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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 931


Senator SIBRAA —by leave-I wish to inform the Senate of the current inquiries being undertaken by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. As the Senate will be aware, the Committee may receive references from either the Senate or the House of Representatives from the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence and from its own deliberations. In the absence of the specific references, the Committee has resolved to conduct three discrete inquiries and, consistent with its resolution of appointment, has appointed three sub-committees to inquire and report to the Committee for subsequent tabling in both Houses when adopted by the Committee. The three broad areas for inquiry are: The management of national defence and security; Australia and the Philippines; and disarmament and arms control.

The inquiry into the management of Australia's defence and national security is a logical development of earlier reports by the Committee, notably on threats to Australian security and the structure and capability of the Australian Defence Force. In particular this inquiry is expanding and developing themes outlined in the final chapters of the Committee's 1984 report: `The Australian Defence Force: Its Structure and Capabilities'. The Defence Sub-Committee's terms of reference are to investigate and report on the management of Australia's defence and national security, with particular reference to the determination, management and implementation of national security policies; the suitability of the existing central defence organisation for peace and war; and the interaction of civilian and military agencies, the bureaucracy, the Executive and the Parliament. The Committee aims to table its report on this reference by the end of 1986.

The decision to conduct an inquiry on the Philippines is based on several considerations, including the importance of the Philippines to Australia by virtue of its geographical location in our region, its membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations, its important links with the United States and its troubled internal situation, which is inescapably a major focus of interest for a wide range of states, including Australia. In its 1984 report on Australia and ASEAN the Committee gave only brief consideration to the situation in the Philippines, noting that the range of possible outcomes made detailed speculation difficult. In view of the factors outlined above, the Committee has concluded that a more thorough examination is warranted.

The Committee recognises that an inquiry will involve consideration of sensitive and controversial issues. The Committee considers that the regional importance of the Philippines and the high level of community interest which exists in Australia concerning the Philippines fully justify a comprehensive inquiry. In recent years the Committee has reported on regional affairs in its reports on Indo-China in 1981 and ASEAN in 1984. A report on the Philippines will maintain the Committee's interest in the countries of South East Asia, with which we share close and important relations. The Sub-Committee on the Philippines has terms of reference to investigate and report upon the situation in that country and its implications for Australia, with particular reference to the importance of the Philippines to regional stability and Australian interests; the current political and economic situation in the Philippines and likely future developments; the state of Philippine-Australian relations; and appropriate Australian policies towards the Philippines.

Finally, the Committee's current inquiry into disarmament and arms control is nearing completion after almost two years of investigations. As we all recognise, this is an immensely complex and difficult area of fundamental importance to the future of humanity. In its projected two-volume report, the Committee is attempting to survey the issues, highlight the critical areas and underline the means by which Australia can make a substantive contribution. I will have more to say on this matter in the Senate when the report is tabled.