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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 300

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Defence)(4.40) —The address of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) was somewhat more modulated than perhaps he intended this morning when he laid down the matter of public importance to be discussed in this debate. He has obviously been trying to re-leash his defence spokesman in this regard, with some success but not sufficient success. Clearly, the course of action that has been suggested by the Opposition defence spokesman, the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair), in relation to New Zealand-when he raises the possibility of trade threats and trade sanctions, when he urges us to a more militant course of action in relation to the New Zealanders-means that he can walk out of this debate with his reputation undiminished as the only mallee bull in this place who carries his own china shop around with him.

The manner in which this Government has conducted itself while this unfortunate situation has developed between the United States and New Zealand has been perfectly in line with the type of relationship which was conducted by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs, albeit not confronting this crisis. The Leader of the Opposition decided he would have a brief chat about nuclear warship visits at the end of his statement. I was not going to be drawn into that, but let me make one or two points in that area that will outline for honourable members both the position of this Government and the position of our predecessors on some of these matters.

It has been clear from the time this Government was elected, and in fact well before that, that it accepts visits by nuclear-powered nuclear-armed warships of the United States to this country. If there is any proof required of that there were 46 visits by American warships to this country last year, and there have been several visits this year. Only once in Australian history has any ban been placed upon any element of the United States defence force entering this country; that was, of course, by the McMahon Government in 1971, when it banned visits by nuclear-powered warships.

The Whitlam Government, when it came into office, found itself confronted with a slightly embarrassing situation in regard to ANZUS, so it implemented an investigation of the environmental and safety factors involved in visits by nuclear-powered warships to this country, and put in place a set of environmental and safety criteria. That was at about the time when the Whitlam Government fell. The Fraser Government was enabled in 1976 to lift its bans on American warships.

That was the situation which posed us some difficulty at the time in our relationship with the United States. The McMahon Government had proceeded on that course. As the incoming government we recognised the potential implications of this for ANZUS and dealt with it accordingly in a sensible and responsible fashion, which ultimately enabled the Government coming back into office to deal with that problem. As members of the Opposition would be aware, under those safety regulations-implemented initially by us and then amended slightly by the Leader of the National Party when he was Minister for Defence-there are still some restrictions on port entry associated with nuclear-powered warships. I have taken that out and put it in a separate category.

The Opposition should not come into this place, all holy, wrapping itself in the flag, trying to demonstrate that this Government in its stewardship does not take its obligations seriously in that regard. The Opposition should not suggest to this Government that we are not aware of the requirement for the defence of this nation that the American alliance should remain undiminished, despite the events which have occurred in relations between New Zealand and the United States.

This Government's agreement with the United States and the umbrella that the ANZUS alliance affords us are elements of co-operation which are essential to us. On the testimony of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) and more recently by me, they are undiminished. They are undiminished under the statements made by the President of the United States, the United States Secretary of State, the United States Secretary of Defence and the relevant spokesmen who more ordinarily handle day to day business in relations with Australia. There is no question in the minds of any of those people that in all the many areas of co-operation with Australia the relationship between Australia and the United States, irrespective of anything happening in relation to New Zealand, remains undiminished. To suggest that something has occurred which in any way, shape or form places Australian security in jeopardy flies directly in the face not only of the advice of this Government, solidly backed up by evidence, but also it flies in the face of statements made by the United States.

Instead of coming into this place to try to demonstrate that somehow or other there was an inadequacy in this regard, the Opposition should have given at least some acknowledgement to that fact. It should show some expression of delight, appreciation or whatever, that this situation still obtains. Instead, as always we get from the Opposition some attempt to divide this Government from the United States-in this instance based on totally spurious evidence. The fact of the matter is, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs outlined, that there is a substantial difference in the nature of the bilateral relationship under the ANZUS rubric between ourselves and the United States and that which exists between New Zealand and the United States. There is a substantial difference in the attitudes of the various populations to that relationship in both its bilateral and trilateral aspects.

There is no question that since the 1960s the bilateral relationship between Australia and the United States has deepened considerably in the areas of joint activity on what might be entitled national security matters. That level of relationship is obviously deeper than any relationship in that regard established between the United States and New Zealand. Likewise, there is an element of our relationship with New Zealand which demonstrates that the primary aspect of that relationship too is bilateral. Our economic arrangements with New Zealand are bilateral. There are many areas of co-operation in the diplomatic area and the defence area which are bilateral. Those bilateral relationships are in support of a very important strategic position.

The fact of the matter is that since the early 1970s the United States has looked more and more to countries such as Australia and New Zealand to assume responsibility for the defence and security arrangements of their own areas and not to be constantly leeching off the United States, not to be constantly demanding of the United States more and more performance, extending American obligations and activities beyond those which the Americans feel they can happily live with. Those responsibilities which have been imposed on us have caused successive Australian governments to assume a level of responsibility for general security arrangements in the environment of the South Pacific-a far greater level of responsibility than they had, at least to the time when the United States began to be concerned about that matter.

We have a relationship with New Zealand which is enormously important in the South Pacific context. This Government, since this difficulty in relations between Australia and New Zealand arose, has been making it clear cut to both parties exactly where Australia stands on the issue. There has never been any doubt about that. It has also been ensuring that, insofar as the American alliance is important for the national security of this country, that relationship should be undiminished. It has been successful in that.

Secondly, this Government has been ensuring that insofar as the bilateral relationship with New Zealand is important to Australia and New Zealand economically, and important in strategic terms in the South Pacific, whatever the outcome of that quarrel there will be an undiminished posture in favour of an environment that suits ourselves. We have been successful in that regard, too. This Government is proceeding in a sensible, modulated fashion-the sort of fashion which I think the Opposition in government would pursue, and indeed was pursuing in its own comments on the matter until afflicted with the sort of sciatica, or whatever it is, which seems to afflict Opposition members and which makes them jittery around election time.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! The Minister's time has elapsed. The discussion is concluded.