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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3643

Mr KERIN (Macarthur) - I shall not debate the fact that the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) quoted from inaccurate newspaper articles but I should like to make 3 points on some matters he has mentioned. Firstly, the new defence cuts, so termed by the newspapers and others, are not new at all. I was well aware of them. They have been filtering through for some time. Secondly, expenditure was greater in the second half of 1972-73. Although the abolition of conscription did save funds at the time, the increased money spent on pay and conditions more than took this up. The third thing is that the 15-year strategic basis, the no-threat period, has been widely misinterpreted. All we are saying is that in this period increased emphasis on pay and conditions is logical, plus the fact of a need for reassessment of the weapons area.

There are many important points one could develop in detail when reviewing the progress the Government has made in developing a coherent defence policy in little less than a year. Given .the regrettably short time for the estimates debate, it is impossible to do justice to more than a fraction of the Government's moves in this area. The need for, and the potential to develop, a logical defence policy has in the past been clouded by the unfortunate rhetoric of the scare campaigns run by the Opposition when it was in government. This threat-mongering, linked with the occasional purchase of a few items of flashy hardware, was allowed to pass as an excuse for defence planning. In contrast, in the time since the Government came to power we have witnessed the beginning of a period of basic investigation and planning of defence needs and capabilities which is without precedent in the peacetime history of this nation.

I hope that we have seen the last of red threats and snap purchases of Fills, as a means to delude the public into thinking that an Australian Government was really concerned about the security of the nation. The cynicism with which these ploys were used in the past for crude electoral advantage is quite staggering, especially when it culminated in the tragic death of so many young Australians in Vietnam. In my opinion, one of the main things for which the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) is to be congratulated are the steps he has taken to restore sanity to the discussion of defence matters in Australia and thus create a situation where fear and deception can never again be used to mislead the Australian people for the narrow interests of a conservative government. I think the honourable member referred to the need to have strategic base locations published. That would be absolute nonsense and would be irresponsible. Such a document should not be made public. This Government is 100 per cent ahead of the previous Government in making available defence information to the Opposition.

This is, of course, an unspectacular thing and therefore an occurrence which is not recognised until it has been accomplished and has become part of history. Nevertheless, what the Minister for Defence has been able to achieve even in the last 10 months may be looked upon in future as a watershed, not just for defence policy and planning, but for Australian history in general. For the first time in many years we have a Government which recognises that the totality of this nation's security lies in the complete integration of its foreign policy, defence planning, international trade; indeed all aspects of our relations with the outside world, lt is in this totality of how we see the outside world and how the outside world sees us, that the true security of Australia must be planned. I hope we will never again see a spectacle such as that where some Minister's grave warning of the threat of Russian naval vessels in the Indian ocean whilst other Ministers of that very same government are engaged in trying to increase the volume of our trade with the same country. The same goes for China.

The overseas visits made by the Prims Minister (Mr Whitlam) have shown that we can open genuine friendships with countries once caricatured as aggressive enemies, whilst at the same time maintaining our links with our traditional friends. This has done much to destroy the old hysterias and set the background in which a more sane and rational analysis of Australia's defence problems and requirements can take place. The calm and rational defence analyses instigated by the Minister for Defence and his explanation of these to the Australian public has done much to consolidate the awareness of these developments amongst the Australian people, although its long term importance has been overlooked. Of course, there are elements in the Australian community which react with uncertainty andfear to new ideas they do not understand. The old shibboleths die hard and some people will never see the way in which the new realities have left their preconceived ideas, formed a quarter of a century ago, far behind. However, I believe that the bulk of the Australian people are fast coming to see the difference between sane and logical argument, and hysterical outbursts.

It is obvious that the present Minister for Defence has been able to do a great deal to foster this new awareness amongst the Australian people. In two major statements to this House and many other speeches around the country he has explained not only the strategic situation but has done much to show the Australian people the means by which the current situation and possible future developments are assessed so that our defences can be rationally planned. In this regard the speech the Minister gave to the RSL National Conference of the 29th October has a significance beyond what was said since, for the first time, the Australian people were taken into the Government's confidence on basic matters of defence planning. The hollow rhetoric which in the past has been delivered as an excuse for defence policy will never again be acceptable to Australian people, and future governments, of whatever colour, will have to explain far more fully the reasons which have led them to adopt defence policies. In future, only such carefully reasoned arguments will be acceptable to the Australian people who have, under this Government, witnessed for the first time what defence policy debate is really supposed to be like.

It is simply because defence policy must now be, and be seen to be, based on logical arguments developed from accurate informa tion that the Government is pushing ahead with more basic studies of defence requirements than has ever been the case in the past. To give them their due, the importance of logical and accurate information was something which the Opposition was slowly coming to realise in the last few years of the previous Government. The Central Studies Establishment of Supply is only one example of the machinery which was starting to provide much of the hard information needed for sound decision making in defence. However, the process had not gone much further than analysing and comparing different types of equipment. For these types of studies to be truly effective a coherent overall defence policy framework is needed, if only to determine what type of equipment is relevant.

To provide this necessary framework the Government commissioned a new paper on the strategic basis for defence policy making and has since initiated further work to refine thinking about the areas shown by this document to be crucial in the development of the nation's defences in the future. For the first time a detailed investigation of the requirements for the defence of the continent itself has been ordered so that the force structure needed for the defence of the nation can be determined, should it ever come to be required. From this the Government will be able to estimate what capability will be required at different levels of threat, should they ever eventuate, the types of equipment, force structures and so on, which are most relevant to our basic security needs. With this knowledge the Government can plan for the type of forces we should be developing now, to give us the capability to expand at the rate required, and to have available the military skills needed if this nation should ever be unfortunate enough to need them. On the basis of such firm guidelines, ad hoc equipment decisions, such as that for the Fill or the development of a DDL, should be a thing of the past. The new situation is that we have to support what we put in the field.

As a further part of this effort to define the real defence priorities for national security, the Government has ordered other studies to find the most efficient locations around Australia for the various defence facilities required by the armed forces. This work will involve not only the assessment of purely military requirements but will also evaluate the need of units of the Services for industrial and technological support, ways to facilitate the closer joint operation of the Services, and the best possible access to amenities for servicemen and their families. Similarly, the Government has commissioned a study of the Citizen Military Forces as a basis for the development of policies which will allow this essential element of our armed forces again to play the significant role in national defence policy which it once did.

Of course, these studies will take time to complete. Much detailed work has yet to be done to complete them and further time will be needed to assess the implications of their findings and combine them all into a coherent reality strengthening the development of the nation's security. This painstaking process is the inevitable consequence of the general paucity of the defence debates sponsored by past governments in this country. What is now significant is that for the first time an Australian Government is prepared to ask for, and listen to, cold, rational analysis of the defence needs of the nation. It is also significant that for the first time a Government is prepared to reveal these arguments to the public. What a stark contrast this is with the previous situation, where a degree of secrecy which was completely unnecessary totally shrouded defence debates in this country in a cloak of ignorance. I hope this situation has gone forever.

Certainly one thing which will make a return to past habits difficult, even under the most reactionary of administrations, is the Government's decision announced in March this year, to endow 2 fellowships in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. The stimulation of public debate on defence policy in ways such as this will make it very hard for any future government to masquerade the emotionalism of fearmongering as sane defence analysis. Significantly, honourable members opposite should benefit from the Government's determination to pursue rational, logical analysis in defence policy-making. Unlike them when they were in power, this Government has no fears of giving the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) or his relevant spokesman access to defence planning documents if they have the wit to request them. One can understand the way these men used secrecy-

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