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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) (3:55 AM) . - I support the protest of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) at the action of the Government in prolonging this sitting right through the night. It is unreasonable to expect honorable members who have been present since 2.30 o'clock yesterday afternoon to take a really intelligent part in this discussion at 4 o'clock this morning. This period of the session has now lasted for eight weeks, but during that time the House has sat for only three days a week - on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of one week, and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the following week, and so on. Yet the Government is now seeking to force the most important business that can engage our attention through the committee in a most cavalier way. It is, in effect, striving to stifle the criticism of the Opposition. This is legislation by a process of exhaustion, and the circumstances do not in any sense warrant it. I emphatically protest against the tactics of the Government. Honorable members are sent here to voice the views of people in their electorates. It is my responsibility to voice the views of the people in the north and western parts of Queeusland, but it is almost impossible for any honorable member properly to discharge his duties all through the afternoon and night, and then to be expected to discuss all the important aspects of the budget.

We are now considering the largest budget that any Treasurer has brought down in the history of the Commonwealth. In May of this year we passed a loan bill which purported to provide aU the funds needed to implement the defence programme of the Government for this financial year; yet we are now asked to make substantial additional funds available for defence purposes. In discussing the Loan Bill last May I said that money for defence purposes could be obtained in three ways - by taxation, which is the policy the Government" is now implementing; by loan moneys, which is the policy that was applied last May; or by using Australia's great national financial institution - the Commonwealth Bank - to- provide funds. The Government is now engaged in loan conversion operations involving £70,000,000, so it tells us that it cannot, at this stage, raise further funds from the loan market for defence purposes. We all know very well that it would be abhorrent to members of the Cabinet to call upon the Commonwealth Bank to raise funds for this purpose. Yet the Labour party contends that the Commonwealth Bank is capable of providing the money we need if it were permitted to function as its founders intended it to function. A similar financial institution, modelled on our Commonwealth Bank, is functioning effectively in Sweden, and Sweden, we well know, is one of the most prosperous countries of the world. Moreover, it felt* the last depression less than did any other country for the reason that its national bank was permitted to operate in the interests of the nation. It was not called upon to make profits for private shareholders. This Government could well follow the lead of Sweden with beneficial results. The course I suggest requires only an amendment of the existing Commonwealth Bank Act so that the Commonwealth Bank could be used, as was done during the Great War, and as it was employed by Sir Denison Miller when the transcontinental railway was constructed. This, however, the Government refuses to do; it prefers to tax the people, especially the workers. Not long ago, it passed a measure which raised a howl throughout the length and breadth of this country. That was the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, which imposed a. class tax of the worst kind. Now it is the intention of the Government to increase, not only sales tax and income tax, but practically all other taxes. We know that when it comes to a final analysis, the. workers of the community will be the hardest hit, because those persons who support this Government always pass taxes on to the working class. In anticipation of the passing of this measure, there has been an ' increase of the test of living, and employers have already adopted a method to offset the effects of the proposed taxation by dismissing numbers of their employees, and requiring those remaining in their employ to perform additional duties. If taxation is the method which must be adopted to finance this budget, it should he based on ability to pay and imposed upon those who have the largest incomes. The outcome of the imposition of taxation, such as that proposed, will be to lower the living standards in which we take a great deal of pride.

As many honorable members have already stated, this measure may be termed a defence budget, because much of the money to be collected is to be used to finance Australia's defence programme. During the federal elections held a little more than twelve months ago, members of the Labour party were .branded by Government supporters as isolationists, and only a little while ago a senior member of the Cabinet ranted against the Labour party on that ground. The charge was very forcibly and capably answered, however, both inside and outside this chamber, and "I now make the charge that the Government itself is composed of isolationists of the wor3t kind, for it has isolated, not only north Queensland, but also the town and port of Darwin. Darwin is the open gateway from the East into Australia, yet it is separated from the rest of the country, and those people who are prepared to go north into the tropics of Queensland receive no encouragement or protection from this Government. Most Government members seem to think that Brisbane is in northern Queensland. Recently, I asked the former Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) what steps had been taken to provide defence for the undefended north. In reply, the Minister referred to defence measures that had been taken in Sydney and Melbourne. Apparently the Minister could not answer the question, or be was not sufficiently conversant with the geography of his own country to know where northern Queensland is situated. It appears to me that the defence programme of ihe Government is designed to protect Sydney and Melbourne - that is, if it has a programme at all. The Government has totally disregarded the need to expend money in the areas north of Brisbane, with which I am particularly concerned. Residents of the big cities, with their factories and palatial homes, have received greater consideration than those persons who have gone into the 'tropics and have left behind the conveniences and comforts of the southern cities and towns, in order to carry on the work of developing this continent. They receive no consideration from the Government in regard to defence or anything else. Residents of northern and western Queensland will be required to pay their fair share of the taxes to be imposed, and they ask that they should be afforded some measure of protection. Members of the Government, and its supporters, display a lamentable lack of knowledge of conditions in northern Queensland. I doubt whether any members of the Government, with the exception of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), the Minister for Health (Senator Poll) and the former Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), have been in northern Queensland in recent years. They should make themselves conversant with conditions in those areas in whose interests they should be legislating. They prefer to go abroad and, wear fancy clothes rather than travel about their own country investigating the needs of the Australian people. There is a great difference between the defence requirements of northern and western Queensland and those of the southern parts of Australia, because population and industries are centralized in New South Wales and Victoria, whereas the reverse is the case in Queensland. In that State, railways penetrate 500 or 600 miles into the west from deepwater ports, and every railway passes through thriving towns, and assists in the maintenance of the great pastoral, fishing, mining and other industries. Nevertheless, primary-producing districts in that State receive no consideration from the Commonwealth Government, as is demonstrated when requests are made for the establishment of post offices or telephone services. Then the first question asked is : What will be the revenue ?

From my examination of the action taken by the Government since it promised the people in October of last year to give them a defence policy, it appears that only Sydney and Melbourne have been seriously considered. This Government has not fulfilled the promises made on the hustings, but it apparently has awakened at last to a realization of the fact that Australia is passing into an economic condition similar to that which prevailed in 1931, and is on the verge or another depression. As it has been phrased, we are passing into a period of business recession. The prices of wool, wheat and base metals have fallen, and the economic repercussions are such that unemployment and wide-spread dissatisfaction must result as they did in 1929. The Government is talking about its defence programme, and is extracting from the pockets of the workers, and others who can ill-afford to pay, the greater part of the revenue required to finance the defence scheme. It is known that certain members of the present Cabinet have exhibited profascist tendencies, and at functions in Sydney have praised what has taken place in Germany; at least, so we are told in the press. The dictators learned a lesson from the last depression. .They saw a vast army of unemployed walking the streets, representing a potential, danger to themselves. The fear of revolution drove them to find employment for this great army, and the only avenue open to them was the manufacture of armaments.

In consequence, Hitler and Mussolini embarked on a rearmament programme to create instruments of war, and, at the same time to provide employment. The prices of our primary products and base metals rose. Hitler and Mussolini were able by this method to stave off the threatening revolution, but, now that their vast military machines have been created, their creation has become a menace to world peace. If the actions of the Commonwealth Government are not designed to stave off a threatened depression why have north Queensland and the west coast of Western Australia been neglected? That question remains unanswered. The former Minister for Defence refused to answer it. Those areas, for some unknown reason, have been penalized by this Government in the allocation of expenditure on defence. No steps have been taken to defend those areas. On the contrary, the fortifications on Thursday Island were abandoned. Acid was poured down the barrels of the guns so that they could not be used by I do not know whom. The garrison was removed to Darwin and the Government said, "We shall make Darwin a great fort to support the base at Singapore ". The result is that between Darwin and Brisbane there is no coastal defence whatsoever. Until 1922, there were at Cairns, Thursday Island and Townsville naval depots, but they were closed in that year, and, despite the fact that on the hustings the Government proclaimed that the only form of defence was naval defence, no steps have been taken to reopen them. The only step that has been taken by the Commonwealth towards the strengthening of the Australian Navy has been the purchase of two second-hand cruisers from Great Britain. Great Britain used the money paid for those vessels towards the cost of two modern vessels to replace them.

During election campaigns the policy of the Labour party of air defence was ridiculed by members of the Government, who said, " We must have a navy ; air defence is hopeless ". Despite that assertion, many naval vessels were towed off the coasts and sunk, whilst others were sold to ship-breakers. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) informed honorable members of the opinions of a naval expert to the effect that many of the vessels that have recently been put into commission in the Australian Navy would be practically useless in the event of hostilities.

Despite its assertion that air defence was not adequate for Australia, this Government has recently placed orders in the United States of America for several military aircraft, I am sorry to state, however, that the number ordered is inadequate to meet our needs, but if the Labour party was wrong in October, 1936, how is it that the Government has now urgently decided to purchase an air fleet from the United States of America? The opinion of experts is that what we need for the adequate defence of Australia is a fleet of first-class fighting machines and bombers, not AvroAnsons and other obsolete aeroplanes of the types that are now being used. The squadron leader of the Vickers- Wellesley squadron which recently made an epic flight to Australia says that the AvroAnson bombers are out of date.

Mr Street - Nevertheless, they are still being manufactured for the Royal Air Force.

Mr RIORDAN - They may be all right for training purposes, but they would be useless in war.

I shall now refer to tests that have been carried out between the navy and aeroplanes in the United States of America. Brigadier-GeneralWilliam Mitchell, who was the founder of the United States of America Air Force, was responsible for those tests. He had agitated for them for a considerable time and had stated that it was his firm belief that, if any enemy naval fleet approached to within 100 miles of the United States of America, destroyers and light cruisers, because they cannot be armoured against bombs and aerial torpedoes, would be sunk by aerial bombardment. A vessel which had belonged to Germany, but was handed to the United States of America at the end of the war, was sunk by the attacking planes during a demonstration, which proved that an adequate air fleet could soon cripple an approaching hostile navy.

Mr Street - Was that the 1925 test?

Mr RIORDAN - Yes. At the present time we have a " great " air fleet. We have a few Hawker Demons, a couple of Bulldogs, and a few AvroAnsons. An order has now been placed for the supply of Lockheeds. When they will be received is problematical, because the United States of America, as well as Great Britain, is expanding its force. Great Britain also has gone to the United States of America with orders for aircraft. The aircraft factory at Fisherman's Bend is only turning out training machines. The Commonwealth Government should encourage the manufacturers of aeroplanes in Great Britain to establish plants in this country to manufacture aircraft. Most of the raw materials needed are available, and I consider that it would be only necessary to secure the co-operation of the manufacturers concerned to have a substantial aeroplane manufacturing industry developed in Australia. I feel that the manufacturers in England, who realize the danger which beset their factories because of the proximity of Great

Britain to the Continent, where there are vast air fleets, would be prepared to establish factories here. Because this country is most suitable for flying, there would be a market not only for military aircraft, but also for aircraft for civil purposes.

We should have, as was advocated by the Labour party at the last election, an air fleet equal in strength to the strength of the sea-borne air fleet of a neighbouring power. If we had such an air arm, the wish of the people of northern Queensland for the establishment of at least one air force squadron there could be gratified. The lack of defence in north Queensland is an open invitation to the power that I have in mind to attack this country. The arguments that the people in the north of Queensland use are that heed should be taken of what has happened in Spain, where aerial attacks are made on the civilian population for the purpose of destroying the morale of the people and of the army. An air squadron in the north of Queensland would be able to warn the civil population to leave the towns in the event of an attack by an enemy before they were bombarded. I think it will be agreed generally that the foreign power to which I have referred would come to Australia, not by way of Singapore, but by a route to the north-east of New Guinea. The officers and ratings on the sampans which periodically visit Australian waters know the coast better than the persons who are responsible for the admiralty charts. They know every nook and cranny of our coast and most of the navigable channels. That power first conquered Manchuria, and then, from the newly-established Manchukuo, set about the task of subjugating China. The same thing could happen in the north of Australia, which might become another Manchuria. In the districts inland from Cairns and Cooktown an invading force would find all the metals it needed, and on the coastal strip prolific crops of almost every type of agricultural product could be grown. The north of Queensland would provide a base from which an invader could set about conquering, within a short space of time, the whole of the rest of Australia. The adequate defence of Australia means more than the defence of Sydney and Melbourne. Action should be taken to defend the people who live in the remote parts of Australia to which I have referred.

Reference has been made to the nonstop flight from Egypt to Australia of three Vickers-Wellesley bombers. That flight has proved that the most successful way to repel a hostile attack is to have an air force at least as strong as that of the attacking nation. The speed of these machines was amply demonstrated in the flight from Darwin to Cloncurry. Although Avro-Anson bombers belonging to the Royal Australian Air Force which went to Darwin to welcome the VickersWellesley squadron left Darwin before the Vickers-Wellesley machines, the latter reached Cloncurry first. I plead with the Government to establish at least one air squadron in northern Queensland.

Some supporters of the Government have urged that Australia should purchase a battleship at an estimated cost of £15,000,000. The chief argument in favour of that proposal is the psychological effect on a possible enemy. That might be a good argument, but for £15,000,000 Australia could purchase 1,000 Vickers-Wellesley machines which have proved that they are equal to any other machine produced in the world. If we are to expend £15,000,000, let us get for our money the latest aircraft.

The only defence establishment in Queensland north of Brisbane was at Thursday Island. The fortifications there were removed about three years ago, and the garrison was sent to Darwin. It has been suggested that Thursday Island, and the adjoining islands need not be fortified, because, in the event of an attack on Australia, the northern passages and the openings in the Great Barrier Reef could be mined. That suggestion loses its force when we reflect that the nearest minelaying station is at Swan Island, in Victoria, 3,000 or 4,000 miles away. If the defence authorities think that it would be wise to mine the passages in the Great Barrier Reef, a mine-laying base should be established in north Queensland.

At a recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Forgan Smith, urged that a railway should be constructed to connect Darwin with the southern portion of the continent. Should Australia be attacked in the vicinity of Darwin, it would be impossible to send reinforcements there, because there is no railway or road connecting Darwin with the other capital cities of Australia. Those honorable members who accompanied the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) on his recent visit to the Northern Territory know the class of country which they had to traverse, and are aware that the so-called roads are only bush tracks. On behalf of hi3 State the Premier of Queensland offered to construct a railway from Dajarra to Camooweal if the Commonwealth Government would construct a railway from Darwin to Camooweal. In 1912 Sir John Forrest advocated that Darwin should be connected by rail with north-western Queensland. At that time, the Commonwealth Government offered to build a railway in Queensland at no cost to that State, but a reactionary government in Queensland rejected the proposal.

Mr Blain - What is the attitude of Mr. Forgan Smith to the proposal of the Commonwealth Government?

Mr RIORDAN - As I have said, the Queensland Government is prepared to construct a railway from Dajarra to Camooweal if the Commonwealth Government will extend the railway from Darwin to Camooweal. Cairns is connected with Brisbane by rail, but in the event of an attack on Australia, that railway line, which is 1,000 miles long, might soon be destroyed. It would require only one well-directed bomb to demolish a bridge and convert the line in the vicinity into twisted steel. In such an event, all portions of the State north of the damaged portion of the railway would be isolated from the southern portion of the continent. The railway from Townsville to Dajarra would, after passing Charters Towers, be practically safe from attack from the air. It has been suggested that the Commonwealth Government should take steps to bring Darwin into closer touch with the southern portions of the continent, and that an inland military road should be constructed by this Government between Charters

Towers and Brisbane. The honorable member for Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) knows that twenty points of rain would make the roads in the black soilcountry of Queensland impassable ; even the mechanised units of which the Defence Department is so proud, would not be able to make any progress along them. The only practicable thing to do is to link Darwin and Camooweal by rail, and to construct a military road from Brisbane to Charters Towers.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member's time has expired.

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