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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- We are approaching the time when the debate on the Estimates for this group of departments must conclude, and I wish to make some comments on certain remarks of Opposition members during this debate. I believe the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) to be a very moderate man. He was quite correct tonight in saying that Labour has always criticized the methods employed to build up Australia's defences. Apparently an honorable member, whom I did not hear, said that such criticism had been heard only recently, but I believe, in common with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, that Labour has always criticized the methods used to build up Australia's defences, and I would not be far wrong in suggesting that many prominent honorable members on the opposite side have always opposed any means adopted to strengthen Australia's defences. That is the main point that I wish to make.

Although there are some moderate members on the Opposition benches, there are also those who criticize the means adopted by this Government for the defence of the country, no matter what suggestions we offer in this regard. Tt has become more and more apparent that those honorable members would wish us to have no defence whatever. The honorable member for East

Sydney (Mr. Ward) said that the money spent on defence could have been used to build all the homes, schools and like amenities required in Australia. What does that mean? It means, surely, that he suggests that instead of spending money on defence we should have spent it to build homes and schools. What is the use of homes and schools and industries, and all the other things that make for better living, if we are not prepared to defend them? If an invader can sweep through this country at any time and devastate it, what is the use of our having a high standard of living, a good education system, and all the other amenities that we strive for? We must, therefore, build homes and schools while developing a defence system that will enable us to play our part with other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations and with the other free nations of the world.

I listened very carefully to the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). He said that the Australian Labour party had little to do with running the country in peacetime. He made that remark in answer to the statement that Australia at present is better equipped to defent itself than at any Other previous period during a time of peace. It is terribly true that Labour has had little to do with the running of this country during peace-time. If we disregard the war period, when the Australian Labour party was in government for approximately eight years, we find that Labour has been in power in this country for only short periods, of which I think the longest was two years and three months. When a Labour government has been in power, the people have quickly discovered that the legislation it introduced was inimical to our economic and general progress, and it has then been removed from office. The honorable member for Wills, however, in the next sentence or two said that Australia's defences were based on foundations laid by the Australian Labour party. If Labour has had practically nothing to do with the running of the country in peace-time, how could it have laid the foundations of a war effort? It is a sheer impossibility. In fact, the very opposite has been the case. Consider the Empire air training scheme, under which we sent men to Canada for training. Those men were sent overseas to prepare them for the great fight that they put up in the Battle of Britain. We are proud of our airmen who fought in that battle, who won the day and won commendation from every one in the free world, particularly from Mr. Wniston Churchill. All the foundations upon which our Navy, Army and Air Force were built during the last war were laid by a government of the same character as the one in government to-day. Of course, the Labour government came to power afterwards, and, in all fairness, I agree that it did a reasonably good job. But the Labour party cannot now claim the credit for laying the foundations of our war effort. That would be quite illogical.

Does any one suggest that we should man the whole of our coastline at present? To satisfy some Labour speakers, we would have to do so. It was pointed out that we have a certain number of servicemen available, and one Labour supporter asked whether those men could man our coastline. Of course they cannot. It is unreasonable to suggest that we should try to man the whole of our coastline. We need a mobile force, and this Government intends to develop a mobile force to strike at any enemy who strikes at us. The developments in the Suez Canal dispute recently have made it even more apparent that we need this kind of defence.

In dealing with the statements made by back-benchers, I am not dealing with opinions of those who are in close touch with defence matters, because honorable members on both sides of the chamber, whether supporters of the Labour party, the Liberal party or the Australian Country party, have very little idea of the real cost of defence equipment and maintenance. To-night, we heard a very reasoned speech by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). An honorable member asked who had written his speech, or where he got it from. Of course, he got the material he used in it from the experts. He would be quick to agree, as would the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley), that he is not an expert on all matters. The Government employs experts, who compute the costs and supply the Ministers with statements on various matters, and honorable members can be assured that these statements are made with authority by the Ministers concerned. A statement of that kind is far more valuable than one made by a backbencher. It would be fantastic for me to attempt to evaluate the cost of defence equipment and maintenance.

To-night, we heard also the former Minister for the Army in the Labour government, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers). I heard him make a certain statement on three different occasions, and I made a note of it. He said that, just after the war, he went to Japan, saw the devastation caused by the atom bomb, and said, " Let us have total disarmament ". But when, after having been Minister for the Army for nearly four years, he handed over to the incoming Minister, he said that our military forces were of a high standard.

Mr Edmonds - Were they not?

Mr TURNBULL - The honorable member says they were, but how could he reconcile that with his claim that there should be total disarmament? The two are not compatible. When the Minister said to-night that the national service training scheme had been an unqualified success, there was a fantastic interjection by none other than the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) who said, " Why change it? " Does the honorable member mean that a certain scheme, once adopted, should be continued indefinitely?

Mr Edmonds - If it has been successful, why not?

Mr TURNBULL - The Minister was speaking in the past tense. He said, " It has been an unqualified success ". The honorable member for Herbert, who lives most of the time in the past, cannot see why any change should be made.

All these things lead the public to believe that Labour is not very anxious to see a strong defence organization created in this country. Is the Labour party, as a whole, in favour of national service training? If a vote were taken, it would be seen that some Labour supporters are, and some are not. There is a difference of opinion such as exists in regard to everything else that Labour does. Generally speaking, I believe that Labour is not in favour of the national service training scheme.

The honorable member for Wills said that he had ascertained that in the metropolitan area 4,000 men had been exempted from training and in the country, 22,000. Surely he knows that there are no exemptions, but only deferments. If a boy is eighteen or nineteen and obtains a deferment he can be called up at any time before he reaches the age of 26. The honorable member for Willis says that he is in the Citizen Army and goes to camp with these lads, yet he does not know the difference between an exemption and a deferment!

According to the honorable member's figures there have been 4,000 exemptions in the city and 22,000 in the country. Let us assume that those figures are correct, and let us use the word " deferment " instead of the word " exemption ". Why have these deferments been granted? Labour says that it is a great injustice. Obviously the Army, deciding that it did not need quite so many men in the forces and could limit the intake, has adopted the principle of granting deferments to those whose services Australia, in its present stage of development, most needs. One can assume that most of the 22,000 men outside of the metropolitan area, whose training has been deferred, are engaged in primary production. By the same token, most of the 4.000 in the metropolitan area whose training has been deferred are engaged in essential secondary industry, or are students of medicine, science or some other necessary and important subject. Who would suggest that the greater proportion of deferments offered in the country is not very proper at the present time, when we are fighting to overcome our adverse balance of payments? Ninety per cent, of our exports are primary products, and in this category is the best field for increased output for export. This Government would be remiss in its obligation to the people if it adopted any other course; yet the honorable member for Wills sees fit to criticize it!

Honorable members will recall Labour's attitude to the sending of troops to Malaya. Every Labour speaker opposed it; but not one Opposition member has referred to it during the present debate.

Mr Edmonds - Why is that?

Mr TURNBULL - The Labour party discovered, from Gallup polls and other indications, that the people were in favour of Australia co-operating with the United Kingdom and New Zealand in Malaya. Labour is always anxious to jump onto the' band wagon and say, " We had better quieten down a bit. The people are not with us on this." What kind of a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations would we be if we refused to send forces to fight in Malaya in co-operation with those of the United Kingdom and New Zealand?

Much of the money provided in the Estimates of late years has been spent in connexion with the recent war in Korea. I remind honorable members that, had the Russian delegate been present at the Security Council of the United Nations, he would have vetoed any proposal to take action in the Korean dispute. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was most enthusiastic while the negotiations on the Korean dispute were proceeding. As I have said previously, and will say again and again-

Mr Peters - Why must the honorable member do that?

Mr TURNBULL - The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) asks why I keep repeating it. I do so in order to show the people where Labour stands on these matters. As soon as there is any question of fighting, and of defending our country beyond its own shores, Labour fades out. Honorable members can see how quiet the Opposition is to-night. As a rule I receive many interjections, but to-night there has been hardly one. When the shooting war began in Korea, Labour made no move to help in the recruitment of the men who later fought to preserve the liberty of this country.

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

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