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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr EDMONDS (Herbert) .- We all like the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), but he is an amazing gentleman who can always be relied upon to make the most astonishing outbursts, especially in regard to defence. He said very, very clearly to-night, leaving nothing to the imagination, that in his opinion at least, the Labour party was opposed to any form of defence for this country. He conveniently forgets that in 1941-

Mr Howson - The honorable member is going back to those days again!

Mr EDMONDS - I know that the truth hurts, but somebody once said that one could not tell the truth too often. I remind the Government- although it does not like to be reminded of it - that in 1941, when the Liberal party and the Australian Country party had a majority in both Houses, Australia was at war, and it was the Labour party under the great John Curtin that geared this country for an all-out war effort. I remind honorable members opposite, whether they like it or not. that in those days, although the present Government parties had a majority in both Houses of the Parliament, they abdicated their responsibilities to the nation in the middle of a war. lt was the late John Curtin, and his policies that brought this country to a full state of war and, finally, to victory itself. That is not going to prevent me from reminding them of the truth. When the late John Curtin took over the responsibilities of Prime Minister and of the Government of this country, Australia's industries were still producing peace-time, and, in many cases, luxury goods. The great John Curtin, with the Labour party behind him, organized those industries and set them to the task of producing goods required for the war effort; and I challenge any member on the Government side to deny that.

Mr Howson - I do.

Mr EDMONDS - Is the great director Who sits opposite and who has no experience at all in this Parliament, and very little outside of it, prepared to deny that I am stating facts? Yet honorable members opposite get up and say that the great and grand Australian Labour party is not prepared to defend this country! So much for the suggestion by honorable members Opposite that the Australian Labour party is not prepared to do anything for the defence of this country. I do not like distinguishing between one speech and another during any debate, but after the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) had spoken to-night, there was no necessity for any other honorable member on this side to speak at all.

Mr Cramer - Then sit down.

Mr EDMONDS - The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) suggests that I sit down. I am not going to sit down, because I have something to say to him.

Government supporters interjecting,

The CHAIRMAN - Order! There is far too much interjecting. I ask honorable members to remain silent.

Mr EDMONDS - I always get a good hearing. I do not know whether on this occasion I have been sorted-out for interjections, but nobody seems to worry when interjections are made while I am speaking. In fact, I do not worry much about them myself. The Minister for the Army cited a long list of figures to-night in an effort to -explain how the money that was made available to the Department of the Army was expended. At least I must give credit to him for being prepared to rise and defend - I say " defend " advisedly - the expenditure of this money by the Department of the Army. That is certainly more than we get from the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) or the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) who represents the Minister for the Navy (Senator O'sullivan) in this chamber. The Minister for the Army told us about countless millions and hundreds of thousands and heavens knows what; but to took great care not to tell us exactly :how the money was expended.

Mr Cramer - I did.

Mr EDMONDS - The Minister told us that so much was spent on this and so much was spent on that, but he did not go further and give details of the expenditure; and I can understand his reason for failing to do so.

Mr Cramer - I will have a private session with the honorable member and give him the details.

Mr EDMONDS - I do not want a private session. It is not a matter for me; it Is a matter for this committee. The Minister for the Army, the Minister for Air and the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy have a responsibility to tell us exactly how the money is being expended. I do not think any person in this Parliament or in Australia would complain about the expenditure of £190,000,000 a year on defence if he could be assured that the money was being spent intelligently; but we are not certain of that. Concern about the way the money is expended is felt not by honorable members of the Opposition alone. All honorable members are equally concerned about it.

The Minister for Defence has made a statement, and the Minister for the Army has made a statement, but neither of them can feel very happy in view of what is being said in newspaper editorials and other press statements as well as by people outside the Parliament as to what is taking place. I do not think they are worried so much about the amount of the expenditure as they are about the way in which the money is being expended, and I am confident that no person would imagine that national service training and all the other ancillaries associated with the training of troops or air or naval personnel would cost £190,000,000. When the sum of £190,000,000 is mentioned, one thinks immediately of big projects. After all, the Government has had £200,000,000 for two years now, and it is to have £190,000,000 this year, and many big projects could have been embarked upon with all that money. The Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison), who is now on his way to Mayfair, made a great song about St. Mary's munitions factory. The estimated expenditure for St. Mary's is £23,000,000, but what will happen when that money has been spent? What purpose will St. Mary's serve? Its purpose is to produce all the items needed for training and preparation for warfare, but so niggardly has this Government been and so unintelligent has its approach been that it would seem to have the idea that the personnel who are trained will be ready waiting at St. Mary's to be issued with the equipment. The intelligent approach would be to transport the products of St. Mary's to the troops. After all, these things have to be taken hundreds of miles, but this Government has not had the intelligence to work out exactly how they are to be transported.

At the moment, we have what might be called a hill-billy road system throughout Australia, and the Government is determined not to do anything about the construction of roads. In those circumstances, it is probable that it will not be possible to transport the products of St. Mary's to points where they are to be used by the troops. When the Government talks about an expenditure of £190,000,000, is it not logical to argue that a good deal of that money should be spent an the construction of defence roads?

Mr Bowden - No.

Mr EDMONDS - The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), with his great knowledge, says it is not logical. At least, it is good to know where he stands. He says by way of interjection that he does not believe that one penny of the £190,000,000 should be spent on the preparation of defence roads in this country. How is this £190,000,000 to be spent? The Minister for the Army said to-night that a substantial part of it will be expended on the national training scheme.

Mr Cramer - That is right.

Mr EDMONDS - I want to make it clear that I am not authorized to speak for the Opposition and, therefore, I do not pretend to do so; but my personal opinion is that up to the present time the national training scheme has been a complete farce. What is more, it seems that the Government believes as I do because, overnight, it has decided that the whole system has to be changed.

Mr Cramer - Who said it has decided that?

Mr EDMONDS - As I understand the report attributed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). he said that the whole system has to be changed. He says, first of all, that the intake has to be reduced and that the period of training has to be reduced.

Mr Cramer - Who said that?

Mr EDMONDS - The Minister for the Army is not following the traditions of an intelligent Minister, because he just will not let anybody else speak. I am saying that is a statement attributed to the Prime Minister himself. The Minister for the Army should be very careful about interjecting because on one occasion he made a certain statement which put him in such a position that he had not the courage to speak again for three or four weeks. I repeat that that statement has been attributed to the Prime Minister.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed votes for the Department of Defence, Department of the Navy, Department of the Army and Department of Air, has expired.

Question put -

That the vote proposed to be reduced (Mr. Crean's amendment) be so reduced.

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