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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) . - I move -

That the clause be postponed. as an instruction to the Government -

To present a new vote for Defence Services in the light of the re-assessment of the nation's defence needs now taking place.

Mr. Chairman,in the consideration of the Estimates in the Committee of Supply, the Opposition moved that the proposed vote for Defence Services be reduced by £1, which was the traditional way of censuring the Government for its defence policy. The reasons given by Opposition members for that action were based on two grounds. The first was that there had been extravagance in the large defence expenditure during the six years this Government had been in office. The defence expenditures in that period amounted to approximately £1,031,000,000. Opposition speakers claimed that the Government had not placed the Parliament in possession of all the facts in relation to those expenditures and claimed that value had not been received for all the money that had been spent. Numerous illustrations were given. Some of them were taken from critical references in the annual reports of the Auditor-General, others from criticisms made during the course of inquiries by the Public Accounts Committee, and others from the kind of criticisms that we read in letters to editors of newspapers throughout Australia. The Opposition based its motion of censure, first on extravagance and lack of information about what had been obtained for the expenditure of these vast amounts of money; and, secondly, on the fact that the Government did not know where it was going and that we had never been given any indication by the Government of overall strategy or policy. This is underlined by the announcement made by the Prime Minister a week or so ago of a revision " from top to bottom " of the defence policy of Australia. That announcement provides confirmation from the highest authority that at this stage Australia does not know where it is going with its defence policy. It is an indication that the Government itself believes that all is not well in 1956 with Australia's defence policy. The amendment is proposed, above all, for the reason that this Parliament is responsible for ensuring that money is voted only for the purposes stated in the Estimates. That cannot be the position with these defence Estimates, which have been prepared in advance of the plans for the spending of the money. The premises on which the provision of £190,000,000 in these Estimates is based are no longer valid, and this Parliament would be abdicating its responsibility for granting finance if it did not seek at least a withdrawal of this provision. The Government should present a fresh set of defence Estimates, perhaps in a few weeks, when the top-level conferences have finished, and when the Government has some indication of what its policy should be.

Suggestions - denied by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) - have been made in some quarters that there is to be a total revision of Australia's national service training scheme. It is true that at this stage the Minister denies that that revision will be made, but if it is made and there is a change in the scheme, the amount which we are voting in the Estimates for the Army will no longer be soundly based. A suggestion has also been made that in future greater emphasis than hitherto will be placed on the Air Force. In other words, it is presumed that less money will be provided for the Army and more for the Air Force. The Parliament must be mindful of the fact that it does not pass a bloc vote for the various defence departments. It provides a separate, individual vote for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Department of Defence, the Department of Supply, the Department of Defence Production, &c. In each instance a specific amount is provided, and if the discussion which commenced, I understand, to-day and will continue for some weeks, lead to an alteration of defence plans, these Estimates will no longer be reliable, and the committee knows at the moment that they are not reliable. Yet the committee will, coldly, in' a minute or two, vote £190,000,000 for purposes which are specified in the Estimates, knowing that the Estimates do not disclose the real figures for the year ending June, 1957.

The Opposition is, therefore, taking this opportunity to give the committee a chance to revise this all-important matter, so that the Government may withdraw the present set of Estimates and bring along another set which will be true and will disclose the expenditure which is really going to be incurred in the current financial year. The Parliament is an elected, representative body, and it is traditional that money, once voted by Parliament, can be used only for a specific purpose. Without a shadow of doubt, this £190,000,000 will, finally, not be applied to the various categories of expenditure enumerated in the Estimates. This Government's defence expenditure has been of such a nature that the Estimates presented to the Parliament at the beginning of a financial year have been found, at the end of the year, to be entirely wrong. The various defence heads have, from time to time, said that they regard the defence of this country as one overall service, but that is not the basis upon which Parliament makes its appropriations to various sections of the defence forces. Each section has a specific amount allocated to it. This country has set its face against the practice which, I understand, is followed in Great Britain, whereby appropriations for defence purposes tend to be made in a bloc vote. Under that system, if £200,000,000 is allocated, and the Army spends less than is estimated and' the Navy or the Air Force spends more, no notice is taken of it. But that is not the situation here, as has been stated in two or three recent annual reports of the Public Accounts Committee. If Parliament wants it that way, let Parliament so decide, but, until then, let us not make a mockery of our procedures. We know that the figures before us are a mockery, because, when the Parliament rises in a week or two, there will have been a re-allocation, a reorientation, a new direction altogether, in each of the arms of defence in this country. We, therefore, take this opportunity, in the short time that is at our disposal, to air our hostility to this procedure.

I repeat that we feel there has been extravagance over the years in defence expenditure. Examples were cited which I cannot recapitulate to-night. This party has, for more than twelve months, made the criticism that the Government does not know where it is going with its defence policy. If final . confirmation of that contention was needed, it was given last week by the Prime Minister, when he requested a thorough examination, as he said, " from top to bottom " of the whole defence expenditure of this country.

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