Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 October 1956


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - So far in this debate Government members have given a remarkable display of dodging the issue. What is the real contest between the Government and members of the Opposition? First of all, there is no disagreement as to the need for the proper defence of Australia. The gravamen of our complaint is the policy being applied by this Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said that after spending £1,000,000,000 of the Australian taxpayers' money on defence, he finds it necessary to call his Ministers of State and the chiefs of the defence forces together to work out a modern plan of defence. Such a statement brands this Government as the greatest bungling administration Australia has ever had in making defence preparations. But that is the kind of defence administration that has existed ever since this Government came into office.

The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) to-night referred to the fact that early in World War II. the one man in this country who showed great leadership, the late John Curtin, who had a Cabinet around him of which we are all proud to-day, made a statement two months after he assumed office that everything in the garden was lovely so far as Australia's defence organization was concerned. The Minister knows that when the new

Prime Minister of the day (Mr. Curtin) took over, the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was suffering from stab wounds in the back which he had received at the hands of his erstwhile supporters. In those circumstances, the first thing the Curtin Labour Government had to do was to create confidence in the minds of the Australian people by saying that defence preparations were in good shape.

To-day, however, we are faced with a situation created by the bungling of this Government, and we should be lacking in our duty as an Opposition if we did not criticize the Government for failing to make adequate preparations for the defence of Australia. The Minister for Defence criticized the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments for selling £100,000,000 worth of war materiel after the war, and said that there was a deficiency as a result of that sale. Suppose that statement were true, it is an admission by the Minister that he and his Cabinet colleagues, and the heads of his defence staff, are still thinking in terms of the conditions of 1945. The Minister says that he still has £400,000,000 worth of equipment stored for the use of defence forces. It is open to suggest that, in the review that is to be made, at least £200,000,000 worth of that equipment will be found to be obsolete.

The Government has spent an average of £200,000,000 a year for five years, but to-day there is not a road in Australia over which the 900 troops, which the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) wanted to send to Egypt, could move if we wanted to send them anywhere within the continent. This country has not rail transport adequate to shift even a small body of troops from one point to another.

I am convinced that until the Government is removed from office, and an administration of the type led by the late John Curtin is placed in control, Australia will not have the overall defence protection to which it is entitled. Last year, the Government spent £61,500,000 on partly training a few Australian youths. When the whole of the defence vote is placed alongside the Government's defence programme, what else can be done but to accuse the Government of bungling the defence of Australia? It has spent £200,000.000 a year, but has done nothing to make adequate provision for Australia's protection. Is it that this Government believes that its only responsibility is to train troops in order to send them out of Australia to fight in theatres of war overseas? Is it that the Government believes that it has not a responsibility to see that we have efficient roads, railways and the like adequate to handle the real national defence of Australia in conjunction with the armed forces? Or does the Government believe, as I think it believes, that its only responsibility in respect of defence is to send Australian forces out to fight in some other sphere, as has always been the policy of governments of its kidney right down the years?

If the implication by the Minister for Defence that the Labour Government's action at the end of 1945 in disposing of £100,000,000 worth of defence equipment was something detrimental to our present war effort is in keeping with the Minister's actual thinking, one must come to the conclusion that the time has arrived for some of the back-benchers on the Government side to do something about our defence needs. Some of them actually know something about those needs, and I wonder how long they will stand by inactive and watch the results of the woolly-headed thinking of the old people who are at present guiding our armed forces. If ever there was woollyheaded thinking we had it to-night from the Minister for Defence, whose attempt to defend the Government was in line with the Government's own record of defence - not much good. He did not at any stage of his address give this Parliament or the people of Australia one word of explanation of the reason for the complete review of the nation's defences that the Prime Minister talks about. Perhaps the Prime Minister was upset when he found that the Minister for the Army had only 900 troops to send to Egypt to help to protect the Suez Canal. Maybe he realizes that the Government is going about things the wrong way by cutting down the vote for the Navy at a time when we have not one really modern fighter in our Air Force. I do not know, but I do know that after spending £1,000,000,000 on defence in five years we could not put up a good show against an army of niggers armed with bows and arrows. That is our position to-day as a result of the Government's policy. I can visualize, if war came, the same sort of thing going on in the Government as went on in the first Menzies Government in 1941. The members of the Government would want to shift their responsibilities on to somebody else, as the Minister for Defence attempted to do to-night. That Minister, in the event of war, would want to shift his responsibility on to somebody else because of the failure of the Government to provide, after the expenditure of £1,000,000,000, any proper defence in Australia.

Look at it as we like, that is exactly the situation that the Labour Government found in 1941. We would be faced by the same situation if we were to come into office again now. We should have to do as we did in 1941. First, we should have to rebuild the morale of the Australian people so as to bring them to the pitch of being able to defend themselves, before we could hope to get a war effort from them. That was what the Curtin Government had to do in 1941, and that would be the position to-day, because move where we like around Australia we cannot find any confidence in the Government's defence policy.

There is no reason why we should not have a proper, co-ordinated defence programme. If we can find £1 90,00 J.000 for a defence scheme such as the Government has provided for in these Estimates, surely we can find the money to provide the roads and the railways over which our troops would have to move in the event of war, more particularly in the event of any threat to the integrity of our soil. Does the Government believe that it can assist in the defence of the coastline of Australia by cutting down expenditure on the Navy while we have not one modern fighter aircraft in this country? Where do we think we can get by talking in the terms used by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) when he said that the Government had played its part in the defence of this country by spending £1,000,000,000 on defence? He said that the real reason that we did not have a third world war in 1953, as predicted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menizes), was because aroused democracy pulled its socks up. All I can say is that if democracy pulled its socks up in the same way as the Government has hoisted its hose in the last six years, it is a poor lookout for the free world. After spending an enormous amount of money on defence the Government now finds it necessary to call a conference of service chiefs and service Ministers in an attempt to do something about modern defence requirements. If that is the pattern of defence in the democratic countries, God help them!


Mr Anderson - Does the honorable member condemn the democracies?


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are not condemning the democracies. We believe in defence of the countries of the free world. But what is the first step that should be taken in the defence of Australia? It is surely the provision of a military organization that can defend the country at any point of danger. We know that such an organization is apparently beyond the Government's concept of defence, and we also know - and this is our criticism of the Government - that after an expenditure of £1,000,000,000 on defence, including this year's estimated expenditure of £190.000,000, the defences of Australia are in a worse position than they were when the Labour Government came into office in 1941. My reason for making that statement is that when Labour assumed office in 1941, and when the American forces with their equipment began to land here to reinforce the Australian forces, we at least had a road system that could handle the passage of troops and materiel from point to point of this continent. But that is something that we have not got to-day. Incidentally, during the war the Labour government was condemned in many quarters for turning to the United States of America for aid. Our road system throughout Australia is such that we could not despatch forces to points of danger on our coastline or anywhere else. Imagine what the position would be if we wanted to move troops from Victoria to Wagga Wagga to-night to meet a war eventuality. If heavy rain had fallen recently, we would not be able to get them past the first bog over the New South Wales border. We have spent £1,000,000,000 on defence under this Government, and we have not the wherewithal to move even the 900 troops promised by the Minister for the Army for the defence of Suez, between Sydney and Melbourne, with their equipment. Yet, the Government boasts about what it has done in relation to our defence.

The Labour party is not exposing the Government's colossal defence failures merely for political propaganda purposes. What we are doing is something realistic for the future of Australia and its people. We are sheeting home the responsibility where it rightly belongs. We say to the Government, quite frankly and honestly, " Yes, we believe you should have a defence programme for Australia, but we also believe that, having spent £1,000,000,000 on defence in the last five years, and having had six years in which to do something really concrete about our defences, you should be able to do more than do as the Minister for Defence did to-night when he attempted to bluff his way through the debate and hide the Government's obvious failings ". We place the responsibility for our present plight fairly and squarely where it belongs. We say that it is time the Government had a look at the whole defence situation. We know full well that no country can have defence without making sacrifices; but we know that if sacrifices must be made the people whom we ask to make those sacrifices are entitled to value for them and value for the money expended on defence. We know, too, that the Australian people are not getting value for the money expended on defence. Certainly, the Minister for Defence has proved conclusively, to-night, that the people are not getting that value. It is a poor show when the only defence that the Government can put forward for its failure to guard the security of the country is the sort of talk we had from the Minister for Defence tonight about what the Labour government did in disposing of defence equipment that was no longer required.

Let me conclude on this note: The Labour government came into office in 1941 because the Labour party was fighting for Australia. It did not come into office as a result of a barrage of political propaganda, because when John Curtin was Leader of the Opposition, prior to the fall of the first Menzies Government, he offered the Government all the support he could in any attempts it made to do the right thing in relation to Australia's defence. But the first Menzies Government failed, as the present Menzies Government is failing, to measure up to the nation's requirements, and if war broke out to-morrow, we would be faced with a similar situation to that with which we were faced in 1941, when Labour had to come into office to put the country into shape for a real war effort. If the back-benchers on the Government side of the chamber were honest-







Suggest corrections