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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 686

Senator VALLENTINE —I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the Australian Labor Party policy platform which in part states:

. . . that the frequency and pattern of naval visits to Australian ports is not such as to constitute in practice the home porting of such vessels in Australia.

In view of the fact that at the moment there are a dozen United States warships in Western Australian waters for a week long visit, some of which are nuclear armed, and that the United States Rapid Deployment Force is today visiting Western Australia and will be back again next week with another five ships and over 3,000 men, in addition to the 8,000 sailors disgorged there at the moment, is it a fact that the visits of United States warships to Western Australia have increased threefold over the last eight years, which means that there is on average a visit of a United States warship every one and a half weeks to Western Australian ports? Is it a fact that so far this year Western Australia has been visited by 27 United States warships and two submarines for a total of 203 days, while the rest of Australia's ports combined have been visited by six United States warships and one submarine for a total of 37 days? I ask the Minister whether, due to the frequency and duration of these warship visits to Western Australian ports, these ports are already being used as de facto home ports? Finally, I ask: Is there a recommendation before the Minister that the United States be told to share the visits of its warships more evenly around the country to diffuse the growing concern regarding Western Australia's use as a home port facility?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Perth obviously offers a great many attractions to the United States Navy. I am sorry that Senator Vallentine has felt obliged to be so churlish about her city dispensing its favours on the scale that it has been this year. I have no basis in front of me to contest the statistics offered by Senator Vallentine. The reality of the matter is that the ships presently there represent a carrier battle group and that is, I think, the third such battle group to visit the Perth area this year, apart from other isolated visits that have been made. I also make clear at the outset, in answer to the question, that the number of such visits as there have been does not in any way reflect a change to our policy of opposition to home porting as such. It is stretching a very long bow indeed to argue that the sheer number of such visitors in any way reflects inroads on that policy.

Our basic policy for overseas warships visits derives from our own particular national defence and strategic concerns. Allied naval operations through Australian waters underline in a very clear manner to any potential opponents that Australia is not an area of low cost, low risk opportunities. Any opponent considering operations against Australia would have to take full account of not only our indigenous defence capabilities but also those of our friends and allies, not least those that routinely operate in our area. In addition, such deployments to our area enable the Australian Defence Force to conduct a very valuable range of exercise and training activities with the advanced technology units of our allies. The Government believes that by supporting the ability of friendly neighbours to operate in our region, Australia is also contributing to efforts by the Western alliances to maintain the global balance in international stability and thus minimise the scope for global conflict. As to the question of whether it might be possible to re-route, so to speak, some of the ship visits to other ports in Australia, I will take up that question with the Minister for Defence and see whether he has any further answer.