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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- A similarity exists between the situation to-day and that of October, 1941, just prior to the Curtin Labour Government taking office. At that time we had a government under the very same leadership and of the same political character as the present Government. Because it had bungled the defences of this country, some of its own supporters became so alarmed that they crossed the floor of this Parliament and voted the Government out of office. Today we are in the same situation. The Government has spent £1,068,000,000 on defence since it took office. I suggest to honorable gentlemen that, instead of wasting the time of Parliament talking about the value of one service compared with another, they should begin to ask themselves what this country has in defence equipment for the expenditure of £1,068,000,000.

Let us examine what we have. I shall take the Navy first. The Navy is regarded as the senior defence service. The actual active service craft in the naval forces to-day are two aircraft carriers, four destroyers, three anti-submarine frigates, two anti-aircraft frigates ex-sloop, four ocean minesweepers, one fleet tug, one ammunition store carrier, four boom vessels and sundry small vessels. That constitutes the entire Navy. Let us look now at the manning side of the Navy. We do not lack admirals; we have plenty of admirals in the Australian Navy for its size. We have one Chief of the Naval Staff, six rear-admirals, four commodores, second class, 55 captains and 154 commanders - andI have not mentioned the various lieutenant-commanders, and so on. So, the Navy which, 1 dare say, would probably compare in numbers with the Manly ferry fleet, has that large quota of admirals, rear-admirals, commodores, captains and so on. I might add that it is rather interesting to note that, according to page 211 of the Estimates, the number of officers has been increased by 50 this year, though the personnel of the Navy has not changed.

I turn now to the Army. We were told quite recently by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) that, if anything happened as a result of the Suez dispute, we had 900 men ready for immediate service. If the figures on page 213 of the Estimates are added, forgetting about lance-corporals for the moment, of the 26,000 men, who it is claimed constitute the Australian armed forces, 13,930 hold the rank of corporal or higher and 12,070 are in the ranks. Actually, the Australian Army to-day has more chieftains than Indians.

I shall refer to the comments of Sir Frederick Shedden. I remind the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) that, when he is replying, he should not try to belittle Sir Frederick Shedden. When Sir Frederick was appointed to his post, he was complimented by the Minister for Defence upon his appointment. When Sir Frederick Shedden told the Public Accounts Committee what he thought of the defence preparations in this country, he was talking, even in the eyes of the Minister, as a man fully equipped to talk. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) invited us to read the minutes of the Public Accounts Committee, and they show that Sir Frederick Shedden said that Australia had not been ready for mobilization in 1953 and was not ready now. If we are not ready now, what has happened to the £1.068,000,000 that has been spent since this Government took office?

Recently the Prime Minister, in reply to a question, tried to ridicule the idea that we should be ready for immediate mobilization. He said that no country other than a totalitarian country could be ready for mobilization. But that is not what he said in 1950 when he predicted that we had three years in which to prepare for war. The Prime Minister said then -

We must be ready for war on the day it breaks out. If we are to be ready we cannot, and must not, give ourselves a day more.

That is what the Prime Minister said then. He now says that we should not expect to be ready immediately but that we must have some time to mobilize our forces.

Everybody knows that in the defence services there has been terrific bungling and waste of money. 1 invite honorable members to consider some of the replies that we get to questions. I shall mention one in regard to service losses. Recently I directed a question on notice to the Minister for Defence. I asked -

1.   What is the value of discrepancies in supplies and equipment disclosed by stocktaking for the year 1955-56 in (a) the Royal Australian Navy (b) the Army and (c) the Royal Australian Air Force?

2.   Is it practice to have an annual stocktakingin each of these services?

3.   If so, what were the discrepancies in supplies and equipment revealed by stocktaking in each of the nine years preceding 1955-56?

The Minister, who claims to be in charge of the defences of this country, answered in these terms -

The information sought by the honorable member is not readily available from the records of the service departments.

He does not know even what the services lost by theft nine years ago. The Minister continued -

However, it is being compiled and I will make it available as soon as possible.

The Minister did not say whether the services were conducting an annual audit. If they are having an annual audit, as they should be, why is he not able to produce the reports immediately and let us know what the losses from the various stores have been over that period? Let me take another illustration. With the aircraft carrier " Hobart " they decided-

Dr Evatt - It is not a carrier; it is a cruiser.

Mr WARD - Thank you, a cruiser. It has been referred to in many quarters. I do not claim to be an expert like those who represent the Government parties. The Government said it would modernize this vessel and spent £1,386,000 - almost £1,-500,000- on refitting work and modernization. After it had spent- that money, it decided to put the vessel into reserve. When I wanted some information about it, the Minister told me that it could be a useful vessel in the event of Australia again becoming embroiled in warfare. But how long would it fake to prepare the vessel for action? The Government has put it into reserve, and the" work on it has not been completed. According to the Minister's reply to my question, a further £1,000,000 would have to be spent - over what period I1 would not attempt to guess - - before it would be of any use at- all. So, in respect of these matters, it is obvious that there has been bungling on every hand.

Let me mention the St. Mary's project Anybody would imagine that we were preparing to fight another Boer War, not to fight a war in this year or in the years to come. This Government decided to erect a filling factory at St. Mary's to cost, according to the estimate, £23,000,000. A filling factory in a war that would be fought with atomic weapons! What use would a filling factory be if this country became embroiled in another world war? In any event, how long would a filling factory last within a short distance of the City of Sydney if atomic or hydrogen bombs were dropped?

While I have the opportunity, I want to refer to a first-class bungle in which this Government was directly involved. I refer to the testing of atomic bombs in which the Services-

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