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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1259

Mr GAYLER(4.04) —We are only now entering a new era of technological innovation. I believe that this will affect Australia's defence needs as much as any other sector of our community. It is, therefore, vitally necessary for Australia to keep abreast of technological innovation and particularly to maintain our highly experienced core force. It is estimated that , given present technologies, it takes 10 years to train a middle ranking or non -commissioned officer. In the light of this training period I classify the maintenance of the core force as Australia's number one defence priority, even at the expense of further capital acquirements. Our nation's armed forces must always be ready to expand quickly and efficiently in such a manner that we are the masters, not the servants, of the latest technologies. The way to achieve this, if we are faced with future hostilities, is to maintain our core force in a high state of readiness, with high morale and at least a skeletal acquirement of state-of-the-art technology.

I would like to add a couple of observations on this point. Firstly, the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has recently been engaged in attempts to awaken the nation to the need for sunshine industries. His commendable efforts have reminded us that we must keep abreast of the new technologies that are overtaking our lives. This revolution is affecting the technology of armed conflict no less than it is affecting our daily lives. Therefore, I commend to the Committee the example of Sweden, a nation to a great extent responsible wholly for its own defence and a net exporter of military equipment, certainly not an importer. It is a sad fact-and a fact with which all honourable members I hope will agree-that the world's arms trade is huge, but we should not let this stop us from curbing the massive outflow of revenue to overseas arms manufacturers. Instead, it is our duty to create more innovations, as we have in the past, in a long term drive to reach parity between our outlays and income in military equipment. Secondly, I note with satisfaction that the Kangaroo 83 exercises are being conducted in the north-west of the country. Hopefully they will, in the near future, be held in the far north-east.

At this stage I welcome the Army's plans to establish a unit similar to Norforce in the north of Queensland. The proposed unit, made up of reserve troops based around a regular core force, is considered most welcome by north Queenslanders. We have, of late, all been made aware of one of the few projected defence threats to our nation, that of the limited establishment of a beachhead in our north-west, this of course being part of the Kangaroo 83 exercise. Any such incursion would be fraught with difficulties. The logistical problems alone of a north-west landing are daunting. Most probably the invading force would be stranded on the beachhead unable to mobilise because of the vast deserts that would confront it if it dared move towards the south of the country. There is, however, one area of Australia from where an enemy could threaten the very existence of our nation. That area is far north Queensland. With its relatively sparse population, its relatively hospitable country and its access to the lush interior of the State, it remains Australia's Achilles heel under present defence arrangements.

I am sure honourable members will all remember that the Japanese favoured the eastern flank in their final and heart stopping approaches on Australia during the last war. Their aim was not only the capture of Port Moresby but also access to the far north of Australia. For here could be mounted a Malayan-type campaign of continuing encirclement by land and sea, probing weaknesses and leapfrogging salients, until they reached the rich interior of Queensland where they could operate in a mobile and flexible theatre that encompassed great distances. Our response, under the leadership of MacArthur, was to abandon two-thirds of our land mass to the enemy in a projected attempt to hold the Brisbane line. One wonders how different our response would be now, given the appalling state of unpreparedness of our defences in the region. North Queenslanders said then, and I shall say it for them now, that any Brisbane line philosophy is totally unacceptable. The answer to the defence needs of our region is more troops, more facilities, more awareness of our vulnerability and a higher defence profile in that region.

Recently in response to a question on notice to the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) I was informed that, of overall activities, the Royal Australian Navy spent 35 per cent, the Army 25 per cent and the Royal Australian Air Force 25 per cent of their total resources north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Given that the north of the country is the area considered most vulnerable, I consider this a shocking neglect that is not only reminiscent of the Brisbane line philosophy but also an indication of how conservative governments have for so many years considered the defence of the nation as a whole and of the north in particular. I am confident that the present Government will redress this situation in its first few terms of office.

In conclusion, I commend the Government for its defence Budget this year. In the difficult economic times we have inherited from our predecessors, the defence estimates contained in the Budget are sensible, sound and demonstrate an awareness of the importance of defence by the Australian Labor Party Government. We are committed to the maintenance and the preparedness of defence forces within the current world climate, we are committed to the morale and well-being of Australia's forces and we are committed to the continued defence of our nation.