Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 7 December 1938


Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- The House and the country are interested in the comprehensive statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) last night. It was intended to be comprehensive, and in some ways it was so, but it was notable for certain omissions. The principal omission was on the subject of training, which was passed over in very few words. Although £74,000 extra is provided in the Estimates for the purpose, very little is said about it. A great deal of what the Minister said was after all only a re-hash of what' we heard from two previous Defence Ministers.

I was pleased to hear that considerable naval expansion was proposed, and that Port Moresby was to be defended. I made a report to the Government some years ago on that matter. Apparently the Minister's belief that isolated parts need not fear invasion is contradicted by the fact, that the Government is doing something to defend so isolated a spot.


Mr Street - I said " remote and nonstrategic parts ".


Mr WHITE - Of course the first principle of strategy for an' army in the field is to meet the field army of the enemy and march on his capital, but modern wars are not fought in that way, as is instanced by what happened in Manchukuo. Some other country may send to our shores armed fanners such as were put into Manchukuo. Therefore every outpost must be considered,- and we must contrive to have the most mobile force possible.

I come now to the particular contention that was in my mind when I rose. The taxpayers' money is being poured out like water. We are asked to support the expenditure of another £10,000,000, bringing the total for the three years up to £63,000,000. Of that extra £10',000,000, £9,000,000 is to be spent on the army. If spending money would save us, Australia would be safe indeed, but it is to the training of its citizens that every country must look for success in arms in the ultimate resort. Poverty-stricken countries like Turkey and others, have fought against the most powerful nations of' the world and inflicted upon them considerable defeats. I am surprised that members of a party who call themselves democrats, and claim that the rich man should do more than he does, do not approve of a democratic system which makes rich and poor alike, give service. It is not service if one does not give it oneself, or contracts himself out of it. The Government is giving what is tantamount to a bounty, or what an army general described as a bribe, to trainees.


Mr Street - Does the honorable member suggest that the Territorial Army bribes its recruits?


Mr WHITE - I say it is quite unnecessary in a country like Australia to offer £12 to induce boys of IS and upwards to come in and spend three years in the militia. If the old system of training was democratic in 1911, when the Labour party supported it, the idea is still democratic to-day. We have 35,000 enlisted in the paper army that we have today.


Mr Street - I will not admit that it is a paper army.


Mr WHITE - Only 60 per cent, of that 35,000 go into camp, so where does the effective training for even that small army come in? The Minister and the Government know, and almost everybody in the service admits, that the best efficiency is attained by some form of universal service.


Mr Street - By the old form?


Mr WHITE - I will explain what I mean. I say that 35,000 is a paper army and only 60 per cent, of it goes into camp. It is a totally inadequate force for Australia.


Mr Street - The honorable member's figure is incorrect.


Mr WHITE - The figure is correct. It was quoted in the Cabinet. I cannot reveal Cabinet secrets, but I am forced to do so by the Minister's challenge. I shall' refer to something else in which I think the Minister has misled the House. The Government has lowered the height standard to 5 ft. 4 in. and the standard of chest measurement to 33 inches, and is giving higher pay and a bounty, in the endeavour to double the present strength of the militia. But what is to be done for the extra training of these men? Are they to be made to do their camps? If only 60 per cent, of the 70,000 go into camp, it will mean a total of only 42,000 doing training. Is that an adequate force to, protect a territory of 3,000,000 square miles? The essence of defence is a mobile army, but if those men, who have, perhaps, attended only one camp, are scattered around the Commonwealth, the Minister knows that they cannot constitute an adequate army of defence.

I come now to a matter on which I think the Minister has milled the House. We are at a disadvantage, as members of the House, in that we do not get copies of the previous day's proceedings supplied to us, a3 Ministers do. I therefore cannot quote the Minister's words. All I can do is to go by the newspaper reports.


Mr Street - The Hansard reports are available; they are in the honorable member's room.


Mr WHITE - They had not arrived up to five minutes ago.


Mr Street - Others have them.


Mr WHITE - I had not intended to be severely critical of the Government, had not the Minister by interjection led the House to believe last night that the Government was acting on the advice of its service advisers. No doubt when the Minister made that statement he hoped it would quieten criticism, but if he intended to lead Parliament and the public to believe that the service advisers had advised the Government against universal service, then he was wrong. I asked the Prime Minister this morning if the enlistments were satisfactory, seeing that the Government, according tothe comprehensive statement submitted by the Minister last night, had embarked upon a scheme to raise the strength of the militia to 70,000. All I wanted to hear was that the enlistments were satisfactory, but the Prime Minister could not tell me. I asked what numbers were coming. Neither he nor the Minister for Defence could tell me that.


Mr Street - It takes time to obtain those figures.


Mr WHITE - I should have thought that the Minister, who is out to do his job well, would be up to date, and know from day to day what the enlistments were in every State. We, however, get no information on that subject. A definite time limit should be put upon the drive for volunteers. Various honorable members have asked that that should be done, and there is a clamour for a definite time, whether it be three or six months. If then the numbers cannot be obtained, let the Government announce frankly that it is necessary to have an adequate number of men in the defence forces, and that that number must be obtained by other means. The old system of universal training, as any one who was in it knew, was not only democratic but was appreciated and liked by the trainees themselves. When they went into camp they realized that it was manly training, and, when they found that everybody had to do it, they went to it with a will. I suggest that the old system, under which senior cadets were trained from the ages of 14 to 18, and members of the Citizen Forces from IS to 26, need not be reverted to. Trainees attended camps under that system, and the employers gave them the necessary time to do it, many of them freely, but others because they knew that if they did not they would be heavily fined. Under the present voluntary system, however, a lad sometimes is afraid to mention that he has to go into camp. Many employers are generous and make up tin* time and pay; but others do not. I suggest that the system should be revised. If the Government finds that the drive for volunteers is not a success, and feels that it wants 35,000 more men then 35,000 of certain ages should be called up and should go into camp for two or three weeks in the year. It does not hurt any youth to go into camp for two or three weeks on a few occasions in his lifetime to learn something of his duty to his nation. Why was the Australian Imperial Force such an excellent force ? One of the main reasons was that approximately 75 per cent, of its numbers did some training under the old universal training system. Do honorable members believe, now that universal training has been discarded for eight years, that the Australian young man who perhaps cannot fire a rifle is the equal of a potential invader who may come to this country? He definitely is not. It is not a matter of physique when it comes to war; it is a matter of skill at arms. It will not be only the resolute and young who volunteer, say, for service overseas, as was the case in the last war, who will be killed. If war should unhappily come upon us, it will be in Australia; it will not be left for a small expeditionary force to fight on the other side of the world for Australia's safety. Everybody in this country will feel the horrors of war.

The Opposition says that it believes in adequate defence. I feel sure that those honorable members who speak of the universal military training system do not realize that it is not conscription, that it has nothing to do with the continental idea of military training, and has nothing in common with the German or Japanese systems. It is modelled on the Swiss system and is really education in citizenship. Some parents would not have their children educated if education were not compulsory in Australia; so, too, young men will not go through this education in citizenship unless it is made obligatory on the whole nation. The Government ought to put national safety first and not set it aside because of political expediency. We have before us the biggest defence vote in the history of this country and, seeing that twenty years ago the compulsory military training system was in operation with, a considerably smaller vote, surely it could be applied to-day.


Mr Gander - Would the honorable member deal with the conscientious objector?


Mr WHITE - I respect the feeling of the conscientious objector. I think that the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) is iri that category, but I say that in all fairness to the honorable member for I think he is sincere. The idea of war is abhorrent to him, but it is to all of us. The honorable member does not believe in facing realities when he declares that all wars are the creation of capitalists. He deludes- himself into thinking that nothing may happen. He should know that capitalism in Germany is practically non-existent today. He says that there is no possibility of war between Germany and 'the British Empire. Norman Angell and other eminent writers said that before the last war; but war came and it cost us the flower of this nation, and the British Empire had the closest escape it ever had. Do ' honorable members shut their eyes to the recent expansion of Germany in Europe? Are they satisfied that the Munich Pact ushers in a new era of peace on the Continent? Do they shut their eyes to the persecution of the Jews and, in fact, of all minorities in Germany where liberty as we know it no longer exists? Democratic ideals have gone in that country. We have democratic ideals here in Australia but would lose them if the British Empire should be broken up. When the honorable member for Bourke and other honorable members say that we should not support Great Britain, they are only shutting their eyes to the real danger. It would be national suicide if we had non-co-operation of that kind. Great Britain does not want assistance from us, but we may want heavy assistance from Great Britain. The voluntary system might be quite adequate for the Mother Country, which is a small, compact and densely populated country, but here in Australia, with 3,000,000 square miles and only two people to the square mile, it is absolute folly to go on as we are going, and we cannot help but view with great alarm the fact that our isolation has ended and trouble is nearer to Australia than ever before.

The Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) madeabriefstatementonthematterof thepurchaseofacapitalshipandthen brushedthequestionaside ;butfromwhat I gathered, he said that if the Australian Government pressed the British Government for a capital ship to be located at Singapore, it might be successful. I know that representations to that effect have already been made; and I have recently had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Lords ofthe Admiralty who expressed the hope that Australia will be able to be more self-reliant. During my period as a Minister of the Government, I tried to make Australia selfreliant economically.


Mr Gregory -Tariffs are the most fruitful causes of war.


Mr WHITE -There will come a time, no doubt, when the nations will settle their differences as we settle industrial and civil differences, but that time is a long way off yet. The ideals of the honorable member for Bourke are centuries before their time. I have no doubt the time will come when the League of Nations will be re-constituted. It was set up under the Treaty of Versailles, but certain nations have flouted it while others have left it, and now we have to realize that it is a fact that power politics have returned. Germany has had great gains from power politics, so also have Italy and Japan, and if any honorable members in this House do not see that there is potential danger to the British Empire and to Australia they live in another world.

I feel that the capital ship question should be definitely decided. We could not get such a ship until some time in 1942, butas we could afford to purchase a capital ship in the period 1912-14, I think we could afford it to-day. As a matter of fact, it was the presence of H.M.A.S. Australia in Australian waters at the outbreak of the war that kept our coasts free from bombardment by the German Pacific fleet. I repeat that what could be done then could be done again now. In this immense vote there is surely room for the inclusion of money for that purpose.

Speaking of finance for defence, I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), that we should not borrow overseas. If we have to borrow we should borrow within Australia. We have been able to do that over a number of years and there is no reason why we cannot continue to do so. We should hesitate to add to the burden of our overseas debt.

We are told that the number of squadrons in the Royal Australian Air Force is to be increased from seventeen to eighteen. Australia is the most suitable country in the world for aviation. Here we can fly every day in the year, yet we make great virtue out of the fact that another squadron is to be added out of this extra vote of £10,000,000. Another squadron is quite inadequate for our needs. Pending development of Australian construction we are ordering American machines and we intend to build up the front line strength to over 200 machines; but what has this Parliament done for those who are interested inaviation and see the potentialities of aviation in this country? In Great Britainthere has been established Civil AirGuards in which young lads are taught to fly for a fee of 2s. 6d. an hour, yet for the development of gliding, an adjunct to aviation, in Australia, this Government provides merely a paltry £300 a year. It is high time that sum was increased so that boys who cannot afford it at present may learn the rudiments. The Government might well emulate the example set by Great Britain in this respect by assisting aero clubs more liberally. In Australia at the present time, it costs from £25 to £50 for a youth to gain his A licence. It is obvious that that is quite beyond the reach of most workingboys who, being interested in aviation, are Australia's potential pilots of the future. If war came a tremendous reserve of pilots would be necessary, but except for those lucky enough to he chosen for the air force or possessing sufficient means to learn, we have no great reserves of pilots at present. Some assistance should be rendered in this connexion out of this increased defence vote, yet nothing has been mentioned about it.


Mr Street - This is not a civil aviation vote.


Mr WHITE - Nevertheless, I think some of it should be allocated to civil aviation because the civil aviation of today is the defence aviation of to-morrow. In Germany, there is a complete liaison between the civil and defence branches of aviation. Service pilots fly over the air routes in order to gain proficiency in cross-country flying in their own country. That system might well be copied here.


Mr Blain - A perfect air-map of this country is long overdue.


Mr WHITE - That is so. It seems to me that the speech made by the Minister for Defence last night is more notable for its omissions than for what it contains. The Minister gave a resume of what has happened in recent years.


Mr Prowse - It was a wonderful speech.


Mr WHITE - Although it was informative from many points of view, it had. definite omissions, in that the Government said nothing about the time factor in . enlisting volunteers." No reference was made as regards training. Further, we were misinformed regarding the information of experts concerning universal training. Nothing was said as to the provision of greater help to potential pilots and no definite information was given regarding the matter of the capital ship. These are matters which the Government might well take in hand. It should face the fact that there is room for differences of opinion with regard to its policy.

I make a request to the Minister for Defence in connexion with a small matter concerning the supply of defence requirements. Very often when there is no time for tenders to be called, direct purchases are made. Will the Minister see that when that is done, the Government will secure at least three quotes? If that is not done, a lot of money will be wasted, being expended in ways that might profit industry and merchants, but will not profit Australian defence.







Suggest corrections