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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- No sane person wants war. I should say that even if an insane person wanted war, he would not admit it. Every sane person wants an insurance against war. The only point really at issue is the nature of the insurance policy. I suggest that the difference between the Government and the Opposition -on that matter is that the Government looks mainly to military, naval and air forces and that the Opposition looks mainly to international co-operation and economic development.

Much has been said in the course of this debate to test or justify the total vote for the defence services. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) and Government supporters have sought to justify the total defence expenditure on several main grounds, to which I should like to direct -the attention of the committee now. The first ground was the international situation. It appears that, although the international situation was bad from 1950 to 1954, it has been getting increasingly better since then. The second ground referred to was the state of the national economy. The Government has said that, in assessing defence expenditure, it has had in view the importance of maintaining economic stability. All that needs to be said about that argument is that economic stability has not been -maintained by the Government. The third matter mentioned was the claims of national development, lt is worth while for the com mittee to note that the claims of national development tend to be considered as things which conflict with the national defence policy. The fourth matter mentioned by the Minister was related to strategic plans. I point out there that neither the Minister nor any other government spokesman made reference to the economic condition or the economic development of other countries.

The Minister said, also, that what a country could devote to defence was a matter of judgment, in the light of its own circumstances. In that connexion, there are differences of opinion which sometimes cross party lines. In arriving at a judgment, the psychology of defence must be taken into account. The Government's domestic policy depends upon a high priority being given to defence and also to social tension in the international field. Broadly speaking, the Government's policy is dominated by the issue of anti-communism. Therefore, for domestic purposes, it is necessary for the Government to place defence and the social tensions arising therefrom in a position of high priority.

The second point to be considered is that the problem of the determination of defence expenditure tends to be seen as the problem of justifying a total defence expenditure of £200,000,000, £190,000,000, or whatever it is. But the requirements of strategic planning - which was mentioned by the Minister - demand that close attention be given to the composition or make-up of the total. We have been buying or making Centurion tanks at a cost of £48,000 each. What kind of strategic plans have we in mind there? Where are those tanks expected to be used? Since 1949, we have been buying or making Vampire fighters, AvonSabre fighters, Vampire trainers and Canberra bombers. What kind of strategic planning is behind that? Where are those aircraft expected to be used? Those are matters about which we have received no information from a government which considers defence largely in terms of total expenditure. An amount of £103,000,000 has been expended on the national service training scheme to train 180,000 youths. That represents an average expenditure of £572 on the training of each youth. I suggest that we are not getting value for our money in this respect. Then there is the Woomera Rocket Range. Where does that project fit into the strategic programme that was mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson)? Of the total amount of £1,011,000,000 that has actually been expended by the Government on defence since 1950-51, £324,000,000, or 32 per cent., was for capital assets. The remainder - 68 per cent. - has been expended on pay and maintenance. When we look a little more closely at the figures, we find that only 1.3 per cent, of the total amount of £1,011.000,000 has been expended on machinery for actual defence production. This distribution of the defence services' votes strongly suggests that we have got little of the actual machinery of war. Of course, that might be sound, because capital assets become obsolete very quickly. Looking now to the expenditure of £707,000,000 on pay and maintenance, we see that our permanent defence forces now total 52,000, compared with 34.000 in 1949, although 180,000 youths have been called up for training under the national service training scheme. lt seems to me that, if the expenditure on defence of £1,011,000,000 is to be tested for value, we must rely very much on the value of training and experience. What, then, is the value of training and experience obtained, when it is limited to a relatively small number of people? I think it is very significant that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announced on Thursday last -

.   . the whole defence programme is to be reviewed in the light of certain circumstances.

That announcement has great significance, because the Government has already expended £1,011,000,000 on a defence programme which, I suggest, is of doubtful value. That expenditure has contributed very much to inflation, and to the Government's inability to do justice to those in receipt of low incomes. The announcement has added significance because, right up till last Thursday, the right honorable gentleman and his supporters had defended every detail of the defence programme, as though it were perfect. Then, suddenly, the Prime Minister announced that the defence programme would be reviewed " in the light of certain circumstances ". What' are those circumstances? The Government has given us no indication whatever what they are. r believe that both the Parliament and the people have a right to know the particular circumstances that the Government is likely to take into account before decisions are made which will be irrevocable. Let us consider what is the aim of a defence programme. The simple answer is, that the aim of a defence programme is to prepare for war.

That needs, according to the Prime Minister's statement on Tuesday last -

A full-bodied system of long-range and longperiod conscription ... an enormous increase in money in order to provide all the modern equipment that goes to make a modern army, navy and air force.

I suggest that this kind of a defence programme cannot be achieved either now or in the foreseeable future, because it is not necessary to prepare for war. Even the Government recognizes that it is not necessary to prepare for war at the present time, but it is not prepared to admit that fact, because its domestic policy depends upon a contrary assumption. I suggest, therefore, that the aim of the defence policy of this Government is something less than preparation for war. It should, therefore, include such things as the improvement of international relations. At this stage, I should like to quote from " Partners in Progress ", which was really a report submitted to the President of the United States of America by the International Development Advisory Board in March, 1951. At page 4, this observation was made -

Only by working together in our common interest can we produce the increased volume of food, raw materials, and manufactures that is needed. To achieve lasting peace, security, and well-being in the world we must join forces in an economic offensive to root out hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and disease.

That is the kind of thing that must be given a far higher priority in Australia's defence programme than it is at present accorded. But I suggest that there are other factors perhaps of lesser importance, that should have a place in our defence policy. We should train personnel and enable them to gain experience, but not necessarily much more. We should obtain the quantity of modern equipment that is necessary for that purpose. We should develop our country economically, for it is upon productive capacity that a defence potential depends. This latter point demands a transport plan for the construction of roads and railways, and the development of air and shipping services. Up to date, these things have not been related to defence production. At the present time, I venture to say that the so-called main highway of Australia - the Hume-highway - could not carry a company of troops, much less a battalion or a division. Judging from recent experiences, they would get bogged between Holbrook and Tarcutta, or between Albury and Holbrook. At least, this demands that the Government, pursuant to its defence policy, should accord national development a defence priority.

If the Government considers that a high level of priority can be given to national development only on the grounds of defence, then let that be done. Furthermore, this demands a forthright approach to the question of solving the CommonwealthStates financial deadlock. This can only be brought to an end by Commonwealth initiative and action. Some of the main differences of opinion between the Government and the Opposition concern Australia's national development and the economic development of under-developed countries. The following statement in reference to defence needs also appears in the report to which I have referred: -

The Advisory Board has given this long and serious thought. The more deeply we have explored the relationship of economic development to defence the more impressed we have been with how truly inseparable they are.

I suggest that it is not much good for the honorable member for Fawkner and other Government supporters to rely on bombardment, aircraft carriers and frigates to contain communism in South-East Asia. To do so is to court failure, unless we improve our relations with the backward countries and assist them to improve their standard of living. We have not related economic development sufficiently to defence, and we have not worked closely enough with the leaders of the underdeveloped countries. Until we do these things, there can be no security for the Western countries, particularly Australia. The methods of the nineteenth century are not good enough for to-day. We cannot obtain security by means only of hydrogen bombs and jet fighters.

Mr Hamilton - What are the Russians doing?

Mr CAIRNS - I am not concerned with what the Russians are doing. I am talking about what Australia should do. We can obtain security only by working to improve the economic development of and to raise the standard of living of backward countries. A much higher degree of importance must be placed on international co-operation and economic development than is at present accorded to it with correspondingly less emphasis on force. We can achieve national security in no other way.

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