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Thursday, 6 May 1993
Page: 260


Senator SPINDLER —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans) in response to a question without notice asked by Senator Colston this day relating to the Nurrungar defence facility.

The Minister offered a number of reasons why Australia should continue the so-called joint facility arrangement at Nurrungar. I say `so-called' advisedly because I believe that it is well and truly on record that the base is under effective United States control. The Australian personnel, including the deputy commander, play an extremely subservient role, and there are a number of cases on record where not only were we not consulted before a decision was made and were not involved in the decision but also, very often, we were not even told about it. I shall return to that point shortly.

  One of the reasons that the Minister advanced as to why Nurrungar, in its present form and organisation, is still useful is the contribution it can make to collective global security. I am quite ready to admit that this may well be a useful contribution but, if that is so, it should not be under the control of one particular nation; not the US or even the Australian nation, but the United Nations. Australia could do nothing better than to further and strengthen the role of the United Nations and its current peacekeeping efforts and the growing responsibility it accepts in that area. Australia should transfer control and supervision of Nurrungar to the United Nations.

  The other reason offered by the Minister was regional security. If regional security is a concern, surely it should be under the control of the Australian Government rather than a government that is rapidly withdrawing its forces and its concerns from this particular region.

  I return to the point I made before. It is quite clear that the United States has effective control of Nurrungar and if it is true, as the Minister says, that there is an early warning role against nuclear attack from other quarters of the globe, by other nations, then the truth is that Australian citizens are likely to be the target of a first attack. If people wish to launch a nuclear conflict—a conflict that involves the United States—the first thing they are likely to do is to knock out United States' communications facilities. That should be very obvious, as has always been acknowledged.

  The reality is that our Government is exposing Australian citizens to that particular risk in the potential conflict which we would not originate, which we would not know about, and which we certainly would not have a part in. It is for all those reasons that we should review our participation at Nurrungar and should either abolish it or radically change its organisational structure.

  The truth is that the Australian taxpayer currently contributes $30 million to the upkeep of the Nurrungar base. My question to the Minister is: what do we get for it except risk to Australian citizens? Not only do we get risk to Australian citizens, we are also apparently prepared to accept the very

serious infringement to our sovereignty by allowing a foreign base on our soil over which we have no control and which puts our citizens at risk.

  At a time when the Government is moving very rapidly towards establishing a more independent form of government for Australia—a republic, which the Australian Democrats support as a general principle—it seems extremely curious that we are prepared to give up effective sovereignty in this particular way. I will not raise the question of economic sovereignty and the way we open Australia up to overseas imports.

  I conclude by saying that I believe it is untenable and not worthy of a nation that seeks total independence, and rightly so, to allow another nation to infringe its sovereignty by having a military base on our soil over which we have no control.