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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr J R FRASER . - I listen with respect to the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) when he speaks on the subject of defence expenditure and the speech that he has just delivered to this committee indicates quite clearly the need for the review that is to be undertaken during this week. In common with many honorable members of this Parliament, I believe that much of the expenditure of the taxpayers' money on defence has been wasteful, and that this must happen if it is not spent along the lines best suited to our defence, and in a proper manner.

I propose to refer to one item of defence expenditure which illustrates the wastage of taxpayers' money, and also the arrogance of the top naval gold braid towards the people of this country and. indeed, towards the Government and the Parliament. I refer once again to the proposal to transfer the Royal Australian Naval College from Flinders, in Victoria, to Jervis Bay, in the Australian Capital Territory. This proposal has been under discussion many times and, despite the fact that every other government from 1930 to 1956 had rejected similar proposals, earlier this year a decision was made that the college should be transferred. The subject was debated in this Parliament on several occasions, and there was a deferment of the proposal until a representative deputation saw the Prime Minister, but a subsequent Cabinet decision confirmed that the Royal Australian Naval College would be transferred from Flinders to Jervis Bay. I continued to oppose the proposal because I believed it to be completely bad and completely wasteful.

On 28th July, 1953, when the move was previously under consideration, the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who was then Minister for the Navy, announcing that the transfer would not take place, at least in that financial year, said that the proposal presented many difficulties at a time when defence expenditure could not be increased. Some weeks ago, when the budget was presented to Parliament, it was made quite clear that the estimated expenditure for the Department of the Navy, which was £39,065,000, was £11,500,000 less than the estimate for the previous year and, in fact, £9,000,000 less than actual expenditure in that year. Actual expenditure for 1955-56 was £48,023,754 and estimated expenditure for 1956-57 is £39,065,000. Therefore, th» proposed expenditure of the Department, of the Navy this year is almost exactly £9,000,000 less than the actual expenditure last year, but I am shocked to learn that the Navy still proposes to go ahead with the transfer of the Royal Australian Naval College from Flinders to Jervis Bay. It could not be done in 1953, a year in which defence expenditure could not be increased, but it is being done this year, when the expenditure on the Navy is to be reduced by £9,000,000, or almost 20 per cent.!

Another look should be taken at this proposal. Our defence policy is being reviewed this week and as the handling of the taxpayers' money to the best advantage of the defence of this country is the responsibility of this Parliament, the matter should be examined with a vc-y critical eve. I do not think that the selfishness of senior naval officers - and T use those Words quite advisedly - "should be allowed *o obscure the position. The Government should be given the fa.cts bv the Naval Board. T suggest that it has not been given them.

Sir Philip McBride - The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.

Mr J R FRASER - 1 know quite well what I am talking about. The figures quoted by the Minister for the Navy (Senator O'sullivan) in another place, and by his representative in this House, in answering our criticism of the proposal indicate that it would be necessary to provide at Jervis Bay for an enrolment of 110 cadets. Other figures that are available show that that is completely incorrect. I quoted these figures in this chamber on 20th June this year, and it is completely evident that at the present rate of recruitment and under the present system of restricted entry, there will be in 1959 not 110 cadets, as predicted by the Minister, but 49 in the Royal Australian Naval College. On the Minister's own figures as given to this Parliament this year, a staff of 94 will be required for those 49 cadets. Again quoting the Minister's words, the move from Flinders to Jervis Bay will require the enlistment of an additional four officers and 43 ratings. So that by 1959, one year after the college commences to operate at Jervis Bay, if in fact it does operate there - it will be a shocking tragedy if it does - there will be 49 or 50 naval cadets with a teaching and serving staff of 94.

Mr Hamilton - Does that include cooks?

Mr J R FRASER - It includes everybody. To secure that result, it is proposed to destroy completely the community which has been in existence at Jervis Bay for 26 years. To achieve this end, nearly 400 people will be required to leave their businesses, their employment and their homes, and actually there is no reason for it.

In point of fact, there is no necessity for a naval college to be on the coast at all, because the Minister for the Navy (Senator O'sullivan) said in answer to a written question asked by an honorable member on this side of the committee that they do no seagoing training during their course. In point of fact, the Naval College could be at Ballarat, Bendigo or any other inland city. It is simply a school. From time to time, we have heard the Minister say that it is impossible to carry on at Flinders, that the establishment there is too crowded. That is not a true or valid reason for the transfer of the Naval College, and to support that assertion. I quote the following from a letter dated 2nd June, 1956, written by a former paymaster-commander, who held a position of some responsibility at Flinders Naval Depot -

I am filled with resentment at the Government's action in deciding to re-open the R.A.N.C. at Jervis Bay. It seems such a flagrant waste of money on a project that is not required either now or in the future. As you know, F.N.D. has the space, accommodation and facilities for training both ashore and afloat.

In a further paragraph in that same letter, he says -

You must know that during the war Flinders Naval Depot was flat out as a training establishment for officers and men, also the Royal Australian Naval College. Even under the strain of this huge training scheme, the place was adequate. Yet now in the Piping days of Peace the Government has the audacity to state the training establishments are too crowded and the Royal Australian Naval College is required for other training purposes - hence the transfer. This is absurd. Another big question to take into consideration is why should cadets be entered for four years training when the main training they have is educational.

He goes on then to deal with the change that has already been made in the training scheme, and although, for obvious reasons, I refrain from mentioning names, the documents from which I am quoting are authentic. Another commander, in a letter written in June of this year, had this to say about the transfer -

Such a move would not benefit the general side of training very much in Flinders Naval Depot because conditions are only over crowded in the ward room, and the Royal Australian Naval College is too far away to become an integral part of the ward room in any expansion scheme.

Over and above this, personnel are leaving the Royal Australian Navy at such an alarming rate and recruiting is at such a low ebb that the extra facilities such a move would provide could hardly be profitably utilized.

I have given the committee figures to show the expense involved in this transfer which will mean moving from the Jervis Bay area a complete community of some 400 people. In all, 58 families will be turned out of their homes, seventeen businesses will be forced to close and every member of the community there will be thrown out of his employment by this move to establish a new place for 49 naval cadets and a staff of 94! It is perfectly obvious that the real reasons behind this move are not such as might be calculated to benefit the cadets; they seek to benefit a few senior officers who see that Jervis Bay is an ideal place in which to live and in which to spend their terms ashore.

The paymaster-commander to whom I have already referred also said in his letter-

The " Big Brass " have never ceased to resent the transfer and have continually worked to have the college returned to Jervis Bay. This fact could easily be obtained from files at Navy Office. The opening of the air base at Nowra has accentuated the efforts of the " Big Brass " to return the college to Jervis Bay. Their reason for the transfer from Flinders Naval Depot is that there has always been the objection to the college being situated on the same land and in the same vicinity as that utilized for the training of the lower deck. It's always been the opinion of the college-trained officers that it belittles their status and stature.

I suggest seriously to this committee that there is no other reason for the proposed transfer than that epitomized in the extract I have just read. The naval college officers and the navy board do not want the college anywhere near any. other naval establishment. They do not want it near the naval air training base at Nowra and they do not want it near the Flinders Naval Depot; they want it in that beautiful haven, and to achieve their objective, they are prepared to commit this country to the expenditure of a considerable sum of money, the exact amount of which has not yet been revealed. It has been estimated that the expenditure involved will include £150,000 for compensation to tenants, and in addition an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds will be required for the rehabilitation of buildings, but the Estimates under discussion allow only £63.,000 for compensation to tenants, £8,000 for rehabilitation of buildings and £1,000 for maintenance staff during the period of the changeover.

I suggest that the whole matter should be gone into again very carefully, and 1 urge the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is sitting at the table, and the other Ministers sitting on the front bench to realize that. Politics do not enter into this matter. I emphasize that I am most sincere in asserting that the proposed transfer is a shocking thing to contemplate. It should not be countenanced for a moment, and I appeal to the Government to have another look at the proposal. The honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) says that we should follow the policy pursued by the Government of

Great Britain and he referred to what is being done there. In that connexion, I quote the following from the London* " Times " of 2nd August, 1956, in which, the First Lord of the Admiralty reveals theeconomies being effected in connexion with the Navy over there -

Naval base at Scapa Flow to be closed.

Naval base, Invergordon to be reduced to care and maintenance.

Chatham and Devonport gunnery schools to beclosed. Training to be concentrated in H.M.S. Excellent at Portsmouth and in H.M.S. Cambridge at Wembury. The A.A. range at Barton's Point (Sheerness) to be closed.

Chatham and Devonport signals schools to beabsorbed in H.M.S. Mercury in Hampshire, leaving only small centres at Chatham and Devonport; for minor training commitments.

H.M.S. Phoenix (Damage control, anti-gas, &c, school at Portsmouth) to be greatly reduced.

H.M.S. Defiance (Torpedo, anti-submarine and electrical school. Devonport), to be closed, and itsfunction absorbed in other establishments.

Royal Naval Air Station, Anthorn, to be closed.

Royal Naval Air Station, Fearn (near Invergordon), used for storage only, to be disposed of.

Royal Naval Armament Depot Woolwich, to heclosed.

Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, to be reduced to care and maintenance.

Naval Ordnance proofing range (at Kingsclere; near Newbury, Berkshire) to be disposed of.

A considerable number of minor establishments (store depots, engineering depots, boom' defence depots, camps, &c.) to be closed down.

I suggest that if the British Government,, with all the responsibility it has, finds it wise and necessary in these days to cut defence expenditure to that extent, then we should not be wasting the taxpayers' money on this proposed transfer of the Naval College from Flinders to Jervis Bay. We should not be contemplating closing down a complete community which I suggest very few members of the present Ministry have seen. I advise them to have a look at what they propose doing. I repeat that under this proposal they will turn 400 people from their homes, they will close down every business there and they will deprive the residents of the area of their employment. This should not be done.

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