Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2537

Mr LINDSAY(8.40) —This debate concerns the national security of Australia and, I hope, peace for Australia. The debate is both timely and important; timely because the 1987 defence White Paper offers an achievable policy of defence self-reliance, and important because it involves the most basic duty that any Australian government and all Australians share-the duty to protect and strengthen the peace.

The Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) has stated that the main aim of the 1987 defence White Paper is to establish a comprehensive overall approach to Australian security that will be the basis for responsible defence planning in future years. The 1987 defence White Paper provides a clear direction towards the development of a force structure for the Australian Defence Force through and beyond the year 2000, based on the Hawke Government's policy of self-reliance and Australia's obligations as a member of the Western strategic community.

Australia is one of the most secure countries in the world. It is distant from the main centres of global military confrontation and it is surrounded by large expanses of water which makes it difficult to attack. But it would not be prudent to assume that we will always be able to conduct our affairs without challenge. Our strategic circumstances might change and become less favourable than they are today. Australia must have the military capacity to prevent any enemy from attacking us successfully on our sea and air approaches, gaining a foothold on our soil or extracting political concessions from us through the use of military force. As long ago as 1936 John Curtin told this House:

The people of Australia would expect this country to be capable of defending itself should the occasion arise.

He went on to say:

A greater degree of self-reliance in Australia's defence is essential.

The concept of self-reliance for the Australian Defence Force is not new. The term first appeared in the Australian defence literature just after World War II, doubtless born out of Australia's experiences during that war. But it was not until the 1976 defence White Paper that increased self-reliance was identified as a primary requirement for Australia's security and defence policy. In a key paragraph that White Paper said:

A primary requirement emerging from our findings is for increased self-reliance. In our contemporary circumstances we can no longer base our policy on the expectation that Australia's navy or army or air force will be sent abroad to fight as part of some other nation's force . . . We do not rule out an Australian contribution to operating elsewhere if the requirement arose and we felt that our presence would be effective and if our forces could be spared from their national tasks. But we believe that any operations are much more likely to be in our neighbourhood than in some distant or forward theatre.

That statement is as valid now as it was in 1976. Regrettably, the Fraser Government did not pursue the policy of self-reliance to the extent that the 1976 White Paper intended. Indeed, it was the failure of the Fraser Government to give precise meaning to the concept of self-reliance that left Australia's defence forces without the guidance on which to base their decisions on force posture, operational doctrine and equipment purchasing.

The election of the Hawke Government in March 1983 not only committed Australia to developing a self-reliant defence capability but also determined that defence self-reliance would be set firmly within the framework of our alliances and regional associations. Above all, the Hawke Government has strengthened and made more enduring Australia's alliance with our great ally the United States of America. Australia and the United States of America are part of the Western community of nations-the free world. Australia and the United States of America are committed to freedom, democracy, the rights of man and the pursuit of peace. Our two countries do not start fights. President Reagan-speaking, I believe, not only for America but for the rest of the free world-has said:

We will never be an aggressor, we maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression-to preserve freedom and peace.

In 1985 the Hawke Government commissioned Dr Paul Dibb to examine the content, priorities and rationale of defence forward planning and to advise on which capabilities were appropriate for Australia's present and future defence requirements. Dibb took as his starting point the strategic assessment endorsed by the Hawke Government. He then examined the three essential elements of our defence planning: That Australia should aim for defence self reliance; that sound defence planning should be based on realistic Budget parameters; and that, although low-level military threats to Australia could emerge relatively quickly, it would take many years for any country other than a super-power to equip itself to attempt a major military assault.

When tabling Dibb's report in this House on 3 June 1986, the Minister for Defence described it as the most comprehensive and significant analysis of Australia's defence requirements since the end of World War II. Indeed, Dibb's report aimed to provide the basis and rationale for the structure of Australia's defence forces over the next decade. Put simply, defence self-reliance means defence in depth. It gives priority to meeting any credible level of threat in Australia's area of direct military interest. Paragraph 1.11 of the report has this to say about Australia's area of direct military interest:

This area stretches over 7000 kilometres from the Cocos Islands to New Zealand and the islands of the South-West Pacific, and over 5000 kilometres from the Archipelago and island chain in the north to the Southern Ocean. It constitutes about 10 per cent of the Earth's surface.

The area of direct military interest is of fundamental importance in defining and developing a self-reliant defence force. It does not, however, mark the limits of our strategic capabilities.

Australia's region of primary strategic interest lies in South east Asia, the south-west Pacific and the east Indian Ocean. The 1987 defence White Paper properly notes:

Political, economic and military developments in this area are of fundamental concern to Australia.

Paragraph 2.18 of the paper pointedly states:

Without affecting the relatively favourable nature of the region's strategic environment, there have been a number of political and economic developments with the potential to affect regional stability and security. Of particular concern is the possibility for interference by external powers in regional affairs.

I mention two areas of uncertainty in South East Asia: First, the establishment of the Soviet military presence at Cam Ranh Bay and, secondly, the economic and political problems in the Philippines. The most dramatic military-strategic input in South East Asia since 1979 has been the rapid expansion of Soviet military presence and power in Indo-China. Prior to March 1979, the Soviet Union's military presence, in terms of the availability of bases and facilities in the region, was nil. Nowhere is Soviet military expansion more pronounced and determined than in Indochina in general and Vietnam in particular. The Soviet Union has a major ally in Vietnam. Paul Dibb, in his article entitled `Soviet Strategy Australia, New Zealand and the South-West Pacific', published in the magazine Australian Outlook in October 1985, observed:

Access to the naval and air facilities at Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang has given the Soviets not only a forward presence in the region but also opportunity for the Soviet Navy to operate in the South China Sea on a continuing basis and to deploy to the Indian Ocean in a crisis . . . Soviet forces based in Vietnam have the range to deploy in the vicinity of Australia and New Zealand.

In the most recent edition of The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, it is stated that there were, on average, 20 to 25 Soviet vessels stationed at Cam Ranh Bay at any one time along with eight Bear and 16 Badger bombers and a squadron of Mig-23, Flogger, fighters. Cam Ranh Bay also houses the largest communications and electronics surveillance facility outside the Soviet Union. Today, Cam Ranh Bay can be regarded as a fully-fledged, totally Soviet-run base, with the Vietnamese relegated to providing perimeter security. Dr S. Bilveer, in the Asian Defence Journal of August 1985, observed:

The acquisition of military facilities in Indo-China represents a major plus for the Soviet Union as far as future bargaining with the United States and the People's Republic of China is concerned. Indeed, it is a high possibility that in view of the deterioration of the situation in the Philippines and hence the plausibility of the American bases being evicted, Moscow may successfully `impress' upon Washington to enter into a `bargain of the decade': The dismantling of military facilities at Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang by the Soviets in return for the American withdrawal from Subic and Clark. This may well have been the long term goal of the Soviet Union in the region when it embarked on its militarisation in Vietnam. If this is realised, then the possibility exists for a major turning point in the political-military-security situation in the Asia-Pacific region, and in this regard, the importance of the Soviet Military presence and facilities in Vietnam should not be under-rated. If anything, it should be viewed, potentially, as causing great instability to the ASEAN States.

Paragraph 2.23 of the 1987 defence White Paper claims, inter alia:

. . . the continuous presence of Soviet warships and military aircraft, based in Vietnam, is an adverse element in regional security perspectives.

However, I would prefer to adopt the assessment of Paul Dibb who has described the Soviet military lodgment in Vietnam as `of direct strategic concern to Australia because this is the first time that Soviet conventional military forces have gained access to a base in the region from which they could conceivably threaten Australia'. The uncertainties in the Philippines must be of serious concern to Australia. Paragraph 2.26 of the paper states that two issues in the Philippines are directly relevant to Australia's strategic outlook. The first issue is the insurgency of the communist-led New People's Army which, I believe, seeks the violent overthrow of the Aquino Government and the establishment of a communist regime in the Philippines. The second issue is the contribution the Philippines makes to regional security by hosting the major United States presence at the Subic Bay and Clark Field bases which support the United States presence throughout our region.

I believe it is essential for the maintenance of peace and security of South East Asia that the Philippines remain a member of the Western alliance and committed to the continuation of its existing defence co-operation with the United States of America. Above all, if the Philippines were to follow the path of a non-aligned foreign policy, or were to barter security concerns for Soviet economic aid and trade concessions, the strategic balance would be altered to an alarming degree in favour of the Soviet Union resulting in a detriment to the West and the Association of South East Asian Nations to a degree unmatched since the height of the Cold War.

I now refer to Australia's relationship with Papua New Guinea. The mainland of our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is 160 kilometres from the Australian mainland. The 1987 defence White Paper observes in paragraph 2.53:

Australia would be understandably concerned should a hostile power gain lodgment or control in Papua New Guinea.

I suggest to honourable members that such a hostile act against our nearest neighbour would be treated as a grave security threat to Australia, probably requiring an immediate military response from Australia. Nevertheless, it would be a fundamental mistake and against the interests of both Australia and Papua New Guinea if they were to conclude a formal defence treaty similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation treaty documents which refer to an attack on one party as being an attack on all. The interests of Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are better served with a co-operative approach towards matters of mutual concern.

The program outlined in the 1987 defence White Paper can be afforded even without real growth in the defence budget overall. Sound defence planning should be based on realistic budget parameters. To achieve the levels of capability and priorities reflected in the paper, there is a need, over the life of the program, for an allocation of resources within the order of 2.6 per cent to 3 per cent of gross domestic product. I believe that the strategic concepts and defence posture outlined in the 1987 defence White Paper reflect the realities of the current situation. The Fraser Liberal-National Party Government lamentably failed to meet the goals of the 1976 defence White Paper. Bombast and rhetoric of the Liberal and National parties are no substitute for competence and preparedness in accomplishing the priority task of defending Australia.

I conclude with the words of a great Australian, the present Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), in an address to the New South Wales branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, on 9 November 1981:

I do not share the fear of conservative politicians that ordinary Australians will not face up to the reality. That fear is characteristic of the pessimistic view that successive conservative governments over the last 30 years have had of their fellow Australians. It is reflected in the way that they sell off Australian resources and Australian territory at bargain basement prices to foreigners whom they believe can do a better job than Australians in developing their own nation. I do not share their fear-I do not share their pessimism. I believe that Australians when honestly confronted with the reality that we have to rely on ourselves in many serious situations will, far from avoiding that responsibility, seek to embrace it. Australians do not want defence on the cheap-nor do they want to impose on their friends.

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