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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3650

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - Mr Chairman,I am sorry to say it but I really believe that this man must go. That was a deplorable effort. This man, the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) on behalf of the Labor Government has just provided a closure for us in the middle of a debate on the Defence estimates. This is a most unusual procedure. Normally the practice in an estimates debate is for the Minister, whose departmental estimates are under consideration, to speak at the end of the debate. He has unlimited time.

The Minister has accused my colleague, the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes), a former Minister in the preceding Government and now the Opposition spokesman on defence matters, of not presenting a positive case. In 10 minutes? Goodness me! What earthly chance would anyone have of analysing effectively and totally either of the 2 ministerial defence statements that have been delivered, neither of which we have been given an opportunity to debate in this Parliament, and the Defence estimates, and then present a positive alternative Opposition defence program? Goodness me, Mr Chairman, what utter nonsense!

This man, who tells us that the statement he made yesterday is not really a statement on new policy, opened his statement by saying that the purpose of the statement was to acquaint honourable members with details that had not been previously announced. Does he mean that it is his view, or has he announced them before? He surely should make up his mind.

The problem, of course, is that the defence statement yesterday, coming on the Defence estimates which we are now debating, sets the stage for a further run down in Australia's defence capacity. The Minister has begun setting the stage by announcing, supposedly in private, the fact that there is a strategic assessment which indicates that Australia will be under no forward defence threat in the foreseeable future, and certainly not for 15 years. Let me set the record straight as to the request by my colleague, the honourable member for Barker, for the disclosure of this forward strategic assessment. The Minister for Defence, in a letter to the honourable member on 14 November last, said:

After careful consideration of your request that I- and these are the words of the honourable member for Barker - make available to me- that is to Dr Forbes - for my perusal- that is for Dr Forbes' perusal - the strategic assessment which was prepared by the Defence Committee at your request, together with the terms of your request', I have decided that it is not appropriate-

The point is that the honourable member for Barker did not ask for this information to be made public. He asked only that he might have some opportunity to peruse this assessment. If one thinks this is unusual it is interesting to note that Rear Admiral Crabb found it necessary, in correspondence to Australian daily newspapers, to comment on the fact that this man, this Minister for Defence, disclosed in public statements confidential material - material which he now holds to be confidential. He would not disclose it to the honourable member for Barker but he was prepared to disclose in the Parliament and in speeches, specific statements from the strategic assessment which this man promulgated to the world at large. That, of itself, should be cause for this man's resignation. I believe it is important that we realise that that strategic assessment is made on the basis that we do not know, but we have it on the say-so of the Minister for Defence, that there is no forward threat for the next 15 years.

I very briefly - I too have only 10 minutes, unlike the Minister for Defence, who has unlimited time - want to refer to an article by Professor Arthur Burns, on which I have commented now on 2 previous occasions in this Parliament, in the 'Bulletin' of 10 November in which he refers to the conflict which might emerge between China and Russia from the confrontation of 67 divisions on the ChinaSoviet border. He speaks of the greater necessity today than ever before to maintain out alliance with the United States, and yet the Minister for Defence, this man, suggests that there is no forward defence threat. Professor Burns says that he believes that the world is now in a greater state of instability than it has been over the last decade.

We all know the tragedy of the Middle East war, only a fortnight ago. The Minister for Defence said, in a way in which many of us on this side of the House believe might well have been worthy of him had he been able to substantiate his undertaking, that Australia would be prepared to send a peace-keeping force to the Middle East under the auspices of the United Nations. With the steps that this Government has taken to reduce the defensive capacity of our armed forces, I seriously question how soon any armed detachment could be sent from this country, and how able that armed detachment would be to undertake the tasks allotted to it. That is certainly a state, that has resulted from the 1 1 months of maladministration of the present Minister for Defence.

Let us look at the general field of defence procurement. We are told by the Minister for Defence that that is something he will worry about. I want to come back to it because it is one of the things that concern me in the new statement made yesterday about the things that he is now not going to do. In an article that was written some months ago on Australian defence policy under Labor, Dr Robert J. O'Neill, a senior fellow in international relations and head of the Strategic and Defence Study Centre in the Research School of Pacific Studies of the Australian National University, Canberra, said:

The state of development of Australian technology does place severe limitations on the extent to which local manufacture can be carried into practice. Australia is not likely to design, develop and produce a high performance fighter-interceptor, a fighterbomber, a heavy transport aircraft, a cruiser, a submarine, a major missile system, many of the essential sophisticated components of early warning systems . . and so on . . . Consequently Australia is still going to have to purchase many essential items from abroad and accept the accompanying disadvantages.

The point of that is that there is a recognition by those who are proficient in this field that we will have to purchase from abroad a considerable number of those goods and items that we need in a sophistically advanced navy, army and air force. To manufacture them here - I am one who hopes that we may be able to do so, in spite of Dr O'Neill's statement - it will be necessary for a long lead time. Yet the major consequence of this Government's defence statements and this Minister's defence decisions is that we are now in a position where that lead time has been extended beyond the bounds of reasonableness and beyond the bounds where we might well be able to rely on the procurement program at a time when that equipment might have to be used for defensive purposes on behalf of Australia. In other words, the decisions taken by this Government and the decisions that are covered by these Defence estimates seriously prejudice our nation's ability to undertake anything of a defence campaign if such should be necessary within anything less than the 15 years on which the Minister has committed himself.

I want to say 2 things. It is extraordinarily difficult in 10 minutes to cover all that one wants to say. The first is that I am horrified to see that there is in the estimates of the Department of the Navy a cut-back on oil fuel requirements of nearly one-third. I know that there has been some change in the character of the oil used by Her Majesty's Australian ships, but we were told yesterday that the steaming time of the Australian naval vessels will be reduced by 20 per cent. We see in the estimates that there is a reduction of nearly $900,000 out of a $2.5m budget in the amount of money provided for furnace fuel oil, other automotive fuels, diesel fuel and so on for the propulsion of naval vessels. In other words, financial decisions are being taken which, supplementing the positive decisions - the negative decisions, I should call them - by the Minister, will very seriously impair the ability of the Australian Navy to undertake any sort of reasonable patrol operation in the Indian Ocean or anywhere around the great expanse of Australian coastline. Similarly, in the naval air units, the army air units and the Royal Australian Air Force establishments there is a serious cut-back in flying hours at a time when it is more and more essential that the men operating the equipment should be technically able to handle it and should be operationally proficient.

The tragedy of this Minister is that he sees his task, not as the maintenance of an Australian defence component but as the elimination of it. Because he persists in his pomposity, the only solution for the defence of Australia is that this man should resign as a protest at what his Government has done to him, if he seriously believes in the statement he made tonight that he is advancing Australia's defence cause instead of destroying it.

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