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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2782

Senator SIBRAA —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and also the Minister for Defence. The question refers to the Philippines Government's decision to withdraw the use of the facilities at Clark airfield from Australia, supposedly because of critical comments made by Foreign Minister Bill Hayden. In view of the recent critical comments on the situation in the Philippines by leading United States legislators, including Senator Luger, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, can the Minister inform the Senate why Australia has been singled out in this way by the Government of the Philippines? What effect will the action of the Philippines Government have on Australia's military capacity?

Senator GARETH EVANS —As was said by a departmental spokesman a few days ago, the Australian Government is surprised at the withdrawal of the occasional use of facilities at Clark airfield in view of the relations that have previously obtained between the two countries. The withdrawal was stated to be in response to statements on the Philippines made by Mr Hayden in his address to the House of Representatives on 26 November, but it has been the case that a number of commentators have interpreted that decision by the Philippines Government as primarily an indirect response to recent critical statements made by the United States and perhaps intended as some message to the United States about the future of the Clark airfield base as a result.

The Australian Government has viewed the situation in the Philippines with concern for some time and has maintained a very close interest in these problems. It will no doubt continue to maintain that interest in the light not only of the forthcoming election and the events associated with it but of yesterday's acquittal of General Ver and his fellow defendants, a matter that is being studied by the Foreign Affairs Department now. The statement by the Foreign Minister in the House of Representatives on 26 November was simply the most recent expression of Australian concern that the aspirations of the Philippine people be met peacefully and constructively with respect for democratic processes and human rights. Australia's concerns have always been framed in the context of our close relations with the Philippines as a country sharing the same values of democracy and the rule of law.

As to the particular question-a question to which the Minister for Defence is better able to respond and has briefed me accordingly-of the implications of the withdrawal of those facilities for our military capacity the situation, I am advised, is as follows: The Royal Australian Air Force does not make extensive use of Clark. It has participated in a United States air exercise there code-named `Cope Thunder'. The last `Cope Thunder' exercise was held only recently, in September this year, and RAAF participation included 12 Mirages, three F111s and one C130 aircraft. The next occasion we would have sought participation in a `Cope Thunder' exercise would have been in the second half of 1986. The exercise series to which I have referred has been a valuable exercise opportunity for the RAAF but RAAF training requirements can be adequately met by alternative means. The Government hopes that in this respect the Philippines will review the decision it has made.