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Tuesday, 29 November 1938


Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). The committee has not had an opportunity to consider in detail the Defence Estimates. Members have been unable to i get details of the proposed huge expen diture on defence. I am much concerned at the rapid expansion of the scheme, which the Government regards as adequate to make Australia secure against aggression. Government supporters have alleged that members of the Opposition have not indicated what amount, in their opinion, is necessary to ensure the adequate defence of this country. For our part, we say that, although the Ministry parades its belief in adequate defence, it has given no indication of the total amount which it considers will be required to make Australia safe. With the rapid expansion of defence activities and consequent increase of an already swollen defence budget, there is a definite possibility that, unless a limit is fixed, the Government will eventually find it necessary to effect economies in other directions. When that time comes this Government will, no doubt, do what other anti-Labour governments have done in the past; it will expect sacrifices to be made by the working people. The inevitable result of any nation engaging in an arms race, and expending huge amounts of money on defence, must be a demand, by those in control of the government, that the people shall accept a lower standard of living. We, on this side, would like to know what amount the Government considers necessary for the adequate defence of Australia. The sayso of this Government is not sufficient for the Opposition. Experience has shown that much of the expenditure on defence in the past has been extravagant. Apparently the defence authorities believe that the Government has unlimited sources of revenue at its command.

On many occasions I have brought under the notice of honorable members the unrest existing in certain of Australia's defence forces, notably the Royal Australian Navy. Men on the lower deck have frequently voiced their grievances through members of the Labour party. They know that they cannot possibly hope for redress by an appeal, through the ordinary channels, to this Government. The following is an extract from a letter which I received recently from one of the naval ratings : -

I have been asked by several fellow members of the Royal Australian Navy to place a few facts before you. knowing that, in the Federal

Parliament, you and members of the Labour party are the only ones who are interested in the low er-deck wen.

It might be news to honorable members to know that there has been no increase of the pay of naval ratings since 1921, with one exception - that of seamen petty officers whose pay was increased by 2d. a day - and when the financial emergency legislation was passed the reductions of the pay of men on the lower deck were made in common with other public servants. This is one of the matters of which men on the lower deck have been complaining for some time. They contend with every justification" that at least they should receive any increases which have been granted to other sections of the Commonwealth Public Service. Since the abolition of welfare committees in 1933 the ratings of the Royal Australian Navy have had no satisfactory way of obtaining redress of their grievances. Although these committees, as constituted originally, did not give entire satisfaction, they were at least able to do something in the interests of the lower ranks. The welfare committees were abolished by the Defence Department following the ventilation by the ratings of certain grievances, and their subsequent report in the press. The abolition of these bodies was evidence of considerable discontent in the Navy. The Government took action to stifle expression of that discontent. In place of the welfare committees there was established what is known as the "lower deck board of review " to which ratings were asked to make their complaints. Such a board exists on every ship, but as the boards are controlled by officers, in my opinion, it is impossible for them to deal satisfactorily with matters affecting the lower deck. The naval ratings are denied the right to bring their complaints directly before members of Parliament,' and they are precluded the right of meeting, either on the ships or on shore, for the purpose of discussing grievances. The men strongly advocate the reestablishment of welfare committees.

General dissatisfaction is being expressed in many quarters at the manner in which members of the Naval Board deal with complaints, either from members of the naval forces direct, or when submitted through members of this Parliament. Despite the practice of refusing applications for extensions of periods of service beyond the normal retiring age, exceptions have been made in the case of higher-paid officers. Commander C. A. Parker, employed in the Navy Office, and Captain Pope, an officer at Flinders Naval Base, have been granted extensions of service for one year despite the fact that they are in receipt of substantial pensions from the British Government. The general opinion throughout the naval forces is that there is too much of the methods of the British naval authorities employed in the control of the Royal Australian Navy, and that the Naval Board, which consists almost entirely of former Royal Australian Navy men, does not encourage promotion from the lower ranks. If the Naval Board is continuing its policy with respect to the lower ranks, and gives preferential treatment to the higher-paid officers, further discontent will be caused among the ratings. Another matter which calls for comment is the fact that it is apparent that the Government is anxious to increase largely the number of professional soldiers in Australia, but at the same time it gives no encouragement to citizens to become familiar with the use of arms.

Judging by the vast expenditure which the Defence Estimates involve, the Government, if anxious to provide for the training of the largest number of members of the community, might have been prepared to make financial accommodation available for the development of the rifle .club movement. Evidently the Government has different ideas. Some members of the community who may not feel disposed to enlist in the militia forces may be prepared to become members of rifle clubs; but apparently the Government considers that it would not have so much control over the 'members of such clubs as it has over the regular militia, and that the rifles and ammunition entrusted to them might fall into the hands of members of the trade unions, who probably would not be so pliant in the hands of the Government as would be the members of the militia, in the event of civil disorder.

Therefore, it seems that the Government is drifting towards a state of affairs in which the stage will be favorably set for the establishment of a dictatorship based on Fascist lines.

Let us consider for a moment the arrangements made by the Government in regard to the present recruiting campaign. Sir Thomas Blamey has been appointed to take charge of the recruiting secretariat. Everybody with any knowledge of public affairs knows that he did not disguise his hostility to the workers when he was Commissioner of Police in Victoria. When the . workers on the waterfront were struggling for better standards of living, he was prepared to allow armed police to shoot them down. Therefore, the workers must be careful how far they go even in suggesting that support be given to the proposals of the present Government. As a Labour representative, I always regard the actions of the present Government with suspicion, and I shall do my utmost to defeat it in any attack upon the interests of the workers. When financial assistance has been sought for food and clothing for the poorer sections of the community, the Labour party has been told that no money is available; but, when a huge expenditure is to be incurred in the purchase of guns and warships, we are informed that there is no limit to the cheque that can be written for defence. The Labour party is watching the actions of the Ministry carefully, and will not be sidetracked by honorable members opposite, who say that it is in possession of certain information which warrants this vast expenditure. The. Opposition desires sufficient evidence of the urgency of the proposed expenditure, and this Government has not yet furnished it.







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