalling ignorance in someone who would count himself likely to be responsible for the affairs of this nation.

We have no intention at all of abandoning the submarine project. It is a project that has been well managed, one in relation to which industry has come to see very substantial potential for the development of capabilities in this country. It is a product of a defence policy that has seriously matched strategy, capability and the financial means of achieving the objectives set. There is no other political party in this country that has so disciplined itself in the area of defence policy; there is no other political party in this country that can, in a systematic and effective way, as this Party does, provide both for the economic security of our people and the national security of our people.

What is at stake in any subsequent election in this country over the next few months is now quite clear-that there is one party in this House, one party presenting itself to the Australian people, that has a coherent view on both how to manage the economy of this country and how to defend this nation. It would be to the very serious detriment of this country if this party were to be removed from office. Because of idiotic comments such as that referred to, that is an extreme unlikelihood.