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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr MAKIN (Bonython) .- A total of £190,000,000 is provided in the Estimates for expenditure on the defence services. I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) for the reduction of the proposed vote for the Department of Defence by £1 as a censure upon the Government for its lack of policy and its constant failure to adopt a comprehensive and properly planned programme for the defence of Australia. This is something of which honorable members must take notice and for which the Government is deserving of the strongest condemnation. On Thursday last the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) pointed the accusing finger at Opposition members, and stated that their criticisms of these matters were insincere. I remind him that Opposition members in this chamber are not the only ones who are constrained to voice their dissatisfaction with the present position. Persons who are in a position to speak on behalf of the nation by virtue of their authority in public positions also have offered criticism. The Auditor-General, for example, is not satisfled with certain aspects of the administration of the defence services. In his view some of the accounting methods adopted do not provide proper safeguards and do not account for various items as fully as is desired. In addition, we have heard the views of the Public Accounts Committee, which reviews public expenditure in various fields. It has only recently considered the expenditure on the defence services, and we know how unsatisfactory was the information it was given on certain matters. As a result, the committee made very strong comment upon some unsatisfactory features of defence expenditure. So it is clear that not only Opposition members in this chamber have expressed concern at certain aspects of defence expenditure.

Lavish expenditure has been made on some things which no doubt were nonessential and have proved extremely expensive for the people of Australia. This Government, during the six years that it has been in office, has expended about £1,031,000,000 on defence, but only about £226,000,000 out of that vast sum has been spent on materials and equipment which are apparent for all to see. I now desire to refer to an article which appeared in to-day's " Adelaide Advertiser ", and which was written by a correspondent called Douglas Wilkie. It reads -


Our aircraft industry, set up at huge cost as a vital defence need, Ls a wasting asset for want of Government orders.

Two former Chiefs of the Air Staff have given this warning. They charge Canberra with drift and apathy.

But more than apathy lies at the back of it all - a failure to dovetail our defence needs at home with defence policies abroad.

For instance, the Australian public was noi told that India wanted to place big orders for Australian-made. Avon Sabre jets.

But Canberra raised its hands in horror, lt feared that to fulfil orders from India might " offend Pakistan ".

Again, had we allowed Israeli pilots to tram in Australia, it is certain that Israel would have bought from us the Sabre jets which are now being supplied by Canada.

We washed our hands of Israel lest we " offend the Arabs ", including Nasser's Egypt, against whom we're now waging a cold war.

New Zealand, too, should be taking our Sabre jets but for some unexplained New Zealand fears of offending British aircraft interests.

Thus Australia lost tens of millions of pounds' worth of export business. At the same time, we denied ourselves an expanding aircraft industry which would have done more for our future security than anything else we have gained by an outlay of £1,000,000,000 on defence since 1950.

However, it is not only the press that expresses doubts about the Government's defence policy. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has risen in this chamber time and again to detail to honorable members the unsatisfactory nature of the Government's policy on civil defence. This Government has made practically no provision at all, up to the present time, for civil defence in Australia.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member is now proceeding to deal with a matter that is not at present before the committee, but which is to be dealt with in the next section of the Estimates to be placed before honorable members.

Mr MAKIN - Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am making but a passing reference to civil defence, about which I believe there is great public unrest, in order to show that the public is greatly concerned not only at the Government's defence policy, but also at its policy on civil defence. The Government has delayed any decisive action on defence, but that is characteristic of it, and was characteristic of the non-Labour government that preceded the Labour government which steered this country through World War II. I have before me notes that I made while a member of the Government during the last war, and 1 intend to read some of these to honorable members to indicate the unprepared state in which this country was left by a nonLabour government. A note that I made on Tuesday, 30th December, 1941, reads -

A thorough review of the position in the Pacific was made by the chiefs of the fighting forces. The position is pathetically weak, and we shall be a fortunate people if we escape a calamity. There are promises of help, but these are far from satisfying.

On Friday, 31st January, 1942, I made the following note: -

Another very serious review of the position with the chiefs of staff. The aircraft position is deplorable. The former governments led by Mr. Menzies and Mr. Fadden have a serious position to face with the Australian public for neglect in providing this most important arm of defence.

I could continue to read similar notes that I made about other aspects of our inability at that time to offer any trained support to those who were resisting the bombing of Darwin, and who were resisting the enemy elsewhere. Honorable members will perhaps be astonished to know that when Labour came to office during World War II., we did not have one single fighter aircraft. Moreover, our anti-aircraft defences were practically non-existent, and the best of our fighting forces were out of this country. That was the deplorable defence position in which a non-Labour government left this country. I repeat that even when Darwin was being bombed and a decision had to be made about the return of the Australian Imperial Forces to this country, it seemed to me that the parties then in opposition, and which now comprise the Government, attempted to have them diverted to Burma rather than to bring them back to Australia to defend this country and its people. It is apparent that much has yet to be revealed about the shortcomings of our defence system in those days; but at the present time we find that a government of the same political colour as that which failed to give us a strong defence system during the last war, is again taking no definite action and is showing no willingness to develop a suitable plan for the defence of this country.

The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) has stated that probably as the result of a review that is now taking place certain changes will be made, and that he suspects that those changes will bring subsequent changes in their train. Of course they will! But that is a most remarkable method of reasoning, and it indicates tha' to the present time this Government has no overall defence plan. The best evidence of that is exhibited by the way in which this Government has dealt with H.M.A.S. " Hobart ". " Hobart " is about twenty years old, having been completed in January, 1936.

The Government has already spent £1,500,000 on the ship, and about £1,000,000 remains to be spent to put it into first-class order. However, instead of completing the re-equipping of this ship, the Government intends to put it into reserve. If " Hobart " is later required for service, the work will take a long time and much money will have to be spent on it before it is ready. That indicates, exactly, the approach of this Government to our defence problems; as it was in war, so it is in peace - indecision and inexcusable uncertainty. lt is really equivalent, therefore, to scrapping the vessel because in the future it will be able to render little or no service to the people of this country who have provided £1.500,000 to refit it. That work will contribute nothing to the defence services of Australia. The situation calls for something more than sniggering on the part of the Minister for Defence. His explanations are totally inadequate and his demeanour when he challenges and charges members of the Opposition with insincerity is unwarranted.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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