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Thursday, 29 September 1955

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE (WakefieldMinister for Defence) (Minister for Defence) . - I have attended the sittings of the Parliament in Canberra for many years, and I must say that I have never heard a more pathetic contribution to a discussion on defence Estimates from the leader of any party than that to which I have been listening to to-night. If I want any confirmation of my opinion, I need only look at the faces of the honorable members who sit behind the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), and who show no signs of enthusiasm or support for his statements. The Parliament and the people generally are entitled to something better in a discussion on the defence Estimates. Consequently, before I deal with other aspects of defence to which reference has been made by the Leader of the Opposition and a few of his supporters, I wish to give to the committee and to the country a brief summary of the money that has been expended on defence since the Government assumed office, and of what has been achieved by that expenditure.

I do not suggest that in the expenditure of more than £840,000,000 there have not been mistakes or waste, but I assert that every care has been taken by the administration to ensure that Australia has received the best possible value for the money expended. Since this Government assumed office, it has spent the following sums on defence: - In 1950-51, £93,000,000; in 1951-52, £159,400.000'; in 1952-53, £215,300,000; in 1953-54, £1S9,700,000; and in 1954-55, £185,500,000, a total expenditure for those five years of £840,900,000. For the information of the committee, I shall make a dissection of that expenditure. Of the total of £840,900,000, increased capital assets have accounted for £26S,200,000, or 32 per cent., and maintenance costs for £572,800,000, or 68 per cent. Of the total capital expenditure of £268,200,000, £190,000,000, or 23 per cent., has been devoted to the provision of new equipment or the modernization of existing equipment as in the case of naval vessels. Also included in the sum of £268,200,000 was £66,700,000, or 8 per cent., for buildings, works and acquisition of sites, and £11,500,000, or 1 percent. for machinery, plant and equipment for the Department of Defence Production, the Department of Supply and the Department of Defence. The expenditure of £572,S00,000 on maintenance included £101,500,000, or 13 per cent., for the maintenance of equipment, replacement stores, ammunition, and general stores of all kinds. The balance of £471,300,000, or 55 per cent., has been expended on pay, rations and general maintenance.

Much has been said about personnel. Let me remind the committee that when the Government assumed office in December, 1949, there were 34,000 members of the permanent forces. Those forces now total 52,000. The strength of the Citizen Military Force, including national service trainees, to the enlisting of whom the Opposition has been opposed all along the line, has risen from 22,000 to approximately 100,000. The national service training scheme, which was introduced by the Government in 1951, provides over 33,000 basically trained reserves each year. A total of almost 150,000 youths have been called up for training. Australia's first contribution towards the cold war operations was the expedition to Korea.Within a few days of the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in June, 1950, Australian forces were placed at the disposal of the United Nations for operations in that theatre. Subsequentlv, Australia has maintained the following forces in cold war areas overseas: -

Navy. - Two destroyers or frigates were maintained continuously in the Korean theatre until October, 1954, and one frigate has been maintained since that date. In addition, H.M.A.S. Sydney served two periods of duty there.

Army. - One infantry battalion and supporting elements have been maintained continuously in the Korean theatre. An additional infantry battalion served there between February, 1952, and November, 1954.

Air Force. - No.77 Fighter Squadron was maintained in the Korean theatre from the outbreak of hostilities until December, 1954. In addition, a transport unit, which has served there since March, 1951, was built up and maintained at squadron strength between April, 1953, and March, 1955, when it was reduced again to a single flight.

The outstanding record of our forces in Korea bears witness to the gallantry, devotion and skill of the officers and men concerned, but it also reflects the efficiency and flexibility of the armed services as a whole.

A bomber squadron has been maintained continuously in Malaya since 1950 in anti-bandit operations, and a transport squadron was there from July, 1950, until its transfer to the Korean theatre in early 1953. In addition, a fighter wing of two squadrons was maintained in the Middle East from mid-1952 to early 1955. The peak strength of Australian forces overseas exceeded 5,000.

As announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year, Australia is participating with the United Kingdom and New Zealand in the establishment of a strategic reserve in Malaya. Australian forces in this reserve will comprise -

Navy. - Two destroyers or two frigates, an aircraft carrier on an annual visit, and additional ships in an emergency;

Army. - An infantry battalion with supporting arms, and reinforcements in Australia; and

Air Force. - A fighter wing of two squadrons, a bomber wing of one squadron and an airfield construction squadron.

Emphasis has been given to the provision of modern equipment for the forces, and as I have stated, 23 per cent. of total defence expenditure over the past five years falls under this heading. A feature of modern defence preparations, which has an important relation to the proposed defence vote, is the ever-increasing complexity and cost of weapons and equipment. To take examples, a post-war Mustang piston-engine fighter cost approximately £40,000 as compared with approximately £250,000 for a Sabre jet fighter of to-day. The cost of a presentday " Daring " class destroyer is over five times as great as that of the " Tribal " class destroyer of World War II. This trend seems likely to continue. I shall give some indication of what has been done to provide modern equipment for the services. In the Navy, the following ships are in commission: - One aircraft carrier (operational). The new one which is nearing completition will be of the most modern type; one training ship (the second carrier will be used for this role on a non-flying basis) ; four destroyers ; seven frigates ; five ocean minesweepers; and various auxiliary craft. In addition, a substantial reserve fleet is being maintained in good condition against any future emergency. Some 147 aircraft have been delivered to the Fleet Air Arm since June, 1950, and it is shortly to be re-equipped with modern Sea Venom and Gannet aircraft for which orders were placed some time ago. The aircraft carrier H.M.A.S. Melbourne is nearing completion in the United Kingdom and a fleet tanker has just been completed there. Local construction in. progress includes three " Daring " class ships and four modern anti-submarine frigates at present on order, together with two inshore minesweepers and other miscellaneous vessels. Also since 1950, a " Battle " class destroyer has been completed, and two " Q " class destroyers have been converted to fast antisubmarine frigates while two more are in course of conversion. The modernization of two " Tribal " class destroyers, and eleven ocean minesweepers out of a total of twelve, has been completed.

The equipment acquired for the Army since June, 1950, includes over 100 Centurion tanks, 130 other armoured fighting vehicles, and 2,700 mechanical transport vehicles. During the last financial year, new orders to the extent of £21,000?000 were placed for additional high-priority items of equipment. A further £8,000,000 was paid to the Defence Equipment Trust Account for Army equipment or additional production capacity. As mentioned earlier, the adoption of the new FN .300 rifle has been approved, and plans are in hand for its production in Australia, together with the necessary ammunition.

A total of over 300 aircraft has been delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force since June, 1950. At the present time, Canberra jet bombers, Avan Sabre jet fighters, and Vampire jet trainers are in production and are being supplied to the Royal Australian. Air Force. In addition, Meteors and Neptunes have been, obtained from overseas. Production of the Winjeel trainer has also begun. The re-equipment of the Air Force with the various types of aircraft is a continuous progressive task planned years ahead. In this connexion, to establish the replacement types of aircraft required, a mission representative of the department of Air, the Department of Defence Production, and the aircraft industry, recently visited the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and the recommendations of this mission are now under consideration.

In the defence production field, progress has been made in the expansion of production capacity and the replacement and modernization of existing facilities. Total expenditure from the 1st July, 1950, to the 30th June, 1955, on this programme exceeded £12,000,000. There is also the £23,000,000 filling factory at St. Mary's, near Sydney, on which an immediate start has been made. The Long Range Weapons Establishment, which is a joint project with the United Kingdom for the testing and development of guided weapons, continues to be the main feature of the research and development programme. The total expenditure by Australia on this project since its inception to the end of last financial year exceeded £44,000,000, including £33,000,000 since June, 1950.

It is essential to a sound defence programme to maintain a proper balance between man-power and equipment and productive capacity, within the overall defence vote that the country can sustain. The Government's programme does this in a most effective manner. An efficient service organization has been built up, including fighting forces, and command training and maintenance elements capable of rapid expansion in time of war. A high standard of training has been achieved and despite some deficiences, the forces are better equipped than they were when the Government came into office.

That is the progress that has been made by the Government in relation to defence. While a good deal was said by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) on other occasions about wastefulness, and his belief that at this time this expenditure is not necessary, I should like to remind honorable members that the Leader of the Opposition, in making these statements, is following precisely Labour policy over the years. I remind honorable members that when the Lyons Government was in office, in 1938, there was held what was known as the Munich conference. From that conference, it was suggested that peace would ensue. But that was not the opinion of the Government of this country, nor was it the opinion of the governments of any of the other democratic countries. They did not reduce their defence efforts from then on ; they continued them. The Australian Government suggested an increase of the defence expenditure which, I admit, was very low at that time. Speaking from memory, I think it was in the region of 9,000,000. However, the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Curtin, opposed an increase of defence expenditure to £16,000,000. When I make that statement, I am not reflecting in any way on the Leader of the Opposition of that day. t have a tremendous admiration for him, because when it paid him to change his principles, he did so. However, at that time he was following not what I believe to be the teaching of his experience but this rigid Labour policy of not developing our defences but relying on talking people into peace. Mr. Curtin said in this Parliament on the 2nd November, 1938 -

I say that any increase of defence expenditure after the Munich pact, so far as Australia is concerned, appears to me to be an utterly unjustifiable and hysterical piece of panic propaganda. That is what I say in respect of the alarmist statements that have been made.

What a comparison! The Geneva conference has been held and following that conference, the present Leader of the Opposition said in his speech on the budget quite recently -

Again I think the present international situation not only permits but actually demand* a very substantial reduction in the defence expenditure of this country.

They run parallel! They have not moved! They have learnt nothing from their experiences over the years ! The Leader of the Opposition was reluctant, initially, to state a figure, but later he became more expansive. In an impromptu effort after the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on Tuesday, he did mention a figure. He said -

Government expenditure has to be cut down and the point where it could be cut down, as we have mentioned before, is the extravagant and wasteful expenditure under the Defence vote. That could be cut to a very large extent, and £40,000,000 could easily be saved in that way.

Did he give one atom of justification for that statement? It was simply in line with the right honorable gentleman's general procedure. He makes statements, hoping to curry political favour with the unthinking, but he has never yet been able to justify to this Parliament any of the statements he has made. Consequently, I say that the people of this country have already made their estimate of this man's value and I have no doubt about what will happen at the next election.

We have heard a great deal about the foreign policy of this country, and about how we should, by our foreign policy, so appease the probable enemies of Australia that they will not attack us. Surely we have not forgotten that it was proved to the people of this country-

Mr Daly - I rise to order. Is it in order for the Minister deliberately to take the debate outside the Estimates for the departments now under consideration?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The Minister may continue.

Sir PHILIP McBRIDE - The Australian people will not forget the experience that they had in the last war. That experience proved to them that Australia cannot defend itself unaided. This Government has undoubtedly succeeded in attracting help from other countries. We were able to negotiate the Anzus Pact with the United States of America and New Zealand, and we are a signatory to the Seato treaty. But does anybody imagine that those countries which are signatories to those agreements will come to our aid in time of need if we ourselves have not played our justifiable part? I point out to honorable members, whatever the alleged Labour party of this country might think about the international situation, that all those countries to which we shall look for aid in time of need are not merely maintaining their defence expenditure, which is exceedingly high, but in some cases are increasing it at this time. In Australia, we spent, as the Estimates show, £1S5,500,000 last year on defence. We are budgeting for an expenditure of £190,000,000, or an increase of £4,500,000 this year. Canada, a country almost under the umbrella of the United States, a country which at least perhaps could " sit back in the breeching " if it felt so inclined, is increasing its defence expenditure from 1,680,000,000 last year to 1,775,000,000 this year.

Mr Fuller - Dollars or pounds?

Sir PHILIP McBRIDE - They are Canadian dollars. The United Kingdom, which has borne an exceedingly heavy burden by way of reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes, spent £1,639,900,000 sterling on defence last year. This year, the expenditure of that country will be a little less, but it still will be the huge sum of £1,537,000,000.. The United States, with an exorbitant expenditure of 40,644,000,000 dollars last year will be spending 40,458,000,000 dollars on defence this year. Little New Zealand, alongside us, a country which budgeted for £25,000,000 last year, is proposing to spend £29,000,000 this year. Does anybody suggest that we can do less in those circumstances?

Let me put it in another way. What it means is that Australia is spending 4.8 per cent, of its national income on defence, while Canada is spending 9.5 per cent., the United Kingdom 9.9 per cent, and the United States of America 13.5 per cent. I ask in all sincerity, does Australia expect those countries with which we have agreements, those countries from which we shall expect some assistance in time of war, to come to our aid if we have not played our part? The Leader of the Opposition is the only man in public life throughout the democratic world who believes that the international situation has improved to that extent. As always, Johnny is the only one in step. The Australian people should beware of the catch-cry to save on defence expenditure and spend the money elsewhere at a time when, should war break out, this country would be under a dire threat. We hear a great deal about the likelihood that war will not now take place because of the development of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Nothing is further from the truth. Does any one imagine that the people of Indo-China, South Viet Nam and Laos think that there can be no war ? Does any one imagine that the people of Korea believe that war is impossible? Of course a war can occur. The best justification for saying that is the fact that the Communist countries are not reducing their defence effort. In conventional weapons they outstrip all the democratic countries combined. Moreover, they have at their command huge resources of man-power. They have achieved this by telling the people that they shall have guns instead of butter. In those countries, the development of atomic and conventional weapons continues apace.

Australia would be foolish to underestimate the position. While we all hope that there will not be a third world war, no one can, with justification, say that there will be no war in the immediate future. This Government, while providing the maximum defence effort that Australia can sustain, is doing everything in its power to create in the international sphere peaceful relationships that will bring peace in their train. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is doubtless annoyed that my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has, in season and out, extended the olive branch and supported his gesture by action as well as words. From other quarters all we have received is words. Following the top-level conferences at Geneva there have been further negotiations, but nothing, concrete has been evolved. We have had disarmament conference after disarmament conference, and discussions are still continuing. We sincerely hope that something will come from them. W e shall play our part. We shall show the Communist countries that we desire peace and are prepared to accept peaceful co-existence, but until they give us something more than words Australia cannot possibly reduce its defence expenditure.

It is quite futile to discuss this matter as the Opposition has done to-day. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) was the only honorable member who attempted to make any contribution to the discussion, and he could do no more than move that the vote for the Department of Defence be reduced by fi. The Leader of the Opposition tried to explain the amendment, but he spent so much time in explaining the resolution passed at the Hobart conference that he did not really tell us very much about the amendment.

We have heard a great deal to-day about the ill feeling allegedly caused by the decision to send Australian troops to Malaya. It is most curious that the Opposition said not a word when Australia sent naval and air forces to that part of the world. Units of those services have been fighting terrorists in Malaya for the last five years. Have they created any ill feeling towards Australia in that country? Of course they have not. Now it is suggested that that will be the result if Australia makes its contribution to the strategic reserve which is being built up, with the co-operation of New Zealand and Great Britain, in order to deter external aggression towards Malaya. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) said that he had substantial evidence that the proposal was resented by the Malayan people. I suggested then, and I repeat now, that the only evidence that he had was obtained from the Tribune. Let us look at the opinions of responsible persons who represent the people of Malaya. The position is interesting because there have been elections in Malaya since the proposal was first made, and the voters have expressed their views on this and other matters. I might mention that the troops are in Malaya and not Singapore, though there was no objection on that score either. The three parties that supported the sending of Australian troops to Malaya won 52 of the 58 seats in respect of which voting took place. Moreover, the Chief Minister in the new government, Mr. Tenku Rahman, had this to say over the radio on the subject -

The intention of the Australian troops here was not because they wanted to use this country as a training ground or to make it a battle field but only to help to safeguard the peace of this country. Especially at this time the Australians realize that Malaya is progressing towards independence quickly with whatever help they can give us. They say if Malaya is independent on the same status as they are, they can be friends with us and help each other. Their relations with us would be very close.

I am more inclined to accept the view of that gentleman than anything that appears in the Tribune or is quoted by the Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, or any one else on that side of the chamber.

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