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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1228

Mr HALVERSON(11.29) —It was interesting to observe that the comments by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Charles) were, as usual, heavy on rhetoric and light on substance. When the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities was first tabled in 1986, it precipitated a debate on defence issues which rages to this day. For that, the initiatives of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) must be applauded. However, there is a distinct difference between playing at defence, which appears to be the Minister's wont, and tackling those issues which are fundamental to Australia's present and future defence position. The relationship between Australia, its allies and friends and its role in regional and other potential conflicts need to be considered. Force structure, command and control functions, organisation and the nation's overall defence position are all relevant to any rational analysis. These are the real issues and the Minister should be reminded constantly that defence is not a game to be played on the tables of chance in our casinos, but is of fundamental importance to this great nation now and in the foreseeable future.

Typically, the Minister plays politics today in tabling a White Paper forwarded to the Opposition only minutes before this debate began. As this is the first White Paper tabled by the Hawke Government-the last was tabled by the Fraser Administration in 1976-it is a pity that insufficient time has been offered the Opposition to analyse and criticise constructively such an important document. While operating in an extremely challenging financial environment, 1987 and beyond promises to be a major watershed for Australian defence. There will be unprecedented demand on its capabilities and manpower. It will need all the guile and enterprise it can muster to command the political commitment and funding that it so richly deserves. Significant among the matters requiring immediate attention is the demand to stop the haemorrhaging in service manpower, a matter I shall discuss in detail a little later.

Geopolitical considerations loom large. Australia's relations with the United States of America and New Zealand must be readdressed. Readoption of forward defence or defence in depth in favour of the concept of denial is now the mainspring of our new strategy-a welcome development indeed. Defending the Australian mainland and protecting our sea lanes of communication assume significant importance. Unfortunately, the concept of collective defence in conjunction with our Association of South East Asian Nations neighbours or Japan has also been abandoned or rejected. It appears that bilateral responsibilities entered into with the United States under the Radford-Collins agreement, which commits Australia to assist in the protection of our sea lanes, especially in the areas to the north east and the south west Pacific, have also been abandoned unilaterally. What price our reputation with our sole remaining ANZUS ally?

In this regard a former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, Admiral William Crowe, has emphasised that the United States should not, and probably could not, go it alone in the Pacific and Indian oceans. From our point of view the message should be quite clear as it is for ASEAN and Japan. Japan of course has listened to the warning and has recently, for the first time in its post-war history, increased the level of its defence spending such that it now exceeds one per cent of its gross domestic product. Japanese defence spending can be expected to grow quite quickly and its already impressive `self-defence' forces will expand in scope, capability, size and professionalism. Such expansionism can be expected to send a tremor of apprehension into the minds of governments, not necessarily restricted to those of Australia or New Zealand.

The Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr Shevardnadze, is already on record as having condemned Japan's defence buildup and has further warned of possible Soviet countermeasures. He warned Japan of `overstepping the threshold of responsible moderation' through its recent increases in military spending. These unusually strong comments would not have gone unnoticed in Japan, which monitored closely the Foreign Minister's recent visit to our part of the world. Mr Shevardnadze briefed Australian officials in Canberra that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics wanted `stability and tranquillity' in the Pacific region and went on to claim that the buildup of United States and Japanese forces in the region threatened Soviet security. He further alleged that the USSR felt threatened by the American presence in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Micronesia. If the Minister believes that, he will believe anything.

Perhaps our value to the United States is measured in bases such as those at Pine Gap and North West Cape. Perhaps it is convenient to refuel ships and aircraft of the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. Perhaps we are so strategically important that the United States will accept these tokens as a measure of our commitment and value as an ally. Perhaps! Whilst a reaffirmation of our close defence links with New Zealand is welcome, we on our side of the House deplore the New Zealand Government's policy on visits by nuclear warships and we further deplore the damage that has been done to both its ANZUS and American relationships. However, despite its nuclear objections, New Zealand appears to remain conscious of the contribution it can make to general regional stability.

Given the constantly expanding Soviet presence in Vietnam since 1975-a position frequently denied by Soviet officialdom-the non-communist states in our region of interest have legitimate causes for concern for their security. Soviet military aircraft bases at Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam have the range to launch air attacks as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Formidable naval surface and underwater craft are deployed from its excellent harbour. Russian forces have been deployed from the area since at least 1982 and at present its offensive aircraft are protected by locally based fighters and Soviet marines protect the military installations. Cam Ranh Bay allows the Soviet Union to monitor events in the whole of the South East Asian region and United States activities in the South Pacific. The base is ideally located to isolate and interdict sea traffic over a wide area and, in an emergency or in the event of hostilities, would be of immense value to the USSR. It also provides a check on Chinese naval and military aspirations, whilst allowing rapid deployment over a vast area in support of regional conflicts.

Soviet ambitions in our area of interest cannot be underestimated. Adoption of any doctrine that isolates Australia from its regional friends and allies is fraught with incredible danger. I urge the Minister to review his strategy for Australia's sake and for the wonderful people who populate it. The Minister has been at pains to announce the creation and construction of a substantial new intelligence facility in Western Australia. Doubtless it will have the capacity to interrogate satellites. Whose satellites? Aussat? Satellites of our closest ally, the United States of America? I think not. Satellites of the Indians, the Chinese or the Russians? I think not. This major initiative looks more like a pie in the sky to me. While the gathering of intelligence is of paramount importance to a major regional power such as Australia, the best manner in which we can go about obtaining it is through our clearly and long established links with our allies, notably the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, I fear that an order for submarines from either the West Germans or Sweden would see the provision of a great deal of useful intelligence dry up overnight as the whole of our naval training and operational doctrine developed a totally new emphasis, bias and direction.

Insofar as the United States of America is concerned, whilst it would be possible to remain aligned with the West without the need for formal treaties as such, the implication is that we would increasingly need to become more, if not totally, reliant in defence in order to do so. Given our budgetary problems and the extent of our manufacturing capabilities, such a notion is impossible to sustain. ANZUS must remain a cornerstone of our defence and foreign affairs policies. Despite a small, vocal minority and a generally sympathetic Press, ANZUS-with or without New Zealand-is supported by a substantial majority of the Australian people. Consequently, the provision of essential intelligence exchanges between this nation and the United States should and must be continued. Honourable members will recall the major intelligence coup achieved last year by the Royal Australian Air Force when the newest of the Soviet capital ships was photographed in Pacific waters by Orion maritime patrol aircraft on routine reconnaissance missions from Australia. The exchange of intelligence is a two-way street and we consistently obtain the majority of the bargains from the basement. Additionally, Australia's capacity to gather and evaluate the growing capabilities of our regional neighbours would be seriously diminished, with the consequential implications for the reactionary forces at our disposal.

Other significant implications for Australia of operating with powerful allies include both the cost and benefits associated with information on tactics, military doctrines generally, interoperability and standardisation, access to extensive advances in military technology and the ability to exercise regularly with large, well-equipped allied forces. These are but a few of the advantages that our New Zealand cousins have relinquished already. Australian technology, capabilities and intentions will not make the New Zealanders' problems all that much easier. New Zealand has made a stupid decision for all the wrong reasons and this Government has been too slow and too soft to recognise the unattractive implications for the Alliance generally. Not only is New Zealand now on its own, but in the process it has relegated itself outside the councils on which it has been dependent for so long.

The recently tabled Cooksey report on the Review of Australia's Defence Co-operation Programs and Policy on Export of Defence Equipment has been well received in defence and industry circles. There are signs of a fresh and vibrant new attitude creeping into defence-related procurement activities and I commend the Government for its initiative in this regard. Whatever the final outcome, the major recommendations of this valuable report should not be placed in the too-hard basket or shelved, as has been the case far too often in the past. Any initiative that leads to Australian industry increasing defence-related exports from the present levels of $250m to $500m and beyond must be welcomed, especially during these sorry economic times.

Whilst the report demands a significant attitudinal change within the Defence Department and among our bureaucracy, our own politicians and industry representatives, the major recommendations are achievable and can be accomplished without undue financial risk. Australian defence exports and the liberalisation of existing guidelines for gaining export approval for military equipment are significant pointers to what can and must be achieved. Anything that contributes to the elimination of the web of bureaucratic red tape that frustrates many of our prospects for defence sales would indeed be welcomed. Our friends and allies consequently become immediate beneficiaries of such initiatives.

The report also recommends the establishment of a defence exports finance group and the existing 150 per cent tax write-off on individual research and development being extended to the defence environment. Additionally, there are prospects for much greater commercial use of the many unique and potentially successful developments emanating from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. An aggressive, dynamic and viable defence manufacturing base provides that vital fourth arm to defence and potentially places Australia as a major supplier of equipment to the region.

I turn now to the question of personnel. Despite an uncertain economic outlook clouded by high interest rates, rising inflation, huge current account deficits and an enormous burden of national debt, the personnel of our armed forces continue to demonstrate their unhappiness in the Services by resorting to the one initiative left to them-they are leaving in droves, demonstrating with their feet the direction they believe it imperative to take. The situation is equally unacceptable in the reserves. During the period that this Government has been in power, Reserve Force numbers have fallen in excess of 10,000 personnel. Morale is low and, despite effective leadership, it is difficult to see the position improving until the flow of funds increases. This would ensure that their training programs become realistic and that personnel receive adequate practice in operating modern state-of-the-art technology.

No major defence reorganisation has been undertaken since the Tange report of the early 1970s. In the light of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities and the tabling today of the White Paper, a new imperative of some urgency is for a major study to be conducted into the basic organisation of the Department of Defence and the command structure of the three Services.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.