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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- Contrary to the opinions that have been expressed from the other side of the chamber, I want to' say that, in my opinion, the Australian nation has every cause to be proud of the defence policy that has been pursued by this Government since it came to office in 1949. As a private member of this Parliament, and as a Government supporter, I am proud to have been associated with a government which has adopted the defence policy that we have seen gradually being given effect to over a period of years. It is ludicrous to suggest that there has been inefficient expenditure of public moneys on defence, in view of the contribution that has been made by this nation in Korea, in the Seato area, in Malta, in Malaya and at Woomera, and also in view of what happened only a few days ago, when a flight of Canberra bombers took off from Amberley airport, flew right round Australia in 15 hours and successfully bombed the targets that had been set for them. They were allowed only three minutes over the targets in which to drop their bombs. The fact that we have such an efficient Air Force and such a great Navy, and that our Army and defence services generally are stronger than they have ever been in Australia's peacetime history, is a tribute to the Government's defence policy.

I suggest that the motion of censure moved by the Opposition, to the effect that the proposed votes for the defence services should be reduced, is one in which honorable members opposite are not really sincere. I think that they do not really support the motion and that it has been moved merely as a party political gesture. Frankly, I was somewhat disappointed to see that the appropriation for the defence services this year is only £190,000,000, instead of £197,000,000, as it was last year. I doubt whether we can really carry out a defence programme unless we have a reserve of finance. In my opinion, it would be imprudent if the defence departments fully expended their annual allocations every year, because there are cumulative commitments which have to be met from time to time. It seems to me an imprudent approach for a government, or a parliament, to maintain that there must be a rigid limitation to the appropriation for this most important of the votes that we have to consider.

Let us remember that the words uttered by the Prime Minister in 1950 and 1951, to the effect that we could enjoy an era, of peace only by preparing for war, are still true to-day. We have been able to remain at peace only because we have been prepared to defend ourselves. Australia has a responsibility to meet its defence commitments. lt cannot expect to do nothing to defend itself while the United Kingdom and other countries of the British Empire, the United States of America and other nations of the Western bloc, are contributing so heavily to their defence. In the event of aggression, we, in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, cannot ask the people of those countries to come to our aid unless we also make some contribution. We cannot expect to enjoy the privileges conferred by the Anzus and Seato treaties, and the other pacts, unless we are prepared to play our part. As a Parliament, we must recognize how strong are our obligations in this respect. Therefore, I pay tribute to the Government, to the Minister for Defence that these changes would not operate until 1957. The article went on to say -

There are now large numbers of men with basic military training who form a reservoir for the services in the event of war. 1 do not agree with the arguments advanced in this press report. (Sir Philip McBride), and the other service Ministers for the work that they have done in this field. I believe, however, that the National Service Training Scheme warrants further consideration. I read in to-day's press a suggestion that a change in the scheme was expected to involve both a reduction of intake and a variation of the length of service. It was stated, however,

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr WIGHT - Before the suspension of the sitting I said that I thought the national service training scheme warranted further consideration! I believe, and I am quite sure that all honorable members will agree, that national service training has been a wonder ful asset to our nation. In the first place, those youths who have undergone that training have proved beyond doubt to be better citizens as a result of it; but the moral values of national service training are only a by-product of the whole scheme. The true value of national service training can be assessed only when we consider to what degree it will contribute to speedy mobilization in the event of war. I do not think that at the present time national service training gives the maximum efficiency in that regard, and I believe that some changes are warranted. But in considering these changes I think it is necessary to deal with national service training as it affects the three services individually. Lads called up for national service training in the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force are required to serve in any theatre of operations; there is no restriction of the area in which they might be required to serve. In the Army, however, the situation is entirely different, and it will continue to obtain unless there is an amendment of the Defence Act or unless the only other alternative is considered, that is, that youths who are called up for training with the Army should be required to sign a document in the same way as are youths who are called up for national service training with the Navy or the Air Force.

I should very much dislike to see a reduction of the intake of national service trainees into the Navy or the Air Force. It must be recognized that the Navy needs to have available to it upon mobilization trained personnel in order to meet a rapid expansion of the organization from a peace-time to a war-time footing. It must be recognized also that that section of the Air Force which is the most highly and technically skilled is the section that suffers the highest percentage of casualties. Because the casualty rate among the skilled members of this service is so high, it is absolutely imperative that we should take every step to ensure that an adequate force is trained to meet its requirements. It is true also that there are elements of the Air Force that are not required to give such highly skilled service, and I believe that when national service trainees are being called up and are being drafted into the Air Force consideration should be given to selecting from industry, for unskilled jobs, only unskilled personnel. In other words, a more selective method of call-up could be adopted. I would oppose any suggestion that there should be a reduction of the intake of national service trainees into the Air Force.

Now let us consider the Army. I believe we recognize that because of selectivity in the call-up for the Navy and the Air Force national service training contributes towards a speeding up of the mobilization of those two services, but I say definitely that it has not contributed towards a speeding up of Army mobilization. As the press has suggested, there is a vast reservoir of trained men, but in the event of war those men would be restricted to a certain area of service. What percentage of them would volunteer for service overseas? Perhaps 25 per cent, or 50 per cent, would volunteer for such service and might be drafted into a suitable unit, but the other 50 per cent, or 75 per cent, of the unit would be completely untrained and a period of perhaps eight or nine months would elapse before the unit was sufficiently well trained to be sent overseas. The trained personnel would be required to mark time in their training while the others received training. So, as far as the Army is concerned, national service training makes no contribution towards the speed-up of mobilization; but if the system were altered I think it could make such a contribution.

I believe that, in relation to the Army, the national service training scheme should be put on a basis similar to that which obtains in regard to the Navy and the Air Force. Youths of nineteen years of age should be called up, but the call-up should not be restricted by geographical boundaries to lads who live within a 5-mile radius of drill halls. By applying such a limitation we are losing some of the very best soldiers in the country and boys who are eager to do national service training are being debarred from doing it. The scheme should be all-embracing; it should be universal. When these lads are called up at nineteen years of age they should be given an opportunity to volunteer for overseas service. Those of them who agree to serve overseas should obtain the permission of their parents, which, as we know, is essential, and they should not go into the normal national service training camps, but should be drafted to units of the Australian Regular Army.

Moreover, they should not undergo a limited period of training to be broken year by year, but should become an integral part of the unit to which they are allotted and be eligible for special payments as they develop greater skill. They should complete the full term of their national service training in the specific unit to which they are drafted and, having completed their term of duty and training, they would automatically be an integral part of that unit. They would be possessed of the esprit de corps of the unit and would be acceptable to their fellow soldiers in that unit. At the termination of their period of national service training they should become members of a reserve in the same way that naval recruits, having completed their training, become members of the Naval Reserve, and should be available for call-up in the event of mobilization. If we did that, I believe that national service training would be an asset to the country and that we would obtain the optimum of efficiency as a result of the expenditure that we are called upon to-night to approve.

If such a scheme were adopted, I believe we would be able to raise not a brigade group but a division of trained troops at a moment's notice. With one division already overseas, we would be able to devote all the time of the instructors and the nucleus that would be left behind in the training establishments to the preparation of a second division for service overseas. If we are to have defence, let us have a defence system that is operating at the optimum of efficiency, with recognition of the fact that men must be sent overseas in the event of war.

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

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