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Wednesday, 23 November 1938


Mr FROST (Franklin) (6:43 AM) .I protest against the outrageous treatment of honorable members, many of whom have been on duty for nearly 24 hours since party meetings commenced yesterday morning. The callous disregard of the rights of honorable members i3 in keeping with the Government's bungling management of affairs generally. A matter of such importance as the budget should be discussed in a reasonable way. All parties agree that Australia must be defended, irrespective of the cost. The Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) when speaking on the motion of want of confidence, moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), made it appear that every effort is being made to ensure the effective defence of Australia, but a close examination of the position shows that that is not the case. For instance, there is not one anti-aircraft- gun in Hobart, and no provision whatever has been made for the defence of that port. The only zinc works in the southern hemisphere are in Tasmania, and are producing a commodity used extensively in the manufacture of munitions. As the zinc works are totally unprotected, an invader could completely destroy them, and thus prevent further supplies of zinc being produced. Doubtless, the Minister for Defence will assert that there are large stocks of this commodity on hand, but according to information I received a few weeks ago, the stocks are exceedingly low. The ex-Minister for Defence also said that extensions were being made to the munition works at Maribyrnong in order to meet the requirements of his department. That may be so, but similar works should be established in other parts of Australia. If the Maribyrnong works were destroyed the manufacture of munitions at that centre would cease. If it is the policy of the Government to decentralize defence activities, why are not defence establishments erected in the less populous States, which do not receivemuch consideration from this Government? It would be interesting to know what has actually been done to protect Sydney and the important key industries at Newcastle and Port Kembla. The Minister, who has said a good deal about the Australian navy, stated that destroyers and other naval craft could be placed in commission, should the occasion arise, at very short notice, but I was informed that during the recent crisis sufficient engineers and other professional officers were not available to man the vessels had they been ordered to sea. If that be so, the Minister has been throwing dust in the eyes of the people. The Government also proposes to purchase a new battleship at a cost of about £15,000,000.


Mr Thorby -Who made that statement?


Mr FROST - A picture appeared in a Melbourne paper a short time ago showing the type of the battleship which the Government proposed to purchase.


Mr Thorby - I have never referred to the purchase of a battleship, and what the honorable member says is quiteuntrue.


Mr FROST - I can produce a copy of the paper in which the picture appeared. The projected purchase has been discussed very fully by many persons interested in the defence of Australia, and the Government has never said that a battleship is not to be purchased.


Mr Street - Neither I nor the Minister for Works ever mentioned a battleship.


Mr FROST - It was also stated that a flying squadron is to be established at Pearce, in Western Australia. The Premier of Tasmania communicated with the Minister for Defence concerning the necessity to establish an instructional school for pilots in Tasmania, because there are many young men in that State who have been flying for some time some of whom hold a pilot's certificate. A Mr. Len Tayler, of Hobart is a chief pilot with National Airways. Although the Tasmanian Premier wished to cooperate with the Commonwealth Government in its defence policy the Government declined his offer. The Minister also stated that a heavily fortified garrison has been established at Darwin, but such a statement is totally misleading.


Mr Thorby - It is quite correct.


Mr FROST - Will the Minister deny that the guns installed at that garrison are obsolete guns taken from the H.M.A.S. Sydney before she was scuttled outside Sydney Heads?


Mr Thorby - The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.


Mr FROST - Will the Minister deny the statement I have just made?


Mr Thorby - Darwin is heavily fortified.


Mr FROST - It may be in the opinion of the Minister, but he will not deny that the guns installed at Darwin are obsolete. I do not object to the expenditure on defence provided that the money is expended wisely, but up to the present no details have been submitted to Parliament. The expenditure on defence during recent years has been : -

 

This year it is proposed to expend be between £17,000,000 and £18,000,000. It would be interesting to know what the Government has to show for such a huge expenditure. It is also proposed to establish a flying squadron at Darwin but the site of the aerodrome has not yet been cleared. Several contracts have been let but as the rates have been unremunerative they have all been thrown up and it will be a very long time before planes will be able to land on the site which the department has acquired. Young men are being sent to Darwin where the climatic conditions are unsuitable for white men. When I visited Darwin some time ago I found that the men in the garrison were living under deplorable conditions. The supply of water for drinking and bathing purposes was insufficient and the latrines are adjacent to the mess room. There is no sewerage system and generally the accommodation provided is of a most primitive character. I understand that a further 200 or 300 men are to be despatched to Darwin at an early date, but before they are sent adequate sanitary arrangements should be provided. Should an epidemic occur at the garrison it would probably affect all the men because in some respects the conditions there are worse than they would be in the trenches during war time. We have also been informed that the Government proposes to increase the strength of the militia from 35,000 to 70,000, but that will be a waste of money. Even if the number be increased to 70,000 no advantage would be gained, because the organization is such that they could not be calledup at a moment's notice. The militia system has been a failure for years.


Mr Street - I disagree entirely with that statement.


Mr FROST - A lieutenant told me that although the Minister had said that there were 35,000 trainees in the militia forces it would be impossible to call up 10,000 of them at a moment's notice.. This man who is a military enthusiast and served under the compulsory system told me that only a week ago he was employed at Kurrajong collecting the uniforms and equipment of trainees who had declined to attend drill. There is absolutely no interest or enthusiasm amongst the men, and one naturally asks what would happen should Australia be invaded. The Government should take a census of our man-power.


Mr Street - Does the honorable member mean a compulsory census?


Mr FROST - Yes, in order to ascertain the number of men available. In this connexion I am expressing my own views and not those of the Labour party. Last February I attended a conference at Burnie at which all of the Tasmanian trades unions and labour leagues were represented. Every Minister of the State Government was also present. The meeting unanimously carried a resolution favouring the re-introduction of universal training.


Mr Pollard - The honorable member ought to be ashamed of himself.


Mr FROST - I have no reason to be. The Tasmanian section of the Australian Labour party, in adopting that resolution, has given evidence of the sincerity of the party as a whole in this matter. The Premier of Tasmania, Mr. Ogilvie, after visiting all of the European countries, advised that conference that Australia's best means of preparing its defences was through the reintroduction of universal training. That gentleman is not a conscriptionist; neither am I myself. I should not be agreeable to conscript any one for military service overseas. Under a system of universal training, every ablebodied man in Australia could be trained physically, as well as militarily, to fight an enemy. No one doubts the courage of the average Australian, but I point out that if ever we are attacked it will be by highly trained forces and a mechanized army. What chance would untrained Australians have against such a foe? The Government is deserving of censure for the muddling- way in which it has handled this phase of our defence preparations. Just imagine sending two Ministers around the country on a recruiting campaign! At the most, only 70,000 men will be enlisted, and this number would have to be distributed throughout Australia. The objective of the Government would then be to equip that number. In view of the immensity of this continent, and our sparse population, we can effectively defend this country only by fitting every man and woman to play a part. I suggest that a census should be taken cf the physically fit. War to-day differs entirely from war in the past. We need only recall the atrocities which have been committed in Abyssinia, China and Spain, to realize that in modern warfare the civilian population suffers most. If an aggressor raided Sydney to-morrow, how would the populace be controlled? It would become a rabble. Yet the Government is not doing anything to organize the people in preparation for attack. It has not yet distributed gas masks. Daily we see photos taken in Great Britain showing babies in prams wearing gas masks. Furthermore, in the event of an attack, some arrangement would have' to be made to ensure that the population would be properly fed. The policy of the Labour party is adequate defence of Australia, and, I reflect, the only means by which that objective can be achieved, is by training every person in this country between the age of eighteen and 65. The Government has warned the people that there is good cause for fear. If that be so, why does it not thoroughly organize the people?

I again object to the spending of the bulk of this money in Melbourne and Sydney. A substantial portion of it could very well be expended in the smaller States. The availability of hydro-electric power offers exceptional opportunities in that direction in Tasmania which, furthermore, possesses everything needed for the manufacture of munitions, guns, and planes. Its inland waters provide excellent harbourage for flying-boats, which also could very easily be constructed there. The Government should not place all its eggs in the one basket. I point out that Tasmania's harbours are the easiest to defend. Furthermore, climatic conditions in Tasmania are far more* suitable for factory workers and the storing of munitions. 1 again appeal to the Government to give greater assistance to rifle clubs. Many of these clubs in my electorate have difficulty in securing ammunition, and they pay a fairly high price for what they are able to procure. As members of these clubs sacrifice their leisure in order to practise on the ranges, they are entitled to more generous assistance than they are receiving. Many of them are of middle age, and would be able to give valuable assistance in the event of an emergency. It is well known that half-a-dozen good rifle shots would be far more effective than a machine gun. Increased encouragement should be given to our rifle clubs.

Getting away from the smell of powder and shot, I propose now to refer to something far more palatable - the fruit industry. I am sorry that the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) is not present at the moment. I made an appeal for assistance on behalf of the raspberry growers in my electorate, who constitute 93 per cent, of the raspberry growers in the Commonwealth. Last year the factories, which are controlled by the processing firms, did not inform the growers until the eleventh hour that they could not purchase a large proportion of the crop, and I appealed to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron), as Acting Minister for Commerce, to make an advance on the crop of about £20,000 which, it was estimated, would meet the cost of processing the crop of 1,000 tons. Some growers lost from 20 tons to 30 tons of raspberries; because the factories did not want it, much of the fruit was allowed to remain on the bushes until it dropped to the ground. In response to my request for assistance the Minister for Commerce sent a departmental officer to Tasmania to investigate the position. I met that officer in Hobart, and immediately detailed the situation to him. Conversing with him one afternoon in one of the factories, he informed me that he would despatch his report to the Minister that night. The next day, however, I received a letter from the Minister turning down my request for assistance to the growers. From the date appearing on the envelope I ascertained that that letter had been posted before the Minister could possibly have received the report of the departmental officer whom he had despatched to Tasmania to investigate the situation. Three months later, the fruit crop in Great Britain, and the northern part of Europe, failed, with the result that overseas buyers were left short of fruit pulp. One of the factories which had taken 200 tons more than it had accepted in the previous year was able to dispose of the bulk of its output before June last. We have received orders far in excess of supplies, and we were able to sell the whole of the pulp for £40 a ton which, with exchange added, was equivalent to a return of £50 a ton. Had the Government advanced the necessary money to the growers, they would have been in a position to pay it back within three months, and it would have put into the pockets of the growers an additional £30,000. We are constantly hearing of the need for an increased population and for establishing men on the land. In my opinion, no class of people deserves assistance more than the small growers working in the closely-settled fruit-growing districts of Tasmania, many of whom have large families consisting of seven or eight children, who also assist in the picking of the fruit. These are the very people who, according to the Government's announced policy, are entitled to receive every consideration at its hands. In my opinion, these people are rendering a fine service to the community. The PostmasterGeneral who, in his capacity as Assistant Minister for Commerce, visited Tasmania last year and accompanied me through the fruitgrowing districts, can bear out all that I have said in this regard. I appeal to the Government to make adequate provision for the assistance of these very deserving people.

I come now to a consideration of the forestry resources of Tasmania. That State, in my opinion, and in the opinion of others perhaps more competent to judge, is best situated climatically for the development of forests. In what is known as the moist centre of the western districts of Tasmania are to be found large areas of very thickly timbered coun- try. Tlie forests, which have, in. the past, yielded many hundred of millions of feet of timber, require little or no attention because they re-afforest naturally. The ' only work necessary to be undertaken in that area is the construction of firebreaks. All the timber experts in the world predict a shortage of timber in a few years, even in those places where it was formerly thought that timber resources were inexhaustible. When I was in the United States of America I was informed that, so great has become the necessity for the preservation of existing forests, that forestry officers actually are spraying the treetops to eradicate pests which, it is said, destroy more timber than is being cut. The Russian forests were thought to be inexhaustible, and after the revolution large gangs of men were employed in felling trees, but it was soon apparent that if the denudation of the forests continued at such a rapid rate, a diminution of the supply of timber for future years would result. The" gangs were put off and a halt was called. Other countries have had a similar experience. That is, perhaps, the reason why it is proposed to establish the newsprinting paper manufacturing industry in Australia. I understand that it is intended to establish two factories in Tasmania, one in Victoria, and probably others in other States. The necessity for the establishment of that industry in Australia has become all the more imperative because of the difficulty experienced by large users of newsprint paper in securing contracts for future supplies, except at a very high price. It is obvious to everybody connected with the industry that timber prices will advance considerably in the near future, and that there will be a corresponding increase of the price of paper. We should, therefore, do everything possible to preserve our national forests. After hearing evidence as to disabilities of the claimant States, the Commonwealth Grants Commission recommended that provision of funds be made by the Commonwealth for the development of the Tasmanian forests, and that the Tasmanian Government should consider the advisability of enlarging its forestry schemes. I regret to say that, although its expenditure in Tasmania would have been beneficial not only to Tasmania but also to the whole of the Commonwealth, no money has yet been provided for this purpose. All of the forest areas of Tasmania are replanted naturally, and the new growth reaches maturity every 25 years. I know of no other area in Australia in which that happens. After the veneer woods have been cut out and cleaned up in the Queensland forests, a long time must elapse before the new growth is ready for exploitation. That is also the experience in the Victorian forests'.

Sitting suspended from 7.22 a.m. ('Thursday) to 12 noon.







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