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
Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr MORGAN (Reid) .- The subject of expenditure on defence services should not be approached in any spirit of carping criticism, because the international situation is too serious for honorable members to make cheap political capital out of it. The future of Australia, of ourselves, of our families and of generations to come is involved. This is no time for recriminations. World events are moving rapidly, and already it may be nearly too late to save this country. It is easy for members on the Opposition side to say to the Government, " We told you so ", and to refer to what we have said in the past in regard to Australia's unguarded shores, the neglected airfields that have been allowed to revert to the jungle, or the wasteful and unnecessary expenditure on projects such as the filling factory at St. Mary's. No doubt, Government members would retaliate by referring to our alleged acts of omission or commission, but such charges and counter-charges would get us nowhere.

Destructive criticism is futile. The aim of any administration should be to profit from its past mistakes. I urge honorable members, therefore, to be constructive and to make useful suggestions as to how to strengthen Australia's defences in the little time that is still at our disposal. Opinions vary as to how much longer we may be able to hold this country. Some say it will be ten years, others twenty years, but in view of the ominous signs on the horizon a conflict could start any day.

I am glad that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has seen the light, and has realized the need for a review of Australia's defence strategy. In view of recent reports of defence expenditure and the changed situation overseas, obviously the imminence of danger to Australia has been brought home to him. As a result of the proposed review our approach to the matter of defence may have to be completely altered, as happened when Australia was threatened with invasion by the Japanese. At that time, experts such as General MacArthur were brought to Australia to advise on defence strategy, and changes in plans were made. If the Prime Minister were to make a statement, honorable members would be in a much better position to judge the present situation and decide whether the proposed defence expenditure is warranted. Until he does so we are largely in the dark. lt is not sufficient for Australia's defence to be left to the Prime Minister and a few experts. All honorable members know that the views of experts differ. Sometimes they are as wide apart as the poles, and in the case of defence are biased towards the particular branch of the armed forces the individual expert represents. This is a time when the knowledge of both sides of the committee should be pooled, and the responsibility of making decisions on defence shared by all; the Government has a committee dealing with matters of defence, but that is not sufficient. After all, Government members are not in a position even to control the Cabinet. They have no say in me election of their Cabinet. Only Parliament as a whole can accept and discharge responsibility in regard to this matter.

Honorable members are largely in the dark concerning defence expenditure, and if representatives of the people are in the dark, one can understand the indifference and complacency on the part of the people in regard to this matter. No doubt the recent trip of the Prime Minister overseas revealed to him the gravity of the situation, and honorable members can expect to hear a statement from him about it. Democracy is like charity, it begins at home, but where there is no trust there is no love. The Prime Minister should take the Opposition into his confidence if he wants the cooperation of the Parliament and the whole of the people.

I suggest to the Prime Minister that he consider the establishment of a body similar to the War Advisory Council, which operated during the last war period. If the Government were to set up what might be termed a defence advisory council it could invite leaders of all parties to be represented and participate in its deliberations. This is a matter which calls for urgent consideration in the light of present circumstances. Ample evidence exists that there are elements in Australia that are desirous of undermining our economy and weakening our defences so as to play into the hands of forces overseas, and when the enemy strikes, to allow this country to fall into his hands like a ripe plum.

If the Prime Minister takes the Opposition into his confidence; he will find that his trust is respected, as it was during World War II. Perhaps secret sessions of Parliament might be held to deal with matters which should not be made public. But, the more the Government takes the people into its confidence, the more will be built up the morale of the community generally. The press might co-operate more than it does at present. Too much destructive criticism is being published, and not sufficient of a constructive nature. Nowadays, the newspapers are laying more stress on the seamy side of life, publishing stories of crime, sex, gambling and so on, and paying too little attention to matters which are more important to the moral uplift of the community. Large headlines and frontpage reports are devoted to the escapades of youn; ne'er-do-wells, but scarcely any space is given to important events happening overseas.

Last week, 1 happened to hear a broadcast reference to a happening in Peking, but when 1 looked for a report in the press next day, I found that few of the newspapers made any mention of it. lt was a matter which could have an important effect on the future of Australia. 1 heard an announcement concerning an order of the day issued by Marshal Peng Teh Huai, who is the Minister for Defence in Communist China. He was the leader of the Communist volunteers that were fighting against Australian troops in Korea only recently. In his order of the day, he called on all sections of the forces of Communist China to be ready to invade and liberate Formosa at an early stage. If such action were taken by those forces, it could be fraught with serious consequences for Australia. Some people adopt the attitude that what happens to 9,000,000 Chinese in Formosa does not really matter to Australia, and should not concern us at all. The time might come when the people up there might say, " Why should we worry about what happens to 9,000,000 Australians ".

Present during those same celebrations was Dr. Soekarno, the President of Indonesia. When he was entertained the other night, according to one report I heard over the air, the President of Communist China, Mao Tse-tung, gave him a pledge that Communist China would support Indonesia in respect of the " liberation " of Irian, which is the Indonesian name for Dutch New Guinea. How much closer home does that bring the threat? Because, after all, this cry of liberation is one that is spreading throughout the East. Not so long ago the cry was " Merdeka! " which means freedom or independence. But now the cry is " liberation! ". Perhaps before long we shall be hearing the cry that Australia's aborigines are going to be liberated by these same forces in the East. Those are the menacing signs on the horizon which vitally effect this country and its future.

When I was visiting New Guinea recently I saw a report in the local newspaper, the " South Pacific Post ", regarding an incident that caused very grave concern to many people in New Guinea, particularly returned servicemen and others who had only recently fought to hold that country against the invader. No reference was made to this particular incident by any newspaper in Australia. The report to which 1 refer was headed " Sharp Reaction to Inspection by Indonesian Officer ". The report began -

Returned Soldiers and private citizens last week unanimously criticised the Government for allowing an Indonesian Army officer to visit (he Territory to inspect Army installations.

Port Moresby branch of the R.S.L. will ask State Congress to find out why the Government gave the Indonesian Army officer the necessary permission.

That is perhaps something the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) might elucidate, because, according to information furnished to me from reputable sources, when this Indonesian officer went around New Guinea inspecting various defence installations and other features of the country he took a camera with him, and took photographs as he went along. That information was given to me by the wife of an official who was in the aircraft with the Indonesian officer on his tour of New Guinea. Yet if an Australian arrived in Indonesia with a camera, the camera would be taken from him promptly. These may be innocent happenings, but, on the other hand, they may be matters calling for explanation and some serious consideration on our part.

I submit also, that the Government should consider the desirability of devoting part of our defence expenditure to propaganda. During the war we had the Department of Information, which has since been abolished, for the performance of that function. 1 understand that some function of that nature is carried out by the News and Information Bureau of the Department of the Interior. But what is actually being done in regard to propaganda about defence, and propaganda designed to strengthen the morale of the community generally? The world is engaged at present in a war of ideas. Propaganda is a very important means of giving the truth to the people and of strengthening public morale which, after all, is as important as - in fact, more important than - building factories and making munitions of war. I hope that the press of Australia will keep in mind the desirability of co-operating with the Government in giving the facts of the situation to the people.

I should like to refer now to our air defences. A very sad spectacle is provided by the falling into decay and disuse of onceimportant airfields in Australia, particularly in the north, where airfields have been allowed to be reclaimed by the jungle. During the last two years I had the opportunity to visit a number of those once great air bases, such as the Higginsfield aerodrome, on Cape York Peninsula, and the Truscott aerodrome, in Western Australia, which were used during the war. Recently I. also flew over war-time airfields in the Markham and Ramu valleys in New Guinea. The installations at all of these aerodromes have been dismantled, and the airfields are being allowed to go back to the jungle. That is a very sad and very serious state of affairs, because menacing events on the horizon indicate that we may have need of these strategic aerodromes in the very near future.

I agree with the contention of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) that there should be an air umbrella over this country. I believe that it should extend from our west coast to New Zealand and Norfolk Island. The latter is a place where an air base could be established. Phillip Island could become an unsinkable aircraft carrier, and expenditure on the construction of a service aerodrome there would have more value than the huge expenditure we are making on the maintenance of the two aircraft carriers that we have. The airfield at Manus Island and those in the Markham and Ramu valleys, as well as those in northern Australia and along our north-west coast, could well be reestablished. We do not want to find ourselves in the position we were in during World War II. of having to consider the adoption of a " Brisbane line " strategy. We want to be in a position to go out and meet the enemy beyond this country's shores, and not have to shrink back into our innermost defences as we nearly had to do on that occasion.

Suggest corrections