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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2004

Mr CAMPBELL(4.35) —In rising to support the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill I am reminded that someone once said: `Cynicism is the sanity of madness'. I must admit that I did not really understand what this meant, although it did have a good ring to it. It is only since coming to this Parliament that I am beginning to understand it. The Opposition spokesman on defence, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), today shedding crocodile tears about the top-heavy nature of military administration, government procurement policy and other aspects I think illustrates this point. The right honourable member for New England was Minister for Defence. During his tenure of that office he did absolutely nothing in the areas he now laments. The present Defence Minister, Kim Beazley, the honourable member for Swan, is undoubtedly the best Minister for Defence we have had in a very long time.

Whilst I would not like in any way to detract from his ability, it is unfortunately true that it is the dismal past performance of previous Ministers that make him a Hyperion to a satyr. This Minister is the first person for a long time-certainly since the 1939-45 war-to give any sense of direction to our defence thinking or to set objectives and priorities, whether the Opposition agrees with them or not. Without any policy in place it is very difficult to have a coherent disagreement. When we have directions set by the Minister we are able to analyse them and put perhaps countervailing points of view. Trying to do this without a policy in place is like trying to build a building with bricks of blancmange.

The Defence Legislation Amendment Bill is another example of the efforts being put into defence by this Government. Every clause of this Bill is an essential amendment. Some of the changes are long overdue. I am an unabashed supporter of the Army Reserve. In my electorate of Kalgoorlie I have Norforce, which operates in the north and provides a very competent surveillance service. I have the Pilbara Regiment, which is doing sterling service in an area of vital economic importance to Australia, and I also have in the goldfields C Company of the Royal Western Australian Regiment. The men of this regiment are of excellent standard and I believe they are a tribute to Warrant Officer Class 1 Roger Warren, who has been primarily responsible for their training. Warrant Officer Warren is a Regular Army soldier and is an example of the close co-operation and support that must exist between the Regular Army and the Reserve if Australia's interests are to be truly served.

In my allotted time I want to devote my remarks to the aspects of this Bill that affect the Army Reserve. This is not to belittle the other important aspects of the Bill but rather it is a measure of my priorities. It is my belief that in these days of gee whiz technology, expensive hardware and toys for the boys, the necessity of a good army is overlooked. If any potential aggressor knows that he can run the gauntlet of our air power and sea power and land unopposed upon our shores, he may be tempted to take the chance. The existence of a well-trained, mobile and committed army raises his costs exponentially. The Army Reserve is an essential element of self-reliance. Shortened reaction time, local knowledge and sheer economy of the Army Reserve are just some of the points that make it such an asset to this nation. In Australia today we have a very good Army and I say, without equivocation, that in terms of sheer professionalism and integrity I believe it is well ahead of the other services.

These amendments will make it easier to call out the Reserve in a situation less than that of a declared state of emergency. As the Minister said, in low level contingencies governments would be reluctant to take the seemingly reactive step of declaring a defence emergency and so perhaps escalating tensions. I therefore believe that this amendment is welcome. I suggest to the Minister that if the good work inherent in this Bill is to be capitalised upon, we need to increase manpower in the Reserve and make sure that more man-days are available. In the past the tendency has been to cut man-days of training as man power increased. Greater opportunity should be given to inter-corps and inter-service training, as this would broaden the scope and the capacity of the Army Reserve.

It is my belief that we should be less bashful about using section 51 of the Act. It should be broadened to allow the Reserve to be called out in times of civil emergency. If it has to be paid for, I would willingly accept cuts elsewhere in the defence budget. It may require additional legislation to ensure the co-operation of private sector employers in such a development. An extension of this idea is the use of military capacity in the construction of military infrastructure. For example, remote airfields are essential for our defence. I can foresee the Government being held to ransom by the private sector for the construction of an airfield in, say, Cape York Peninsula, where environmental aspects are often very unpleasant. Army construction units have the capacity to do the work. We must consider the use of these resources and look into this aspect very thoroughly.

Many other projects could be of national advantage but at the moment are not economically justified in a strict commercial sense. Remote bridges, and even the Alice Springs-Darwin railway, might be in this category. In the United States such initiatives are taken as a matter of course. It certainly makes sense to me to try to make training pay rather than be just a cost. There is no better stone on which to hone one's skills than the abrasive nature of the real world. Within such a framework there would be room for the employment of private contractors with specialised skills and machinery. It is a bullet we should bite. At least we should give it due consideration.

Another aspect of the Bill concerns me a lot; that is, the provision to set up Aerospace Technologies of Australia, a wholly owned government corporation. The Bill will allow the transfer of people from the Public Service to the new corporation without the trauma and cost of sacking, retrenchments, re-employment, et cetera. I am a very strong believer in the capacity of the public sector. It has been unwarrantedly abused in recent times. I have taken a very special interest in the Government Aircraft Factories, which I have visited on several occasions. When I have been there I have always been impressed with the dedication, knowledge and commitment of the unions to change. Many of them realised that work practices which were not good for the organisation had to cease. As I say, I was very impressed by their willingness to meet new requirements. Unfortunately, management is lacking. This problem has not suddenly arisen. It was inherent under previous Minist- ries. The sad truth is that one cannot get the level of management required for such an industry if one pays so little money.

It surprised me that when representatives of the Western Aircraft Corporation appeared before one of our committees they said: `My word, you have an excellent facility here. It is probably the best in the world. You people in Australia can do absolutely anything'. They went on to say how much they looked forward to working in Australia and how good they thought our industrial relations were. That is not the story one hears from the Opposition. They also lamented the fact that all our very good equipment was so underutilised. Had this equipment been utilised years ago we would not have the present situation which exists at the Government Aircraft Factories. The chemical etching plant is probably without peer in the world, except for the McDonnell-Douglas facility in the United States. This facility could have been made available to the private sector. It really was not a viable option to sell it to the private sector. It is very unlikely that any single firm could have afforded the capitalisation required and it certainly would have given an advantage to one part of the private sector. The answer was clearly to make the service available to all. The same could be said of the electroplating plant. It is a great pity that these initiatives were not taken. Instead, we have tended to blame the workers and the actions of the unions for the restructuring that inevitably became necessary. I certainly believe that restructuring is necessary at Williamstown.

I have had cause to visit Newcastle dockyards and talk with the unions there. When I visited the dockyards some two years ago I was told by the then management that the problems it had were not with the work force. It had a very good arrangement with the work force and felt that it was in a position to negotiate very well with the workers. It said that the problems it was having were with management and, in particular, with the Minister. Representatives of management lamented that they had asked the Minister for direction but he had not responded. Some two years later the same Minister is attacking the work force in the same outrageous manner, a work force employed by the worst of the New Right, a group of which I have had some experience. It appals me that a Minister in a Labor Government should treat the work force in such a cavalier fashion.

The Minister for Defence mentioned military procurement. We must have our own defence industry in this country. We must have a future. I very strongly believe that, unless we have a future for all the citizens of this country, no matter how much money we spend on defence, it will be ineffective because, ultimately, defence rests in the hearts and minds of the people. If there is nothing worth defending we will not get the defence we require. There would be no reason to have it in any case. I do not feel like spending my taxes just to protect the privileged, entrenched self-interests of a very small minority. Prosperity has to be for the whole nation.

Military procurement is one aspect of assistance to industry. It is my belief that no matter how much has been said by our forces in the past they do not really want too much industry in Australia. They would much rather pick and choose around the world-a little bit from here and a little bit from there. That is no way to build industry. I specifically exclude the Army. The Army's performance has been significantly better in this area.

If we are to have a helicopter industry in this country there is room for only one manufacturer. If we are to have a helicopter industry in this country we cannot allow the armed forces to shop around the world to find some whirlybird that might suit their requirements or leave ourselves open to the peccadillos of a particular member of the armed services. The armed services must use the goods we produce. If we had a helicopter industry we would be able to export helicopters to some of the countries around us. China is probably the greatest potential export market for helicopters, as it has a real need for this means of transport. While undoubtedly it would demand an industry of its own in the long term, in the short term it would buy products from us and in the long term it would buy components. It is an enormous market. Part of the Chinese component market could be the basis for a very sound industry in Australia. As it is, we do not have any design capacity for helicopters. The procurement policy in this area has been a disaster. I have said something about it in the past.

Notwithstanding, there is no doubt that this Government is working on procurement policy more suited to the overall national need than the policy of the previous Government, which simply let the military have entirely its own way. I get stuck for euphemisms when I speak in this House on occasions, but certainly it is uncharitable of the previous Government's Defence Minister to come in here and criticise the present Minister when our performance in all these aspects is so much better than the former Government's performance.