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Thursday, 14 May 1970

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - Of all the aspects of government considered in this Parliament, before all else comes the security of this country from external threat. Defence is fundamental and this motion urges the Government to give the highest priority to consideration of naval defence on the western seaboard and in the Indian Ocean. We are all proud to see Australia growing. With growth comes increasing interdependence economically and increasing responsibility to play our part in the world, particularly in South East Asia, economically, diplomatically and even on occasions militarily, because this is a world in which armed might is still the most powerful factor in the conduct of great affairs between nations. The Government parties are convinced that an understanding of the realities of politics, intentions and warfare in the world and, of particular concern to us. events in South East Asia, leaves no doubt of our need and our duty to arm ourselves and contribute forces where necessary, to the stability of the South East Asian region.

In the past many Australian Labor Party speakers have shown genuine interest in our defence but that is not the position today. Many have been the debates on these matters. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has made clear the view of the Government - views which I wholeheartedly support - in excellent statements in February last year and in his policy speech last October. I do not propose to develop these matters now but will do so on a future occasion. This proposed naval dockyard facility at Cockburn Sound will add to that defence capacity. I think it is appropriate to refer to basic important statements which the Prime Minister made in his policy speech. He said:

Adequate defence is the rock on which national security stands. Without it, debate on internal matters could be academic. Over the years ahead wc shall maintain and increase our defence capacity.

Later he said:

We shall strengthen the Navy wilh the types of ship the Navy advise us that they most require, including the new light destroyers and the fast combat support ships asked for by that Service.

Later, and perhaps most relevantly, he said:

We believe that broad considerations of Australia's geo-political position and national development point to the conclusion that naval support facilities in Western Australia will also be required in the future

Our fleet numbers will increase and will have to take an increasing interest in the Indian Ocean as the British withdraw. Therefore we have decided that we should begin the planned development of a naval base at Cockburn Sound.

The first step, as recommended in the study made by our consultants, is the construction of a causeway linking Garden Island (Garden Island, Western Australia) to the mainland. We shall at once proceed to the detailed design of this causeway and will begin construction next financial year. Thereafter the naval facilities will be progressively installed over a period.

I want now to give a brief description of the locality and environs of Cockburn Sound. I hope that all honourable members who visit Perth from time to time will not fail to inspect this area at the earliest opportunity. Cockburn Sound starts in the south at Point Peron which is only 30 miles south of the Perth General Post Office and 19 miles south of Fremantle. It extends for 14 miles north and south of the coastline from the southern edge of the Perth metropolitan area to Point Peron. It is an area of water which is protected in the south, west and largely in the south west, the direction of the prevailing breeze, by Garden Island. This is a small island running north and south which is under Commonwealth control. Between Garden Island and Point Peron there is a gap of about li miles. The Government proposes to build the causeway at this point, thus enclosing to the south and to the east a huge area of water which, I am advised, is one of the few natural deep water ports in the world. I am giving these facts because they illustrate the area where it is proposed to build this base. There is a significant quantity of heavy and light industry in the area such as an oil refinery, an alumina plant, a BHP rolling mill, a nickel refinery, a fertiliser works and a number of associated and separate light industries. Of course, in this is the western end of the great standard guage railway. Those industries, I might be permitted to say, are there as the result of the actions of Liberal-Country Party governments in Western Australia. The site of this base is at present a growing and significant commercial port which ships wet and dry bulk cargoes. Thus the facilities suggested by the Government will be in line with its stated policy of linking defence and national development together where possible.

Nearby there is the residential area of Rockingham, which is an old established area and indeed is the fastest growing zone in the Perth metropolitan area. As at June of last year its population was 15,000 and it is estimated to have a population of 20,000 at the end of next month. The State Government has committed itself to providi ng a great deal of public expenditure in this area. It has promised services to industries, a primary school to be completed for 1971 and a high school for 1972, and also a hospital for that time. A major banking group is investing $150m in housing to provide accommodation for 12.000 families So there is also great private expenditure.

The responsibilities giving rise to this base which the Australian governments must recognise are the responsibilities of strategic and tactical defence in the Ind:an Ocean. There has been a great deal of debate in this House in relation to the activities of the Russian navy in that ocean. It has been shown that it has the capacity to keep fleets in the Indian Ocean for lengthy periods. It has shown its interest in this region in many ways, not only in naval terms but in its activity in the countries of South East Asia; it is expanding its diplomatic and economic interests. Although the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has at present long supply lines in different countries, the growing interest indicates to us that it is doing its best to minimise this difficulty. The United Kingdom withdrawal from that area is occurring at the moment, and it is surely not in the interests of this country that another major power should be substituted for the Un;ted Kingdom. Of course, our influence on those events is limited. We cannot stop the Russians from building up their forces in the Indian Ocean, if that is their desire, but on the other hand it is not for us to ignore such activity because the USSR has shown a belligerent attitude to this country for some years.

The Indian Ocean is of great strategic Interest to Australia. I refer to the statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) recently when he said:

We must take into account other Indian Ocean activities in our defence policies and planning.

Western Australia has 2,000 miles of coastline. It is also 2,000 miles from Cockburn Sound to Sydney Harbour. The setting up of a large naval base is fundamental to the interests of Australia. I would like to deal with this expansion with some detail. There has been a committee investigating the plans of naval bases around the coastline of Australia. It has been meeting for some time and I would seek that committee's conclusions and recommendations at the earliest possible date. I would also request the Minister for Defence to urge that committee to give top priority to making an early decision so that an urgent start can be made on implementing these plans. May I offer congratulations to the Government for taking, in terms of the policy speech promises, this first step on the road towards a 2-ocean navy. Just what '2-ocean Navy' means is, of course, a question of definition. I draw attention to the points that this is the first naval base on the west coast of Australia which is subject to the great distance to which I referred. Having this base on the west coast will save perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 miles, in distance from Sydney Harbour to the west coast and back again. It would also save time and cost and will increase the capacity of each naval ship in the Indian Ocean area.

Of course, this area provides a superior anchorage and it may be used as a base for men on leave. As I have said, this is a step forward. 1 understand that initially it is contemplated that the base may hold 4 frigates and 3 submarines. In that connection, I woul'd press the Government for a steady growth of this base so that it will become a significant naval base sooner than the 10 years which has been suggested. I would also press for the stationing of more vessels at Cockburn Sound than appears to be contemplated. I suggest that more fast combat ships should be stationed there and that there should be an increase of perhaps 3 or 4 vessels in the submarine fleet for this purpose. I believe this action should be urgently pursued, as should the designing of the light destroyers. A sense of urgency needs to be imposed by the Government to ensure their earliest possible construction. Arising out of naval power in the west, is the whole question of the evaluation of air power in our defence forces. A decision has to be made as to how much of our air power is . to be connected with the sea and how much is to be land based. The maritime power in the Indian Ocean to be exerted by Australia is by both sea and air. HMAS Melbourne', as we know, will be out of service in 19S0. This emphasises the need for an evaluation as to what type of ships and what type of naval air capacity will be necessary and what form it will take. No doubt the Government is considering this matter but I hope it wilt come to an early conclusion about the need for air strike capacity. Perhaps it will decide to build carriers which could take the Harrier aircraft.

As I said, the whole question of strategic and tactical air strike capacity is raised. Of course, a responsible Government must fix priorities in relation to the vast sums of money involved in building a defence force in order to get the best return for money. I ask for a full and thorough evaluation but, nevertheless, I hope the Government will achieve an early result and come to an early decision. Naval forces and naval bases are a long time in the making. These should be planned and built wi.h some continuing sense of urgency and determination. In conclusion, I would like to say that thinking people in Western Australia welcome the establishment of this base at Cockburn Sound. It has been widely felt that not enough consideration has been given to defence in Western Australia. This project and the upgrading of the Learmonth airfield to an operational base by lengthening, widening and deepening the airstrip will go far in alleviating their concern. In the past they have felt cut off from Australian defence efforts and have even felt isolated. This proposal, urgently dealt with, will help defend and re-establish our nation. The sooner it is done the better.

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