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Thursday, 29 September 1955

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I think that this debate has been very important and very interesting. The proposition put before the committee by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), in form asked for a reduction of the vote for the defence services, which is the formal method of opening a debate on the defence policy of the Government and the foreign policy in which that defence policy is embedded. Nobody knows quite what the Government's foreign policy is. It is never enunciated. It has, of course, to be adapted to meet changing conditions, as everybody knows.

Let me refer to one or two minor points before I deal with the great question that has been debated to-day from various points of view, that is, the Government's foreign policy and whether it is right to do what the Government is doing. The minor points concern the actual expenditure of public money. We listened on Tuesday night to a speech by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in which he outlined the condition of our economy and prophesied that great difficulties lay ahead of us. What are the facts about the defence votes for the previous two years? In 1953-54, the Parliament voted £200,000,000 for defence and the Government used £189,000,000. Taking into account the fact that £12,000,000 of the £189,000,000 was used for trust fund purposes, we see that, of the £200,000,000, no less than £23.000,000 was unexpended. That was a very large slice of the total vote - far more than 10 per cent, of it.

Then let us consider what happened in 1954-55. One would think that, in view of the experience of 1953-54, the Government would have got its officers to look more closely at the figures and make a better approximation of what would be spent. But no ! Again £200,000,000 was voted by the Parliament, trusting that the money would be spent and that the representations made to it were correct. What was actually used was £185,000,000. About £8,000,000 was paid into a trust fund. So in 1954-55 also £23,000,000 was unspent. There is nothing in these Estimates to indicate that, of the £190,000,000, which doubtless will be voted for defence this year, the sums unspent or devoted to trust funds at the end of the year will not be almost the same as in previous years.

If there was any justification at all for the analysis of the economy that was made by the Prime Minister on Tuesday night, this is no time to vote money unless we know how that money will be expended. That is the point that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has made. Why should the committee, without any examination of the matter, be ready to vote all that the Government asks for? But apparently the attitude is, " Never mind. We believe that the Government is asking for about £23,000,000 more than it will spend, but we shall vote it ". That is, in effect, the stand taken by those members of the committee who have uncritically accepted these Estimates. They must be analysed. But what kind of an analysis have we had?

I shall refer to one other matter that appears to call for some examination. I refer to the framework of the defence forces. I shall take the Army by way of illustration. At page 201 of the Estimates the framework of the Army is set out. We see the numbers of personnel from the Chief of the General Staff down to the gunners and privates. We see that in the Army there are approximately 24,000 people of all ranks, but we see also that there are more officers and non-commissioned officers down to the rank of corporal than there are men of lower ranks. There are more corporals, sergeants, staff sergeants and other people with ranks up to that of lieutenantgeneral than there are people below the rank of corporal. I do not claim to have any knowledge of the actual organization of the Army, but those figures require some explanation. I think the organization is top heavy. I think it is overloaded with high ranks, and I should like to know the explanation of that.

All through the day, the Opposition, having put this so-called provocative amendment before the committee, expected that it would be considered on its merits. Instead, the arguments advanced from this side of the chamber have been met with a torrent of abuse. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who generally controls himself very well, except when he is talking about the prices of the commodities produced in his electorate, talked about the Hobart conference. I venture to say that he could not quote one clause of the propositions that were adopted by that conference. I should like the committee to allow me, in order to spread the information a little more widely, to incorporate the seventeen declarations of that conference in Hansard. I now ask formally for leave to do so.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Is leave granted ?

Honorable Members. - No.

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