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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr JAMES (Hunter) . - I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), because I am of the opinion that this committee should be given more details of the proposed expenditure of more than £16,800,000 on defence this year. With due respect to the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), he has not indicated clearly what this money is to be expended on, where it is to be expended, or that it is to be expended in the best possible wuy to give every section of the community some interest in the defence and welfare of this country. The Minister said that it was difficult to state what arm of defence should receive the greatest portion of this vote, but I think that the Leader of the Opposition has made it abundantly clear that aerial defence is the best means of defence, and that expenditure on the purchase of aeroplanes for the Royal Australian Air Force would have better results than the outlay of a huge sum of money on the purchase of capital ships. We have established in this country a factory for the manufacture of our own aeroplanes, and, instead of sending money overseas for the purchase of naval vessels, which we are capable of building in this country, and munitions, for the manufacture of which, there are government-owned factories in Australia,we should devote as much money as is possible to the development of the aeroplane manufacturing industry and to providing employment in out ship-building industry.

On previous occasions, I have advocated the provision of coastal defences at Port Stephens. Incidental to the fact that if Port Stephens were adequately defended, a menace to the safety of the Newcastle iron and steel industry, and other great industries, including coalmining, would be removed, the earthworks which would be necessary for gun emplacements would provide a great deal of work for the unemployed. Port Stephens was selected some time ago as a naval base. As a port it is second to none in Australia. It has a wonderful entrance through which a fleet of vessels could enter abreast. By air Newcastle is only eight miles away.

Mr Street - A fleet in Port Stephens would be vulnerable to guns at Newcastle.

Mr JAMES - Not at all. It would have the protection of the cliffs. A hostile fleet could sail into Port Stephens without hindrance and bombard Newcastle. There is not even between Newcastle and Port Stephens a strategic road, although I have suggested on many occasions that one should be built.

When Sir Archdale Parkhill was Minister for Defence an application was made by the citizens of Cessnock, the metropolis of the coal-fields, for the Cessnock aerodrome to be put into good order and for the provision there of an air force machine for training of recruits to the Royal Australian Air Force, but nothing has been done. Irrespective of what is said about the people on the coal-fields, they have always shown loyalty to a degree which is equal to, if not better than, that shown by other citizens of the Commonwealth. For instance, at Kurri Kurri, throughout the years, there has been maintained a fine volunteer force. The former Minister for Defence, Sir Archdale Parkhill, opened the aerodrome at Cessnock, and also visited the Kurri Kurri drill hall grounds. It was shown to him that the footballers who had a lease of the ground had expended £300 to make it fit for the game, and that it was also used as a parade ground for volunteers. When money was asked for the provision of a fence so that charges could be levied for admission to the ground, it was not forthcoming. Money was also asked for the provision of wooden flooring to cover the concrete floor of the drill hall. The then Minister made an estimate of the cost, but the work was not proceeded ~with. If the Government wants to encourage recruiting, it should provide facilities to make the life of recruits a little more f on genial than training on a cold concrete floor, and should also improve their social life. These are matters which we say should be attended to in order to encourage people to join the militia.

Why should there be centralized training of youths for the Air Force? If a young man in New South Wale3 wishes to enter the Air Force he has to go to Richmond, near Sydney, for training, but, in my opinion, there should be facilities for training in country centres. From time to time I have mentioned the appalling number of unemployed youths in my electorate, who have frequently made application to join the Air Force. If facilities for aerial training were provided in country centres, there would be adequate numbers of volunteers. It would also have a good effect on the recruiting for the militia. The Cessnock aerodrome is in a shocking state. At one time aeroplanes flying from Sydney via Charleville to Darwin landed at Cessnock, but, owing to the bad condition of the aerodrome, the landings were discontinued.

Duplication of railways, which is also necessary if this country is to' be adequately defended, would provide work which would give many thousands of our citizens a stake in the country, with the result that the Government would have no trouble in obtaining the men necessary to defend it.

The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) twitted the Opposition with having no sincere defence policy.

Mr Anthony - No.

Mr JAMES - The honorable gentleman accuseJ the Leader of the Opposition of insincerity in his policy for the defence of this country.

Mr Anthony - That is incorrect. I asked the Leader of the Opposition to state his policy.

Mr JAMES - The honorable gentleman implied that this party was in sincere. He will find that that is so when he reads his speech. But the Opposition is sincere. What it is up against is this : Most honorable members of the Opposition represent industrial centres where there are thousands of unemployed, who ask, " What have we to defend - a dole of 8s. a week?". They want something to defend, and the only way in which the Government can instill in them the necessary patriotism is by giving them employment. Every available pound should be used for the purpose of providing employment. Several times honorable members on this side of the committee have suggested works which would not only be of defence value, but would also provide employment for the people. When the unemployed ask: " What have we to defend?", we are hard put to it to answer. The unemployed and their families live under deplorable conditions. Go into the coal-fields and you will find that the relatives of those who made the supreme sacrifice - in large numbers mark you! - are unemployed today. They wonder whether the sacrifices of those who went to the Great War were worth while. A state of revolt among the unemployed is being engendered by the order of society which exists to-day.

I have frequently urged the rehabilitation of the coal-fields by the adoption of methods for the extraction of oil from coal similar to those already in use in England. The Minister for Defence knows that we could build all the naval vessels and aeroplanes necessary for our defence, but that, unless we had ample supplies of fuel to propel them, they would be powerless. We can never be assured of having sufficient fuel for our mobilized defence forces unless we follow the example of England and obtain oil from solids such as shale and coal.

No one will question the sincerity of people in connexion with proposals to defend this country. Many requests have been made to the Defence Department to improve country aerodromes and to provide aeroplanes for the training of young men. More training centres are essential to meet the requirements of those who are anxious to get experience in the air. If the Government is sincere in this matter, it will make adequate provision for all defence arms, and will be prepared to maintain a standing army, not at the miserable rates of pay now proposed, but at least the basic wage. If this policy were adopted, there would be no need to send the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes) out on a recruiting campaign; there would be no lack of volunteers to join the Permanent Forces. From the Hunter and Newcastle electorates alone, 12,000 or 15,000 men would readily enlist for three or four years' service if good conditions were guaranteed. Why should not the conditions of service be made better? Is there anything wrong with the proposal to give permanent soldiers the basic wage? The creation of a standing army at good rates of pay would be a wonderful gesture by the Government, and would also be a positive contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem. The Government could then appeal for 100,000 or 200,000 men and expect to get them. If the Government will not offer the basic wage to volunteers, it should at least make sure that money voted for defence is spent to advantage. At present, it would be difficult for honorable members on this side to go into their electorates and call for recruits from among the unemployed, many of whom have reached the age of 26 or 27 years without having done a day's work in their lives. These people cannot be expected to enlist in large numbers to train for the defence of this country. Naturally enough, they will ask themselves, " What have we to defend ?" But if the ownership class, who have all to lose, offered them decent conditions, these men would then show some patriotism. This Government has continually evaded its responsibility with regard to unemployment which, it claims, is a matter for the States. I repeat that a standing army, paid at the basic wage, would be a wonderful contribution towards the solution of that problem.

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