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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr KENT HUGHES (CHISHOLM, VICTORIA) - Yes. 1 was in the Army for only twelve years, and J would not count myself as a professional expert in service matters, particularly a& the last occasion on which I served was as long ago as 1946. It would be foolish, therefore, for me to suggest that one service should be supported vis-a-vis another, or to> express a view on whether flat-tops are up to date or out of date. What I should like to know, and what the Parliament and the people are entitled to know, is what the Government has decided should be the role of our defence forces in the future, in the light of the changed conditions that have been referred to. No-one else can. make that decision for us; it must be made on the basis of realism, not of emotionalism or idealism, even if we have to break with the old traditional roles of the past.

I should like to point out that noChief of the General Staff could possibly plan a reasoned and sensible defence programme unless the Government, which alone can make the decision, has decided' our future defence role. In the same way. no commanding officer in the field canwrite an operation order unless he is first told what the objective is, and he has an> opportunity to make an appreciation of the situation with that objective in view. ] hope that none of our troubles arise from our Chiefs of Staff not having been told the role that we shall adopt, or from their having been told of roles so ambiguous that it is impossible for them to advise the Government correctly. I am sorry to be using what I suppose is service language in the chamber, but I expect that most honorable members understand it.

Mr Howson - On this side!

Mr KENT HUGHES - Certainly on thisside, but a number on the other side, too.. The world that we live in, as we all know, is a constantly and rapidly changing world, and traditional lines of thought in this day and age just will not do. I am sure that the Prime Minister, having finished his overseas investigations, will agree with that statement. I believe that the conference that is to take place to-morrow will result in some -very important changes in the defence set-up. The first thing that we must realize - keeping to general principles - is that the security of the free world depends on the closest possible co-operation between the British -Commonwealth and the United States of America. Even if and when Russia agrees to a reasonable disarmament programme and proper international inspection of atomic plants, that close co-operation will still be of great value and the basis or foundation of the security of the democracies. Therefore, our defence programme, in whatever small way it is carried on, must be modelled on strengthening the British Commonwealth and the ties between it and the United States -of America. If that means, as I believe it does, that we have to aline ourselves in the Pacific more with the United States, it does not mean that there should be any loosening of ties with the British Commonwealth.

I wish to make a few suggestions at this stage. Here in the Pacific our role, in relation to defence, is like Caesar's Gaul. It is divided into three parts - local, coldwar, and emergency or hot war. In connexion with the local function, we must defend ourselves, or be prepared to defend ourselves, against sporadic raids by sea or air. Here again it is a question of equating the possible as against the probable scale of attack, which is a matter for experts. The same applies to civil defence, about which there was a lot of criticism when I was a Minister. In that connexion there is also the comparison of the possible as against the probable scale of attack, and the experts should be able to make the majority of decisions in this regard. "Secondly, we must be prepared to assist in any police action, such as that which is being undertaken in Malaya at present, as long as those nations that are our allies or friends desire it or it is deemed necessary. Thirdly, in connexion with emergencies, we must do whatever lies within our power and capacity, through Anzus and Seato, to plan our defence forces so as to assist in the overall Pacific defence strategy. If I am correct, or even partly correct, in that assertion we must surely face up to the necessity to break away from our traditional types of equipment. As the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) has so constantly insisted, we must integrate our arms, equipment and communications system with America's overall Pacific defence strategy. The first step to this end must be a conference with American service chiefs in order to ascertain their views - though we need not necessarily follow them - and learn how we can best build up our defences to assist the general Pacific defence strategy.

Of course, the Prime Minister was right when he said that we were now better equipped, and better prepared, than ever before, but the only other occasion with which such a comparison could be made was before the 1914 war, when we had compulsory military training. I was then a lieutenant in the school cadets and the Prime Minister was a captain in the Melbourne University Rifles. Such comparisons make good debating points, but they do not provide sound evidence of a good defence system. Times have changed so greatly that we must now look at things in a very different light. A system which, in this day and age, obviously could not put a division in the field in less than six months is largely, though not altogether, a waste of money.

Is our national service training scheme useful under existing conditions, or should it be altered to a system with a selective, or ballot, basis such as we find in America, where the term of service is longer and rehabilitation benefits are provided in order to make up to the serviceman for lost time?

Many other questions arise. How does St. Marys fit into the jigsaw puzzle that goes to make up the revised picture of modern warfare? Will it be able to operate at more than 50 per cent, of its capacity if we do not quickly go ahead with the production of the FN rifle? What is the opinion of the service chiefs on this matter? If we are to alter our equipment, is the right machinery being installed at St. Marys?

Still further questions arise. Was the statement made last Sunday by the ex-Chief of the Air Staff correct, or is he biased by the fact that he is now a director of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation? What was, and is, the cost of building aircraft in this country compared with what we can buy them for? Cannot the technical know-how be obtained in any other way? Have our back-room boys attempted to improve on the overseas product, and if so, what has it cost, and what has been the result in terms of aircraft production?

I do not profess to be able to answer these questions, but they all arise as a result of this discussion. Surely in this day and age we can be our age and acknowledge that this is the age of nuclear warfare, guided missiles, long-range bombers and jetpropelled transport. This is an age when, in an emergency, all our communications will lie eastwards and not westwards, and I do not think that the recent Suez trouble has made any difference to that.

My main purpose in speaking has been to ask the Prime Minister to inform the Parliament and the people of the special circumstances that have caused this review of the defence programme, and what the Government has decided shall be our role in both local and external defence. I hope that the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) will make a statement at once on the Government's decisions, because these are important matters that should not have to await consideration until the Prime Minister has a quiet or free week-end.

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