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Tuesday, 27 October 1964

Senator CANT (Western Australia) . - I ask Senator Anderson, who represents the Minister for Air (Mr. Howson) to tell us what provision is made in the estimates now under consideration for a replacement of the Canberra bomber. I am aware of the ministerial statements that have been made to the effect that it is not intended to replace the Canberra bomber pending the acquisition by Australia of the FI IIA. Twelve months ago a B47 bomber flew over every capital city in Australia. Obviously, there was an election campaign proceeding. We generally hear defence statements at such times. They are made to try to create a measure of tranquility in the minds of the people. If I am correctly informed by the Press and by ministerial statements, it is likely to be 1970 before the Fill A will be fully operational in Australia. In 1955 the Canberra bomber was deemed by departmental chiefs to be an obsolete weapon, yet it will be approximately 15 years after that before we have a replacement.

The Australian people are entitled to some information from the Government as to what it intends to do to carry out its commitment to replace the Canberra bomber. We look to the estimates for the provision of the finance necessary to equip the air arm with the means to protect the country. We know that over a period we shall get Mirage fighters. At present we have Sabre fighters in Darwin to try to protect that city. These are subsonic fighters which are not capable of fighting in the type of war that may be expected. If that is all we have at a time when, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) says, we are facing our greatest danger, we are putting ourselves in a position similar to that of 1940-41. In the modern context Sabres are no better than Wirraways were then. It is some 18 months since we contracted with the French people to buy Mirage fighters. At this point of time we have eight. We have a bomber that was declared obsolete nine years ago. So far as I can follow the estimates, there is no intention to provide for a replacement of it.

Senator Cormack - It will be phased out in 1967.

Senator CANT - The Minister contradicts that; he says 1968. Public reaction is that it will be 1970 before we have squadrons of bombers and trained personnel to make them operative. I shall give the Minister the benefit of his estimate of 1968. That is four years away. We have entered into certain commitments with other countries - our so-called powerful friends. We are expected to provide for them the support of which we are capable, with our small population and our national income which is small by comparison with the populations and incomes of other countries. The Prime Minister has said that we are in the most dangerous period since the last war. In this contest, I want to know what the Government's plans are. The Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) has said that he will make a statement on defence before the Parliament rises. I take that as an election gimmick, like the one that was put over last year, when a deal was made to purchase the FI IIA and to have the B47 without cost. The Minister has now repudiated any agreement in respect of the B47, and at the earliest the FI IIA will not be available until 1968. Now, when these estimates are before us, is the time for us to know exactly what the Government's intentions are.

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