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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1939


Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(12.45) —I move:

That this House reaffirms its policy to welcome visiting ships and aircraft of nuclear allies, subject to our allies meeting the safeguard conditions laid down by the Fraser Government.

This notice was given at the commencement of the proceedings of the House. There is no doubt among any of us that the circumstances of the Labor Government's attitude towards visits of ships of our friends and allies has perhaps been at the key of defence policy consideration. We know that it is on that issue that New Zealand has walked away from its ANZUS commitment. We know that it is on that issue that the former Minister for Defence bungled his way through the whole of that Invincible fiasco. We know that it is on that issue that there has been considerable vacillation between different sectors and factions within the Labor Party. We know that on the question of the visits of ships of our nuclear allies, Labor Premiers have consistently taken attitudes which show little regard for the responsibilities that our international alliances place on us. We know that it is on that issue that the Labor Party itself is perhaps best demonstrated as being at the very least an uncertain friend and ally; and it is on that issue that the public at large in Australia judges the credibility of this Labor Government.

I think perhaps it is because of that issue, indeed, that the Australian dollar is at the level it now suffers. It is a matter of international perspectives to determine whether a government's word can be believed. It is certainly a matter of very great regret to the members of the Liberal and National parties that the Government of Australia seems uncertain in a field which so profoundly affects international perspectives of our reliability as a nation, as a friend, and as an ally. Of course, sadly, all this happens just after the fortieth anniversary of VE day-Victory in Europe.

We need to remember that the last World War was an occasion when Australia was certainly under threat; when areas of Australia were subject to aggressive bombardment by a hostile foe. We need to remember that were it not for the visits of ships of that same ally for which elements of the Labor Party would seek to deny the right of visits to Australia, we would now probably be hosts entirely to another nation. Indeed, those who suffered in Darwin, those who were subject to bombardment throughout northern Australia, and in Queensland, and those who were subjected to a mini-submarine attack in Sydney, recall that it was only because of the alliance with the United States and the success of the American forces in the battle of the Coral Sea that the democracy and freedoms, which we all take for granted, were preserved.

Sadly, the circumstances of the Labor Government's record as an ally are constantly being thrown into question because of the incredible behaviour of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). Indeed, at this very moment we have a Foreign Minister who made a great to-do, before he left Australia, about his concern about peace and disarmament. He told the people of Australia in this Parliament that he was going to call on the Soviet Union and the United States to enter into disarmament talks and that he was going to enforce in some extraordinary way the Australian imperative that they meet and do something furthering disarmament around the world.

Disarmament is something that we happen to believe in. We do not just believe in rhetoric. Of course, the Foreign Minister, at the very moment that I am making this speech, is over in India and the Indian sub-continent on what seems a tour remarkably light on official duties. A visit to Bangladesh, a country which is extraordinarily important in the Indian sub-continent, is not even on his agenda; but have no fear, Kashmir is. He is going to Katmandu. He has been to Penang. He is spending a month just travelling around, and I have no doubt that there will be many nights of pleasant and leisurely entertainment.

That is all very well, but while he is there he should properly not be saying, as I heard him say this morning, that Australia's role in international peace keeping forces was going to be reviewed. I believe that one of the great contributions of Australian servicemen and of past Australian governments has been our preparedness to act as a reliable friend and ally and to try to promote peace in the world. One does not promote peace by running back to one's burrow. One does not promote peace by questioning Australia's participation in United Nations forces. One does not achieve peace by not being prepared to defend one's country and not being prepared to take a stance to ensure that those who show aggressive intent against it will be contained. Yet, sadly, that seems to be the attitude of the Foreign Minister, and as a result it is a perspective that others take of Australia.

Government members interjecting-


Mr SINCLAIR —I am delighted to see you in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I speak of the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar). I think it is important that we realise that the whole of Australia's security system is now being attacked by this Labor Government. ANZUS is still relevant, and while members of the Labor Party are running around the country and saying that it should be scrapped or changed, the 'nonsense' remark that I heard interjected a moment ago frankly just is not correct. One cannot have the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) saying that there should be a review of ANZUS. One cannot have the Foreign Minister saying that ANZUS needs to be changed. One cannot have the man who is now Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) but who was at the time the Federal President of the ALP and of the Australian Council of Trade Unions signing an advertisement calling for Australia to end the ANZUS military alliance and expect the Labor Party to have any credibility in the field. Honourable members might say 'nonsense'; but what does his Prime Minister say? It might have been a few years ago but, surely, is the Prime Minister so subject to change in his fundamental attitudes in a defence alliance that in the last 10 years he has done a complete about face? I know he does an about face every time he sees the winds of change in the Labor Caucus, but surely to goodness, on something that is fundamental to Australia, even the Prime Minister is not going to change his mind. If he meant in 1976 that the ANZUS military alliance should be terminated, why now is his word to be believed when he says that he wants to preserve it?

That is what this motion is all about. It is not just a matter of facilitating visits of ships and aircraft of nuclear allies; it is a matter of ensuring that our defence alliances and our treaty obligations are fulfilled.

I feel very sad that the Labor Government was not prepared to go out and do something about trying to get the New Zealand Government to change its mind. In fact, it is incredible to me that the New Zealand Prime Minister and the Labor Party, whether it is in Australia or New Zealand, claim to have some great consensus within their ranks. Mind you, not too many of us have seen signs of it. But if it has consensus, why did the Prime Minister of New Zealand leave it almost until the very end of his international jet-setting to call on Australia? Then he did so for only a few hours, because he had to rush home to decide an issue about the visit of the All Blacks to South Africa.

Frankly, the Prime Minister of New Zealand has shown what little regard he has for the Australian Prime Minister and for the Australian Labor Party. But what the Australian Labor Party should be doing is listening and working to try and ensure that if there are actions being taken by the New Zealand Government that will hinder progress in Australia and affect our national security, it does something to correct it. I believe that it is not sufficient just to blame New Zealand for what has happened in the whole field of the setting aside of the ANZUS Treaty. The Federal Labor Government has equal responsibility, and I believe it is very much to be regretted that we now find the ANZUS Treaty in a state of disarray and suspension, with, incredibly, the 1985 exercises, which are customarily set down for the tripartite involvement of Australia, New Zealand and the United States, to be split, with one exercise between the United States and Australia and another between New Zealand and Australia. Frankly, the whole set-up just is not good enough. It does put Australia's security at risk, and I think it creates doubt about the future integrity and security of this nation.

I do not believe that is a charge which is too lightly laid. In this place we have said before that we are concerned about the rundown of the defence forces under Labor, and, sadly, day by day it happens. We read, only today, that Project Waler is to be shelved for five years. There were the doubts about the re-equipment of the navy with the new Sea Hawke helicopters. There have been very real doubts cast upon the capability of the navy since the fixed-wing aviation component of the Fleet Air Arm was scrapped, and, frankly, the Government has not accelerated the refit of the FFGs so that they would be able to get their stabilisers and be able to receive helicopters. There are many matters in the three Armed Services that are of great concern. We have no airborne early warning radar. Even the 707s that are required for aerial refuelling have not been refitted; they are not even on the program. Last year, two of my colleagues raised quite seriously the problems that existed in the shortfall of equipment in the Australian Army. So we have, in the three Services, circumstances where there is a less than adequate defence capability in the Australian defence forces. Yet while this is happening, our overseas defence alliances are being set aside.

We cannot expect others to come to our assistance, or to work with us, unless we are prepared to work with them. There is no right unless there is an exercise of responsibility. We cannot go to the Americans, to the British or to any of the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations and say: 'Come and defend us; we cannot do it for ourselves'. Frankly, that is about the state of play we are reaching in this Labor Government's approach to defence.

We need to understand that this motion is really indicative, therefore, not of just an isolated circumstance, but of a condition that, regrettably, stretches right across the whole field of the defence relationship. It is one that goes to the core of the international perspective of Australian integrity. It has been compounded because of that incredible circumstance that led to the non-dry-docking of HMS Invincible, the circumstances in which we had a document, which I do not think any clear-thinking person could comprehend, from the then Minister for Defence on the basis by which there would be dry docking facilities provided in Australia. Indeed, it will be recalled that we had a circumstance where the HMS Invincible came to Australia and its captain expected it to be dry-docked, the navy having spent money preparing the Captain Cook Dock to receive the ship, and then suddenly the Minister said: 'We cannot do that; we were not really asked'. Really, the whole thing was so incredible that if he did not have egg on his face, I am afraid the Australian nation did, and Australian credibility to boot.

The sad result of that was not only the problems in the non-dry-docking, but the total uncertainty about any circumstances in which a nuclear capable vessel-remember, it was not nuclear powered; it was nuclear capable-would be allowed to be dry-docked in Australia. I believe that circumstances of our alliance with the United States and with the United Kingdom and the five-power treaty are now very much in doubt because of the prevarication of that former Minister and the fact that the present Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has made no comment to in any way reverse that stance.

As I explained, though, I think there are other circumstances about which this place also needs to concern itself. For the developments in the whole field of our reliability as an ally were, regrettably, extended very much by the Prime Minister's overseas change of heart with respect to the MX missile testing program. We need to remember that for nearly 12 months after the election of Labor, there was an acceptance by the Americans and by the Australian Government that the testing would go on. But what happened? Suddenly the National Times published an article. As a result of the publication of that article, there were, suddenly, a few telephone calls between Australia and Brussels. It was not a matter of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers considering whether the testing should have gone ahead.

The Prime Minister did not bother to tell his Cabinet. Mind you, I can understand why he would not want to tell half of them, but, at the same time, he appointed them, and if he does not believe in their credibility, their integrity or their capabilities, then they should not be there. We have been telling him that ever since they were elected. But regrettably the message has not yet got through. What happened was, of course, that he suddenly thought that he was not going to have the numbers. It will be recalled that when he was winging his way across on that 29-hour flight to Brussels, the MX story appeared in the National Times. Then, on Sunday, 3 February, the Prime Minister's suite began to receive a few telephone calls, and by the end of the trip, eight days later, the Prime Minister's phone bill must have been horrendous, because seemingly he had consulted everybody about what he thought everybody wanted him to do.

How is that for a Prime Minister to behave? The MX missile, relations with our ANZUS partner-and he claims that he is going to maintain his ANZUS relationship. I ask you! What he did with the MX missile testing program was equally as bad, in my view, as what New Zealand did in refusing visits of ships and aircraft of nuclear allies. Frankly, the ship issue was exactly emulated by the Prime Minister changing his mind, not in proper consultations, not by going into consultations with his Cabinet colleagues and discussing it with the Americans, but just because he was too jolly weak.

Indeed, I heard Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen talk about the Prime Minister and the degree to which he was quite subject to the influence and power of the ACTU, and he compared him to putty. He said: 'He is just like putty in the hands of the ACTU'. How true it is, because it is exactly what happened with the MX missile. He did not do what was right for Australia; he did not do what he knew he should do; he did not do what he told the Americans he was going to do for 12 months. He did what he said the Caucus forced him to do. Of course, what happened was that by 7 a.m. on 5 February, Prime Minister Hawke decided that he really had to change his mind. So he told the Reagan Administration that Australia would not help in the MX missile tests. We know that at 8 p.m. on that day the Prime Minister met United States Secretary of State George Shultz in the 15th floor suite of the Madison Hotel. We know that the basis of a deal was sorted out. We are told repeatedly by Ministers of the Government that the Americans really said that everything was still okay.

But we know what really happened. The United States decided that it would not publicly humiliate Mr Hawke, but that it would of its own volition say it does not need Australian support for the MX test. No quid pro quo was asked for, but the rub apparently came, I think, in the announcement next day. Next day, there was a joint agreed statement in the foyer of the United States State Department. The communique stated that both men-that is, George Shultz and Robert James Lee Hawke-held a continuing discussion on strategic deterrence and mutual efforts to achieve nuclear arms control. Then comes the key paragraph:

They agreed on the importance of both of these objectives, to which the strategic modernisation program being carried out by the United States is directed.

Now we remember what happened. Bill Hayden got on the phone to say, 'Hey, look, hang on there Prime Minister. We can't wear that', and before we knew what was what he even changed his mind on that. The officials, without any doubt, accepted that that meant that the Australian Government accepted as was stated in that first communique, the importance of both objectives-that is, strategic deterrence and nuclear arms control-and it accepted that in achieving those two objectives, the strategic modernisation program was important. Not only did the Prime Minister then change his mind; he came back, and then he even rebuffed the United States on their request for Australia to participate in the strategic defence initiative research. It was not participating in SDI; it was participating in research to develop a strategic defence initiative.

I think it is a sad indictment of Labor that it is just not prepared to put its action where it knows principle should lie. Whether it is a matter of strategic defence initiative, or whether it is a matter of MX missile testing, or whether it is a prevarication on the terms and conditions of visiting ships and aircraft, it is about time the people of the world knew that this Parliament knows where we should be going. The motion that I am now moving would ensure that the people of the world, including our friends and allies, knew our position.

People also need to know that whilst the Labor Party is no doubt about to rise and say, 'Ho, ho, we are behind these visits of nuclear ships', the USS Texas was, as will be recalled, recently in Australian waters. I am not too sure, indeed, whether she has yet left them. The USS Texas was initially scheduled to visit Melbourne and Sydney. The USS Texas is not nuclear powered but is nuclear capable. The United States Administration was told that its presence could embarrass the Cain and Wran Labor governments. Thank goodness we have got Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and thank goodness we have got Robin Gray and Ian Tuxworth from the Northern Territory. Thank goodness we have got some States in Australia. Thank goodness there are some Australians who are prepared to stand up and put their money where their mouth is and are prepared to act on principle and not on expediency. The fact that the USS Texas was not allowed to visit either Melbourne or Sydney because two Labor governments were too weak, too uncertain and too unprepared to stand up to the left wing of their Party, frankly, puts the Federal Labor Government in its proper perspective.

This House needs to reaffirm its policy of welcoming visiting ships and aircraft of nuclear allies. There are proper safeguards. I laid them down as Minister. I commend them to the House. They are proper. They take account of the needs and cares of security and safety. Unless we are prepared to reaffirm this policy, frankly, I believe that anybody who says the ANZUS Treaty is still in operation just is not speaking truthfully while there is a Labor government in Australia.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired. Is the motion seconded?