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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2282

Mr MORRISON(11.54) —There seems to me to be a vague sense of boyish wonder in the speech by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender). It is as though he has found at last the fascinating world of defence. Perhaps when the honourable gentleman has been in this place a little longer and if he perhaps at some stage gets himself involved in the activities of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, many of the issues that he raised today will become much clearer to him. It is a learning process and I am delighted that he has started on that process. But if he wishes to familiarise himself with some of the broader concepts of threats to security I can do no better than refer the honourable gentleman to the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on 'Threats to Australia's Security'.

I want to make one point because I think it is necessary to place any defence debate in this place in a particular perspective. In the last 33 years honourable members opposite have had control of the administration of defence for all but three and a half of those years. So we must assess the criticisms they make in terms of their responsibility over a very long period for the administration of the defence forces. I believe it is quaintly ironic that the former Minister for Defence, the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) has made observations about the promises and the performance of this Government.

Again, I reiterate the appalling record of the previous Government, in the period from 1976 to 1982, in matching performance with promise. The honourable gentleman today quoted some statistics. I look forward to seeing those reprinted in Hansard so that I can examine them. I make the observations that in the period between 1976 and 1982 the historic trend in the growth of defence outlay in constant prices was of the order of 2 per cent. Expenditure in terms of gross national product remained even at about 2.6 per cent through the 1970s. It managed to hit 3 per cent in the last two or so years, due to the unfortunate measure of the Australian GNP being reduced through the regrettable lack of economic activity in Australia. There was over the period of administration of the present Opposition when it was in government a yawning chasm between its promises and its performance. It was an erratic performance. In 1976 an admirable White Paper on defence was presented, and I say admirable because it happens to be based on the Australian Labor Party's program between 1972 and 1975. That 1976 White Paper was a projection of the plans we made in 1975. In 1978, having set forward this program, the previous Minister for Defence said to the House:

Outlay this year . . . will not be large enough for us to achieve in the time that we originally contemplated all of the objectives and projects of the Defence White Paper of 1976.

Again, during the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1980 exactly the same sort of promise was given. Two years later the Liberal Government Minister said to the House: 'Sorry, chaps, we cannot really live up to our promises'. What has this approach done to the defence planning of the Australian defence forces? It has introduced an element of erraticism. It has prevented the military planners from having any settled base on which to work. In the last year or so the previous Government started to fiddle with the funds to reschedule the expenditures. A former Minister for Defence, Mr Killen, on 29 April 1982 stated:

Significant relief from Budget pressures in 1981-82--

He was saying: 'Let us not worry about other years; let us just sort out the particular problem we have at the moment'-

has been provided by reductions in planned payments on purchases under United States Department of Defense foreign military sales arrangements.

He then discussed rescheduling. The previous Government postponed payments and did not live up to promises. This has created enormous problems for this new Government in arriving at a sensible Budget expenditure, and a sensible five- year program. What has happened with regard to the commitments for the FA18? The commitments were entered into by the previous Government but were not satisfactorily provided for by way of outlays in the sense of planning those expenditures over the five-year period. The new Government is faced with enormous constraints on its own Budget problems. The Government, the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) and the Cabinet must try to relate these commitments to the available funds, and that is essentially the great problem faced by the Government. The problem is that it is impossible to undertake new initiatives because most of the funds for the next five years are committed as a result of the particularly incompetent way that the previous Government sought to match the promise with performance.

I thought that my colleague the honourable member for New England would refer to the question of fixed wing aircraft. Again, it is quaintly ironic that he seems to have different thoughts in opposition from those which he represented in government. Let me make it very clear once and for all that the fate of the fixed wing naval aircraft was sealed in 1982. This occurred at a time when the Government was proposing the purchase of HMS Invincible. It said that the Invincible would be an anti-submarine warfare craft. The then Minister stated:

It is not being bought for its capacity to operate short take-off and landing aircraft. The ship will be used as a helicopter carrier and there should not be any expectation in present circumstances that will be going beyond that.

Just to make the point clear, on the next page of his statement, the then Liberal Minister for Defence said:

The current commitments and the future of . . . Navy's existing fixed-wing aircraft are being examined by a defence working party as a consequence of a Government decision that these aircraft are to be paid off as soon as practicable to provide early savings in expenditure.

So let us not have this hypocrisy of the Opposition charging around the countryside saying: 'What a terrible thing has happened to the fixed wing component of the Navy.' That decision was made in 1982 and it was made by the Liberal Government. A couple of other observations were made by the honourable member for New England. He referred to our relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations. I trust that in this Parliament we can look a little beyond the political sparring between political parties to Australia's integrity and Australia's national interests. We have had-I say 'we' because I mean both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party-differences of opinion with ASEAN on the question of Democratic Kampuchea, the Pol Pot regime. In its term of government the Liberal Party decided-and we supported the move-to derecognise Democratic Kampuchea, and voted against the credentials of DK in the United Nations. This action was criticised by the ASEAN countries, but let us not get in a position where we are trying to score points off each other and denigrating Australia's national interests just because of the headlines we may be able to generate within Australia.

There are significant differences of opinion on both sides of the House on the question of Kampuchea. We have differences of opinion with the ASEAN countries. I appeal to honourable members on both sides of the House: Let us not use what is in effect an Australian perception, an Australian national interest, for petty political advantage. We have to develop our relations with the countries of ASEAN. They have very different political, economic and cultural backgrounds from that of Australia. Their perceptions will be different from ours, and why should they not be? Our perceptions will be different from theirs and why should they not be? As members of the Australian Parlaiment and as representatives of the Australian people let us be very clear on what the Australian national interest is, and having agreed on that-it has been agreed by both governments in the performance of their functions-then develop our relations with ASEAN in the many other areas of significance to us.

The statement of the Minister of Defence is businesslike. It has to be businesslike because it has to deal with the question of balancing funds. As I have said, that is this Government's heritage as a result of the inadequate performance of the previous Government in its defence planning. It is and has to be a policy of constraint. It has to seek to get the very best out of every dollar spent, and every dollar spent has to be examined very carefully. So the criticism about the Army Cadet Corps and other matters such as bands and so on have to be related, and any person making substantial criticism should say what the alternatives are. The Opposition should come forward with alternatives to our propositions, and it can best understand the difficulties faced by the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Defence Support, because of the shortage of funds and the difficulties in planning the defence program.

I was interested to hear the Minister for Defence Support commenting on his visit to some countries in Europe. Just recently I had the opportunity of visiting Indonesia. I was very impressed by the great effort being made by the Indonesian Government to develop its self reliance in defence production. It is now producing and in fact is now selling helicopters. It is building up particularly in Bandung a significant aerospace program. It is also building a hydrofoil patrol boat and it is developing a missile building capacity. So these countries in our area are following a course of greater self-reliance. This is precisely what the Minister for Defence Support was saying. When we recognise that 70 per cent of our capital equipment is currently sourced from overseas, there is quite obviously a great need for an effort by an Australian Government to lessen our dependence on foreign sourced equipment. This is very important for us.

I commend the Minister for Defence Support on the Government's program to develop, even at the cost of a premium, as will be the case in the early stages and probably in the later stages, Australian-made products. I think it is very important that we place greater emphasis on our capacity for self-reliance, as far as we can, in the production of our defence equipment. Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that both Ministers will be able to carry through the program, given the very difficult task they face. I believe that both papers which have been presented this morning provide a firm, businesslike, unglamorous, unspectacular, but still and all a very sound, basis for the development of this Government's defence policy.