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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1233

Mr SHARP(11.59) —The most basic and important function of any government is to ensure the adequate and proper defence of its people and its nation. If we do not do that there is no need to argue about the economy, social services, or whatever else we want to talk about, because they will be totally irrelevant. What we are talking about today in this Parliament is the most important debate any of us can engage in. We cannot overstate how important this debate is. As a member of the Opposition I will not make criticisms of the defence White Paper just for the sake of criticism; I will make criticisms of this White Paper for the purposes of constructive and, I hope, intelligent comment so that the Government can recognise and pick up the threads of that comment and criticism and act upon it. I am quite sure that the Government is not perfect and not right on every issue, and I am sure that some of the errors that members of the Opposition will highlight over the period of this debate will be acted upon.

I am pleased that the Government has decided to reject some of the more ridiculous aspects of the report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities. The Dibb report contains recommendations which we in the Opposition have criticised severely. It was not only the Opposition that criticised the Government and the Dibb report but also all sorts of observers who had an interest in our defence. I am pleased to see that the criticisms that the Opposition and those observers have made about the Dibb report have been recognised by the Government and acted upon. I congratulate the Government on picking up the thread of our criticisms on the Dibb report and making the adjustments that we believe are right and proper.

I am pleased that this Government has canned the Fortress Australia notion. I believe that this nation has to have an ability to extend our forces' zone of interest outside this continent and into the region. There is a need for Australia to be able to help its friends and allies. We must be capable of meeting any threats to our shores in the foreseeable future. Whilst the Government claims that there are no forseeable threats to our shores for the next 10 years-I hope that it is right-one has only to look at history to see that a threat can be non-existent today and exist tomorrow. Things can change rapidly, and I hope that the Government is prepared to recognise that that can happen. In order to cater for that contingency we have to be prepared to defend this nation at all times-not just in 10 years time but today, tomorrow and in 10 years time. I hope that the Government is right in saying that there is no threat to our shores, but we certainly recognise that there are nations within our region that could pose a minor threat to our shores. We have to be capable immediately of repelling those threats and I hope that this White Paper will address that issue over the next few years. I am pleased that the Government has recognised the important role of our allies, particularly the United States of America.

Mr McGauran —About time.

Mr SHARP —It is about time; that is quite true. It is important that this nation realises that we cannot defend ourselves by ourselves. We have to have good allies. The United States is our best and most logical ally and I am pleased that the Government has given recognition to that fact in this White Paper. We need to have the facilities and the resources of the United States at our disposal. The sorts of things that the United States can provide for us are things that Australia cannot provide for itself, such as our intelligence gathering network. The United States, through its satellite network and so forth, can provide the sort of intelligence that we cannot afford. It can provide the hardware and the technology that, with our defence resources, we cannot provide-things such as the F111s, the FA18s, the Royal Australian Navy's new surface ships and the FFGs. They have all come from the United States. It is vital for us to maintain the flow of spare parts, not only to maintain those resources but also to upgrade them and to keep the technology within them up to the minute.

We have to have good relations with the United States and those relations have to be maintained. I am pleased to see that the joint defence establishments operated by the United States and Australia are given due recognition in this White Paper. The establishments at Pine Gap, Nurrungar and North West Cape are vital not only to our own defence but also to the balance of power throughout the world and, indeed, to global peace. They are vital and they have to be maintained. I am pleased that the White Paper says that a new intelligence network needs to be built in Western Australia. I believe that is a good thing.

At this stage I must be specifically critical for the first time about the defence White Paper. Our most important treaty with our allies is the ANZUS Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Unfortunately, one of the three partners in that treaty has virtually withdrawn itself from that relationship. That is a disgrace. The New Zealand people have withdrawn by refusing to allow United States vessels access to their ports. This Government has been soft in its criticism of New Zealand. It has hit the New Zealand Government over the head with a feather. It should be blasting New Zealand out of the water in its criticism. If we are properly to defend ourselves, we need to have a strong regional defence arrangement. The New Zealand people have virtually negated that possibility. We should be condemning them outright. We should be doing all that we can to urge them not only to maintain that defence relationship through ANZUS but also, indeed, to improve upon it.

While New Zealand is doing less and less in the region, I am pleased to see that we are maintaining our presence at Butterworth in Malaysia.

Mr McGauran —A modified presence.

Mr SHARP —As the honourable member for Gippsland points out, it is a modified presence. However, it is certainly a presence which would not have existed if we had taken up the recommendations of the Dibb Review. It is very important for Australia to have that presence there. It gives us great value. I am very concerned about the ever increasing presence of the Russian people in our region. Whilst the honour- able member for Sydney (Mr Baldwin) tried to downplay that presence and its importance, I think it is not right to do so. I think it is right to emphasise the threat that the Russian people are posing in our region. Cam Ranh Bay is a real problem for us all. Cam Ranh Bay is a launching pad of political and military activity for the Soviets in our region. It is for that reason that we can justify our own presence in the future in places like Malaysia. I am pleased to see that we are continuing our presence in Malaysia.

I am pleased to see that the White Paper recognises that a number of things need improving. Our 20 or so Orion aircraft will be improved upon. I have no argument with moving our defence forces further to the north. But I question the common sense in putting our Army facilities into Darwin. Darwin is a rapidly growing city. I think we will find in the future that the Army will have no hope of extending its services in that area because of the urban sprawl that will choke any expansion. The Navy is finding that it can no longer expand its facility on the shores of Sydney Harbour because of that urban sprawl. Now it is looking at moving out of Sydney Harbour to Jervis Bay at great expense to the taxpayer. I think we are making the same mistake by moving the Army into Darwin. I am quite sure that in the decades ahead we will find that the Army will have to move out of Darwin and that will be an unnecessary expense to the taxpayers of the day.

I believe the Government is being negligent in not properly and completely upgrading the F111 aircraft. The F111 is a great aircraft and it has a very long term future in our defence responsibilities. We need to upgrade those aircraft completely and in a proper way and this defence White Paper does not go far enough in that area. I believe it is a good thing that we are to give our FA18 fighter aircraft a long range refuelling capability. Once again the Government is negligent in not providing in this White Paper for a long range refuelling capability for F111 aircraft. The role of this aircraft in our defences would be greatly enhanced if they had that long range refuelling capability.

I still have some reservations about the type of submarines that we are planning to purchase. However, I am pleased to see that some new surface craft for our Navy are coming forward. On the one hand I am pleased, but on the other hand I am concerned that what the Government is trying to do is put more and more equipment on our ships which are getting smaller and smaller. I know many people in the Navy today are concerned about the ability of these ships to perform adequately and properly when so many jobs and demands are placed upon them.

Speaking of the Navy, I am pleased that the White Paper has at least confirmed that there is a need for new submarines; that there is a need for more ships for the Navy; and that there is an important role for helicopters on these new ships. I genuinely hope that the Navy will see fit to move to the Shoalhaven region, a region that I represent, because I believe it will be of great benefit not only to our Navy and to the defence of Australia but also to the people of the Shoalhaven district. The increased population will create new jobs. Indeed, 1,500 new jobs will be created to construct facilities in Jervis Bay and Shoalhaven districts.

Mr Peter Fisher —One of the great harbours of the world.

Mr SHARP —It is one of the greatest harbours of the world, as the honourable member for Mallee points out. Some 5,600 to 7,200 additional people will come to the Shoalhaven region as a result of the Navy's move. An extra $70m worth of wages will come into that district and an extra $70m worth of services will be demanded from the people of that district. All of these things are good not only for our Navy but for the region that I represent in this Parliament.

I am pleased to see that the role of the Army Reserve has been enhanced. There are a number of Army Reserve units in the electorate of Gilmore-Cowra, Goulburn and Nowra. I am sure that these people will share with me my concern that whilst the role of the Reserve has been increased, there is not a sufficient increase in the number of training days and the resources that will be available to the Reserve. This will cause those people in my electorate, who are members of the Reserve, a great deal of concern.

The Minister brags that he has got the capital expenditure component of the defence budget up to something like 25 to 30 per cent. But he has done this at the expense of conditions for the personnel in our defence forces. For example, I am quite sure steaming hours for the Navy will be trimmed in order to provide funding for capital expenditure. Housing conditions are just not up to scratch and the Government has done very little to overcome this. Wages that our Defence Force personnel are paid should be comparable with those received by people outside of our forces with relative skills. But, unfortunately, this defence White Paper does not address sufficiently the wages that are paid to Defence Force personnel. We have currently seen massive losses of skilled personnel from our defence forces-record high losses. This is causing us a great deal of concern. The reason those people are leaving our defence forces is the inadequate conditions and wages that they are getting. This Government has done nothing in this defence White Paper to overcome that problem. It is for that reason that I believe this paper is fatally flawed. It does not answer the question of where all the people who will fulfil the roles created by this defence White Paper will come from.

The other question that all of us are asking is where is the commitment for the funding that is necessary to provide all of these things that this defence White Paper proposed. I believe that this Government has not adequately addressed the needs of our defence forces because it has not provided a whole range of things, particularly proper conditions and facilities for our Defence Force personnel. It has given no commitment of adequate funding for the future to fulfil this defence White Paper.