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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr CRAMER (Bennelong) (Minister for the Army) . - I understand that progress is to be reported about 11 p.m., but I should like to take a few minutes of the short time remaining to review some of the foolish charges that have been made this evening by the Opposition. Since I intend to speak on Tuesday evening I shall leave other matters until then.

Dr Evatt - The Minister must discuss them this evening, not on Tuesday evening.

Mr CRAMER - I shall discuss them when I want to. I shall not submit to dictation.

I shall begin by saying that the statements made by Opposition members this evening are consistent with their attitude to the defence services at all times. Never since I became a member of this Parliament in 1949 have I heard a debate on defence matters in which the Opposition has offered any encouragement, support, or help, or made any suggestion for the benefit of Australia. When this Government proposed to introduce national service training, the scheme was bitterly opposed by all Opposition members. The organization of the recruiting campaign also was bitterly opposed. The Government's proposal to send forces to Malaya was opposed bitterly. The Opposition has opposed and ridiculed every defence proposal that has been advanced by the Government.

Some Opposition members have made utterly stupid statements. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) and others said that the number of officers was too great compared with the number of men in the other ranks in the Army, and ridiculed the Army on that account. They purported to advance sensible arguments by adding the number of officers, non-commissioned officers and privates, as shown in the Estimates, and making a total of 26,000 army personnel, although they know, or ought to know, that those figures show the establishment, not the effective force, which numbers- 23,000. They have been told this many times, but they are not interested enough to remember it. If they examine the Estimates they will see that certain amounts are not expected to be spent. This indicates that there are not in fact 26,000 members of the Australian Regular Army. As I have said, there are only 23,000 members. This shows the utter stupidity of some Opposition members. Surely they know that the Regular Army is engaged in a great number of duties in which the services of officers and other ranks are required as instructors.

Mr Curtin - What jobs do they do?'

Mr CRAMER - I shall tell the honorable member some of the jobs they do. In the first place, the Australian Regular Army provides the regular field force. Does the honorable member know that we have 1,440' army men in Malaya?

Mr Pollard - Why are they there?

Mr CRAMER - Of course, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) doe& not want them to be there. They are there because this Government is defending Australia and taking its proper part in the defence scheme in the Pacific. The Australian Regular Army also provides the component for reinforcement of the Malaya force and for forces elsewhere. In addition, it does a major job in training national service trainees. I think the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) stated that the Government had spent £61,000,000 merely on training a few youths. That is hardly a sensible statement to make in the National Parliament. Surely the honorable member does not think that is all that the Army does! When we examine the matter, we see that the Australian Regular Army officers who have been so much ridiculed by Opposition members control a total of 140,000 army personnel, not merely 23,000 or 26,000. That figure does not include the great number of national service trainees who are now on the inactive list. It includes the current national service intake of 9,332, the men on the Citizen Military Force active list, who number almost 80,000, and 33,000 cadets. In addition, there are on the inactive list 59.000 national service trainees who havecompleted the training given to them by Australian Regular Army personnel.

Sir Philip McBride - They are on the reserve.

Mr CRAMER - Under the existing system they are on the reserve, but they are part of the Army and were trained by the Australian Regular Army, the work of which I am describing in order to demonstrate that the Opposition's criticism on this score is ridiculous. In addition, there are many schools and training establishments in which a great number of Australian Regular Army personnel are engaged in training men.

Opposition members interjecting,

The CHAIRMAN - Order! Apparently Opposition members think they can ridicule the business of the committee. It is considering a serious matter, and I ask the Opposition to maintain order.

Mr CRAMER - 1 am just stating the facts. 1 think the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) mentioned the comparison between maintenance and capital expenditure and ridiculed the Government because he considered expenditure on maintenance was too great in comparison with capital expenditure. 1 just want to remind him of the Labour government's record in this matter in its last year of administration, because it is pertinent to the honorable member's argument. 1 think he is reasonable enough to examine this matter for his own edification. I am discussing not the entire expenditure on defence, but only the expenditure on the Army, for which I am now the responsible Minister. In its last year of office the Labour government's provision for expenditure on the Army was £16,010,000, whereas the proposed vote for the Army in the current financial year is £61,440,000. The Labour government provided for 92.8 per cent, of the Army vote to be spent on maintenance in the financial year 1949-50, and only 7.2 per cent, on capital equipment. I admit that the present Government proposes to spend a greater sum on maintenance in the current financial year than the Labour administration provided for, but this represents only 79.7 per cent, of the Army vote, 20.3 per cent, of which will be spent on capital equipment. These figures show that the Opposition is not in a position to criticize this aspect of the present Government's administration.

One can go further and point out that in 1949-50 the Labour Government provided for 46.3 per cent, of the vote for the Australian Regular Army to be spent on pay and general expenses, whereas the figure for the current financial year is 36.4 per cent. The Labour administration provided for 18.4 per cent, of the vote to be spent on civilian pay in 1949-50, whereas the figure for the current financial year is 6.9 per cent. Of course, under the Labour administration nothing was spent on the national service training scheme, on which 12.9 per cent, of the vote will be spent in the current financial year. In 1949-50, Labour provided for 4 per cent, of the vote to be spent on the Citizen Military Force, whereas the figure for the current financial year is 1.4 per cent. Labour provided for 2.5 per cent, of the vote to be spent on capital equipment in 1949-50, whereas the percentage for the current financial year is 14.9 per cent. In its last budget the Labour government provided for 4.7 per cent, of the vote to be spent on accommodation, whereas the proportion in these Estimates is 5.6 per cent. Under Labour's administration the Australian Regular Army numbered only about 14,000 men, whereas at the present time we have, as is shown by the figures I have cited, a total Army of 140,000 men. If that does not show that this Government has made progress in the short time it has been in office, I should like to know what progress is. 1 wish to mention just one other matter, which concerns the comparison between expenditure on the Army and the total budget expenditure in 1949-50 and 1955-56. In 1949-50 the budget expenditure totalled ' £544,000,000. Last financial year it was £1,123,000,000. In 1949-50 Labour provided for 2.9 per cent, of its total budget expenditure to be devoted to the Army, whereas the figure for 1955-56 was 5.5 per cent. These figures show clearly what the Labour government thought of defence and what this Government thinks of it.

Dr Evatt - It indicates that the present Government has been extravagant.

Mr CRAMER - That is only the right honorable gentleman's opinion. What is the relationship between expenditure on the Army and the gross national product, which in 1949-50 totalled £2,693,000,000, and in 1955-56, £4,832,000,000? Expenditure on the Army provided for by the Labour Government in 1949-50 represented . 59 per cent. of the gross national product, whereas last financial year the figure was 1.27 per cent. 1 have cited all these figures only to show that Labour's whole policy on defence is to reduce expenditure. It did not wish to defend the country when it was in office, and does not think this Government should defend it now. We have heard cry after cry from the Labour party to reduce defence expenditure by £50,000,000 or so, and use that money for this, that, or the other purpose. God help Australia if we are ever going to relax our defence preparedness! 1 shall say more about that subject next Tuesday, but, surely, at a time such as this, knowing what confronts us in the world, we should be recreant to our duty if we did not spend adequately and build up a proper defence structure in this country.

Labour has been opposed to adequate defence preparations at all times, and has endeavoured to nullify the efforts of the Government in every possible way. It has never been any help to the country, and has always attempted to frustrate the Government in its efforts to build up a defence system adequate for our needs. It is about time that we received some co-operation and some constructive suggestions from the Labour party which might justify its position in this Parliament as the Opposition. I hope that the debate next Tuesday on this matter will be on a much more elevated plane than the debate to-night, and that we shall receive from the Opposition some genuine suggestions as to how we may improve our defences, instead of receiving merely criticisms that in many instances are not related to facts and which do not help this country in any shape or form, or the people who will defend this country should the need arise.

Progress reported.

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