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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 126

Dr FORBES - I am sorry, Mr Speaker. The essence of the censure motion against the Government is that it has jeopardised Aus tralian security, firstly, through vacillation In relation to the commitment of troops to the Five Power Arrangements thereby putting at risk the whole Five Power Arrangements and, secondly, by undesirable disclosures of security information. The Minister for Defence who spoke earlier made the most pathetic attempt that I have ever heard a Minister make in my 17 years in this House to answer these charges made by the Opposition. In relation to vacillation, all he could say was that the partners to the Arrangements understood the new Australian Government's position. I am sure that is so. I am sure they do understand it. They understand it only too well. What they understand is that the present Government is vacillating, unable to make up its mind about its commitment to the Arrangements. And because they are astute politicians they also understand that the reason for that is that the present Government is not its own master. It is subject to the dictates of the left wing dominated Australian Labor Party Federal Conference.

The only answer that the Minister for Defence would give us to the very well made and searching accusations of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) about undesirable disclosures by the Prime Minister was that everybody knew about this. He tried to tell us that it really was not secret at all. If it is true that everybody knew about it and that that was the reason for the disclosure, why did the Prime Minister behave in the way he did? Why did he not make a straight, direct statement either to this Parliament or to the whole of the Australian Press? He did not do that. I will not weary the House by going over the course of what he actually did, but he did it in a clandestine way. He made a restricted briefing unattributable to him. What an extraordinary way to go about it if, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, everybody knew about this. It did not matter, he said, to disclose it in the way he did.

If this was so unexceptionable and so well known, why did the Prime Minister or the Minister for Defence - I am not sure who it was but I am reliably informed that this happened - reissue the D notice imposing a voluntary security restraint on the Australian Press and other media in relation to this matter? One of them reissued the D notice and yet the Minister for Defence said that this was unexceptionable because everybody knew about it. The other reason he gave was that 5,700 civil servants - the Minister for External Territories said it was 6,500 but I do not know how many it was - knew all about it. The only comment I can make is that it says a lot for the standard of the Australian civil service that over so many years so many people with the need to know could be briefed about this matter and there was not a hint of a disclosure. Yet the first time that the new Australian Government, and important people in it - the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence - get their sticky fingers on it we get disclosure. I think it is worth asking: Where did the disclosure come from that came to Mr Brenchley? It has been suggested that it came from the office of the Minister for Defence and not from a career public servant, one of those people whom in a way he has brought into question by bandying around this group of 5,700 people. Again it reinforces my point that 5,700 people knew about the matter and we had not a hint of a disclosure. Yet when this matter becomes the responsibility of members of the Labor Government and their hangers-on in their offices - and many of those hangers-on refuse to have security checks - it is disclosed straightaway.

How many more defence secrets will be . disclosed in this way with the same sort of puerile, senseless argument used to justify their disclosure? I do not believe that the argument of the. Minister for Defence on this issue stands up. I do not believe that he believes it. I do not believe that a single member of this House believes it. I do not believe, either, that the Prime Minister wanted to disclose this information, because he knew that it was wrong to do so. He would not have taken the furtive actions which he did behind the doors or through the drafting race, as the Leader of the Opposition described it, and he would not have reissued the D notice if he had not realised that it was wrong. Of course he was forced into doing it to relieve himself of embarrassment from pressure from his own left wing and outside control. One of the principal reasons for this motion is that he did not stand up to that pressure. Any Australian Government worth its salt, when it believes that it is necessary in the national interest to withhold information, however uncomfortable pressures may be and however difficult its domestic situation and however it may effect it in the future, has a responsibility to stand up to these pressures. The Prune Minister succumbed to them and he thereby jeopardised the security of this country. This is why we are taking the step of moving this censure motion today.

Let me go through some of the events which have led us to this serious charge which the Government has to answer, namely the subordination of the vital defence interests of the Australian nation to the claims of domestic party pressures from an ideologically motivated, unrepresentative and unelected junta. Let me take the House through the events relating to the Five Power Arrangements for which the Minister for Defence was unable to give any explanation, and to Australian forces in Singapore. The House will remember the significant achievement of the previous Government in negotiating the Five Power Arrangements and persuading the United Kingdom to reverse its previous decision to withdraw entirely from the Far East. There is no doubt that all the partners to the Arrangements believed that the ANZUK force was the only thing which gave the Arrangements meaning and credibility in terms of the stability of the region. There is no doubt that they believed that at the time it was negotiated by my colleagues, and there is no doubt that they still do.

This is testified, to by the statements which have emanated recently from Lord Carrington, from Mr Kirk - the New Zealand Prime Minister - from Singapore, and more recently from Malaysia, and even from countries outside the Arrangements such as Indonesia. The House will remember - I will not enlarge on it - what might be described as Gough's goof in Indonesia. All these messages have been .coming through loud and clear. Yet how has the Government responded? Has it learnt that we live in a dangerous, practical world, in a world where words are no substitute for actions, and where high-sounding phrases are no substitute for good friends and a reputation for reliability? Of course it has not. The people of the region understood that. I would like to quote briefly from an article .by the respected correspondent Mr Denis Warner in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' this morning. He said:

The Whitlam plan for reshaping Asia with a new pact to include China and Japan, but excluding the United States and the Soviet Union, lost its last possible South East Asian supporter when Malaysia weighed in against the proposal last weekend.

There is nothing that the South East Asian States would welcome more- than the establishment of genuine and lasting peace based on the neutrality of the area. That, indeed, is the goal to which all are working. But their ideas are long range, and take into heavy account present day realities. They do not believe that peace and neutrality can be assured within the next 2 years, and not necessarily in 10.

That is a rather uncomfortable timetable in the light of the pressure from the Federal Conference of the Labor Party. Mr Warner continues:

On the principle of not burning bridges until they are reached, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand welcome the continued presence of American air forces in Thailand - of course as a temporary measure.

All are in favour of the Five Power Agreement under which Australia stations military forces In Singapore and Malaysia.

No-one wants to see SEATO dissolved at this time.

They are the practical realities, but has the present Government shown any flicker of understanding of this situation? Of course it has not. After uttering soothing words in the period prior to the election about the importance it attached to the Five Power Arrangements and playing down those provisions in the ALP platform which required it to bring the troops back to Australia, it was confronted with the imminent visit of Lord Carrington. He would want to know where the Government stood Apparently without consulting any of their colleagues the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence decided, no doubt after taking advice from the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs, that it was in the defence interests of Australia to leave the logistics support force in Singapore. In the light of subsequent events I want to emphasise that this was a decision taken on defence grounds and in the best interests of the security of the nation. It was a correct and proper decision which we supported, although we did not believe there was any justification for bringing the combat troops home.

If the Government was to take this craven action and pander to its left wing by bringing the combat troops home, the next best thing it could do was to attempt to preserve the Five Power Arrangements by leaving the logistics forces in Singapore. This was the decision to which the Government came. It was duly and publicly announced. I pledged on behalf of the Opposition in a statement at the time that we would support the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence in the fight that the Prime Minister obviously had on his hands against his left wing colleagues both in the Parliament and in the Party outside. I reiterate that. It apparently satisfied Lord Carrington, although no doubt he had his own views of the craven decision of the Australian Government to shelter behind the combat troops of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore and to withdraw our troops.

The Minister for Defence let it be known that, in acordance with this decision, 900 men would be left in Singapore. Pressure started from the left wing and the Prime Minister at a Press conference reduced that to 500 or 600 men, including, as I understand it, the Royal Australian Air Force personnel in Singapore. Pressure was applied still further when the resolution of the Victorian Council of the Australian Labor Party was given a great deal of prominence and publicity by Mr Hartley and the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) jumped on the bandwagon. At this point, defence considerations and the security of the country, which had been rapidly diminishing in importance anyway in the minds of members of the Government in their approach to this question, completely disappeared.

Then followed the matter to which I referred earlier; It was the most incredible, extraordinary, irresponsible and unworthy action ever taken by a Prime Minister of Australia. I refer to the incident in which the Prime Minister deliberately leaked defence secrets to the Press of this country, not because it was in the interests' of Australia - as I said earlier, I believe that he knew it was not - but in the hope of creating a situation which would ease the pressure from his own left wing. In the view of the Opposition, the Prime Minister has demonstrated by this act alone his unfitness for the high office that he holds. In one stroke he has branded his Government as one which cannot be trusted to keep information secure and as an untrustworthy and unreliable ally.

The next step in this extraordinary saga was that the Prime Minister announced that the signals unit would be withdrawn. I ask the House to note this and note it well, particularly in regard to what the Deputy Prime Minister had to say that the Government would ultimately bow to the dictates of the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party. A decision made by the Government, announced after due consideration, and after taking advice from the Department of Defence can, and probably will, be reversed by a beer swilling, floral shirted bunch of new leftists in some sleezy Surfers Paradise pub-

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Dr FORBES - A mob of yahoos-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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