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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1104


Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(3.00) —Yesterday at Question Time the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) told the House, in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock):

I have not received any such invitation or communication from Mr Weinberger.

We remember the response was to a question broached by the Leader of the Opposition with respect to the strategic defence initiative and commenting on newspaper reports yesterday about a possible approach to Australia. Our concern today is a mixture of, first, the Prime Minister telling us one thing in the House and the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) saying another thing outside the House. We have obviously a situation where the Prime Minister's position is apparently one which he is not prepared to expose in public. Indeed it is in that that we have our second concern, for we believe that the Prime Minister told one thing to the Americans in the United States of America and both here in the House and in public places he is refusing to acknowledge that he gave the Americans every reason to believe that there could be a positive response on this matter.

The third concern is that we see the exercise by this Labor Government as demonstrating more and more that the left wing, the socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party, the factional divisions which are becoming more and more paramount, is at a stage where in foreign policy, when the Left calls the tune, the Labor Party acts out that same story of following the rats down the hole that we saw so long ago in the Pied Piper of Hamelin. We need to remember that the Prime Minister might be a hawke abroad but he is certainly a chicken at home.

Let us look first of all at his answer in the House today. He told us that he was quite prepared to consider an invitation that has been received from Mr Weinberger, the Secretary of Defence of the United States, about participating in research towards the strategic defence initiative. Let us get our ground rules first. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has said on a number of occasions.

The United States Administration has . . . made it clear that at this stage it is only engaged in research, and will not proceed with the idea of seeking to replace assured destruction by assured defence if this would jeopardise its own security or that of its allies.

As a result of the Prime Minister's answer in the House today we all know an approach was made inviting Australia, along with all the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to participate in defence towards the strategic defence initiative. We know equally that those countries within NATO have already given their general approval. Certainly there are some variations from country to country, but they have given overall a general acceptance to the United States that they will participate in research towards developing the strategic defence initiative. We know there has been an approach to Australia. We know that in Luxembourg the Secretary for Defence made a public statement and various defence Ministers of the NATO nations have responded all echoing general support for the SDI. We also know that there has been a very significant reaction by the Soviet Union to the SDI by being prepared to go to Geneva and to participate in disarmament talks.

So we have a situation where we have a conflict within the Government because the Prime Minister is not prepared to do the right thing or to be honest with himself, and we have a conflict because the minute the Prime Minister comes into the House and denies there has been an approach, the Defence Minister outside the House says: 'It does not matter if there is going to be an approach. We will reject it'. We cannot blame the Defence Minister because that is where the real quandary for the Labor Party and Australia lies. My colleague the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), reminded us all of this matter in that question he asked the Prime Minister a little while ago. When the Prime Minister was in the United States only a month ago, honourable members will remember, he responded to a question about the attitude of Australia towards the SDI and he gave a very firm denial of Australia's support for it. He said:

. . . I made it clear both in my discussions with the President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense that we could not support the SDI initiative.

Even there we had a conflict with the communique that came out with Mr Shultz. Honourable members will remember that conflicting second paragraph that the Foreign Minister was asked to deny as soon as it become public. On 6 February 1985 George Shultz said:

During our discussions, we reaffirmed that nuclear deterrence is basic to the maintenance of strategic stability between the super-powers, and the stability is essential both for the preservation of peace and to provide the basis for effective arms reduction measures.

I know the Government will say: 'But that referred to MX missiles'. We know those discussions also embraced the SDI. In that joint communique there was every indication that the Prime Minister had shown that he was generally prepared to endorse initiatives taken by the United States towards developing a non-nuclear defence initiative, which is what the SDI is all about. Indeed the Prime Minister continued in that joint communique to say:

We, as a government, and the people of Australia have played a part in the maintenance of systems in the past which have been necessary to ensure a world which is not threatened with a nuclear holocaust. We have willingly played out part in those processes. We will continue to do so.

Yet we had that conflicting statement when he went public. Remember, he said he would not have anything to do with it. We have to remember that Secretary Weinberger, in his statement yesterday, when asked whether an approach had been made to New Zealand said: 'No, we have lost the address.' Why do honourable members think he had lost the address. He had lost it because he knew of the response of the New Zealand Government. Make no bones about it, when George Shultz spoke to Bob Hawke and when Ron and Bob sat down at that table together, if they ever did, we can be sure that what Hawke said to him was: 'Yes, we are very sympathetic with what you are doing. We are your good allies. If you make an approach to us we will respond'. That is why that approach was made by Secretary Weinberger to the Australian Government, and that is why today, in total conflict with that response in the United States, quite contrary to the denial yesterday of the Minister for Defence, the Prime Minister has said: 'Yes, we will consider the proposition'.

In looking at the result of this we need to consider first of all that there is a total contradiction between what is quite apparently the Prime Minister's private position and his public position. The Defence Minister is following the well-known, publicly expressed attitude that the Prime Minister gave in public in the United States and presumably has given in private to the Labor Caucus. But what has happened today, and what happened in the Secretary of Defense's sending a letter to the Australian Government, is that we now have the true picture of what has been undertaken by the Prime Minister in private. He is saying: 'Of course we are good allies. Of course we are quite prepared to continue to play our part in the maintenance of systems which make a contribution towards preventing a nuclear holocaust'. But the Prime Minister in public and in private is two different people. It is not good enough for him to believe one thing and to do another. We need to remember that this is not the first occasion this has happened. Remember the sad record of Labor in the general defence field. Remember the HMS Invincible exercise, the fact that we had first of all--


Mr Beazley —Ha, ha!


Mr SINCLAIR —Well might you laugh, my friend. What happened with the Invincible exercise? There we had the absolutely unbelievable exercise of the United Kingdom Government making private approaches and the then Minister for Defence saying: 'Of course, we have not had an approach'. The Government had not had an official letter but it had had so many consultations that it spent thousands of dollars preparing the Captain Cook dock so the Invincible could be dry-docked. It entered into an arrangement privately and when it came to the pressure the left wing got the Government by the scruff of the neck and said: 'No, you can't do that'. Mind you the unions said later: 'Even if you had said yes we would not have been prepared to work'. But the Invincible episode showed that Labor in foreign policy is not to be trusted.

If that were not bad enough, we had all the very justifiable concern-we even had expressions of regret by the Prime Minister-about the present state of play in ANZUS. Look what happened with the MX missiles. Honourable members will remember that he went to Brussels. He was not prepared to wait until he got to Washington. He was not prepared to enter into a proper dialogue with the President in that Ron and Bob show. What he did was to have a Press conference in Brussels. He said: 'We are not prepared any longer to participate in giving the limited assistance you want in facilitating the MX missile testing program in the South Pacific'.

Today we have the third chapter in this unsorry exercise. Labor is not to be trusted. Labor is in a state where it is not prepared to play a responsible part in trying to assist the United States in developing a strong position within the disarmament talks. Nor is it prepared even to adopt the position which all the other NATO countries have taken with respect to research into the development of SDI. All the other NATO countries have said yes. What do this Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister do? They say: 'No, we are not prepared to embark on what is a non-nuclear defence research project. We are not prepared to participate'.


Mr Peacock —Before they even got the request.


Mr SINCLAIR —Before they even got the request. All the circumstances of this third chapter in the Labor Party turning its back on the Americans reflect very sadly on the credibility of the Australian nation. If that were not bad enough, we have had another announcement. This announcement is with respect to the rail gun project. I am not too sure where we are as a result of the Prime Minister's answer today. In fact, he did not say a great deal except that it is a project that has been going on for a very long time and that it really relates to some type of an electro-accelerator project which is going to take place in the atmosphere and, therefore, it will not take place in space. But we need to understand that both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have commended the whole of this rail gun accelerator project as being a worthwhile development for Australia's defence.

Any number of projects are, of course, undertaken on an experimental basis. Mr Hayden has said that the Government supported the rail gun project because it is going to contribute significantly to deter any sort of an attack from an Exocet missile and that it is a project which will fit in very well with the needs of the Australian defence program. Mr Hawke, similarly during the election campaign, said the rail gun project-


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Would the right honourable member address the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs by their correct titles.


Mr SINCLAIR —The comments made during the election campaign show that the Government was quite prepared to accept this rail gun project. Yet yesterday we had the comments by the Minister for Defence which show that there, too, there will be a termination of this program. The Defence Minister yesterday, through a spokesman, said that Australia's involvement with the rapid fire electro-magnetic rail gun would end before another phase of the research begins in 1987. If that were because the project had not succeeded or because in some way it was against Australia's defence interest, we could understand that. But we need to understand that what is happening is that more and more Labor is showing itself to be host to the Left in any matters that affect the defence of this country. Indeed, one of the sad indictments of Labor is that when it comes to making public utterances on defence we know that the only people we can listen to are those from the Left.

Indeed, if we are looking at disarmament the same applies. It is quite important that the people of Australia understand that as we come to Palm Sunday, when throughout Australia I understand that there are to be marches generally in support of peace, those on this side of the House believe that peace can be achieved in a number of ways. It can be achieved by working responsibly with other nations of like mind towards achieving reductions in nuclear arms. The Government can achieve disarmament best by helping the Americans towards a position of strength at the conference table in Geneva. When the Soviets come to those talks-it was they who walked out of the strategic arms limitation talks; let no one be mistaken-we can help the Americans best by playing a responsible part with them in order to show that we are working, within a world embrace, towards containing any type of nuclear threat to the world.

Thirdly, Australia can contribute by participating in research programs towards that end. For that reason we support the participation, in the same way as the other NATO nations, in research towards the SDI concept. It is certain that were we in government we would be very sympathetically considering this approach from Mr Weinberger. We would not be prematurely dismissing the whole offer, as the Defence Minister has. Indeed, sadly, in looking at the whole matter of disarmament, the Hawke Government's disarmament policy owes much less to John Curtin than it does to Wilfred Burchett. I think it is a sad indictment of Labor that it has forsaken principle for expediency. The Labor Party has forsaken disarmament and a responsible role in minimising the risk of nuclear holocaust for the sake of momentary glory and the satisfaction of those few in the Left who currently hold the Government by the throat.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.