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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2036

Mr KENT(9.18) —When this debate was interrupted on 20 March, I was saying that for the first time in our history we have a defence plan we are able to put into action to defend our continent without relying or calling upon the help of powerful allies in case of a regional conflict. It is interesting to note that although for the first time in our history we have a defence policy which will enable us to defend out north so that the people in the north of Australia can feel safe, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), the Leader of the National Party, and the Opposition spokesman on defence, attacked the policy. He was not alone in his criticism. He had the official Indonesian Army newspaper supporting him. The Indonesian Army newspaper wrote paranoid articles at the time the report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities was brought down as though we were preparing something that was against Indonesia's interests, whereas all we have proposed is to build our defence forces to enable us to defend our north from any eventuality in case of a regional conflict. I have read the Dibb report and it did not mention Indonesia. Yet somehow the Indonesians became suspicious. It is as though we do not have the right, as any other nation has, to prepare ourselves to defend out continent and our people.

Last April I was a member of a delegation that visited Papua New Guinea. I talked to members and Ministers of the New Guinea Parliament. Officially, they would not venture an opinion which was opposed to Indonesia's nearness. However, when I talked to them privately after the official meetings, they expressed a tremendous fear of a neighbour with a population of 160 million. They said: `New Guinea has only just over 2 million people and next door there is a dictatorship-a military kleptocracy-which can be adventurous at any time. What are you going to do to help us just in case that regime becomes adventurous?' It is not as if that regime has not been adventurous in the past. The Indonesian regime was expansionist and is expansionist. The Indonesians went into East Timor and Irian Jaya-west New Guinea. God knows where they will stop in their expansionist policies if they encounter economic difficulties. Regimes similar to that in Indonesia always use such difficulties to try to allay their own problems. If they have problems internally they usually turn to external aggression.

While we do not wish to have bad relations with our neighbours-we want to be friends-there is no doubt that the only way to keep a friendship with a power, whether to our north or wherever, is to have a friendship based on the mutual understanding that, if we extend our hand of friendship, it is not a sign of weakness, but that we have behind us something substantial in case that friendly hand is not accepted. Under no circumstances would I like to see my grandchildren growing up in a country which is undefended. We must prepare for any eventually in our region so we can deal with any emergency. That is exactly what the Dibb report and the White Paper are about. They are about building defence forces with high mobility so that we can be of assistance anywhere if our immediate strategic interest is threatened.

The Opposition was always putting forward defence debates before an election was held. It said that the Russians were coming. It showed the yellow arrows coming from China and all over the place. Those debates were quickly forgotten. As soon as the election was over, no one mentioned defence again. In the past we have prepared our forces so that eventually, in some alliance, we could assist in some small way an imperialist power to fight a war some 20,000 kilometres from our shores. That is not good enough any more. If anything happens tomorrow in our region, we cannot be sure that anyone will come to our rescue, unless we are prepared to defend ourselves and unless our forces are ready to do so.

It is a welcome change under the Hawke Labor Government to have a thorough and widely accepted review of Australia's defence and strategic requirements based on need rather than vote catching, one which has been adopted and outlined in the Government's White Paper. I would like to extend my congratulations to Mr Paul Dibb for providing this country with a thorough and intelligent appraisal of our defence needs. I also applaud the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) for, firstly, recognising the necessity of dating our defence planning and, secondly, having the dedication and commitment to ensure that Australia develops a self-sufficient, effective and affordable Defence Force structure.

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