Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 29 September 1955


Mr BOSTOCK (Indi) .- The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has made some observations which I think form a useful contribution to general thought on the subject of civil defence. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) made some pertinent remarks, with which I substantially agree, on the same subject this afternoon. I propose to address myself to that subject. I do not altogether agree with everything that the honorable member for Mackellar said, although I am in substantial agreement with him. For example, I' do not altogether agree that the cities of Australia are more likely to be subjected to atomic attack than the cities of the United States of America or the United Kingdom. These thoughts, of course, lead us to the kernel of the whole problem, which is to decide whether we are likely or unlikely to be subjected to this form of attack in the event of a third world war. In order to reach a decision on that matter, we have to bear in mind recent events and evaluate them in the light of our knowledge of our potential enemies, their doctrines and intentions. Since the Geneva conference, there has been a tendency, because of the apparent change of attitude by the Russians, to say that the probability of a major war has materially diminished. Some persons seriously and honestly believe that the Russians no longer seek world domination for international communism. If that is a correct view, and I do not believe that it is. it is only due to the fact that the Western democracies have so strengthened their defences that they have convinced their potential enemies that war will not pay. We must not forget that it is part of the published Communist doctrine that the end justifies the means, and that lies, dishonesty and deceit are regarded by the Communists as legitimate instruments of diplomacy. Therefore, to be deluded by an instrument of their own diplomacy is the height of stupidity. I am convinced that if the Russians have for the moment given up their ambition to dominate the world, if necessary by armed force, that attitude will last only as long as we retain our relative superiority in weapons of war, and only as long as we can make it obvious to them that if they precipitate a war it will be unsuccessful from their viewpoint.

I believe that the possibility of atomic attack on Australia still remains, although the probability may be small. It will remain until we achieve some effective method of armament control and the banning of atomic weapons ; that is, some method which involves a foolproof system of inspection and control - and we do not seem to be making much progress towards that end. So if we are forced to the unhappy conclusion that nuclear weapon attack on this country is a possibility, any government that does not make some sort of plans and preparations for such an event could be charged with criminal negligence.

The only effective defence against this type of attack is by widespread dispersal of population, and by the evacuation of our cities before the attack occurs. That, for very obvious reasons, is quite impracticable. But because we cannot achieve the ideal in protection we should not fail to do what we can. Certainly it is no reason for not having some plans, and some organization to deal with the survivors of a bombed city. Our reliable estimates have shown us that there might be as many as 50 per cent, casualties in a city like Sydney if it were attacked with atomic weapons. Therefore, about 500,000 people would be left in Sydney who were not casualties, but who would soon become casualties by radiation unless something were done for them.

I believe that we should have some organization now which could arrange for the collection of injured persona and for attention to be given to them. The injured will be in large numbers, and if we rely on our peace-time organization, our hospitals and medical services will by no means suffice. We shall not be so much concerned with the dead because, unfortunately, they will be dead, but we should think about dealing with the survivors, and the injured who will be in large numbers. We should also be thinking about an organization to deal with those who are not injured, but who might become casualties as the result of radio activity. All that points to the evacuation of the uninjured as rapidly as possible to areas outside the zone of the fall-out. Such a plan involves preparation for housing, for food, shelter, sanitation and everything that makes it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to survive when they are taken away from their normal city amenities and services.

To carry out such a task completely may be impracticable, but we should do something and we should be planning. It is little short of criminal, when there is a possibility, however small the probability, of atomic attack in which there would be thousands of casualties and hundreds of thousands if we did not evacuate the injured, to complacently sit back and do nothing about it except organize a school for instructors in some form of civil defence which is probably out of date.

All the planning and organization that I have mentioned would cost money, and would require careful thought and organization. But we should be doing that planning. I know that because any such organiaztion involves State authorities and instrumentalities it is primarily a matter for the States, but it is also for the Commonwealth to give directions, and to co-ordinate the State efforts. I believe that in practice it will be the Commonwealth's responsibility to carry out any such plans, because if a city like Sydney or Melbourne were to suffer nuclear weapon attack it would inevitably have to come under martial law. Therefore, the plans and organization before the attack must be based on State instrumentalities such as medical services, police services and so on, but the Commonwealth is concerned because martial law will certainly have to be enforced and the Commonwealth, through its services, will have to ensure that the plans are carried out.

As the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) said, probably the chiefs of staff committee is the proper authority to co-ordinate and direct the work of civil defence. He pointed out the disabilities of our present defence committee set-up, and he was unjustly attacked by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) for doing so. The honorable member for Mackellar was quite correct when he said that the training of each of the chiefs of staff prevents him from coming to a proper decision on any matter which is not completely concerned with his own service.

I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) that such a state of affairs is not inescapable. The fault lies with the organization, and we can only overcome it by adopting the American system where there is a chief of staff committee with an independent chairman whose duty it is to co-ordinate the views of the three chiefs of staff, and interpret those views to the Government in the light of his service knowledge gained from his experience. It we had such a change in the chiefs of staff committee, it could effectively tackle such matters as the co-ordination and direction of an effective civil defence plan, knowing that, in the unfortunate circumstances of an atomic attack becoming a reality, it would have to put the plan into operation under martial law. This is a serious matter. I have been concerned about it for a long time. I fear that we are not justified in sitting back complacently and assuring the public of Australia that the possibility of atomic attack is so small that it is negligible. While the possibility exists, the probability is not negligible, and we must do something about it. Unless we attack this question properly, no government can regard itself as having done the best it can in the interests of the people of Australia.

Progress reported.







Suggest corrections