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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr CHANEY (Perth) .- A move to reduce a vote of £190,000,000 by £1 doubtless tends to bewilder the public, but it is in conformity with a practice that has grown up in the Parliament and is no more or less than a censure of the Government for its proposed defence expenditure in the current year. Probably the working of Parliament would be much more understandable if the Opposition were to move that the vote be reduced, not by £1, but to a specified figure below £190,000,000, or be increased to a figure above £190,000,000. This would make it necessary for the Opposition to say in what fashion it thought the defence requirements of Australia could best be fulfilled with the money available in the budget for the current year. As it is, the form of the debate on this group of Estimates will be that the Opposition will disagree with the proposed expenditure and the Government will hold fast to its theory that all the money will be needed in the ensuing year if Australia is to be adequately defended.

The first thing to be kept in mind is that the democracies, as history has shown, are never able to reach the stage where their defence forces are also offence forces. Their role is always to ensure that there is a force adequate to the defence of their country with out thought for offensive operations. The history of the last 30 or 40 years has demonstrated that when a war breaks out we suffer by having planned only for defence and by not being able, in the eyes of the world, to plan adequately for offence. It is quite sound to say that the money that would be needed to provide adequate defence for every mile of our coastline. and every acre of our land, is more than the economy could stand. A vote of £190,000,000 would never be enough to -defend this country from aggression. All that we can ever hope to do is to ensure that we have sufficient forces to protect ourselves until assistance arrives from some other democracy. Defence expenditure must be considered in that light.

On both sides of the chamber there are men who have served in one or other of the services. It would be fair to say that each would be biased towards his own service. For instance, an ex-member of the Royal Australian Navy would have a strong leaning towards the naval vote in the Estimates. An ex-member of the Army would lean towards the Army, whilst an «x-member of the Air Force would lean towards that branch of the services. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports {Mr. Crean) mentioned something about the Army and something about the Navy and the " arrogance " of the Air Force. As a former member of the Royal Australian Air Force, I immediately froze upon the " arrogance " of the Air Force, and I feel now that I have an excuse, perhaps now or later in the discussion on these Estimates, to press claims for the Royal Australian Air Force which can be put down, perhaps, to my arrogance and, certainly, to my firm belief that the real defence of this country in time of attack can never be carried out by the Army or the Navy, but that our future security will depend upon an efficient and mobile Royal Australian Air Force.

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The junior service.

Mr CHANEY - It is one thing to be junior in age, but it is another to be senior in achievement. I know that ex-members of the Royal Australian Navy will not agree with what I say; but, as a humble former member of the Royal Australian Air Force, I have never thought it was wise to spend many millions of pounds upon an aircraft carrier which seemed to me to be a nice object to hit in any stage of warfare when, for the same expenditure, a mobile squadron of the striking force of the Royal Australian Air Force could be equipped. And so this debate will proceed, with honorable members clinging to the traditions of one or other of the armed services and leaning towards their own service affiliations.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports mentioned the difference between what we had ready in this country in 1950. and what we have ready now. He said that, in 1950, the Royal Australian Air Force had some 360 first-line aircraft and that in 1956 we had some 388 first-line aircraft. He also mentioned the ships of the Royal Australian Navy. However, to compare numbers over a period of six years is always a bad comparison, especially when we appreciate the terrific development that has taken place in the production of aircraft as a means of defence. A first-line aircraft of six years ago, which might have cost £200,000, would probably cost £800,000 or something closely approaching £1,000,000 to-day. Those who believe that because the Estimates have been increased by £900,000, we should be able to have several more squadrons floating round this country in a state of readiness, little realize that the expenditure of nearly £1,000,000 represents the cost of only one modern first-line aircraft for our flying services. That brings me back to my earlier assertion that this country can never hope to finance a defence force capable of defending it against aggression from any power on earth for any length of time. I sincerely hope that the Government will keep in mind at all times the fact that this country, separated as it is by many miles of ocean from the major forces which to-day are our friends, is an island in the Pacific surrounded by millions of people who could, at some future date, be aggressors against us, and that defence expenditure, although it may seem to assume colossal proportions, cannot possibly be assessed in its true light unless we are prepared to pay the price of modern equipment for the armed forces to-day.

What applies in connexion with the Royal Australian Air Force applies equally to our Navy and our Army. With the present high cost of equipment, it is probably wiser to-day to train men and have them ready to train others with modern equipment. In other words, it is wiser to have the nucleus of a force ready if ever aggression should threaten these shores. I know that in many quarters there is a tendency to look upon us as warmongers when we talk about the threat of future aggression, but a close study of the map of the world should impress upon everybody the fact that what has happened in the past is just as likely to happen again. As one who grew up during the period between the two world wars, I should hate to think that the fate that befell so many of us who were born in the years from 1910 onwards should befall those of our children who have been born during the years from 1930 onwards, and 1 believe that it is only by the expenditure of sums like those mentioned in these Estimates that Australia can take its share of responsibility in the Western world. As a nation, we cannot hope to raise a force adequate to defend ourselves for any length of time, but we must be prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of nationhood. We must be prepared to play our part in whatever sphere in the world our assistance is needed. A couple of days ago, the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) in a question to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies; referred to the withdrawal of forces from overseas.

Mr Curtin - Hear, hear!

Mr CHANEY - For the first time in history, we were asked to supply a garrison force overseas. Some three years ago, I visited the garrison force on the island of Malta, a squadron which the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith thought was still there, but which returned to Australia some eighteen months ago. Not only did that squadron take part in exercises in the Mediterranean with the Royal Air Force and allied air forces, but its members also proved themselves to be magnificent ambassadors for Australia. Australian forces have only started to move round the world during peace-time, because of the changing world situation, but wherever they have gone Australian servicemen have enhanced this country's reputation and developed a spirit of friendship with the people among whom they have lived. Apart from the defence value of placing squadrons and battalions on foreign soil, the advantage to Australia of the friendship developed by our service personnel overseas can never be measured in terms of money spent on defence.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports criticized an answer given by the Prime Minister to a question asked this week when the right honorable gentleman said that following his visit overseas he was calling a conference of the Minister for

Defence, the service Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff to discuss Australia's future defence. Rather than being a subject for criticism, that statement calls for commendation because it shows that from his discussions with service chiefs and leading people in the political life of England and America the Prime Minister realizes that in changing world conditions there is need to plan for changing situations in the sphere of defence. Rather than criticize what is being done we should be appreciative of the fact that Australia is prepared to change its plans and conditions within its services at any time to meet developments throughout the world. In conclusion, let me say that as the discussion of these Estimates proceeds it will become obvious that the amendment moved by the Opposition, far from being merely one for the reduction of the proposed vote by £1, is a true indication of Labour's attitude towards the defence of this nation at a time when defence is so vital to the future of ourselves, our children, and the nation.

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