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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator TANGNEY (Western Australia) . - 1 do not intend to detain the Senate for very long, but certain statements have been made in the course of the debate which call for some answer from the Opposition. 1 am getting tired of hearing statements that the Australian Labour Party is opposed to all forms of defence, and so on. Never once in the 15 years since this Government has been in office has the Labour Party opposed or denied to the Government one penny of the money for which it has asked for defence measures. The Labour Party has come into conflict with the Government on the way in which the money has been spent. We feel that there has been quite a waste of money on defence and that the people of Australia have not received full value for the many millions of pounds which have been expended during the years. This is particularly so in my own State, where there is a great deal of disquiet with regard to the Government's defence programme. As a matter of fact, it seems to me to be rather queer that the full seriousness of the situation as outlined by Government speakers was not revealed to the Parliament until the last week of the current session. The Senate would not have had the opportunity to discuss the statement by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) on defence if the extra few days' sittings, which were completely unscheduled, had not been granted. In Western Australia, even after the Prime Minister's statement last Tuesday night, there was disquiet in relation to what is regarded as the neglect of the western third.

As honorable senators know, Western Australia is a very large part of this continent and is nearest to those parts of South East Asia which we know are the trouble spots from which danger can come to Australia. If the former Minister for the Navy, Senator Gorton, were here, he would bear out my statement that over the years I have persistently agitated for the establishment of some kind of naval base on our western coast. Government supporters say that the Australian Labour Party completely opposed the establishment of the American base at North West Cape. That is not correct. We did object to the method by which that agreement was made with the United States, with Australia being given no share in responsibility for what might transpire as a result of the building of the base. I say quite frankly that we in Western Australia were pleased rather than otherwise that somebody was recognising the existence of Western Australia and its importance in the strategy of South East Asia.

Also, there has been disquiet recently because last week all of the training aircraft at Pearce were discovered to be defective. Some time ago we had squadrons based in Western Australia but they were taken away to Richmond. Despite appeals from members on both sides of this chamber and in another place, those aircraft have not been returned to Western Australia. So far as the Navy is concerned, at " Leeuwin " we have a training school for juniors, but we all know how inadequate our naval defences are at this time. Western Australia has a terrifically long coastline. It is the one part of Australia which has known the actual ravages of war from attacks by a foreign foe in the 1 939-45 war.

I was surprised to hear Senator Hannan say this morning that Labour was antiAmerican. This is not so. Dr. Evatt, who was maligned very badly here by a Government senator last week, made a visit to the United States at the request of the Curtin Government in order to secure the co-operation and assistance of the American Government in the war effort. We know how well that man was received by the United States Government and we know how much we in Australia appreciated the arrival of American military and naval personnel when our defences were in a very bad way. Many Government supporters have been talking about umbrellas over Australia. Those umbrellas blew inside out in World War II. There was no lack of willingness on the part of Great Britain to give, the assistance we needed, but she was engaged in a life and death struggle in Europe, as the only bastion there against the might of Germany. Every man, woman and child in the British Isles was in a state of war. People who have never been to England cannot appreciate the magnitude of the effort she made. We must remember the size of England, how close she was to total destruction and how terrific was the war effort the people made. Australia could not expect her to give the assistance we needed when the Japanese attacked at Singapore.

We of the Labour Party have been completely conscious of those things. That is why, in the interim since World War II, we have regretted that better defence services were not established by the Government. The only thing that has happened over the past few weeks, apparently, has been a complete reversal of form on the part of either the Government's advisers or the Government itself, particularly in regard to national service training. I should like to remind the Government that it was a Labour government which initially introduced compulsory military training for our youth. When the training was revised after the war the Government began the lottery system. It is said that in Australia everything stops on a certain Tuesday in November for a certain reason. Perhaps that is true. Now we are to carry the same lottery business . into our defences, but in a lottery there is always a prize. I am not quite certain who are supposed to be the prizewinners in this lottery - those whose numbers are drawn out or those whose numbers stay in. By this lottery a small proportion of our youth is to be called upon for national service for two years.

If we are to have national service - I prefer that expression to "conscription" - it must be universal. Everybody must be included. It is not fair to decide that one in 20 or 30 will be called up. The service will be for a period of two years, which I think is too long. We were told this afternoon by a military expert, Senator Laught, that it will take at least two years to train the lads to use the complicated mechanics of modern warfare. This view is stupid, because every youth who is called up will not be called upon to handle complicated machinery and to learn all the modern techniques. Not enough thought has been given to the matter. A great deal more investigation is required before a scheme like this is foisted upon us.

We are told that there is a great menace from Indonesia and that Sukarno is the bad boy of the piece. I wonder whether honorable senators heard last Friday a broadcast report of the arrival in Australia of our ambassador in Indonesia for talks with senior officers and members of the Government. Mr. Shann on his arrival in Sydney - remember that this was last Friday - told reporters that his return to Australia was routine and had no relation to Australia's new defence arrangements. He said that he had called on President Sukarno on the day before the Prime Minister's announcement on defence, that is, yesterday week. He found the Indonesian leader friendly and in good health. Mr. Shann said that when he left Indonesia, which was later in the week, there had been no indication of any change in the official Indonesian attitude. I should like to know whether there has been any consultation between the Government and Mr. Shann, who has been on the spot and not here in Canberra, what he has had to say about the gravity or otherwise of the situation in South East Asia, particularly in regard to Indonesia, and what he thinks are the real reasons for the urgency of calling up young lads next year and giving them two years military training.

It was my good fortune some years ago to travel to Europe and to visit Belgium, where I was received by the then SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations. I was received also by Monsieur Spaak and his wife, who gave me a beautiful piece of Brussels lace and told me that it was a gift, not to me personally, but because of what the Australians had done for Belgium. The people of Belgium were so kind that, once I said I was an Australian, I could almost have had Belgium for myself. I remind honorable senators that the men who fought in Belgium, at Flanders and in other parts, were volunteers. Just recently, I was in America. There again I found Australia's prestige to be very high, particularly amongst American ex-servicemen who had been in Australia and who were fully aware of Australia's war effort both on the fighting front and on the home front. Except perhaps in the latter days in New Guinea, which could hardly be regarded as being a sphere of overseas service, Australia was very well served during the last war by men who volunteered.

Last year 24,000 men volunteered for service in the Army, Navy and Air Force, but fewer than 6,000 of them were accepted. The remaining 18,000 were rejected for various reasons, one of the reasons given being that they failed to measure up to the required educational standard. Judging by some of the questions that were mentioned in another place yesterday, I very much doubt whether that would be a sound reason. Some of the questions were so stupid that apparently those people who were supposed to have failed the education test must have thought that those who asked the questions were stupid and they would not have anything to do with them. It seems ridiculous that the education tests should be such as were mentioned yesterday by the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes) in another place. Other volunteers were supposed to have been rejected for medical reasons. Let us assume that only half of the 18,000 - that is 9,000 - were rejected on educational grounds. That is a great indictment on our compulsory education system. If that is the position, I am ashamed of our record.

I should say there are other reasons for the failure of our recruiting campaign. I know of one young man who joined the Citizen Military Forces and was posted to Queensland. A party of parliamentarians was to visit the camp in question. When word to that effect was received, the commanding officer told the men, who were not doing very much, to get lost and to stay out of sight while the parliamentarians were about. That happened two years ago. That makes young volunteers who give up good jobs discontented. I know another young man who, because there was nothing much to do and for other reasons which were beyond his control, returned to civilian life. I hope that the experience of lads who will be called up under the new defence proposals will be much better than the experience of this young man. He left the service of the Commonwealth Bank to join the Army. Later when he left the Army at his own request for private reasons - it was not his fault; he did not commit any misdemeanour - he went back to the Commonwealth Bank but was told that he could not have his job back as he had resigned to join the Army. He was told: "That was only another job. This is peace time." He also was told that he would have to come back into the Bank through the usual channels after having sat for the Bank examination. He said: "I passed that examination four years ago. I had several years' service and rose to be a teller." He was told that he would have to take the examination again, but he could not do so because he was a few months over the age of 21 years.

The lads who are to be called up under the new defence proposals will turn 21 years of age while they are in service. I hope that better provision will be made for their rehabilitation than is made at the present time. When we find instrumentalities like the Commonwealth Bank telling men that they cannot be restored to their former positions because this is a time of peace and that the position would be different if it were a time of war, we will have to define the word " peace ". 1 can prove what I have said. As a matter of fact, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has the particulars. The Minister for the Army of the day had the particulars too, but he did not do a thing to help. This young man to whom 1 have just referred has had only temporary work since. I think he still attends C.M.F. parades regularly. I said to him: "If the Army treated me like it has treated you I would tell those concerned to jump in the lake ". And I would do so. But this young man is much more forgiving than I, and he still does voluntary service.

I do not think for one moment that the voluntary system has failed. I am reminded of what G. K. Chesterton once said about Christianity. He said: " Christianity has not failed. It has not been properly tried." Much the same could be said about the system of voluntary service. The Government is under an obligation to tell the Senate what special circumstances have arisen within the last three weeks to lead everybody on the Government side to change their opinions about the need for compulsory training for overseas service as an integral part of the new defence policy. Some have said that it is because of the explosion of a nuclear bomb by China. Why should people be surprised at that? China has a culture that extends back much further than that of Europe, the United States of America or Australia. I believe that China was the first country to invent gunpowder. I do not know whether it is to the credit or discredit of the Chinese, but I understand that they were the first to publish newspapers. We make a mistake if we regard the Chinese as being a race of ignoramuses or illiterates.

The Minister for the Army has told us that the recruiting offices are filled with the flotsam and jetsam of the population - that is not a very complimentary thing to say about those who offer their services to the country - and that many of them have been rejected for service because they are illiterate. It is not because they have not reached a certain educational standard, because the so-called educational standard is not an educational standard at all. If these men cannot pass the simple tests that were outlined by the Minister in another place, then their rejection is due purely and simply to illiteracy. Has anybody ever heard a test as stupid as one mentioned by the Minister? Volunteers are confronted with the statement "The man has a cup", and are then asked: "What has the man?" In case honorable senators do not know, the answer is: "A cup". Has anybody ever heard anything so stupid? We can just imagine what kind of answer recruits, particularly Australians with a sense of humour, would give.

The Opposition is not opposed to real defence proposals. Throughout its existence the Labour Party has proved that when war has been thrust upon this country it has been able to govern successfully. I do not say that the Labour Party won the wars, or anything like that, but it has been able to gain the confidence of the Australian people and of the members of the Services in order that we might all work together towards a successful end of the wars. The Labour Party has been able to do this even without a majority in the Senate, a point which seems to be rather contentious at the present time. The Labour Party has proved that it could and would carry out a full policy not only of conscripting manpower, but of conscripting wealth if necessary in wartime. We are aware of our responsibilities in this regard.

I regret very much that those who support the Government, instead of giving us constructive proposals necessary for our adequate defence have seen fit to devote a great deal of their speeches to criticising the Labour Party. Many of their speeches have been insulting not only to those of us who are still living, but to some of our former colleagues who have passed on after their work was done.

Senator Laughtreferred to a statement by the Chairman of the Chamber of Manufactures, who said that industry might be disrupted because of the introduction of national service training. However, Senator Laught did not say that the Chairman had also said that one of the sources upon which industry could draw to avoid disruption was migrants to this country. According to what has been said in another place about the Government's defence policy, migrants are not to be eligible for national service training unless they are naturalised. The Opposition differs from the Government in that we say that if national service training is to be introduced as part of a defence plan, it should be made universal. People who come to Australia to seek protection and the life available here should accept the responsibilities which are accepted by Australian citizens. In Western Australia during the last war people who had arrived there just before the outbreak of war waited until our lads went off to war so that they could walk in and take over the businesses while our lads were fighting overseas. They entrenched themselves in business and in industry.

The Opposition is an integral part of the Government of this country and we are in total agreement with any efforts to provide adequate defence measures. We do not mind how much money is spent, so long as it is spent sensibly and without wastage and ultimately produces a plan for defence so that Australia may remain a bastion of freedom in the southern seas. Australia is a bulwark against the onrush of Communism. We live in a democracy of people who are satisfied to fight to the last to retain their democratic freedom. We will not preserve that state by calling up a few 20 year old boys after their names have been drawn out of a lottery barrel.

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