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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2815

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(3.45) —It is always nice to have bipartisan support for government policy, never more so and never more importantly than when matters of war and peace, and, as Senator Chaney says, the security of the nation, are in issue. Senator Chaney's motion on its face offers just that bipartisan support, and it is welcome for that. I ought to read it into the record because Senator Chaney was apparently a little coy to do so. He moved that the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Senate to support the Prime Minister's view that the joint Australian-United States defence facilities in Australia directly contribute to Australia's security, that their operations in no way derogate from Australian sovereignty and that removal of the facilities would dash hopes of ordinary men and women for peace and disarmament because of the contribution of those facilities to stability in the strategic relationship between the super-powers.

Welcome as that motion is, it does, I confess, come as something of a surprise when one compares it to the initial reaction last week of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) to that very same statement. Speaking in the House of Representatives on 6 June, the Leader of the Opposition was very far from being flattering about the statement or anything in its content. He said that its sanctimonous platitudes and absence of substance were all too familiar. Referring to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), Mr Peacock went on to say:

His statement today was not to inform the Australian community nor, of course, this Parliament. As with so much else of the Government's foreign policy activities, the statement was an attempt to manipulate and placate disaffected elements within the Australian Labor Party itself--

What has now happened is that, in a breathless display of political adroitness which the Peter Howsons of the Opposition will be diarising about now for decades, Senator Chaney has chosen to do three things: First, to repudiate directly his Leader's characterisation of the statement and his judgment of the political intent and effect of that statement. Secondly, Senator Chaney has done so with motives that are transparently crude, cynical, cheap and of the worst narrow party-political point-scoring kind. Thirdly, he is doing so in a way whereby he telegraphed his punches some 48 hours ago, before the main event, explaining to the Press waiting with bated breath that his motion was really all about an attempt to embarrass the Labor Party and cause divisions within its ranks. It appears that Gucci and the albatross have now been joined by the playground machiavelli-a would-be political hatchet man, a would-be political strong man, a would-be strategic genius who cannot even get his hypocrisy working professionally.

Senator Chaney in his contribution to the debate speaks for a party which when it was in government told nobody anything about these facilities, and did nothing to explain the role of these facilities and their strategic utility, where they fitted into the larger global environment and how their existence might be justified. Senator Chaney speaks for a party which in government did nothing to secure or advance Australian sovereignty in relation to those facilities. His stance and that of his Party stand in very stark contrast to what the Prime Minister and the present Labor Government now put forward.

In opposition, Senator Chaney comes forward with a motion which, although on the face of it is sane and helpful, is by design something very far from that. Senator Chipp, if he was quoted accurately in Saturday's Age, got it exactly right. While making clear his opposition and his Party's opposition to the content of the Prime Minister's statement, he said that the Democrats would not have any part of the Liberals' cheap politicking on this subject. If he was quoted correctly, he further went on to say:

. . . it was ''sickening'' that the Liberals would try to score political points on a matter that affected the fate of all Australians.

That puts the point beautifully. May it stand endorsed by someone in this chamber who is not enamoured of the Government's policy, as the Liberals are, on this matter. The statement made to the Parliament by the Prime Minister on 6 June was, by contrast, very far from being the cheap little exercise and political positioning that some commentators and cynics have claimed it to be, and which Senator Chaney, apparently with second thoughts, now claims it to be today. It was aimed at explaining Australia's and the Government's whole position on disarmament and arms control in general and our position on the facilities in particular, to the extent that it was possible and within our capacity to do so. The statement covering that territory was the most detailed and eloquent statement on disarmament and arms control that has ever been made by an Australian Prime Minister. Referring to Palm Sunday, when some 250,000 Australians marched in our cities to support the cause of peace, disarmament and arms control, and the countless others who have marched recently in Western Europe and the United States, the Prime Minister said:

The concern of the marchers for peace, the strength of their feelings, and the very weight of their numbers must be taken into account by all governments.

While acknowledging that there are differences of view over the particular issue of uranium, Bob Hawke's statement made it quite clear that the Government identifies with the aspirations for peace of the Australian people. This is something which unites all members of the Australian Labor Party as well as very broad sections of Australian society as a whole. Our opposition to nuclear war is total. Our opposition to the arms race is total, as is our desire to avoid at all costs anything which could contribute to that fearful prospect. Since coming to power--

Senator Chipp —How can you be against nuclear weapons and sell the stuff that makes nuclear bombs?

Senator GARETH EVANS —For the reasons that have been articulated with great vividness, capacity and intellectual strength by our present Ambassador for Disarmament, Richard Butler.

Senator Sibraa —On the public record last Thursday here in Canberra.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I will not stop to go through the reasons. They are, I think, entirely familiar. I believe later speakers in this debate will canvass them.

Senator Chipp —I have never heard anything so disgraceful as that person on AM this morning.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is a matter for Senator Chipp's judgment. He is entitled to share that judgment with us when the time comes. It is not a judgment that is shared by the present Government. Since coming to power, the Government has given priority to arms control and disarmament issues in a way that has been unmatched by any of its predecessors. The Government has done this , as the Prime Minister indicated, because of our concern at the level of international tension in recent years, our appreciation of the difficulties bedevilling relations between the super-powers and our recognition of the very legitimate anxieties which these developments have aroused among the Australian people. As a member of every global disarmament body Australia is promoting treaties to end nuclear testing and to ban chemical weapons and measures to prevent an arms race in outer space. The Labor Government is doing everything it can to strengthen measures against the spread of nuclear weapons. The appointment of our first Ambassador for Disarmament, Richard Butler, has significantly improved our effectiveness and our standing in international efforts to achieve peace, as well as symbolising the very great importance which the Government gives to this issue. When the Prime Minister outlined the Government's policy and the framework on arms control he reiterated that the Labor Government categorically rejects any nuclear weapons option for Australia, despite the scandalous and dishonest suggestions in certain sections of the Press to the contrary.

The nub and the substance of Senator Chaney's contribution, if it can be described as that, to this debate went not to the question of our general disarmament policy-although he skated over with glib facility the very significant measures that I have endeavoured to summarise in the last couple of minutes-but to the specific questions of United States facilities in Australia. The Prime Minister, in dealing with the question of facilities, was careful to place their role and our reaction to them squarely in the context of the global nuclear arms situation. It is in that situation and only in that context that their role can be understood. What the Prime Minister said was that a major purpose of our efforts in the multi-lateral disarmament field was to bring influence to bear on the United States and the Soviet Union to pursue seriously bilateral armament reduction agreements between them. He said that in the Government's view-and it is the Government's view-adequate and effective provision for verification was crucial in arms control negotiations and that the maintenance of effective and stable deterrence between the super-powers was a fundamental requirement to produce a climate of confidence between them. The statement which the Prime Minister went on to make on the general purpose, the functions, of the joint Australia-United States defence facilities on our soil is one that goes much further than any that has been made before. That has been acknowledged even by critics of the statement, even highly competent and expert well regarded critics of the statement such as Des Ball of the Australian National University. There has been a lot of speculative and deductive Press reporting in Australia, as elsewhere, about the functions and purposes of the facilities, but never previously has an authoritative government statement of this kind been made.

It is very important that honourable senators should appreciate the distinction between general purposes and functions on the one hand and technical operations on the other. It is about the former which the Labor Party in opposition, and now in government, undertook to inform the people, and that is what we have now done. We take the view-I do not believe there is any dissent from this expressed by Senator Chaney, even in his more cynical moments-and there is no contest with the view, that the latter should not be disclosed by the Government; that is to say, the detailed technical operations of the facilities in question. Would that that position was universally acknowledged. One finds that some journalists and academics give the impression that they would not be happy unless the combination of every safe on the premises in question were published and the subject of public notoriety. That is not a position which is obviously sustainable and nor could we ever begin to advance it.

The Government has revealed for the first time that Nurrungar and Pine Gap provide early warning by receiving from space satellites information about missile launches and provide information about the occurrence of nuclear explosions. They provide timely information about military developments which can be critical for the United States and its allies, including Australia. Effective deterrence, and hence the avoidance of conflict, depend on this. They also contribute to monitoring and verification which, as I have indicated already and as the Prime Minister made absolutely, centrally clear in his statement, are critical for arms limitation agreements, for test ban monitoring and for non-proliferation.

Honourable senators will no doubt recognise-they should not have to have it drummed in-that early warning is critically important in preventing nuclear war. Bill Hayden made the point recently when he said: 'We don't want a nuclear Pearl Harbour'. Equally importantly, in an era of suspicion and difficulty between the super-powers, early warning is vitally important in providing extra time for a proper analysis of military developments such as missile launches and hence reducing the possibility of accidental nuclear war. That is another key feature that has to be appreciated of our response to these facilities.

The North West Cape facility is, of course, different from Nurrungar and Pine Gap. This, too, is carefully explained in the Prime Minister's statement. It is a communications relay station for ships and submarines of the United States and Australian navies. Submarine launched ballistic missiles are not first strike weapons. They have a retaliatory purpose and therefore serve to deter nuclear attack.

I draw the particular attention of honourable senators to what the Prime Minister's statement on the facilities had to say about the Government's strategic policy as a whole, because it is always crucially important to appreciate what is being said about these facilities in that context. I think it is significant that the United States Administration was aware that the Prime Minister intended to say this in connection with the bases:

We do not believe there can be a winning side in a nuclear war. The notion of a nuclear first strike designed to disarm an adversary would be destabilising were it to gain credence.

Nor can there be any assurance that nuclear conflict between the Super-powers could be limited. This Government's voice on such matters will be directed towards supporting doctrines which eschew moving beyond the requirements of stable deterrence towards postures more appropriate to waging nuclear war in some limited and controlled way.

Finally, again on the general question of the strategic policy underlying our reaction to these facilities, the Prime Minister said:

While we recognise that in present global circumstances a unilateral move away from a policy of maintaining stable deterrence is not a realistic option, the Australian Government is committed to working for measures to stabilise the strategic balance, on which stable deterrence depends, and to curb arms competition. Through equitable and verifiable measures for arms control and reduction, we seek to limit qualitative improvements in arms and to reduce the forces involved.

This makes it absolutely clear why the Government rejects any war-fighting function for these facilities, contrary to what has been asserted in some sections of the Press. Even though it is terminology into which one constantly slips because it has become so familiar, it is a misnomer to describe these facilities as in any way being military bases. There are, as the Prime Minister said, no combat personnel, no combat equipment, no military stores or workshops, no plant or machinery and no laboratories for research, development, production of maintenance of any weapons or combat systems of any type.

Senator Chipp —Are they capable of sending a pre-emptive strike signal?

Senator GARETH EVANS —What they may or may not be capable of sending signals about is something that goes to their technical operations. To the extent that the honourable senator is talking about North West Cape and to the extent that he is talking about the transmission of signals to submarines launching ballistic missiles, I have said and I said a few seconds ago, and the Government has constantly repeated, that submarine-launched ballistic missiles are not pre- emptive first strike weapons. Nobody in the international arms community, the academic community or any other community that discusses these things construes them in that light. Their utility is that of retaliation. Their utility is that of in fact acting as a deterrent against first strike weaponry being launched elsewhere. So that is the particular context in which these facilities operate and the Australian Government supports them on those sorts of assumptions.

I say, finally, that the existence of the facilities does, of course, imply a continued independent but co-operative relationship, a relationship of alliance between Australia and the United States. There is nothing unusual or unprecedented about that. There is nothing to justify the mock congratulations of the Opposition enshrined in the motion now before the chamber. It was, after all, a Labor government under John Curtin which established the alliance with the United States in the first place, and let that never be forgotten. It was, furthermore, a Labor government which in 1974 in the Barnard-Schlesinger agreement moved to put the bases in Australia on a joint footing. It is this Labor Government which has moved further to strengthen Australian sovereignty in the operation of the bases and which has now, for the first time, given an account of their general purpose and functions.

The Hawke Labor Government should be commended for carrying out its platform obligation, for levelling with the Australian people in this way, for not seeking to disguise the risks which it believes, on balance, after close analysis, to be worth while, as well as, of course, for the very active and constructive approach it has brought to pursuing arms control, disarmament and peace. The contrast with the Liberal Opposition is immense, obvious and self- evident. As I said, the Liberal Opposition when in government told the Australian people nothing about the operation of these bases. The state of mind and approach to the business of government are repeated over and over again on matters of war and peace and acute sensitivity to the national security of this country, and Vietnam springs to light as the most obvious other example.

We are talking about an opposition party coming in here today moralising sanctimoniously in circumstances where it in government could not care less about the advancement, promotion and achievement of Australian sovereignty in relation to these facilities. We are talking about an opposition which when it was in government did not have the courage to acknowledge the nature and functions of these bases or facilities, did not have the courage to acknowledge that there were risks associated with them and to explain-difficult detailed and controversial as that task might be-that risk to the Australian people and endeavour to persuade the Australian people that that risk was worth taking. What we have had here has been a shoddy little exercise on the part of the present Liberal Opposition which, if it goes on repeating exercises of this kind , will be playing out that role of opposition for a great many years yet to come .