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Thursday, 29 September 1955

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) . - The consideration of the items before the committee gives to honorable members an opportunity to assess our defence preparedness and to consider the expenditure of the taxpayers' money in relation to that preparedness. In doing that, I want, first, to support the expressions of opinion of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. "Wentworth) who, rightly, vigorously and fairly, complained to-night of the failure of the Government to proceed with an orderly plan of civil defence, which is of the utmost importance to every person in this country.

The spending of vast sums of money in the manner in which money has been spent on defence will be of little avail unless this Government approaches civil defence problems in the light of existing circumstances and conditions. What is the situation at the present time? The Government, willy-nilly, without planning, has succumbed to pressure groups. It is always obedient and ready to satisfy those who are in possession of power. The Government, with monotonous regularity, has established industry after industry on the coastline, and it is undoubted that those industries would be targets in the event of war. That means that the civil population which lives in close proximity to those factories is exposed to the dangers inherent in such a situation.

The honorable member for Mackellar has drawn attention to this matter very vividly indeed. The establishment of an atomic reactor on the coastline, on near enough to it, the scattering of oil refineries and munitions annexes around Sydney and the coastline of New South Wales, from Port Kembla to Newcastle, is a matter that all thinking people must deplore. It is unfortunate that it is necessary for honorable members to have to speak repeatedly in this Parliament on a matter which is of such outstanding importance to every person in the country. I take up the cudgels, with the honorable member for Mackellar, and ask that this false policy and this dangerous practice be discontinued. .The civil population should be considered, and a plan of defence should be developed by this National Parliament.

The Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Cahill, was praised this evening by the honorable member for Mackellar because of the practical steps that he has taken in regard to civil defence. I join with the honorable member for Mackellar in expressing appreciation of the efforts of the Premier. I am grateful for his forthright manner, his vigorous and practical approach to this problem, and his wisdom in appointing such a distinguished and gallant soldier as Major-General Dougherty to take charge of civil defence in New South Wales. The Government of that State has chosen very wisely indeed and deserves the praise of every person in the State. We, too, without reservation, should express our thanks to the Government of New South Wales.

The remarks of the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) call for very few comments. He complained, as he complained last year, about the establishment of aircraft factories in this country. Let me say at once that I disagree emphatically and violently with any idea the implementation of which would destroy Australian industry. Surely no member of the Parliament wants to see Australia, in the event of an attack, reduced to the condition of -Egypt or some other backward country, begging in the market places of the world for weapons of defence. I wish to go further and to praise to the greatest possible degree the ingenuity, skill and ability of the workmen, technicians and other persons who are associated with our defence organization. It is true that a snarl may be made here and a complaint may be made there about something not being done, but that can be said of any organization or society. I know especially well some of the workmen in the Lithgow small arms factory who at one stage were not versed in the production of small arms but who, with the mere smattering of knowledge that they gained in the United States of America before World War I., were able to come back to Australia and produce a rifle that was regarded by marksmen throughout the world as being the very best that could be procured. I feel that a tribute and an expression of goodwill is due to those men who have made such a worthwhile contribution to the security of Australia.

It is true that more should be done, and I am somewhat disturbed by the fact that the government annexes and factories have not been expanded to the fullest possible degree. The difficulty of obtaining skilled technicians and tradesmen such as toolmakers who are required for the expansion of our defence effort constitutes a bottleneck. If such men are required - and I know they are required - it seems logical to me that an all-out drive should be made to bring them to Australia from overseas. I am aware of the fact that there are skilled technicians, skilled tradesmen such as toolmakers, and draftsmen of very high quality who would be eager to come to Australia if homes could be provided for them here. If our defence means as much to us as the Various Ministers and Government supporters lead us to believe, surely a larger and more imaginative housing plan could be instituted to enable such men to be brought to this country.

There is another aspect of defence to which more serious consideration should be given. I refer to the position of boys in country districts who are leaving school. Those boys, many of whom have matriculated, experience some difficulty in finding a niche in our munitions factories. I have submitted to the Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison) that there should be closer liaison, and that boys who have attended fine technical colleges should be allowed to enter the munitions establishments on a basis no less favorable than thai accorded to youths who have had the privilege of a university education. At Lithgow, which is the site of the Small Arms Factory, there is a fine organization known as the Youth Welfare Advisory Committee, which is eager to work in with the defence chiefs and those persons who are in charge of munitions establishments, to give our young people an opportunity to advance, and at the same time to contribute towards the defence of our country.

I noted, when running somewhat quickly through the list that was mentioned by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), that, although provision was made for thirteen cadet draftsmen in 1954-55, there seems to be no such provision for 1955-56. I think some explanation of that fact is called for. Honorable members should be given some information about it, and we ought to be assured that our defence effort will proceed to the fullest possible degree. Labour men have never taken a back seat or played a secondary role in the defence of Australia. Originally, when the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory and the Royal Australian Navy were being established, the Australian Labour party was to the fore. Labour supporters are a peace-loving people. They believe in establishing friendly relations throughout, the world; but they believe also that there is a need for the maximum building up of our defences. Consequently, I urge the Australian people to make every effort possible to develop our defence organization.

I have referred to the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, and to the need for ite expansion. I also wish to direct the attention of the committee and, in particular, of the Minister for Defence Production, to the urgent necessity of establishing a foundry in conjunction with the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory. Without a foundry, that, organization is not complete. I hope the Minister will confer with the departmental heads to ascertain whether this factory can be expanded. Not far removed from it is a munitions annexe which was built during the last war by the Labour Government when it was establishing munitions annexes throughout the central-west of New South Wales and elsewhere. I refer in particular to the annexe which is situated at Portland. It is a very fine building in which no wheels of industry are turning. I suggest to the committee and to the Minister that that building might be used, and that in it there might be employed men who find themselves out of work as a result of the Government's policy in other directions. The young men and young women of the local community should be given an opportunity of employment at that factory to speed up the manufacture of the F/N .30 rifle. It has been stated that the production of that rifle is lagging, and more dramatic steps should be taken to ensure its production at the earliest possible opportunity.

I now wish to express my disapproval of the fact that some of the activities of the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory have been farmed out to private enterprise. The question of profits should be left out of consideration, and those activities should be returned to the people's enterprise. I do not express these thoughts in a carping or critical manner. I do so in a constructive manner in the hope and in the belief that, even if the Executive or the Minister for Defence Production does not take heed, at least some Government supporters will do so and will insist that the Government, as quickly as possible, will make a maximum effort for our security, for civil defence, and for the provision of those things that are essential to our survival. [Quorum formed.]

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