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Wednesday, 7 December 1938

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Prowse (FORREST, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member is not in order in making that remark.

Mr BAKER - The Labour party pointed out that Australia must depend upon itself for defence, and could not expect Great Britain to give it a substantial measure of assistance in a time of national emergency. Because the Labour party pointed out that fact, it was accused of advocating a policy of isolation. Yet Senator Brand, one of the leading military experts of Australia, expressed practically the same view in the Senate - that this country would have to depend on itself in the event of war.

This Government has been indicted at thebar of public opinion for the manner in which it has attempted to solve the defence problem of Australia. Week after week, proposals have been presented for increased expenditure on defence, and every new proposal has indicated that the former plans were inadequate. During the seven years in which this Government has been in power, its work has been characterized by almost inconceivable incompetence, and, although the Government has outdone all others in its neglect of the welfare of the nation, in regard to defence matters, it boasts at all times of having a monopoly of knowledge on this subject. At elections, our opponents will have the people imagine that the

Government party alone could be trusted with the task of safeguarding the interests of Australia from the point of view of defence. Yet we find that the force available for local defence consists of a navy so small that it has not the numerical strength of the navy of a second-rate South American State. It would be of use only in conjunction with the British navy or the navy of some other country in the Pacific. Our army could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as an effective force, because it consists of fewer than 10,000 efficient men distributed among the various arms, which are spread over Australia from Cairns to Perth. The essential equipment available would barely meet the needs of one-tenth of that number.

Mr Street - That is a most unwarranted slur on a very fine section of the community.

Mr BAKER - The slur is not on the Army itself, but on the method of training adopted.

Mr Street - The method of training is determined by the Army authorities.

Mr BAKER - But this Government and the Minister himself must take the blame.

Mr Street - I dispute that statement,

Mr BAKER - In making it, I am supported by a prominent military expert. Our Air Force is furnished with obsolete machines.

Mr Street - I deny that most emphatically.

Mr BAKER - How often do our military planes go into the air without having to make an involuntary descent?

Mr Street - That also is a serious slur on the Air Force.

Mr BAKER - No; it is a slur on the Government. The force is provided with machines of less power than those of countries such as Portugal. We are entitled to accuse the Government of having neglected the Air Force, because, although it has been in office for seven years, only during the last few months has it submitted proposals for strengthening the defence forces of Australia. It is impossible for me to say whether the expenditure now to be incurred is adequate or extravagant, but I realize the seriousness of the world position.

I do not think that we have much to boast about in connexion with what happened in the international sphere last September. I do not intend to criticize the Prime Minister of Great Britain for the action which he took on that occasion. Fortunately, he succeeded in maintaining peace, but it is generally realized that Great Britain, either with or without its allies, was not in a position to face any powerful military nation. Only a couple of years ago, when a crisis occurred in the Mediterranean, Australia's own two small cruisers were sent there to stand by, although the dispute was with only a second-rate naval power.I did not approve of that action, because, according to the policy of the Australian Labour party, they should not have been despatched overseas. I am not pleased about the present position of Great. Britain, but we must face up to the facts. Last September, the French general staff was greatly dismayed when it was informed that all the help that Britain could give on land, in the event of a European war, would be an expeditionary force of less than one-third of the number of men it made available in August, 1914. We know that the Royal Air Force is in a deplorable condition. Russia has, on paper, one of the greatest fighting machines on earth, but, even if Russia were an ally of Britain, the question has arisen as to whether the Russians would march for or against us. We have to ask what assistance Britain could have hoped for from its allies. No doubt, Britain was, in reality, hoping for assistance from the United States of America, after that country had spent a few weeks in dealing with the Fascists within its own borders. Then, if the best happened, Britain might have received assistance from that quarter; but it could not have depended upon America to any great degree. We have to face the fact that practically all of the regular forces of Great Gritain are required for service in Asia Minor, North-East Africa, and certain other centres, and none are available for service in the self-governing dominions. This, unfortunately, isthe reply that must be made to the Minister's suggestion that we may hope to obtain assistance from Great

Britain if war should occur. We may hope that the Minister is right, and that assistance will be forthcoming, but I believe that that is not likely. Of course, we shall not refuse any assistance that is offered to us.

The Government has no long-range programme in respect of defence. I shall mention a few matters in respect of which such a policy should be initiated. We should endeavour to standardize our railway gauges, but despite the fact that this work would occupy a long while, and that it would be of the highest value to the country in time of war, nothing has been done. No consistent effort has been made to discover oil supplies in Australia or Australian territories, despite the fact that oil is of vital consequence to mechanized military units. Not even the best machines in the world can be flown without petrol and oil. All that the Government is proposing, even at this late stage, is that our reserve supplies shall be increased. That policy is inadequate. No effort has been made to reform our monetary system, despite the fact that in times of crisis our prospects of success are dependent, in some degree at least, upon our monetary system. Mr. Hartley Withers, one of the great economists of our time, in his book, Wartime Financial Problems, pointed out that when the last war was imminent, rumours were current in the city to the effect that the Imperial War Committee had had to face an unprecedented task in obtaining war requirements. The situation was so serious that it was about to deal with fianancial methods when the war actually occurred. One of our basic problems to-day is finance. Yet this Government cannot make a single -constructive suggestion in respect of it. If war occurred we should find ourselves lacking financial resources.

Constitutional reform is also necessary if we are to deal effectively with defence matters. This subject has been discussed in this Parliament recently. The Government has assured us that something will be done, but apparently its policy is limited to the calling together of State Ministers for a. conference. It is appalling that the National Parliament of Australia should have to go on bended knees to petty State governments for permission to do certain things which obviously any national government should be able to do, at any rate, in time of emergency. The Government has been neglectful in respect to all of the matters to which I have referred. I had hoped that at least one useful outcome of the serious times through which we arc passing would be that the movement for urgent and far-reaching constitutional and monetary reforms would be accelerated. That would be something to be thankful for, but apparently the Government is content to jog along in the same old way and trust to luck that it will be able to muddle through. "Muddling through " may serve for a time, but it cannot be regarded as a satisfactory permanent policy.

Recently 30 honorable members of this Parliament visited the munitions factory at Lithgow. I wish to direct attention to comments made by a weekly newspaper on that visit. .Information that I have received from other sources substantiates the comments made by this newspaper. Evidently the visit of the parliamentarians was expected at Lithgow and a demonstration was staged which can only be described as a farce. The serious thing is that farces of a similar nature have been staged on other occasions when parliamentarians have visited Lithgow. Such a farce was presented when the predecessor of Sir Archdale Parkhill was Minister for Defence. I direct attention to the following observations made by the newspaper to which I have referred : -

Thirty members of the Federal Parliament who visited Lithgow last week to gain a clearer insight into munitions manufacture were surprised at tho great activity and the magnitude of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory.

They did not realize until after the visit that a special show had been put on for their benefit, and that some of the machines which were busily engaged in maufacture, have not been in use for over eighteen years.

The skeleton staff of 350 employees had been busily occupied for a week prior to the visit in renovating disused machinery for the show - but even then sonic of the machines still remained idle.

The Lithgow people are annoyed that the department should go to such a great deal of trouble to mislead the visitors, who are in the position to keep the wheels moving every day of the year.

Apparently iu the know that a great show was being put on, a dally newspaper stated after the visit: "Members saw for the first lime how Australia is going about building up its armaments resources. Large factories are working almost at full pressure in every department. Military rifles, machine guns, and anti-aircraft gnus are being turned out in a constant stream."

There was never a statement so ridiculous. When the factory worked at full pressure 1,700 men were employed, hut now there are only 350 men engaged. Those men, too, are not engaged in turning out vast numbers of machine guns, but for the most part plough shares and other commercial products.

Mr Street - I commented on those matters in my speech last night.

Mr BAKER - Surely if the Minister for Defence is sincere in his desire to stimulate defence activities and increase our defence efficiency, he would have taken action to refute these statements immediately they were published?

Mr Street - They were not brought under my notice.

Mr BAKER - The Minister must have officers in his department whose duties include the checking-up of newspaper reports on defence matters

Mr Street - If I were to attempt to deny every inaccurate statement published in -a newspaper in Australia, my time would be so fully occupied in the work that I should not be able to do anything else.

Mr BAKER - Seeing that so much harm can he done by the publication of inaccurate reports regarding defence, I consider that the Minister should take every possible' step to reply to all misleading statements on this subject. The report, to which I have already referred, also stated -

Australian soldiers would be more effectively armed with the old time club or " nullanulla " than with the guns that arn being manufactured at the present time. Not that the Lithgow Small Arms Factory could not manufacture all the arms required if given the. opportunity.

An additional £200,000 wing has been added to the factory to manufacture the "Bren" gun, but the manufacture will not commence until the end of 1930. just because some one had the brain-wave that the necessary tools should be made in England and forgot that the factory itself was competent to do the job.

No doubt, the members of Parliament who visited Lithgow enjoyed their excursion, but it is deplorable that such comments should have been published in regard to it and not refuted.

I wish now to refer again to the attitude of the Government in regard to the manufacture of aircraft in this country. "When the Labour party first suggested that this industry should be established in Australia, the Govern. ment discouraged the idea by every means in its power. "We were told that sufficient aircraft could be obtained from British capitalists. Our reply was that it would be disloyal in the highest degree to the British people for us to encourage the manufacturers of that country to sell their 'products to Australia when they were so greatly needed in Britain. It has been frequently said that Britain needs all the aircraft that can be manufactured there. Ultimately, of course, it was realized that it was sound policy to establish aircraft manufacturing in Australia. We contend- that we were loyal to Great Britain in the best sense of the word, when we advocated the development of this industry in our own country. It is significant that the Government has now adopted the policy of the Labour party in this respect. Of course, Australia deserved what it got from Great Britain. Either our orders were not fulfilled, or we were supplied with machines for which Great Britain had no further use.

Mr Street - Avro-Anson aeroplanes are still being manufactured in Groat Britain for the Royal Air Force - for the first line, too.

Mr BAKER - The Labour party has advocated for a considerable time that as aircraft are so urgently needed in Australia, machines should be purchased from the United States of America, but the Government, saying that it would ne'er consent, consented. At last it accepted our advice and ordered 50 American machines. This is interesting, seeing that we were accused of being disloyal because we suggested that purchases should be made in the United States of America.

The Labour party also suggested that we should build our own ships at Cockatoo Island dockyard, but the Government would not hear of it. Now, because of the extreme urgency of the situation, it is being forced to adopt our policy. This is extraordinary, seeing that the Government opposed our views during the last general election campaign.

Although I do not agree with all that the Government is doing with regard to defence, I am glad that it is coming around, to an ever greater degree, to our way of thinking. In regard to battleships, for example, the Minister has told us that at no time has it been the intention of the Government to build or purchase a capital ship; yet one of the newspapers, which has always been regarded as a strong supporter of this Government, declared, in specific terms, that a battleship would be purchased from overseas.

Mr Street - The press was wrong on that occasion.

Mr BAKER - Then it was one of the few occasions on which the Government lias given false information to this particular journal. It will be dangerous for Ministers to give too much false information to the Melbourne Herald or the associated newspapers. Although I cannot conceive of these journals turning upon the Government, it is quite easy to believe that they may turn upon particular Ministers who would then find themselves thrown out of the Cabinet because of the comments made upon their administration by this particular section of the press. On the strength of the statement published by the Melbourne Herald, I am prepared to believe that the Government seriously considered purchasing a battleship from overseas. I am glad however, that here again the Government has seen fit to adopt the policy of the Labour party, and build motor torpedo boats, which, I believe, will give satisfactory service. Of course, Great Britain needs all the ships that it can produce.

I realize, with other honorable members of the House, that whilst the workers have very little to gain from imperialistic or capitalistic wars, it is nevertheless necessary that, in the event of an international conflagration occurring in which Australia is involved, we shall be in a position to defend ourselves and our country. Of the 70,000,000 white persons within the British Empire, 7,000.000 reside in Australia. It is only reasonable to assume that our people, presenting one-.tenth of the white population of the Empire, will play their part in protecting this country, and should they do so they will have done sufficient. Some years ago, Great Britain led the way in the. disarmament in which Australia, under the Scullin Government, participated. At that time, the Scullin Government was informed by experts that there was little probability of an oubreak of war within the next ten years, and as seven years has already elapsed, the information then given was fairly accurate. The Labour Government at that time, following the example of the British Government, disarmed to a degree, but, unfortunately, other nations did not follow the lead then given and Australia, in common with other countries, has now to make some preparation for its defence. The Air Force and the Naval Force are practically dependent on permanent staffs, but the military arm consists of only about 2,500 permanent members. because the militia cannot be considered to any marked degree. In the event of Australia being attacked, the members of the permanent military force would have to play a very prominent part. "We are frequently informed that Australia is liable to attack, and during the last few months names of certain potential enemies have been bandied about and mentioned freely in the press. .1 direct the attention of honorable members to the following article written by Lieutenant-Commander Donald MacKenzie, an ex-officer of the Royal Australian Navy: -

It may come as a shock to many Australians to realize that we now possess a border problem. We are no longer isolated and protected by countless leagues of friendly ocean. The border-line between the Japanese Empire and Australia is the three-mile limit along our northern, north-eastern and north-western coasts.

The writer says that the border-line between the Japanese Empire and Australia is the three-mile limit, and that it would be our responsibility to prevent an enemy from approaching within that, limit. The article continues -

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