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Wednesday, 4 December 1985
Page: 2909

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(3.13) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The annual report of the Department of Defence puts to rest the false propositions spread by the Government that it is actively expanding and increasing Australia's defence arrangements. I draw attention in particular to one paragraph in the report which is on page 38. It shows that this Government's activities are significantly reducing the defence effort and the defence target set by the previous Government. The report states:

In its budget for 1984-85, the Government introduced a system of cash limits to apply to the bulk of administrative expenditure of a non-salary kind.

The report continues:

For Defence, strict adherence to the cash limit has involved many economy measures, some of which have had undesirable effects because of the need to accommodate the full effects of inflation and the exchange rate depreciation occurring in the latter part of the year.

I want to dramatise to the Senate that the Defence Department is particularly subject to the problems arising from the mismanagement of the Australian economy which has resulted in such an enormous depreciation in the Australian dollar. The report continues:

Although economies were achieved in expenditure on travel, transport, freight, telephone and energy usage without seriously disrupting planned Defence activities, some constraints in military activities were necessary in order to manage within the cash limited allocations.

This is the significant part:

Unless the effects of these constraints can be overcome, longer term deterioration in military competence in certain areas could arise.

That is the Government's own Department stating what the consequences of the Government's defence strategies and what the policies applied to those defence strategies will be. We have the right to hear from the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) about what the Government plans to do to ensure that there will not be longer term deterioration in military competence in certain areas or, if it is the Government's intention that that should take place, what are the areas the Government is happy to see deteriorate. I further point out in denial of the Government's high posture-it is simply an empty posture on defence-that the report concedes that a substantial part of the real increase of some 2.8 per cent in defence outlays last year was directed towards meeting obligations for equipment and facilities entered into in previous years. It had nothing to do with the present Government; it was the result of proper and sensible policies which were put in train by the previous Government. The most important criticism of the Government appears at page 8 of the report which, in one of its quaintest expressions, states:

Australia's region of primary strategic interest-defined as comprising our surrounding ocean areas, seas and straits and the nations of the South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific-remains one of the most stable in the world.

Justification for having this extraordinary restraint on defence spending because our region is one of the most stable in the world seems to fly in the face of what has been happening in Thailand, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya, New Caledonia, Kiribati, Cambodia and so on. The report acknowledges that these are problem areas. It stresses the problems created by the Soviet presence in Vietnam which has continued to expand, the domestic political turbulence in the Philippines and so on. What is particularly fascinating in the report is this statement:

Among the many factors which have reinforced this intrinsic regional stability-

I have just established that it is not stable-

and the capacity within the region to maintain a satisfactory rate of economic development,-

we could tell that to the Philippines-

the continued cohesion of ASEAN . . .

This is really interesting, because one of the major activities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has been to try to destroy any cohesion of the Association of South East Asian Nations. ASEAN has consistently criticised Mr Hayden's activities. He has been disruptive and disturbing to ASEAN. If the Department of Defence feels happy about ASEAN and its growing influence in making the area a relatively peaceful one in its terms it must simply mean that, despite the activity of Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, there is relative cohesion in ASEAN. I put it to the Senate that the annual report of the Department of Defence is basically very critical of the activities of this Government.