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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) .- 1 wish to refer to the defence vote in a general way. I support the amendment of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) that the vote be reduced by £1 as a protest by the Opposition against the Government's reckless spending of huge amounts of public money year after year without being able to show any tangible results. Again, this year, the Government proposes to spend £190,000,000 on the defence services. In the past six years, more than £1,000,000,000 has been spent on defence, yet our essential lines of communication - shipping, railways and roads - have never before been in such a deplorable state as they are now.

The Government appears to have no intention of standardizing the railway gauges. The railway permanent way and the rolling stock in all States continue to wear out and depreciate, while the capital debt of the railway system remains. Harbours and rivers in all States are becoming increasingly difficult for shipping. The road system is a disgrace to the nation. I know that supporters of the Government will say that the roads are a State responsibility, but 1 submit that, in present conditions and with the finance available to them, it is impossible for the States to implement a roads programme. The roads in Queensland are worse than those in any other State. 1 visited that State recently, and saw conditions for myself. In many cases, there are no bridges, and the roads are so narrow that two vehicles cannot pass. In many places, it is impossible to get along the roads if nearby rivers rise. We can imagine what would happen on those highways in time of war. North Queensland needs from 1,000 to 1,500 miles of new roads for defence purposes.

The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) said that he believed defence should not be regarded from a parochial viewpoint, but should be considered broadly. We all agree with that proposition. If Australia is to be defended properly we shall have to throw overboard the present defence policy of the Government. Obviously, our lines of communication should be overhauled immediately in the light of developments that will follow the introduction of automation into industry and the development of nuclear industries. The nation should be working overtime to place railways and road transport facilities on the highest level so that we may have freedom of movement in war. There should be a national roads system around the coast from east to west and from north to south.

Honorable members who saw a film which was shown in Parliament House recently by a representative of Le Tourneau Westinghouse Proprietary Limited know that great progress has been made in the United States of America in the production of huge diesel electric trains, as well as of machines which are capable of going long distances over almost impossible terrain. They carry huge V2 missiles and rockets. Probably, in the defence of Australia in a future war, we shall have to launch such missiles from our coastline at various places. If those vehicles were manufac.tured in Australia, or brought here, it would be useless to try to operate them on the roads system which we have at the present time. Mobility of action on our roads will be one of the main essentials in future defence.

The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) has been lauding the Government's national service training scheme. I should not have touched on this matter except that I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on 26th September whether or not it was a fact that young mcn who had given good service to the nation had been discharged unfit from the services without either compensation or repatriation benefits, and the Prime Minister, evading the question completely, said -

If the honorable member is pleased to refer to any deficiency in the strength of the armed services, may I say that I can hardly ever remember his putting a question in this House which was not calculated to discourage persons who might have considered entering the armed forces.

It is useless for the Prime Minister to hide and seek to avoid responsibility for the Government's action in not providing adequate and proper benefits for persons who are injured while in the armed services.

The honorable member for Maranoa said that all the national service trainees to whom he had spoken thought that the -scheme was one of the best that had ever been brought into being. There has been a huge waste of public money on national service training. That money could have been used to far better purpose in improving the nation's communications. A huge labour force has been wasted. This year an amount of £54,987,000 will be appropriated for salaries and general expenses in the Department of the Army. Many lads who have undergone national service training have expressed grave dissatisfaction, not with the work they have done or the training they have undergone, but with the way in which many of them have been treated. Many who were injured have not been fairly compensated for their injuries. I do not blame the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) for the matter I am about to mention. At Singleton to-day there is a huge national service training camp, with hardly any one in it. Boys from Newcastle and northern New South Wales are being taken to Shellharbour to undergo training. Needless expense is involved in making this journey when their training could be undergone within 50 miles of their homes. Last week-end, some of them told me that at Shellharbour there are no bathing facilities, that they have to tip water over themselves in order to have a bath, and that there are no amenities in the camp. If we are to have a contented army and encourage young men to join, we have to treat them better than that.

Mr Wight - Why do you want to reduce the proposed vote? It would have to be increased in order to provide the things that you want.

Mr GRIFFITHS - We do not need to increase the expenditure, but it should be applied in a better way. A huge expense is involved in transporting men from northern New South Wales to Shellharbour, although modern camps exist round Singleton and other areas from which they come. My own boy was in a camp recently, and he told me that many instructors had no idea of encouraging boys in their training. When a lad dropped his rifle, his instructor made him get down in front of the whole platoon or company, and pick the rifle up. and in doing so kiss the rifle and say aloud, so that the whole group could hear, that he loved his rifle. Government supporters may laugh, but there is nothing worse or more likely to upset the mental equilibrium of a young man than to humiliate him in front of his mates. Any honorable member opposite would not regard as a laughing matter an attempt to humiliate him in front of others.

Mr Turnbull - That would be an isolated case.

Mr GRIFFITHS - It is not an isolated case. There have been instances where young men who committed some minor offences were brought out in front of the platoon and told to do so many body presses, and, when their physical conditions prevented their continuing, they were told to put their hands behind their heads and duck walk round the parade ground. These are some of the conditions that prevail under the present training scheme.

Mr Anderson - What about calling a man a scab?

Mr GRIFFITHS - The honorable member is a scab. He would rather have Chinese in Australia, because they would not answer back. Quite possibly Government supporters want these conditions to prevail. 1 contend that if we are to continue, as we must continue, with our defence programme, we should at least train these lads in a proper way. Last Easter, my own son was in camp. In order to get home he had to hire a taxi from Sydney, because the trains could not carry him. The officers in charge of the camp refused to let the trainees out of the camp or to tell them at what time they would be given leave to go home. After Easter lads were sleeping all night on Central Station and suburban stations, in Sydney. Things of this sort upset, and possibly sour, the minds of the young men who are, at eighteen or nineteen years of age, in need of all the instruction that they can get. Instances occur of young men, who have given good service to the country, being discharged on medical grounds without any compensation. In this chamber recently I referred to a young member of the Navy, an engine room artificer, who had served for ten years and then been discharged because he was found to be below the Navy's physical standard. He has been refused Commonwealth employees' compensation, although he is suffering from a complaint caused by his service. The Repatriation Department has ruled that his condition is not due to his service, although he has been discharged suffering from a nervous disorder. If we are to keep young men in the Army and the other services we must provide for them and keep them in contentment and satisfied in their work.

Tin CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).-

Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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