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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1235

Mr FREE(12.14) —The Government's defence White Paper charts the course for the development of self-reliance in the defence and security of Australia. When we speak of self-reliance we speak of it in the context of our own circumstances and of our alliances and associations with other countries. Faced as we are with the task of defending around one-tenth of the earth's surface, we need to consider very carefully our own circumstances. We have a small population relative to our area and it is concentrated in the south-eastern corner of the country. We have limited resources. Given the current fiscal environment and the competing priorities facing the Government, it is clear that, while demands by some for spending on defence may be infinite, the resources to meet those demands are certainly limited.

We have a unique geography, which is referred to in the White Paper. The most vulnerable parts of our country are our most remote and least hospitable. They pose problems both for defence planners and for potential invaders. Our geography gives us some enormous advantages. We have the good fortune to share land borders with nobody. The harsh environment of our north limits the potential for any major operation against us. We are fortunate too that our region is among the most stable in the world and that we enjoy good relations with our neighbours and with our friends in the Western alliance. Finally, we enjoy the advantage of an informed public, a public interested in and aware of defence issues. In fact, honourable members may have read part of a poll published in the newspapers yesterday-one of the continuing polls being produced in recent days to influence the leadership struggle in the Liberal Party of Australia. One of the questions that people were asked in this poll was: `Which Party would be more likely to provide Australia with a peaceful and secure future?' Overwhelmingly people in that poll responded in favour of the Australian Labor Party.

As the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has said, the concept of defence self-reliance is set firmly in the framework of Australia's alliances. Paramount amongst these, of course, is our alliance with the United States of America. A high level of defence co-operation with the United States is vitally important to us and the benefits are recognised across the political parties and throughout the community. The latest public opinion poll on attitudes towards ANZUS was taken in June 1984. In response to a question on attitudes to the ANZUS alliance, 73 per cent of Australians believed that it was very or fairly important while only 7 per cent thought that it was not important or actually dangerous. Seventy-two per cent of Australians in that poll placed a great deal or a fair amount of trust in United States support in the event of a threat to Australia while only 4 per cent demonstrated no trust. Clearly, there is a great deal of continuing public support for this most important alliance.

We ought to recognise that historically Australians have always regarded alliances as important to their security. It is important to note that it has been Labor governments that have given effect to those alliances and made them work. From the time of Andrew Fisher, who pledged support to Britain and the Empire to the last man and the last shilling, to Curtin, who turned to the United States in the darkest days of the Second World War, through to Hawke, it has been Labor Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers who have made alliances and made them work as genuine partnerships. The White Paper says in paragraph 1.26:

Australia's alliance with the United States is and should remain a genuinely equal partnership. Benefits accrue to both of us from our enhancement of the general Western security position. Australia benefits from the deterrent effect of the alliance and our enhanced self-reliant military capacity. The United States benefits from the value of the joint facilities to the central balance, the intelligence exchange, and Australia's support for American military activities in our area.

It is important that this partnership should be reaffirmed as it is in the White Paper. It is important too that the public perception of this alliance as a genuine partnership should continue to be enhanced because if it is to endure-and I believe it should-the benefits to Australia need to be made more apparent. In our immediate region, we are very fortunate to live in a relatively stable part of the world. It has not always been so. Since the Second World War we have seen in our immediate region the Vietnam war and before that periods of confrontation and the Malayan emergency. There are some current uncertainties highlighted by the White Paper, including some problems in the Philippines, the future of Cambodia, the Soviet presence in Cam Ranh Bay and Soviet involvement in the Pacific. Speaking to the latter uncertainty, the White Paper makes it clear that future Soviet intentions in the Pacific are of concern to Australia. They need not necessarily, however, give rise to the hysteria that I have heard from some members of the Opposition.

I repeat: We live in a relatively stable and benign environment. One can contrast our environment with those at the centres of world tension, in the Middle East and in Europe. One need only visit those historic centres of conflict to realise that we are indeed the lucky country. Late last year, as part of a visit by a parliamentary delegation to the European parliamentary institutions, a number of us had briefings both at the headquarters of British forces in Berlin and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation headquarters in Brussels during what we would all regard as a relatively quiet and normal period, in European terms. But I can say on my own account and I believe on behalf of other members of the delegation that, despite the fact that the period was relatively calm in Europe, we nevertheless left these briefings with a profound sense of relief that we would soon be coming home to a country subject to less tension than Western Europe.

The security that we enjoy in the region depends on maintaining good relations with our neighbours. We have a record of practical co-operation with the Association of South East Asian Nations in areas of common defence interests. We also have well-established combined land exercises in Australia with Malaysia and Thailand and scientific and industrial co-operation again with those two countries. We enjoy useful exchanges with the Singaporean forces, which also train in Australia. Our interest in South East Asia is also reflected in our participation in co-operative ventures under the five-power defence agreement. As has been announced previously, the Royal Australian Air Force will maintain a presence at Butterworth and Australia will continue to deploy an army rifle company in Malaysia. The surveillance patrols over the South China Sea and the north-east Indian Ocean will continue, contributing both to our own intelligence and to shared interests in the region.

As the Minister announced a month ago, in the South West Pacific we are engaged in a number of initiatives designed to protect and extend the interests we share with our island neighbours. Those initiatives include the provision of 12 Pacific patrol boats, at a cost of $61.7m, to Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Western Samoa and the Cook Islands, together with technical advisory support to assist in bringing those patrol boats into service. We will be doubling the number of RAAF long-range maritime patrol deployments. We will be increasing the number of Royal Australian Navy ship deployments to the island colonies and we will continue to assist the development of the island countries' national maritime surveillance systems through technical advice, training and the provision of equipment with the longer term objective of assisting in the development of co-operative maritime surveillance across the region.

On page 17 of the White Paper reference is made to the serious damage to Western interests in the South West Pacific by continued French nuclear testing in the region and tension over the future of New Caledonia. The paper correctly points to the damage that these developments have caused and the contribution they have made to an increasingly complex political and strategic situation. I believe the problem is that the French perspective is very different from our own. The French perception of themselves as a major European power and a world power, with perhaps the greatest spread of colonies across the world, is an important factor that needs to be taken into account in trying to understand French behaviour. In this respect I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) who is sitting at the table. I believe that he has made every effort to resolve those problems and to improve Australian-French relations and I wish him every success in his continuing efforts in that task.

The military strategy is described in the White Paper as defence in-depth or layered defence. It means that an opponent would founder on successive layers of our defence assets deployed throughout, and to, our north. The first layer consists of intelligence and surveillance capabilities. In addition to the information we receive from the United States, the Government plans the installation of a network of over-the-horizon radars based on Jindalee to be supplemented by airborne early warning aircraft and the development of a national system of air defence and air space control to include the tactical fighter force, air bases and communications.

The second layer consists of a capability to destroy enemy forces in our approaches. The key elements are the F111s, the FA18s and the submarines. Important measures are in hand to upgrade the second layer. As we learned from the White Paper, the Oberons will be replaced by six new submarines which will be built in Australia, and a number of measures are under consideration to maintain the effectiveness of the F111s.

The third layer is that of a highly mobile ground force capable of rapid deployment anywhere within Australia, able to conduct dispersed and protracted tasks in harsh terrain. Again priority will be given to the north. The three-layered strategy is an important blueprint for the future and, most importantly, is an affordable blueprint. As the Minister pointed out in his tabling speech, at current levels the defence budget provides nearly $40 billion for capital expenditure over the next 15 years while the capital program outlined in this paper requires only a little over half of that sum. This allows the Government the flexibility that it needs.

Important as that strategy is, and important as it is to have an affordable strategy, the most important element in any defence plan must continue to be the servicemen and women in the Australian Defence Force. Therefore, I was very pleased to read in chapter 7 of the White Paper of the many improvements that this Government has made to the conditions of service of the men and women who serve our country. I was pleased to read of the establishment of the independent Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, the granting of a 9 per cent increase in Service pay in 1985 under the anomalies provisions and the creation of the position of Defence Force Advocate. I was also pleased to read of improvements in defence housing including a 17 per cent real increase in the last Budget and of an amount of $750m to be provided over the next 10 years for new housing.

I was, of course, delighted to read of plans to implement the recommendations of the Hamilton Review of Effect of Service Life on Spouses because, apart from the human problems that face families in our defence forces, there is the cost involved in high separation rates. This morning Opposition speakers made much of the relatively high separation rate over the last financial year, 1985-86. They made no mention of separation rates in 1983-84 or 1984-85; and no wonder because the separation rates in those two years-the first two full years of the Hawke Government-were both well below the 10-year average. The separation rate for 1983-84 was the lowest in that 10-year period. I am pleased that the Government is taking a number of steps to improve conditions for Service families to encourage them to stay on because, as has been pointed out, training is very expensive.

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