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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 3014

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - Whether the development of this naval base in the Fremantle area will be a major contribution to Australian defence depends on the nature of the warfare involving the installation. There has been a tendency for the sake of points of political propaganda to speak of Cockburn Sound as a major counter to Soviet naval influence in the Indian Ocean. If one assumes that naval warfare between the United States of America and the Soviet Union takes place, and the world has reached that point of disaster, it is quite possible that the war would be nuclear warfare. We may as well face the fact realistically that in this dire case Cockburn Sound would be a concentrated target, a naval base, the city of Fremantle, an oil refinery, a steel works and all the facilities that will be constructed on Garden Island. In nuclear warfare this naval base may not be the great defence asset claimed. If we are talking in terms of conventional warfare against some lesser powers, we doubtless go back to the historic position. In 1911 Admiral Henderson reported that Cockburn Sound was the natural site for a naval base. In terms of conventional warfare it is a contribution to Australia's defence. However, in the Second World War it was found expedient to have a naval base on the western coast in the Exmouth Gulf area.

As this project has developed there has been very penetrating criticism of it from the environmentalists. There has also been criticism from various sporting bodies which once had the use of Garden Island. For a long time it appeared as if the whole of Garden Island - not to be confused with Sydney's Garden Island - was to be taken over by the Navy, but the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on his recent visit to Western Australia said that 1,800 acres would be left for recreational facilities. That was a very palatable statement to the people of Western Australia, but I think that certain chillies were put on the palatable plate when the statement was made that the day to day care and management of the area of Garden Island that would be open to the public should be a State responsibility. Since the Commonwealth was making the gesture of allowing a park of about 1,800 acres to remain on Garden Island it would have been an elegant gesture if it had carried the financial responsibility for the development of the park as some return to the Western Australian community for the loss of what was once a very great natural area of pleasure. However, the Western Australian community should appreciate the fact that 1,800 acres are to be left to it and I suppose we may rejoice that the State Government will have a recreation facility even if it must carry the expenses of developing the recreation facility.

The other point to be welcomed is the statement that the advice of experts on environmental matters will be sought during the development of the project in the future. I am not qualified to comment on all the submissions made by environmental experts about the change in currents and so forth as a consequences of the construction which is going into the development of this naval base. But the fact that the Commonwealth is interested in continuing to consult with environmental experts is something new and welcome. I suppose we must balance the claims of defence - even if one may regard this as not being the best site in Western Australia for a naval base - against the other claims. The Commonwealth has achieved some balance in allowing part of Garden to be left for recreational facilities and no doubt will achieve further balance in its consultations with the environmentalists.

The feature clearly welcomed in Western Australia is the development of defence on the western coast. This need was recognised first in the days of Lord Kitchener and Admiral Henderson, who were brought out by the Fisher Government in 1911 to report on Australia's defence. Henderson reported on the possibilities for a naval base in Cockburn Sound. Actually it had begun to be developed before the First World War. Of course in those days Australia envisaged the development of quite a large fleet. That was in the days when fleets consisted of gun ships and not rocket ships. It was believed in 1911 that by 1920 Australia would have quite a considerable Navy. The Washington Treaty of 1921 left what were then called the dominions with comparatively meagre naval forces. Under the terms of the Washington Treaty the United Kingdom held the preponderance of naval power on behalf of what was then called the Empire. So the Cockburn Sound base was never developed.

At this point in time - 61 years later - we pick up again the general ideas if not the specific recommendations of Admiral Henderson in the era of Lord Kitchener and that, I think, is generally welcomed in Western Australia, although there are very distinct reservations in the minds of some people who believe that the naval base should be Exmouth Gulf or at some other point on the coast, and in the minds of some who hold the view that navies should have nuclear propulsion - I am not speaking about weapons - which would render them independent of these inflexible and vulnerable bases. The view is that this is essential in modern warfare because fixed bases will without doubt be vulnerable targets. There was keen criticism from those who think almost exclusively in terms of the environment. Generally speaking, however, the majority public opinion in Western Australia welcomes the development of a defensive position on the west coast of Australia.

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