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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1943

Mr WHITE(1.06) —I second the motion, which states:

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.

What we are talking about here is this Government's commitment to ANZUS. As the Leader of the National Party (Mr Sinclair) has just clearly pointed out, when it really comes to the crunch, despite what it says, when these ships come and the Government is put on the spot, it ducks the issue, as he has just demonstrated by talking about the USS Texas. We are talking about a commitment to a treaty that has been in existence for 34 years. It is no use the Government piously saying that it supports ANZUS, but not meeting its responsibilities under that Treaty.

As was mentioned a few minutes ago by the Leader of the National Party, the biggest demonstration of that, of course, is when we re-examine the MX missile decision, because there we saw an ally asking another ally, under the Treaty, whether it would give some very limited help-very limited; a few aircraft staging through one of our airfields. The answer initially by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was yes-which would be a natural answer from a Prime Minister of an allied country to another. But then, after a few phone calls and a bit of pressure, the Prime Minister got very nervous. What happened, in fact, was that he put his own skin right ahead of the requirements of this nation. His own survival suddenly became much more important than the rights of the country that he is purporting to lead, and he threw in the towel.

What the world saw was a weak example of leadership. Unfortunately, that is what the world will never forget. We see it today in the result of the float of the dollar. 'Float' is hardly the word to describe it, because ever since that decision it has been sinking steadily. The problem is that Australia has now become an unreliable ally, and not only in American eyes. Any country would look at us with suspicion now-'How good are they? Will they stick?' That is the question they are asking. It is quite clear that we having dumped the Americans over visits of ships and over the MX missile decision, they would regard it as their right, if it was in their national interest, to dump us just as quickly.

The reality now is that we must ask what we should do. What we have to do is become more self-sufficient in terms of defence. For two years the Ministers for Defence have been talking glibly about becoming more self-sufficient. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) goes roving around the world saying 'Yes, we are becoming self-sufficient in defence', and the current Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) keeps talking about the Guam doctrine and our responsibilities for self-sufficiency under that doctrine. But the reality is that for two years the defences of this country have been run steadily down, down and down.

Mr John Brown —Rubbish.

Mr WHITE —And the honourable member knows that is true. Firstly, let us look at the ANZUS Treaty. The ANZUS Treaty is in disarray. If that is not a significant weakening of the defence forces of this country, then I do not know what is. If the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence is to speak on this matter, I should be interested in what he has to say about that. It is partly because of the MX decision. It cannot be blamed entirely on the New Zealand decision, bad as that was. It is because we, as a country, refuse to acknowledge our responsibilities under that Treaty. So if that is not a significant weakening of the defence of this country, I do not know what is.

Let us look at another matter that has significantly weakened the defences of this country-the Prime Minister's attitude towards defence and defence forces. Those of us who were in this House on Tuesday during Question Time saw a prime example of what I am talking about when the Prime Minister responded to a question about peace and he got on to the Vietnam war. Speaking about the Government of that time, he said:

. . . the way they manipulated the people of Australia for those obscene purposes.

He was talking about all those who were associated with the Vietnam war-'obscene purposes'. It is of some interest and some shame for fellow Australians, particularly those 47,000 who served in Vietnam, to hear their Prime Minister describe their involvement as an 'obscene' purpose, and it will not be forgotten. Even those who disagreed with the war, the purpose of the war and certainly its outcome, would have the decency to at least acknowledge that those who were sent to Vietnam were sent by the elected Government of this country. To denigrate 47,000 servicemen and service women by talking about their involvement in an obscene purpose is something he will not be allowed to forget.

That is the second example of why the defence forces of this country are becoming steadily weaker. It is because the Prime Minister sets the example of this country as to what he thinks about its defence forces. If anyone thinks that that involvement was not an honest attempt to turn back a communist government, then I invite them to go to Vietnam today. I was lucky enough to be there 12 months ago. It is a country totally in the grip of a totalitarian government. My visit just reaffirmed what I had always thought-that the attempt by Australians and Americans and other democratic countries to roll back that tide was worth the effort.

So, that is the Prime Minister's attitude to the defences of this country. Let us look at the Government's attitude. It has spent the last two years kicking the defence forces to death. Like it or not, what we have now throughout our defence forces is an air of disillusionment and malaise. They believe that the Government does not care-and they are right. One has only to look at the resignation figures for officers in the armed forces. On current figures for this financial year, up to June 1985, resignations will certainly exceed 700. Last year it was 679. This year, if it exceeds 700, which it will, it will be the second highest figure for 10 years; and it is not without interest to note that the highest figure in the last 10 years was in 1974-75 the last year of the Whitlam Government, when it reached 799. It is more than coincidence that we get the highest resignation figure when the Labor Party is in power.

One of the things that I would suggest to the Minister for Defence, to put some guts, determination and sense of objective back into the armed forces, is that he should have a good look at the number of the armed forces and the civilians in defence in Canberra. Seven hundred and ninety-one majors serve in this city-majors or equivalent ranks throughout the three Services-and 523 lieutenant-colonels. There is an enormous number of officers in Canberra-not to mention the 4,600 public servants in Canberra in the Department of Defence, an increase of nearly 400 since last year.

While talking in some detail about the Services, let me just mention that one of the reasons for this sense of disillusionment and despair is that Service people's conditions of service have fallen so far behind what might be regarded as the norm. For years there has been no adjustment of their pay. I was told yesterday by a welfare organisation in this city that it has identified 400 junior servicemen existing on their pay plus supplementary handouts, because without the supplementary handouts they would be starving. Their housing throughout Australia gets worse and worse. Despite---

Mr John Brown —You did a lot of good for them when in government! You ignored the problem totally.

Mr WHITE —The blame may not lie entirely with the Government, but what has it done in the last two years to correct matters? Absolutely nothing. What is happening is that the Government is forgetting that in the end it is people, men and women, who man the fighting machines of war, and if it does not look after them, it will not have any defence.

While talking about fighting machinery, let us have a quick look at what we have. The First Brigade in Townsville, the cutting edge of our Army, is poorly armed and unable to move. Today, I understand that Project Waler has also been cancelled, although it is absolutely essential in terms of mobility in this country. The other brigades are, in fact, worse off. The reserves have become almost non-existent. I am told, 'If you can find 10,000 active reservists in this country, you would be very lucky'. The Air Force has modern planes without armaments. It is given a range of tasks that 10 air forces could not meet. There is no capacity for aerial refuelling, and certainly no airborne radar. The Navy is reduced almost to a coastal patrol force.

It is interesting that in the last few days this is what Air Marshal David Evans, the retiring Chief of the Air Staff, is reported to have said about the defence forces of this country:

The Australian defence forces have no agreement on how to defend the country. There isn't a concept. We don't know where we are going.

Air Marshal Evans is one of four senior officers of our defence forces.

The problem is that Australia will not meet its commitments under the ANZUS Treaty. It will not allow allied American ships into its ports.

Mr Cross —Nonsense.

Mr WHITE —Why did the Texas not go to Sydney or Melbourne?

Mr John Brown —There was no request, you dummy.

Mr WHITE —Because honourable members opposite dodged the issue, as they did with the Invincible. They put out some Press release saying that they had not been asked. What a lot of nonsense! How do they expect our American and United Kingdom allies to get port access here when they will not allow it to get that far? How are they going to operate in this part of the world without some sort of port access.

We either fulfil our obligations under this Treaty or we let the Treaty go. If we let it go and the Government thinks we are going to defend this country with what we have got, it is mad, or stupid, or both. Either way, we need more self-reliance. We have never before fought a war without a major ally. We could not fight a war at the moment without a great deal of assistance from a major ally. If the Government is cynical, as it is about the ANZUS alliance, I presume that it will not accept the support that is offered if it is needed. But I know, and honourable members know very well, that, should we want it, should another 1942 come, we would accept it. It seems to me very strange that we allow our navy to exercise with nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships, but we will not allow such ships into our ports. It is all right for our servicemen to be put at risk at sea, but when they come home it is a different matter. That just about sums up the hypocrisy of this Government towards the ANZUS alliance.