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Wednesday, 8 May 1957


Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition [8.30]. - The Minister for External AffairsMr. Casey) has referred to the speeches of the Opposition in general terms, but if he really wanted to discuss defence, it would have been much more to the point for him to have referred to the devastating speeches against this defence statement that have been made by honorable members on the Government side. We have listened to those speeches. Although, owing to illness, I have not been present to hear all of the debate, I have kept in close touch with what has been said. Many contributions have been made, from all parts of the House, to the debate on this, the most intricate and most difficult defence problem in the history of Australia - difficult largely because of government delays. One would think from what the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has said that the Government was pressing on with this re-organization as an urgent and necessary reform, but as recently as last October, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said, in answer to a question -

.   . the defences of this country were never in a better shape in the time of peace in the history of Australia.

That was at the very time when the cold war was reaching a climax - when there was virtually no difference between the nuclear weapons in the possession of Russia on the one hand, and of the Western Powers on the other. One would have thought that, in view of the universal hope that there should be a peaceful settlement of this tremendous crisis, there would have been some eagerness on the part of the Australian Government to face up to the position, but there has been no real change in our defence potential for many years now. Obviously, nuclear weapons were going to be the most important of all, but what did the Government do? The Prime Minister's defence statement is a confession that the Government has been mistaken in its approach to the problem of defence.

The Government has spent something like £1,100,000,000 on defence in the last six years. There has been enormous expenditure on the training of personnel. This is now to be drastically reduced by the almost total abandonment of the National Service

Training Scheme. It is quite true, as the Prime Minister has said, that the scheme has been very good in some ways. It has provided physical training, and has been good for the morale of our youth; but it was not inaugurated for that purpose. Whatever may be the true military solution, it is most important that encouragement should be given to the voluntary system of enlistment which prevailed before World War II. Without it we would not have had the devoted men who, having given up their week-ends year after year to military training, played such a crucial part during the war both in Australia and in the Australian Imperial Force overseas. That conception was put on one side. It was a grave error to require that enlistment in the Citizen Military Forces should carry with it an obligation to serve overseas. I think that that aspect must be re-examined.

I have only a short time in which to speak, This is quite proper because many honorable members wish to contribute to the debate; but in the time at my disposal I want to make it clear that the Labour party insists on a proper defence for this country. The views of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), and of many honorable members from both sides of the chamber, have been heard. Will the Government consider them, or is this merely a cut and dried plan? This afternoon I asked the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) whether he was going to the United States to buy defence equipment. I gathered from his answer that he was and, of course, he must do so, but what he selects is of vital importance and should be influenced by this debate.

I have never heard a more absurd speech on the air defence position than was delivered last night by the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne). He spoke of the new weapon that we are to have and said, " Of course, it is not the best. It is not modern, but it is useful ". That sort of thing was said in 1939, 1940 and 1941 before Labour came to government. The Wirraway was a good machine of its type for training, but it had to be used in combat against the Japanese. When we became a government, at the end of 1941, there was not a single combat fighter plane in Australia. I do not intend to apportion the blame now, but those are the facts. I do not want to repeat the relevant statistics, for my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has already given them. The late Mr. John Curtin told us in 1943 that in not one type of defence equipment were satisfactory weapons available when Labour came to office. I know the position well because, as soon as Singapore fell, Mr. Curtin dispatched me to Britain and the United States to get the bare equipment which this country needed in order to survive.


Mr Turnbull - What did Mr. Curtin say?


Dr EVATT - I was listening to the broadcast of the honorable member's speech last night and I know the point that he made. He said that because Mr. Curtin said something a few weeks after he took office one should take no notice of what he said later.


Mr Turnbull - It was a policy speech later.


Dr EVATT - When Mr. Curtin made his earlier remarks he had been in office only a few weeks. No real analysis of the position had then been made. Does the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) dispute for a moment the figures that Mr. Curtin gave in 1943, after he had received reports from the chiefs of staff? Of course, he cannot.


Mr Turnbull - That was a policy speech.


Dr EVATT - It was in the 1943 policy speech, but when I was sent abroad in March, 1942, I had to fight both in Britain and the United States for equipment, especially air equipment, without which our gallant airmen could have done nothing. As the result of that mission, we received just under 100 Spitfires suitable for tropical conditions, and an enormous number of planes from the United States. But they were not here when we came to government, and only a few weeks later war with Japan broke out. That is the sad story of what happened the last time that a Liberal party-Country party government was given the responsibility of providing for the defence of this country. The Minister for Defence has himself introduced this aspect by criticizing Labour governments. I repeat that Labour insists on the best possible defence for this country.

I am not in a position to dispute many of the decisions that have been made. We cannot, as laymen who lack the technical advice which is in the possession of the Government, be dogmatic about these things. The present world situation has recently been stated in the United States magazine " Newsweek ". There is now virtually no difference between the arms in possession of the two main forces. What is to be done about it? The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) has pointed out that in such an equipoise of force, with each side holding weapons of unparalleled destructive power, there might well be an indefinite stalemate. Is it to be a permanent race to get a little stronger than the other side in certain respects, or is some other approach to be made? As the honorable member for St. George has said, there is always the element of surprise to be considered. Also, it is now suggested that atom bombs should be made available to Nationalist China, but it would be surely dangerous to permit too great a dispersal of these bombs, because they may be used, and thus set off the conflagration.

What are we to do? I believe that the proper course to follow is indicated in the White Paper which was tabled a month ago in the House of Commons by Mr. Sandys, the United Kingdom Minister for Defence, who had just returned from the Bermuda Conference with President Eisenhower. When my colleague, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) referred the other night to the speech made by Mr. Sandys, there were interruptions - almost as though Mr. Sandys had not said it. I think the Government and Parliament of Britain are to be congratulated in stating the principle which should be applied by all governments, including the Australian Government. This is what was said -

It must be frankly recognized that there is at present no means of providing adequate protection for the people of this country against the consequences of an attack with nuclear weapons.

Let honorable members think what that implies. It does not mean that there should not be civil defence. Yet no provision has been made by this Government for civil defence, although the Government has talked about it for years. The Government has been criticized in this regard from both sides of the House, especially by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr.

Wentworth). Is anything to be done about it now? Apparently not. Mr. Sandys went on -

Even if only a dozen enemy bombers got through, they could with megaton bombs inflict widespread devastation.

That is the conclusion that is set out in the White Paper. It is a true conclusion in the face of which this Government has no policy. We have to have armed forces, and we have to do the best we can with our resources. The situation in Australia requires a thorough clean-up.

The Prime Minister, in his statement, indicated a very leisurely approach to the question. He said that he thought there should be a concentration of the chief advisers of the defence departments in Canberra. One would think that those advisers would be brought to Canberra next month, but they will not be brought here for two years. Apparently, they have to be given time to break up the little parties that take place in Melbourne. They will not have to come all the way to Canberra and make their homes here until 1959. What urgency is indicated in a document containing so absurd a statement? When the late John Curtin became Prime Minister, he stopped the business of having Cabinet meetings in Melbourne to suit the convenience of high officials. He made Canberra the centre of the war effort, and from this capital the whole war effort against Japan was directed.

It is in relation to the principle enunciated by Mr. Sandys that the Australian Government has failed. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has now entered into the field of defence policy. This takes us back to his foreign policy, i because the one cannot be considered with- ! out the other. He has said that himself. The principle on which British foreign policy is based is stated in the White Paper as follows: -

This makes it more than ever clear-

The reference is to the certainty of mutual damage of an irreparable character - that the overriding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war rather than prepare for it.

What is to be done about that? What is the policy of the Government? lt has none. The Prime Minister's speech, to a large extent, and the speech of the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), in its entirety, were based on the hopeless and inhuman hypothesis that nothing will be done by this Government to see whether a nuclear war, that terrible disaster to humanity, can be avoided. The Labour party believes that an attempt should be made to avoid such a disaster. It will not be easy, but to adopt a defeatist attitude and to leave the issue to fate is not a suitable policy for a vigorous government. For that reason, the Government's foreign policy deserves strong criticism.

Let us take one or two illustrations. The Minister for External Affairs, with a new phrase, has tried to divide the world. Will it remain that way? Of course not. Who knows what changes may not take place? I believe that, even now, we are nearer to a peaceful settlement than we were three or four months ago. The situation became very bad last year because of what happened not only in the Middle East, but also in central Europe, and the result has been mutual threats from either side. The Russian leaders have threatened small nations near them by stating what Russia will do if those small countries are used for nuclear warfare. But American generals - never the President, the great political leader - but the generals and admirals have said what they will do. The Australian Minister for Defence, like the Russians, has pinned his faith to the old rule, the simple plan, and his attitude is -

We don't want to fight,

But by jingo if we do,

We've got the guns, we've got the men,

And-

Perhaps -

We've got the money, too!

It is absurd to hear the representatives of great powers talking in that way, but I believe that that state of affairs is coming to an end. I believe that the White Paper of Mr. Sandys outlines the duty of governments. Of course, this Government must have its defence forces.

I hope that there will not be any reliance on aeroplanes which are not absolutely modern and up to date. I hope, and demand, that the aircraft industry, which forms the basis of air defence, will be protected. This industry is necessary, not only for what it can produce directly, but because of the necessity to provide aeroplane parts and to carry out repairs. For these reasons, I hope that the industry will be encouraged. At present, its future is veiled in uncertainty. The threat of nuclear war has encouraged the growth of powerful vested interests that want international tension to continue. If one looks at American magazines such as " Aeroplane ", one may read of the enormous amounts that are being spent on aerial defence. Aeroplanes are being produced by private concerns that make enormous profits, and this has increased the difficulty of bringing about disarmament. The original policy of the Labour party, although it could not be implemented in the midst of war, was to take the profit out of armament manufacture so as to ensure the elimination of an interest which could prevent international agreement. Between World War I. and World War II. Zaharoff and the armament barons prevented the making of disarmament agreements. No doubt the armament barons are still a power. They do not want agreement. Can the people break through this conspiracy? That is the problem in Russia, that is the problem in the United States, and that is the problem in every country. Can the will of the people be made to prevail? We know that 90 people out of 100 want peace on just terms. It is utter madness to resort to war. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) wrote a brilliant pamphlet dealing with nuclear war. The first period of such a war he calls the period of disaster. After the disaster, when a large proportion of those who are not killed by the bomb are killed by the fall-out, the survivors try to collect themselves and to save something of the country. It is so appalling a prospect that anybody with an ounce of imagination could not want it to happen. I believe that it will not happen. I believe that the leaders of the world, with some guidance, will demand that this horror be stopped, and that not only the testing of nuclear weapons, but also their use in war will be controlled.

The Minister for External Affairs has referred to China, which, so far as we know, has no nuclear weapons. Yet such weapons are to be put into the hands of Chiang Kai-shek, whose only chance of regaining China is a world war. I do not want that to happen. I want to see some attempt by the leaders of Britain and the United States to come together with Russia on these matters. It has to be done. That is the message of the British White Paper. Work for peace. Fight against disappointment and setbacks. No doubt there will be some. Peace will not be gained quickly. It has to be worked for. Never give up the effort to obtain peace, and the world may attain a state of greater happiness.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The right honorable member's time has expired.







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