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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 931


Mr CAMPBELL(8.06) —In speaking on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1984-85 and the appropriations for the departments of Defence and Defence Support, I was very heartened by the speech of the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender). Unfortunately, Australia's defence capabilities ran down over many years during the term of office of the party of which he is a member, and that is very sad. The industry started to go bad in 1963 when the Menzies Government made a political decision to buy an aircraft of British design-the F111. That aircraft had been given to the Americans by the British and was subsequently bought by the Australians, who faced all the problems experienced by the Americans. The F111 was bought at an uncommitted price. As everyone knows , the price went through the roof and the aircraft came to be known as the flying opera house. Despite the fact that, in service, the plane has been reasonable it has never met its specifications and today it is a subsonic bomb truck. The aeroplane cannot fly at supersonic speed with the load stated in its specifications.

The real tragedy of the purchase was the destruction of the aviation industry in Australia. The British said to us that if we had bought the TSR2 they would have been prepared to give us a 50:50 share. We would have had an input into the design stage, through into the prototype stage and into the production stage. That approach was foresaken for the very shallow cynical operation of putting our hand in the hand of big brother America. That was the action of a gutless government which assumed that it was leading a gutless country.

The run-down of defence over many years took place under the Liberal Party of Australia. There are basic reasons for that, apart from the Liberal party's political motivation. The Liberal Party's action culminated in the recent decision to buy the FA18. I objected in the House at the time to that decision, and I regret that my criticism of that purchase was not taken up by my Party. I think we shall live to regret that decision. If that plane proves to be the best in the world-I would strongly argue against that-we shall never be able to afford enough of them and, consequently, that plane will play very little part in this country's defence.

This country has suffered from lack of direction in that the Government has never correctly identified the enemy. I remember being told for years where the enemy was. I remember the stories of the red arrows coming from China and landing on the Nedlands golf course. In those days, of course, the enemy was China; now, of course, China is a great friend. The truth is that China was never the great enemy and is not the great friend. That is the level at which defence matters were conducted by the Liberal-Country Party Government of the day.

I believe that there is a basic problem with Australia's basic defence procurements and, until that position is remedied, we shall never have the industry base that the honourable member for North Sydney obviously wants and that he laments we do not have. While the Defence Department has the power to determine not only what is purchased but also from whom it is purchased, we will never have a rational industry. We ought to take a leaf out of the system in the United Kingdom where the defence forces are allowed to write the specifications for what they require. They then go to the department of defence supply which calls the tenders and hands over the prototypes to the defence forces for evaluation. The defence forces are allowed to say only what meets specifications and what does not. In respect of items that meet specifications the department of defence supply then negotiates on the basis of competitive arrangements with the various tenderers. It is a much more sensible method and it cuts out a lot of the obvious elements of risk in our present system, where there is not only an old boy network but also an enormous potential for corruption, either financial or intellectual.

I suggest that one of the problems we have here today is the intellectual bankruptcy of our defence purchasing. I sometimes lament the myopia of my colleagues in the Left of my Party who see some danger in American bases. The danger does not lie in American bases, many of which we need and some of which we need far more than the Americans do. I put North West Cape in that category. We should remember that that is the only way we have of talking to our submarines whereas the Americans have at least two other operating systems. The real danger lies in the overwhelming dependence on American defence purchasing. This is something Australia has to break if we are ever to have any semblance of real national sovereignty and if we are ever going to be able to play a part in working for peace in this world. I strongly urge the Government of which I am a part to look in this direction. I do not think there is any doubting that Europe can match in quality and technical ability anything that America has, and I believe that we will get a much better purchasing deal from Europe than from America, particularly as the value of the American dollar is very high at the moment.

The long term needs of Australia must be set out in relation to the real dangers or threats to this country. We must not allow our defence forces to have the final say as to where they can purchase what amount virtually to toys for the boys. We must adopt a much more rational policy. I am rather amused that the Army is currently in the process of exhaustively testing a replacement for its Land Rovers. We are in the situation of choosing between the Gelande Vagen and the updated Land Rover. The truth of the matter is that there is probably very little difference in the capability of these vehicles. The German vehicle is 40 per cent to 50 per cent dearer in respect of the categories required and it certainly cannot be that much better. It is a situation that the Israeli Army and just about any other rational country in the world would think laughable. Despite the protestations in the European Common Market for some sense of unity, I was recently in France and mentioned to people in the military there that I had not seen any Mercedes-Benz trucks in the Army. The answer was: 'But why should we buy them when we make these very excellent Renaults?' Why indeed? I think they exhibit far more intelligence than we have exhibited in the past.

In this country we have lost design capacity. When the Army was allowed to buy Mercedes-Benz trucks instead of the Australian truck, which incidentally was offered at a cheaper price although it is true that the tender was late, I think it was quite frankly outrageous for a government simply to say: 'Your tender is late and therefore we will not allow you to tender'. When that order was lost, we lost also design capacity at the international factory, and that was dangerous to the defence capacity of this country, in my opinion.

I also believe very strongly that to the north of this country we have the outward expanding island of Java, often referred to as Indonesia. I believe that this is a classic colonial, expansionist regime. I believe that, under the present Government, there is nothing to fear from Indonesia, but there is nothing to say that that will remain so in the future. I believe that, with the demise of the present leadership in Indonesia, we are likely to see a rise in military power there, with which we must contend. Unless Australia has the capacity to defend itself, it could find itself having to defend itself. I believe we can build up in this country industries which show that we have a viable defence capacity. It is the best way to ensure that we will never have to use it.