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Wednesday, 7 October 1992
Page: 1528

Mr SINCLAIR (10.32 a.m.) —I am appalled by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Snowdon) trying to rewrite history—

Mr Snowdon —I have done it before.

Mr SINCLAIR —You certainly have. You are trying to recreate circumstances and interpretations of events that you ought to know are entirely farcical. The beginning of the development of Australia's northern defence was begun by a coalition government in the period post-Vietnam. All the honourable member needs to look at is the opening of HMAS Cairns, the opening of HMAS Darwin, and the extent to which the whole of the new Tindal development was a product of decisions by a coalition government. The bare base concepts that now are progressively being extended to RAAF Scherger in Cape York all were originated during coalition days.

  I did not want to talk so much about that rewriting of history as I do about the circumstance of the defence vote. There are several elements and in 10 minutes there is little chance of covering the whole gamut. The first thing that worries me is that I have little doubt that, while there has been progress in some aspects of defence, the present stratagems followed by the Government do not, to my mind, realistically relate to the defence threat nor to the requirements for defence commitment as far as the Australian Defence Force is concerned.

  I think it is important that we understand that the 1987 White Paper has been underfunded and is unlikely ever to be fulfilled in its objectives. We should understand that it was a rewrite of Dibb, and Dibb was a paper that was an abject failure. It attempted to try to rewrite a threat scenario by suggesting low level threats on Australian security, which most of us accept are not the area where it is most likely that Australian defence forces will be committed.

  I turn to the force structure review and the extent to which it has developed in the Ready Reserve a group of Australians who, well motivated and well trained as they will be, regrettably will be unable to maintain their return commitment because of the extent to which it stretches into a time of their lives when they will either be in full time university training or in a full time occupation and will find it difficult to take leave to meet those obligations. This reduces the extent to which there is a capacity to meet whatever service obligations there might be.

  I can illustrate it briefly by the fact that those excellent Australians now serving in Cambodia and in other peacekeeping forces around the world are unlikely to be able to be in any way resupplied from the Ready Reserve, and certainly not from those who are coming back on return of service obligations. The nature and character of the demands of their civilian obligations mean they will be spread around Australia. I see no point or purpose in preserving the farce of the Ready Reserve for I do not believe it will in any way meet the defence requirement.

  As far as the individual elements of the Budget are concerned, there are several aspects to which I want to refer. I am most concerned that in both the Navy and in the Air Force the running cost item, identified within the Defence estimates, is a reduction in 1992-93 on the 1991-92 actual expenditure. To my mind, one of the lessons of the last few years has been the extent to which, tragically, we have had a number of accidents. They have involved a 707, F111s and F118s, all of which have been largely to my mind as a result of inadequate flying hours. There is a problem in trying to provide enough resource to maintain pilots at a degree of expertise and proficiency that allows them to maintain the very high standards of skill required to fly those aircraft and, as far as the Navy is concerned, to keep its ships in a state of operational serviceability.

  In the Navy, we have been fortunate in that, while we have had on recurrent deployment a number of vessels in the Gulf, those vessels have been able to run up to a high peak of operational efficiency. They have operated in an integrated manner with ships, particularly of the United States Navy, but with other allied detachments. It means that successively there have been small elements of the Navy which have achieved the standards of efficiency required. We need to remember that the number of vessels available to send to participate in operation Desert Storm was only limited by the amount of equipment available. It was only by re-positioning equipment from other vessels that the ships that were allocated to the Gulf service were able to so perform. We have got problems, as I see it, in the availability of equipment and certainly in the training opportunities available for members particularly of the Navy and the Air Force in the inadequate allocation of running costs.

  It is in the composition of the Budget that we on this side of the chamber are particularly critical of the Government. The Government has done a few fiddles. There is a great deal made in Budget Paper No. 1 about the extent to which the Defence Housing Authority is taking off budget a number of present expenditures. I think that is most commendable, but I think it also needs to be realised that that does not help to maintain a greater sharp end performance. We need to realise that although the Defence Housing Authority has achieved a great deal, again it is not new. The program was initiated 10 years ago and needs to be maintained. It is certainly one that I would hope we can develop in parallel with what is happening in the United States where they are actually allowing individual servicemen and women to participate in owning their own home, moving on, and retaining shares in a house, which gives them the same chance for capital appreciation as has every other Australian. I know Bill Kirkby-Jones, who is in charge of the Defence Housing Authority, has such a scheme in mind. I trust it eventuates because I think that has been one of the critical areas of incomparability as far as service in Defence is concerned.

  There are several other areas I wanted to mention, including defence science. I am most concerned that the Defence Science and Technology Organisation seems now to be somewhat of a forgotten child within the Defence Department. As far as I am concerned the work it has undertaken has been exemplary. While I am all in favour of allowing it to participate in the private sector to a greater degree, any reduction in the funds provided to it is likely to impact significantly on our own self-sufficiency. Our problems are in getting enough money to proceed to develop the techniques and the equipment developed within DSTO, but it is certainly essential that we in no way reduce the capability of that outstanding organisation.

  There are several other aspects that I want to mention. The first is homosexuality in the defence forces. I know that there has been some discussion of that topic in this debate. I note that the Aulich committee report is recommending there be given some particular recognition to homosexuals in the defence forces. I understand the Attorney-General (Mr Duffy), amongst others of the Government, is in favour of this course. One thing I suggest to those concerned is that it is important that they recognise that anything that will prejudice the maintenance of good order and discipline in the services will reduce service capability. By seeking to do what they assert, they will put homosexuals in a different category from everybody else in the defence forces.

  At the moment there are no doubt many within the Services who have homosexual propensities. People are not discriminated against on that basis; they are discriminated against because of the way in which they undertake those propensities. We need to understand that what is now asserted would put into a required preferred position practices which may well prejudice the good conduct and discipline of the forces. This is what the Government and some of its members may seek to do. I say `some of its members', for the position taken by the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Ray, is one which I would totally endorse—that the responsibility in this matter should rest where it does with every other matter of personal or other behaviour in the Services. It is a matter for the chiefs of the services to determine on the basis of the responsibility which is theirs.

  Like the honourable member for Groom (Mr Taylor), who preceded me in this debate, I would like to commend the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, and in particular Peter Poulten, on the outstanding success of the celebrations last weekend. The Vietnam veterans rendered a tremendous contribution to this country. It is tragic that so many of them were not recognised on their return. I think it is magnificent that at long last they are being treated equally with all others who have served this country in sad campaigns. I say `sad' because tragically on each occasion some of those who have left Australia's shores have not returned.

  On 31 October it will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the charge of Beersheba. The charge of Beersheba was the last occasion when the Australian Light Horse engaged in a truly cavalry activity. The charge itself is one which has gone down in history. But the significance of it is that the inspiration of those commitments by Light Horse detachments and regiments remains behind the existence of so many of the Reserve detachments, certainly the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers in northern New South Wales. They are having a big celebration on that day. Some of the sons and descendants of those who participated in the charge of Beersheba are still members of the unit. But to my mind as important as recognising the contribution of Vietnam veterans is understanding that the prime conditions of the regiments of Australia should be preserved for the future. (Time expired)