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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1287

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) (Minister for Defence) - A lot of nonsense has been spoken recently about the Joint United States-Australian Defence Space Research Facility at Pine Gap as a result of a book written in the United States of America. I would like in particular tonight to answer charges that were made last Thursday by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. Unfortunately, I did not realise at the time that he was going to bring up this matter. The honourable member for Sturt claimed that the Opposition now believes in the existence in this country of, and I use his words, bases of a type that we should not have here. He claimed that these installations will not add to the defence effort of Australia and that their only purpose in the scheme of things is connected with the American defence system. Finally, the honourable member for Sturt asked for someone on the Government side of the House to inform the people what is happening at Pine Gap. Let me now inform honourable members of what can be disclosed.

Pine Gap is a joint defence space research facility. It is manned jointly by Australia and the United States. Australia has access to all the results of research undertaken at Pine Gap. The Australian defence representative from the staff of the Chief Defence Scientists, Department of Defence, shares with the United States Department of Defence's Chief of Facility in the joint management of the project. Results of research activities are made available to the Department of Defence, Canberra, as the Australian co-operating agency. About 50 per cent of the 460 employees at the facility are Australians. As Australians gain experience in the skills involved in the research activity, a steadily increasing proportion of suitably qualified local employees will replace Americans in professional and semi-professional positions. It is the policy of both partners to select Australians for employment wherever suitable candidates are available.

I must stress that the facility is entirely defensive and it cannot initiate offence. Members of the Government with a 'need to know" are fully conversant with the activities of the facility. Some Australian officers with the need to know have full access to all areas of the facility. Federal and Northern Territory members of Parliament may enter with prior permission but certain areas are restricted to those with a need to know. This Government is satisfied that the programme of work at the facility is compatible with the best interests of this country and of our partners.

Certain people both inside and outside this House ask why there should be any security at all there. The result of this questioning is constant attempts to penetrate security at Pine Gap by sections of the media and certain honourable members opposite. Let me make it quite clear that the installation at Pine Gap is a part of the free world's defences. The security of this country is helped by its research programme. Premature disclosure of classified information could only be prejudicial to Australia's defence interests.

The honourable member for Sturt claimed that we can only suffer as a result of our association with the United States of America. I believe completely the opposite. We are a small nation and have sought the assistance of powerful allies by treaties to improve our defence capabilities. Treaties give advantages, but they also impose obligations for us to undertake our fair share of defence preparations if we are to expect assistance in our hour of need.

The agreement on Pine Gap was tabled in both Houses of the Federal Parliament. It is an agreed activity under ANZUS. I had thought that the Opposition favoured the ANZUS agreement. But does it? Where does the ALP really stand on the matter of defence bases and facilities? The ALP policy, as determined by the recent Launceston conference, is quite ambiguous. The ALP seeks to get the best of both worlds by having a bit each way. Let me quote the Labor Party policy. It states:

Labor is opposed to the existence of foreign owned, controlled, or operated bases and facilities in Australian territory, especially if such bases involve a derogation from Australian sovereignty.

Labor is not opposed to the use of Australian bases and facilities by Allies in war time, or in periods of international tension involving a threat to Australia, provided that Australian authority and sovereignty are unimpaired, and provided that Australia is not involved in hostilities without Australia's consent.

The tenure of these bases and facilities by other powers should not be of such a character as to exclude properly accredited access by authorised Australians charged with the duty of evaluating Australian defence policy, whether members of the Australian Parliament, defence departments or armed services.

So we are left in the dark as to whether a future Labor government would close down these bases or simply disclose their general purpose. In either case, the defence of Australia and the free world would be adversely affected.

Some members of the Opposition believe that the House should be told everything about all our defence installations and that the people should then have the opportunity of deciding which ones they would be prepared to have. What utter nonsense! Do the Russians tell us, or their own people, what is happening at Plesetsk or Tyuratam? . Does the Chinese Government tell us, or the Chinese people, what they are doing at Lop Nor?

Mr Cope - Where is that?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - In China. Do we, or should we. disclose to our potential enemies the performance of our latest aircraft or ships? If we do not disclose these, why should we disclose military secrets about our defence establishments? What the. honourable member for Sturt is really saying is that he is almost a complete pacifist and therefore he does not believe in a nation arming itself or in our making defensive agreements and alliances with our friends and allies. It has been claimed by certain members of the Opposition that if any base were associated, either offensively or defensively, with American nuclear strategy that base would automatically have a high priority for nuclear attack. The Government does not believe that any individual target in Australia would be singled out for nuclear attack in any situation short of a global nuclear war - the ultimate catastrophe which the Government's policy of co-operation with trusted, peace-loving allies would assist in preventing.

I and other members of the Government who have a 'need to know' are fully conversant with activities at joint bases and are completely satisfied that the programme of work being done is compatible with the best interests of this country and of our partners. I have no intention of either confirming or denying speculation about the purposes of the joint space research facility in Australia. Such action could only help to reveal details of the highest national security.

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