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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1766

Senator MacGIBBON(9.52) —I should like to deal with only one element of the report-the retention of the Sinai Force. I have a great sympathy for the Government in the position that it is in. I support its decision to retain the Sinai Force. I dissociate myself and the Liberal Party of Australia from the insular position of the Australian Democrats on this matter. The Multinational Force and Observers, which has a small component of under 100 Australians in it, is one of the great successes of Australia in foreign relations in recent years. They are essential there as umpires. They are not a peacekeeping force in any sense of the term, because they are very lightly armed , with only sidearms, and they would be flat out looking after themselves if any trouble occurred.

There is no point at this stage in going through a dissertation on Middle East politics or Israel's strategy. In a simple sense, one of the problems, and one of the reasons for continuing instability in the Middle East, is the very small physical size of the state of Israel. It is surrounded by hostile Arab nations- Syria in the north and Iraq beyond that; Jordan to the east; and Egypt to the south. Beyond that there are the second line Arab relationships, with Libya and the Saudi Arabian countries, going right out to Morocco and Tunisia.

The Camp David Accord neutralised one-third of the sources of friction and instability in that area with respect to the Israeli borders. It was a landmark in international affairs. There has been peace since the Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel. One of the very minor contributions that some nations have been able to make to peace in that area is the Multinational Force to go in as umpires while the Israelis withdrew from the Sinai, and to be seen to be impartial. The Australian force, and indeed the whole of the Multinational Force there, is seen and respected by both the Israelis and the Egyptians in the role that they perform there as umpires.

The Australian force has earned itself an enviable record, as our armed servicemen have always done in overseas postings. Their operations there have been exemplary. I said at the outset that I sympathise with the Government in this matter because it has to suffer the slings and arrows of ill-informed comment, as we heard in this chamber about five minutes ago. There is also another serious defence problem here. We have eight or 11 of our utility helicopters as the vehicles for that Force. That is nearly a third or a quarter of the utility helicopters we have in this country. That is a very high price for the Department of Defence to pay because, particularly with Army training, we do not have the resources for our own training in Australia. So, in a sense, the defence of Australia has been diminished by the contribution we have made to that Force. I appreciate very much the difficulty in which the Government finds itself on this matter. I welcome the fact that it has had the courage to stand up to its critics and do the right thing.

Question resolved in the affirmative.