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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 5908

ADDRESS TO RSL NATIONAL CONGRESS, CANBERRA

Photo of Fraser, Malcolm

Fraser, Malcolm

Period of Service: 11/11/1975 to 11/03/1983

More information about Fraser, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/09/1982

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 5908

AS DELIVERED cA1
, jAU STRAI FOR MEDIA WEDNESDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 1982
ADDRESS TO RSL NATIONAL CONGRESS, CANBERRA
Thank you very much for the opportunity of being with you
this morning because I think as you know the Government values
very greatly the role of the RSL, not only in what it does
in pursuing the interests of ex-servicemen, not only -in what it
does in keeping governments honest to see what they do what
they ought to in relation to ex-servicemen, but the RSL makes
a much wider contribution than that.
It often serves to remind' us of things that are
important that other people may forget. The organisation
reminds us on a number of occasions throughout the year, on
Anzac Day in particular, of the effort and the sacrifice of many
tens upon tens of thousands of Australians in many different
conflicts. I am very glad indeed that we have been able to do something
more for the War Memorial. I have been aware for some time of
the problems of the collections, the paintings, the need for
conservators and many other things and I am glad that it is
possible to persuade the Cabinet, I must say it took very
little persuading. But since we are starting to look to a
bicentenary year in 1988, there should be a bicentennial program
for the War Memorial itself. The $ 11 million modernisation
and renovation program will enable a number of things to be
done which have been on the books, which have been planned for
some time. It will be exciting to see more of those things
coming to completion as 1988 approaches. It is going to
come around very, very quickly indeed, it is only five or
so years aw,% a,.
There are many things needed in the War Memorial, not only
space for aircraft and other exhibitions or special exhibitions,-
it is designed to cater for about 300,000 people a year and
last year one million people visited that memorial. The
Governors and managers of the Memorial are taking upon themselves
wider responsibilities. I think there is a feeling that there
is less of some important elements of Australian history
taught in Australian schools now than there might have been.
The War Memorial especially in relation to young Australians,
is quite actively making sure that visitors to the Memorial
learn a little more of Australian history than they might
otherwise have done.

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I don't think there is any need for me to talk of the commitment
of the Government to veterans. Sir William has done that for me
I think. There are always gaps. It is not possible to do
everything that the RSL asks in any one year because if we
did I know you would still think of other things in the next
year and the year after, so we have to leave something for
future years. The relationship and the discussions that take
place between governments and senior ministers and the League
are of great value. I welcome very much having the National
President and his Executive to a lunch at The Lodge on one
occasion and I hope that that can be repeated in future years
because it enables a discussion to take place in a totally
informal atmosphere and an exchange of view which I for one,
found very useful.
I think you know that the Government is very much committed to
expanding and improving the defence forces of Australia. We live in an
unstable world. and we live in a world in which the day's
imperial powers continue to spread their influence. We
don't n~ ed reminding too much of Soviet aggressions, what
has happened in Eastern Europe, in Hungary and Czechoslovakia
in earlier years, but more recently in Afghanistan,, the suppression
of Poland, the $ 3 or $ 4 million a day that is being spent by the
Soviet Union in reinforcing the Vietnamese invasion of Kamnpuchea,
what they are seeking to do in ma ny parts of Africa and the
Middle East and in Central America. It is in a sense an
unpredictable world and the Government values very greatly
the United States' determination to rebuild the United States
deFence forces to a position at least of equality and I would
hope in a number of areas to one of superiority over the
Soviet Union because I believe very, very strongly indeed that
the only guarantor-* of peace and of a secure world.-is a strong
and firmly led United States.
The greatest danger to peace is to fall in the erro-s of earlier
times when the western democracies became weak and unable to do
things that they ought to. It does not take much reminding to
know that the last World War could have been so easily stopped
in 1935 or 193(; if only the French or the British or for that
matter the United States which was then very isolationist in
its outlook, had done some of the simple things that they
needed to have done. The overwhelming preponderance of military
power then lay with the French and with the British, but it
was the lack of political will, a lack of resolve, a lack of
understanding which led to the deterioriation of events and
the horrors of the World War.
We have been reminded in quite recent times that if foreign policy
goes wrong a war can result very quickly, it can be very difficult
and very expensive. Foreign policy advice urt the United Kingdom
in relation to the Falklands was in error. It was thought that
the Argentinians would not use force, but they did and the
Australian Government gave all the support it could to Mrs Thatcher
and her Government in the prosecution of that conflict, the
recapturing of the Falklands. I would like to take this opportunity / 3

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to praise the courage and the determination, the fortitude of
the British Prime Minister and the skill and the capacity of
British serviceme in what they had to do in a pretty difficult
environment, 8,000 miles from 1--me. It was an enormously
successful venture. We were privileged to have only a few
days ago a special briefing by a British team who were here
and there was only one thing that I would like to say about
that particular briefing the extent to which they went out
of their way to emphasise the dominant role the British Prime
Minister to-k, the conduct of the United Kingdom ffairs athat
time, through the war cabinet and repnrting to Cabinet.
It is an enormous tribute to Mr-Thatcher and one which I am
sure not only we, but all British people appreciate very, very
greatly. What happened in the Falklands demonstrates that dangers
can come out of a pretty clear sky unnredictable, unknown,
unexpected and without advice. That means that those nations
that are determined to do what they can to defend themselves,
determined to co-operate with their allies, need to be vigilbnt
and to make sure that their defences are in qood order.
Laqt year our defence expenditure was up about 20% on the
year before. This year it is up very nearly 12% that is about
3% of gross domestic product, not as much maybe as the
RSL woild like, but still up considerably as a proportion ' f
national product in earlier times. We are in effect in the
middle of a $ 6 billion re-equioment program. It is a
very expensive prog-Am indeed and as much of the purchases as
can be, will be 1irected towards Australian indus-ru and the new
Department of Defence Support is designed to act as quB-e a
vigorous advo-ate in a s-nse for Australian industry to get
them interested in fulfilling defence contracts and to make
sure that the contracts that could go their way, don't flow
overseas. I was deliqted to see thatthe retiring chief of Defence Force
Staff who is here on his re4-jement, said that we now have the
best equiped and the best trained force that we have ever
had in peace time. That is a tribute not only to h4activities
to ,4 -Pi( Pcrs. the chiefs of staff and to the serices. but
I hope in some way a compim-nt to the Government that has
assisted in providing the fundz f-hat have made that poqsible.
The introduction of the F-18s, the purchase of new Orions,
new patrol boats being built in Cairns and new modern missile
systems, the fitting of Harpoon, equipment for the army, all
of these things are going forward in a pretty steady way.
We thought we were buying Invincible and I believed it would
have been an enormous addition, and a very valuable addition
to Australian defence forces, but having regard to the role
Invincible had played in the Falklands, I also thought that
there was only one thing to do at the time and write a certain
letter to Mrs Thatcher which I did. I was notsuxrvrised that
the United Kingdom had decided they wished to keep Invincible,
but there is not the slightest doubt that that decision has
posed very significant problems for our own defence planners
for the maintenance of a balanced force. / 4

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Defence are now bringing together all the options open to us
which I hope will be before the Government in a few weeks time
so that we can determine what is best to do. obviously cost
is one of the things that we have to have in mind. I think
some of the things that might have been said about having a
carrier, or a single carrier, have not really been
accurate in the past. If it is a question of peace time,
possession of Invincible obviously gives Australia a capacity
which is not matched by other countries in our own region and
I am not too sure that that it is not a good thing. I would like
to say to that Australia has, as indeed is the case, the best
the most modern equipment, more effective forces, technologically
for advanced than any others in our own part of the world.
Invincible would certainly have been very much part of that.
But if we were ever unfortunate enough to be involved in a
significant or major conflict, then quite plainly we would
not be operating alone, it would not be just one carrier
operating alone, it would be a net addition to allied forces
of enormous and significant tactical and strategic importance.
How we come out of this current examination I cannot predict
at the moment because I know there are a number of options
that are being looked at very, very closely indeed. There
is a question of cost and the balance of forces in other
matters. A good deal is being done to modernise communications at
North West Cape, for establishing a new patrol base in Darwin,
which will be opened by Her Majesty very shortly. Cockburn
Sound has been developed as a very effective naval base, it
is being used extensively by United States ships as well as
by our own and the RA-AF base at Darwin or possibly Tindal is
obviously going to be very extensively extended and improved
to take the new F-l8s when they come on stream.
We believe the close co-operation with allies is very essential
and arrangements with the United States are very real. It is
a full blooded relationship, but it is a relationship in a
political sense between equals, not between a middle ranking
power such as Australia and a much larger one as the United States
is.. President Reagan very recently said the partnership is
more than military, it has political and economic dimensions
that have become deeply enmeshed in the fabric of the United
States' national policy. I very much share that view. The
relationship is vital to Australia. There have been. arguments
about the nature of the alliance and about ship visits which
I am not going to revive at this point, but there needs to be
no equivocation at all so far as Australia's interest is
concerned. A full-blooded relationship with the United States
is of vast and great importance and that includes the visits
of ships to our ports whether they are carrying nuclear arms
or whether they are nuclear powered or whatever.
The United States has made it very plain that if ship visits
of that kind cannot take place, if friendly country after
friendly country started to say " We don't want you ships because

they might have a nuclear weapon in the hold", then the United
States would not be able to carry out its obligations to countries
such as Australia with whom they are in partnership, they would
not be able to carry out their global responsibilities in defence
of the free world. There is one other thing that President
Reagan said when Ambassador Cotton, Senator Cotton as he was,
presented his credentials as Ambassador to the United States.
I think you might be interested in the sentence. He said, " You
state that Australia is a middle power, but it is clear that
Aust ralia plays an immensely greater role in world affairs than
that modest appellation would suggest." I think that is a
reasonable compliment on the part of the United States President.
Co-operation with allies much closer-.-to home is also very
important. When I was Defence Minister I negotiated with
Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom the
Five Power Defence arrangement. That was not all that active
for some time. Our battalion was withdrawn and I think that
that was one of the great mistakes in Australian defence
decisions. The British had their own problems and problems
with anything east of Suez and there was some changed political
perceptions for a while. But as a result of discussions I had
with the previous Malaysian Prime minister, and the Singapore
Prime Minister, a number of decisions have been made and I am
very glad to say that not only my good friend Harry Lee, but
the present Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr Mahathir support
these arrangements very strongly indeed. There are exercises
between the three countries most concerned, Malaysia, Singapore
and Australia. It is our hope they might expand to involve
other countries, they would not necessarily be under the five
power arrangement, but it is our hope that they will expand.
There was an earlier decision that we would withdraw from
Butterworth by 1984-85. One of the first decisions of my
Government was to extend the period our fighter
squadrons would stay there. One squadron is coming back to
be transferred to F-18s, but we are now having an examination
to look at the economics of either keeping the Mirage there
or putting a detachment -of F-18s in Butterworth. There is
not the slightest doubt that they are welcome. I believe they
are wanted, but one has to know the national characteristics
of the language that is being used when these matters are discussed.
They are certainly very, very welcome indeed and I believe
in terms of regional co-operation, the decision to keep the
presence in Butterworth beyond 1985, is very much in Australia's
interests and very much in the interests of the whole region.
It is not so widely known that we have been flying Orions out
of Butterworth for a very considerable time now This was part
of our tesponse to Afghanistan when we took over a significant
part of the patrolling obligations that had formerly been
undertaken by the United States. It is also a training operation
with Malaysia because their people are on the aircraft on all
flights. The knowledge gained is shared totally with them,
but they are flying both to the east and to the west conducting
very valuable surveillance operations and making a commitment
to free world defence of a very constructive kind. / 6

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I think it is also worth drawing attention to the fact that
training facilities have been made available to Singapore
which we all know, has some shortage in -geography and
space, in Australia. That is accepted by our other regional
partners as a totally reasonable thing to do and again it
deepens our defence relationship with our close neighbours.
It is not only in relation to the United States as a major
power that the relationship is closer, more effective, more
substantial than I think it has been for a very long while,
it is also in relation to our regional partners and friends
that the relationship has been strengthened in very substantial
ways over recent times.
I think you also know that Australia has accented some wide
responsibilities, the Sinai Multinational Force. For some time
I thought it might be difficult for Australia to be involved
in that because you need a certain degree., of political support
for things that are done, but we did believe that it was
very important to build upon, the one example of co-operation
in the Middle East, the one example of Arab and Jews sitting
down to talk and coming to an agreement. I believe that
it was our indication, our willingness to participate, that
in a sense acted as a catalyst and encouraged-: others also to
join that force.
There is one thing I would like to say, and where I think the
RSL maybe has a role that could be fulfilled to a greater
extent, but not only the RSL, also governments, because perhaps
you and I sometimes take too many things for granted. Let
me explain it in this way. Through the last year there have
been massive peace marches throughout Europe objecting to the
deployment of modern weapons which are necessary for the
effective defence of western Europe. The opposition to those
weapons has been based very significantly on the fact they
are nuclear weapons of one kind or another. You and I perhaps
take so much of what we need to do for granted. We know the
reasons for NATO, we know the reasons for the ANZUS Treaty
then we ask ourselves what weapons systems, what tactics do
we need to give adequate effect to those sorts of treaty. It
is so easy to forget that not just one generation, maybe
twO generations have grown up since that World War ended.
So many people who were born since the NATO arrangement was
founded. So many people born in Australia, since the ANZUS
Treaty was signed do they really understand the reasons
for it? Have they been told the reasons for it, or have we
taken all that for granted? What we do need to understand
is that if we believe these things are important for Australian
security, or for western world democratic security, each
generation in its own time has a right to the explanation.
They have a right to ask questions. I have got no doubt that
a part and maybe a significant part of those peace marches
in Europe had been promoted by the Soviet Union or the
friends or the agents of the Soviet Union, but I also have
not the slightest doubt, and I hope this won't be misreported
as it was last time I made this comment, because they only
reported a part of it, I also have not the slightest doubt
that a very large number of the people who are marching, only.
wanted peace and maybe they are people who have not had the
explanations as to why NATO is necessary. / 7

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For Australia we need to explain why ANZUS is necessary, why
military expenditure is necessary, why it is important not to
make the sorts of the mistakes that some of our fathers made
before us. We who so often take the need for adequate defence
and defence arrangements for granted, I think sometimes fall
down in our obligation to explain to young Australians who
only want peace and cannot understand the need for war
preparations, the reasons for it all and why it is so necessary
to preserve peace.
I think Sir William this is something in which the RSL can
certainly play a role, something in which governments need to
play a role. I think it may be something that all of us
who believe in strong and effective defence could work a little
harder at than we have in the past. I would like to thank
you very much indeed for what the RSL is doing throughout
Australia. It is an organisation of great and significant
value. Obviously you don't always agree with the Government or
governments and we cannot always agree with every element of
your policies. My good friend Bruce Ruxton and I sometimes
have mild discussions on how to get to a common objective
and we don't always agree on the way to that objective, but
we do agree about the objective, there is no doubt about that.
When there are disagreements it is about means not about ends.
That is healthy and I would like to thank you all -forthe
role that you played and the service that you continue to
do for Australia. o000o---

Transcript 5908