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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2194

Mr MORRISON —by leave-I thank the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) for some of the observations he made in passing. He was correct in that the report is critical of the policies of governments-of successive governments. It is also true that the criticisms that are made in the report are constructive criticisms. We placed very clearly on record recommendations that we trust the government of the day, which happens to be a Labor government, will pursue.

In the very short time that I have, I draw the attention of honourable members to a couple of the recommendations and conclusions in the report, the significance of which may not be immediately obvious. The first one is that the Committee has added to the standard concept of Australia's area of strategic interest, which is broadly South East Asia and the South Pacific area, the new concept of Australia's area of principal defence interest, and this area comprises the Australian continent-I hasten to add that it also includes Tasmania in case some of our Tasmanian colleagues take exception-and Australia's off-shore territories. The report goes on to recommend that the principal focus of our Defence Force operations would be the maritime and air approaches to Australia and any potential bases and staging areas from which opposing forces may be launched. I believe that the adoption of this concept would require significant changes in our force structure.

The Committee also gave detailed consideration to the operation of command and control of the Defence Force. Briefly, the Committee opted for an extension of joint service commands responsible directly to the Chief of Defence Force Staff rather than establishing broad functional commands. I direct honourable members' attention particularly to paragraphs 42 to 46 of the report. The Committee found that there was general agreement that any future military conflict involving Australia's armed forces is likely to be based on joint, rather than single, service operations and that the Australian Defence Force needs to be well practised in joint operations in order to facilitate the transition to this wartime structure.

The Committee considers that there are deficiencies in the present Australian Defence Force command structure to meet current peacetime tasks and roles. Of particular concern to the Committee is the fact that the command structure does not, as presently constituted in doctrine and practice, provide a suitable means for meeting future operational requirements. The Committee believes that the command structure of the Australian Defence Force should be restructured along joint service lines and considers that the detailed composition of Australia's joint operational command structure should be determined by the Chief of Defence Force Staff and the Department of Defence and recommends that studies be conducted into this matter.

In addition to the Army's operational deployment force, early consideration should be given to establishing joint force headquarters tasks of surveillance, early warning air defence and coastal surveillance. The Committee considers that the present chain of command linking the Chief of Defence Force Staff and his commanders in the field is unduly complicated and subject to conflicts of interests at all levels and recommends that the chain of command be simplified by removing the service Chiefs of Staff from the operational chain of command. The Committee considers that the present staff support for the Chief of Defence Force Staff is inadequate and recommends that this matter be investigated as part of the studies into an appropriate joint service command structure for the Australian Defence Force and that at least the nucleus of an Australian Defence Force headquarters be established to exercise operational command over our armed forces in peacetime. Implicit in this recommendation is a complete overhaul of the traditional approach to command and control of the Australian Defence Force.

The Committee was not satisfied, as honourable members have pointed out, with the present arrangements for coastal surveillance. The Committee notes that there is considerable correlation between defence and coastal surveillance requirements in peacetime and concludes that the Australian Defence Force should be assigned overall responsibility for co-ordinating all forms of surveillance tasks.

The report speaks for itself on a wide range of issues. The Committee believes that the report will provide the focus for an enlightened debate on Australia's defence requirements. In commending the report to the House, as Chairman of the Joint Committee I wish to place on record our appreciation of the work of the Sub-Committee and particularly its Chairman, the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross). The Sub-Committee was fortunate in having Mr Peter Gibson, a former Army officer, as Secretary and the expert advice of the Committee's defence adviser, Dr Cheeseman.