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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4060

Mr BURY (Wentworth) - I begin by referring to the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly). I do not know of any appropriate nickname but what he does in this place is to wield a rollicking steamroller over all matters brought up for discussion in the House, particularly matters of defence. Somehow he contrives in conjunction with the Ministers concerned to pretty well blot out discussion. Tonight I want to refer to the neglect by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) of our maritime reconnaissance forces. Maritime reconnaissance is one of the most important elements of our defence. To start with, it is a very versatile weapon and it can be applied to very many different uses. Hitherto, in the defence sense, we have thought of it primarily as a matter of anti-submarine defence. But long distance patrols and long distance reconnaissance also play a very vital part for Australia so that we have eyes and ears over the oceans, knowing what ships and aircraft are abroad anywhere near Australia. Also, from a near use point of view, we need efficient search and rescue facilities. The departments concerned with Defence and also customs and fisheries and a number of other government departments have a close interest in the general subject.

In the defence estimates there is no real provision for continuing the re-equipment of our air squadrons for this purpose. In the Royal Australian Air Force we have the old P-2D5s, we have some later P-2D7s and we have some later Orions. All of these aircraft, although they have been modified over the years, depend very largely on the radar and apparatus which they deploy in their search and destroy missions. At the moment the Orion is still being modified and is still being used in the United States of America. There is another aircraft which at the moment is probably the best long distance anti-submarine aircraft; that is the Nimrod. Until a fairly short time ago it was generally put about that the Air Force had an appraisement team looking at the Nimrod and other possible maritime reconnaissance aircraft, but now it seems to have disappeared from view. There appears to have been no continuation.

Once again I would like to emphasise the importance of continual exercise in this direction, the training of personnel concerned and keeping continuity in these matters. When a problem arises the Minister continually appoints a committee and says that he will give an answer in a year's time. This is really not good enough for Australia's defence. This afternoon mention was made of the referral of the Williamstown dockyard works to the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works. The basis was that the program of modernising and bringing up to date the Williamstown facilities has slipped back 2 years. This afternoon, when we heard from the Minister for Defence, he said that he was appointing another committee to advise him on a number of destroyers. However, all the time the decision is postponed. It is the decision that really matters in these cases. Governments can always appoint committees, and I have no doubt that for many governments that is a method of pigeonholing something, putting it off to the never never, doing nothing about it and just providing some sort of material to enable a Minister to answer questions when he becomes embarrassed because the Parliament wishes to know much more about the particular subject.

Maritime reconnaisance aircraft really need broad study. Australia needs very versatile aircraft that can perform a number of functions. We have one type of miserable antisubmarine aircraft. Those aircraft are equipped with the best possible apparatus for finding submarines, which are one of our biggest potential dangers at the moment. They can be used also for carrying fuel to refuel other aircraft, as well as for short coastal work in searching for lost vessels. One is apt to think of vessels lost around the Australian coast. I appreciate that a particular section that is under the con trol of the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) has the responsibility for searches for lost vessels. We should not be too niggardly in the use of public funds to provide essential facilities not only for assisting ships that are wrecked or to search for missing vessels but also for generally keeping a watch on what is happening.

We have had continual trouble with foreign fishing vessels entering Australian waters. We have not adequate facilities to cope with this problem. The Navy has some slow patrol vessels which move at about half the speed of the fishing vessels and would take weeks to catch up with them. We are not properly and systematically equipped to carry out this function. To gain early knowledge of what is approaching our shores, whether aircraft or ships, we need a satisfactory patrol system. We need to work continually on this and on the technique of using this apparatus and developing it for various uses. We cannot afford to have a change of Minister or a change of government after which someone comes in and pretends that he is making a brand new decision. Ministers, whether of the present Government, the next government or the one after that, will still be dependent fundamentally on the advice of the Service experts, who keep the whole show going year in and year out and whose decisions and recommendations should be assessed.

We should not continually have a Minister coming on to the scene and postponing everything that has gone before or scrapping it by saying 'I want to re-think all this. We will have a new committee to decide it*. The same people, imbued with the same mental apparatus, come up with successive recommendations which clearly will not differ very much from those given to the Minister's immediate predecessor. So I should like to emphasise, which I could not do on the defence estimates or in a defence debate - such a debate never takes place - that we need to devote greater attention to what is happening in maritime recon.naisance. I urge the Minister to be more forthcoming on this subject than he has been so far.

I should like to point out that we have an aircraft industry and it is important to keep it going. The Nimrod aircraft does carry a potential for a good deal of work; about 11 million man-hours inside the Australian aircraft industry. It involves the employment of quite a lot of people and it would be a means of keeping our aircraft manufacturing industry going and expanding continuously. Today the industry is working on the Nomad; but apart from that it is almost running down. As well as this civilian aircraft, the Minister should be considering, as an urgent matter, ways and means of using this industry to keep our own urgent maritime reconnaisance requirements going.

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