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Tuesday, 16 October 1973
Page: 2155

Mr KERIN (Macarthur) - Debates on defence in this House are rarely centred on the defence of Australia or national security. In fact, prior to this Government taking office, no study had ever been carried out on the defence of Australia. Emotion and precedent, the lessons of history, no matter how erroneous, rule and any analytical rigorous thought on what forces we should have and their disposition was always lacking. Every time a shaking up has taken place in the defence establishment there have been loud wails about morale, without any definition or analysis. I refer to the 'Australian Financial Review' of Friday, 5 March 1971. In an editorial headed 'A Neurotic Shambles in Defence' it states:

Partly through an unusual concatenation of circumstances and partly as a by-product of the almost unstoppable force meeting the almost immovable object, the state of morale in Australia's defence establishment at the moment can only be described as a shambles:

The historical factors for this range all the way from the inflexibility of the rather simple military tradition in the face of modern social and technological change to the discontent of military men over pay and conditions. The clash between military and political realities is most vividly seen in Vietnam where nervous political direction from Canberra is putting Australian soldiers in the field in a situation which not only offends against all military precepts but is also (in a military sense) shameful.

This appraisal was of course followed by the 1972 Budget when the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) was Minister for Defence. He had his estimates reduced by S50m, to an allocation of 2.9 per cent of gross national product. The defence chiefs fought the Budget. Fifty million dollars was cut from defence expenditure. This was when we had our forces committed to Vietnam. It had followed the dramatic times of the resignation of the then Minister for Defence, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The Army had been in uproar and generals' names were being bandied about in the Press. The moves the right honourable member for Higgins tried to implement within the defence establishment - I agree with much that he said at the time about pay and conditions^ - were unsuccessful. It is for this reason and others that we inherited a shambles, with many decisions having been put off. If the assessment of the honourable member for

Higgins that there will be 'no threat for 10 years' is accepted, I want to know why we inherited a situation in which nearly every major procurement decision had to be made immediately. As a recent detailed publication has outlined, we are virtually designing our future defence on a blank canvas. When we look at the shocking position that the Defence Department has been put into we see that we are faced with a situation where we need to double capital expenditure in the budget for the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Some rationalisation is necessary. We are looking at ways and means whereby we can use our reserves to buy equipment overseas. Given the time factor, why did the honourable member for Wannon not go ahead with the Mirage replacement program? The fact is that the Liberals had painted themselves into a corner on the DDL project. The Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) has said that we will get destroyers, and we will.

Foreign affairs forms a major part of our defence policies. In big power terms and stating the position baldly, I expect the next few years to be marked by a fairly stable equilibrium between the 3 major nuclear powers - the United States of America, the Soviet Union and China. The small states of Asia and the Pacific will be handled rather gingerly by those 3 powers. Such a situation would not preclude the existence of informal spheres of influence operated by the major powers, though these would be much less rigid and exclusive than those to which we have been accustomed.

In general I think we shall see a more stable world political system involving something of a downgrading of military considerations. This will mean that while nuclear arsenals continue to mount and most states continue to preserve and sometimes enlarge conventional forces, the equilibrium between the great powers will produce less emphasis on strategy and leave more room for international economic negotiations. Even if that is right, the defence situation can never be certain. So in this situation we need a capability to meet the range of situations possible. The important fact not realised by the Opposition is that in the early 1970s we are a watershed. The United Kingdom and the United States of America have pulled out of South East Asia and we now have to support what we put in the field. The United States itself is cutting back on defence. In its' latest budget it cut $3.5 billion from defence expenditure, shut down or nearly shut down 274 bases, of which 40 were major bases, and sacked 40,000 people in the Services and the civilian elements in its defence forces.

The Government has decided to rationalise its defence structure administratively and to review critically all procurement programs. We now have a 5-year weapon buying program being drawn up. When it is presented it will represent the Government's and its defence advisers' priorities in terms of the defence of Australia and not outmoded myths that haunt honourable members opposite.

In foreign policy and defence policy in the 1970s and 1980s Australia must satisfy at least 3 criteria. Firstly, it must satisfy national security. Secondly, it must allow Australia to satisfy other national objectives such as welfare and quantitative advancement of our national life. Thirdly, it should allow us to contribute to humane purposes beyond Australia. But let us look at national security. I want to make the point very clearly that we are not necessarily better defended if we buy equipment immediately without any thought for the future. We have bought so much equipment already that has been made measurably obsolete - for example, the Red Eye missiles. Other countries such as Canada and Sweden, which do think their defence situations through, are not thinking of making the mistakes that the Opposition would have us make.

There have been a lot of words about morale. Admiral V. A. T. Smith said in relation to morale that the answer lies in providing sophisticated techniques and in some broadening of military activity into the community help field. I do not think there is any difference between this peacetime role and that of any other peacetime period. I believe that we can accept the passive role over a long period, and there would be nothing new in this. Admiral Smith went on to state that even in the Vietnam commitment we had only a small proportion of our forces committed to the field. We do face a morale situation in the Army, mainly because this high level of skill and expertise developed in Vietnam cannot be preserved for any great length of time. I do not think we should apologise for not having the Army at. present committed to war. What we have done in our first defence budget is spend more on salaries and on housing, and this was long overdue. The previous Government would not even bring in the Defence Forces retirement benefits scheme.

Let us look at the defence situation apart from as it is as stated in the motion. As I said, no study on the defence of Australia has ever been done. Unless we intend to establish all our equipment overseas it is clear that we could handle any attacker of Australia at present and into the near future. I have had figures taken out and these show that no country in Asia, including China, today has a capability to invade our continent, nor is any of these countries likely to have the capacity to do so in under 5 to 10 years. If any of them did we would know about it. No country in history has ever invaded a continent over water with any skerrick of success. Sweden, which does think its defence policies through, is a model for much of what we should do. Sweden has 500 to 610 planes available at any one time and it has an air force of 11,700 men, which is about half the number that we have. We have one aircraft to 75 men, but the Swedes are 3 times as efficient. They also have 1,000 tanks because they have used their heads in thinking out defence policy. Just as we necessarily are no better defended by buying all equipment now, our defence is not necessarily guaranteed by having large numbers of soldiers just for the sake of having large numbers. Soldiers in my electorate grizzle because of the dullness of their duties.

Let us look at our defence situation. I am not stating that we will not order in this term of Parliament a replacement for the Mirage, but let us look at the capability of the Mirage aircraft. Critics argue that it is dangerous to delay the decision to replace the Mirage fighter by one year because the aircraft is becoming obsolete. The reply to this argument can be in 2 areas. Firstly, is the aircraft now seriously outperformed by potential enemies, and secondly will the aircraft be able to remain airworthy until a replacement comes into service? In relation to the first point, in order to maintain the charge that the Mirage is obsolete critics must be able to establish the context in which they see the aircraft operating. In other words, against which air forces and which types of aircraft is the Mirage likely to be committed? Secondly, they must defend what parameters of aircraft performance they see as now making the Mirage obsolete. In the period up to 1980, where is the Mirage likely to meet a superior fighter aircraft? In our area of immediate strategic interest Indonesia is operating Avon Sabres which the Australian

Government provided that country's Air Force and which were phased out in this country to make way for the Mirage.

Singapore has no air superiority fighters in the usual sense of the definition. Her most usual fighter type is the Hawker Hunter which was manufactured in the 1960s. These aircraft have a performance equivalent to that of the Sabres and are nowadays employed in the ground attack role, as are the refurbished United States Navy A4 Skyhawk fighter bombers which Singapore is also buying. The A4 aircraft has little air to air fighter capability - this being mainly for self defence - because it lacks the avionics and weaponry as well as the performance for offensive counter air operations. To find technologically comparable fighter aircraft one would have to go as far abroad as either North Vietnam, China or Japan. The 2 former countries operate variants of the Mig 21, whilst the latter country operates F-4 Phantoms. Both of these aircraft have been shown in combat, either between the Israelis and Arab countries, India and Pakistan, or the United States and North Vietnam, to be roughly comparable. The outcome of any fight between them usually depends on the skill and dedication of the pilots involved. When one speaks of Australian Mirages having to go as far abroad to meet a technologically equivalent threat, this is a quite literal statement since fighter aircraft are characteristically short ranged and have to operate from bases only a few hundred miles apart.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The discussion is now concluded.

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