Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 May 1968

Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) - Let me first put the record straight. In answer to the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John), who expressed some doubts as to the ability of the Australian Labor Party as a government to formulate a proper defence policy for this nation, may I say that it was a Labor Government which, in the early part of this century, was responsible for the establishment of an Australian Navy and an Australian Army. May I remind him also that in the gravest crisis that Australia has ever had to face - in World War II - it was a Labour Government to which this nation turned to guide it through the darkest days of our history. It did this most successfully and it is still capable of so doing. We have reached a watershed in our history. Today in the world - these are the stark facts of international life - there are two world powers, two super powers, which are capable of maintaining peace and order in the world. One is the United States of America and the other is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But the defence statement which has been inflicted on us is, to say the best, a disappointing and disturbing document. Those were the words of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard). No government has been more humiliated, frustrated and bewildered than our present Government by the events of the last 6 or 7 months. In the words of the 'Daily Mirror', we have seen that:

The fact is that our defence and foreign policies are now in the melting pot. The old MenziesHolt formulas have been brutally devalued by events like the British withdrawal, the collapse of Indonesian confrontation and President Johnson's personal peace offensive.

What do we receive from a floundering government which is bankrupt of foreign policy, whose foreign policy is in ruins, a government which is devoid of ideas and one whose leader has been subjected to the most abject humiliation by the President of the United States who chose to make his pronouncement, on his peace moves in Vietnam without ever consulting him? We receive a damming indictment of the Government's lack of competence and its indicision in a statement which is full of carefully phrased waffle. A real defence statement would obtain positive and integrated political, strategic and economic analyses. This statement has nothing of the sort. It is remarkable for what it omits. There is not the slightest reference by name to Indonesia and there is no reference whatever to Japan.

May I remind honourable members that not so very long ago Indonesia, or its leader, was engaged in an exercise in confrontation as a means of distracting the attention of its people from their economic plight. May I remind the House also that in 1970 the defence treaty between Japan and the United States will expire. We have yet to see what the Japanese will do. So far they have decided that they will follow the path of peace, that they will minimise their expenditure on defence and concentrate on the development of their industry, particularly their' technology. As for what the future may hold, if they can achieve what they want by peaceful trade they v. ill do so. There is not the slightest reference in the statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) either to the Indian Ocean or the vacuum which exists there. There is no reference to the Middle East or the fact that one of our economic lifelines, the Suez Canal, is likely to be closed indefinitely. There is no reference either to the USSR vis-a-vis mainland China. May 1 remind honourable members also that there are still quite a number of unsettled claims between those two countries. Yet this Government shuns like the plague any reference to the breach which exists between those two powers. It is not customary for the Press in this country to mention that on the frontier along the Amur River there are generally some 2 million Russian troops and that there are several unresolved demands between those two countries, in particular for the restoration of certain areas which were taken from China by the Russian Czars and which they still aspire to have returned.

In the statement there is no reference whatever to the real position in South East Asia or in Asia generally where there are more people today than ever before in terms of numbers, where they have less to eat, where they are less well housed and certainly less educated than ever before. This is possibly the most inflammable material in the world's history. Vietnam, of course, which has been the political stock-in-trade of this Government, is merely one facet of the whole of the problems of South East Asia.

As for the defence statement itself, it is remarkable for what it does not contain. Obviously, when we look behind the scenes and read between the lines we can understand that it is a product of Cabinet dissension. It is notorious that there are divisions, deep cleavages, within the Cabinet. It is notorious also that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has minority support both within his Cabinet and within his Ministry. It is quite certain that there has been a major battle between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence as to the appropriation of this country's resources for peace, for development and for defence. Naturally, in the battle which has gone on, for some weeks - and a bitter and vicious battle at that - there has been so much withdrawn from the defence statement that very little remains. The Prime Minister and the Treasury won out and for once a miniPrime Minister was able to secure his own way with his own Ministry.

The statement, in its present form, is nothing more than a smother up until something better turns up. The Government, in fact, is playing for time. It is embarrassed financially. It has made vast commitments utterly unsuitable to our legitimate defence needs and now finds itself in a financial imbroglio and does not know how to get out of it. The statement is a bridging operation. The Government is awaiting, in fact, the result of the forthcoming American election. It is waiting until it can get its financial second wind and then it will proceed to see what it can do in the way of buying some more defence equipment from overseas. Until then Australia is to be in strategic and defence limbo.

The speech of the Minister for Defence reeks of indecision. He referred to a rapidly changing situation and said that the colonial era had gone. Indeed, that is true enough. He conveniently used the coming five power talks as an excuse for indecision and procrastination. But he carefully covered up by saying that of course there was no certainty that final decisions would emerge from those talks. Of course they will not; other conferences will follow and talks will continue because this Government is continually embarrassed by the extent of its commitments in the purchase of defence equipment from overseas and their impact on Australian overseas reserves. The Minister laid great stress on the problems of payment. He mentioned that overseas defence expenditure this year would be some $350m; that next year it would probably be higher. He referred to the possibility of a fall in capital inflow or to a downturn in exports and then, for something to cling to, he turned to the defence credits which are available. Finally, in his confused process of rationalising, he said that sooner or later cash from earnings abroad would have to be used to meet Australia's commitments. By way of cold comfort to his own party he said that in the next financial year the commitments would be even higher.

The hard truth is this: Australia's defence policy and foreign policy have been prostituted to electoral expediency and the political survival of this Government. A defence and foreign affairs crisis has been contrived before each election as a sure election winner. It was the celebrated German Clausewitz who said that war was an extension of diplomacy by other means. There is no rationale for the defence policy of this Government. Its defence and foreign policies are now in the melting pot. The Government, behind the scenes, is in a state of panic and is incapable of independent thought. A massive reconsideration is needed as to what Australia's strategic commitments are and the defence measures that need to be taken to meet them. What will emerge from the Gorton think-tank in this regard remains to be seen. It will possibly be one of the wonders of the world when it does finally emerge.

Our present position, of course, is a legacy of the regime of a former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who was, undoubtedly, Australia's greatest handicap to accommodation with the new world of free Asia. Under him Australia made a choice to sink or swim with the old south eastern Asia colonial powers, Britain and the United States, and no decision could have been fraught with more danger. Today, as the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) mentioned - and I fully agree with him - both Britain and the United States are in all probability withdrawing from mainland Asia. As for the United States, we have seen, in the last announcement of limited reinforcements to Vietnam, special emphasis being laid on the offloading of responsibilities for the future conduct of the war onto the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese Government. Special stress was laid by the United States President on the $30 billion annual cost of the war and its impact on the economy of the United States.

Today, in any defence debate, we must think in terms of limited war because with the use of atomic weapons we come to a point where the classical great power role has been made almost impossible by the relative ineffectiveness of any weapons capable of sane use in the implementation of normal national policy. It was General Macarthur who once said: 'Never fight a land war on the continent of Asia'. It was another great American, Admiral Mahan, who said, in his remarkable work, that the influence of sea power on history was decisive and literally moulded the destiny of the human race.

Our future, as I see it in terms of defence, lies in a continuing presence of sea and air power off the coast of mainland Asia. Australia's real defence and foreign policies must work along those lines, and we cannot have a defence policy until we have a correct and viable foreign policy. Firstly, we must avoid entanglement on the land in South East Asia and within South East Asia I would not necessarily exclude the Malay peninsula because after all it is connected by a narrow isthmus to the rest of mainland Asia. Singapore, of course, is the cross road of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and it is in Australia's best interests that it always be held by a friendly power.

We must come to accommodation with the newly emerging Asian nations and establish good relations with them. We must draw our defence line at sea. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) referred to the story of the elephant and the whale. I would advise honourable members to read a remarkable article by Walter Lippman which appeared in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' on 8th August 1964. There is no doubt that Australia can be best defended by the combined use of sea and air power. We must step up genuine civil economic assistance to the people of Asia. We must help Asians to help themselves. We must, of course, enter into regional defence cooperation with adjoining countries but in this regard it is particularly significant that the Government is most silent on the attitude of the Indonesian powers that be. They are exhibiting a marked reluctance to enter into any form of regional arrangement. The reasons for this will be made clear in the very near future. The United States alliance, which is and has been part of the Federal policy of my Party for many years, must be maintained but with Australia as an equal ally. Our defence forces must be based on Australia's technology and its productive capacity. For many years we have been obsessed by a numbers complex. Somehow the people of Australia have believed that numbers counted. They have failed to assess the impact of technology on the world of today because although technology is of decisive importance in economic penetration it is of equal importance in the field of defence. When we look at the potential of Australia - I have the honour to represent its major steel producing area - it is obvious that our strength is tremendous in relation to our population. Compared with any Asiatic country with the exception of Japan, and excluding the Soviet Union, we produce more steel; we have a bigger and better motor industry; in terms of horsepower the output of our factories is greater; we have greater natural resources; we produce more food; we have a bigger merchant marine. In so many respects we now exceed and will exceed in the foreseeable future the capacity of any other Asiatic country, with the exception of Japan.

For many years the people of Australia have been seriously misled by this Government which, for its own purposes, has led us to believe that we were incapable of defending ourselves. If there is an example we should follow it is that set by Sweden. Sweden maintains a thriving defence industry, feeding one of the toughest and most efficient fighting forces in Europe. Sweden has 7.S million people; we have a population of 12 million people. Sweden's main industry, like Australia's, is the production of iron and steel- our major secondary industry. What Sweden can do, we can do. The Swedish Air Force is rated fourth in the world and it flies Swedish aircraft only. The Swedish Navy has one cruiser; we have none. Sweden has 8 destroyers; we have 5. Sweden has 24 coastal minesweepers; we have 6. Sweden has 12 fast anti-submarine frigates; we have 4. In addition we have one light aircraft carrier for anti-submarine work and another aircraft carrier for use as a troop transport. The Institute of Strategic Studies lists 21 other ships in Australia's Navy, including a couple of submarines. To match these ships, Sweden has 22 submarines, 13 heavy torpedo boats, 25 motor torpedo boats and 24 inshore minesweepers. Yet Sweden manages to finance this vastly better fighting force for $209m a year less than the Australian defence budget.

The Swedish Air Force flies Swedish aircraft. The Swedish Navy sails Swedish ships. Electronics systems are supplied by Swedish companies. The aircraft flown by the Swedish Air Force are extremely interesting. The Swedish Lansen strike fighter bomber is rated alongside the United States Navy Crusader. The Swedish Draken interceptor is more than a match for the MIG21. The new Viggen, which in English means thunderbolt, will come into service in 1970. It is rated as the equal of the American Phantom. An article in the Air Force Magazine' of March 1968 reads:

In the European aviation world, Sweden's aerospace industry holds an enviable reputation for offering, at both the right price and the right time, aerial weapon systems that fill the requirements of its major customer - the Royal Swedish Air Force.

For instance, long before the advent of the F86 Sweden's Air Force possessed a jet fighter which could out-perform the MIG IS in every respect.

The article outlines the progress which Sweden has made in aircraft design. At present Sweden is offering the Draken lighter, which has a speed of mach 2. Towards the middle of the next decade the Draken and Lansen will be replaced by the Viggen.

Suggest corrections