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Thursday, 2 May 1957

Sir WILFRED KENT HUGHES (Chisholm) . - The National Service Bill is probably the most important bill that we have had before us in this sessional period, and therefore I regret very much that it has been used in this fashion as a stop-gap. I know that the Government announced the general principles some time ago, but the bill was brought in only yesterday. The debate was supposed to take place to-day but I understand that it is to continue only until 6 o'clock. I do not think the streamlining of parliamentary procedure to that extent adds to the dignity of Parliament. It does not add to the standard of debate and, in the same way it endangers the preservation of what I would call, for want of a better term, the democratic ideal. Therefore, I can only strongly protest against such an important bill being handled in this way. because members of Parliament, and also the outside public want to know, not only the general principles, but also the details of the new scheme. They are entitled to know these things because so many people are affected throughout the community.

The National Service Bill was first introduced on 21st November, 1950, and the Minister who introduced it said then that the first reason for its introduction was the contribution that could be made in that way 10 the defence preparedness of the country. The second reason was that it would improve the physical fitness of our young manhood - using that phrase in the widest sense. We all agreed with him and to a very large extent, so far as the physical fitness and training of national character is concerned, the scheme has been and is an unqualified success. However, as far as its contribution to defence preparedness is concerned, unfortunately I am amongst those who feel that in its present form it is an unqualified failure. The Opposition need not think I am going to be lured into supporting any motions it may move, just becauseI happen to approve of certain things that the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has said. When one considers the Labour party's defence policy as outlined in Brisbane, one arrives at the conclusion that it is not a defence policy at all. It is merely a case of " get out of everything you possibly can, spend your defence money in other directions and leave it to others to look after your security in the future". That will not help this country or its people in any way whatsoever.

Nevertheless, having said that, at the outset, in order to make my position quite clear, I admit that certain errors with regard to judgment - and as far as I am concerned I take my share of the responsibility of that as a member of this party - were made in November, 1950. Perhaps, at that time, we should have looked a bit further ahead and not instituted quite the scheme we did. but I still say that it has been of very greai value and if it has got to go, I am very sorry to see it go. I should like to see the scheme continue, because the best education I ever received was after I left school, during my first six months in the army, when, as the " dear old sergeant " of the Greasy Point platoon from Williamstown, the wharf lumpers took me in hand. It is an excellent education for all of us, no matter from where we come, to be put through a course of what is known as " shuffling up the pack ". In that sense and in that respect, in teaching us discipline or in teaching us many useful things the national service training scheme, if it could be continued in relation to civil defence, or something of that nature, as I hope it may be, would be a very good thing.

Do not let us fool ourselves that it hasadded anything to our defence potential.. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated very clearly that we are no longer able to count defence potential in terms of numbers of partly trained men. In other words, the national service training scheme helps to' make good citizens, tut it does not help, unfortunately, in this day and age to make good soldiers. I said before and I reiterate that a defence policy which means that we cannot put a division in the field in under six months is hardly appropriate or useful, particularly when we are dealing with partly trained men who have not volunteered for overseas service and are therefore no longer of any real value.

Personally - and I will deal with the matter later - I hope that the Defence Act will be altered because it is high time we dropped this business, " We are good fighters, but we do like to fight at home It was an accusation made with a great deal of truth during the last days of World War II. In some ways the idea of continuing the national service training scheme as part of the defence policy, is, I think, a dangerous delusion because it leads people to adopt the attitude of mind that we are really doing something in regard to our defence policy. It might add a little to it but so little as not to be of any value. It is rather like in the early days of last war when we put light horse units into camp. As a lighfhorseman of World War I., I have a very great love for the tradition, history and everything else connected with the light horse, but the light horse was of no use at all in the last war.

It is no use allowing our perspective to be distorted by our affection for the Citizen Military Forces and the tradition that lies behind those units. That is a grave mistake. I should like to say one thing with regard to the C.M.F. A calm, cold analysis of the result of six years' experience with national service training, proves that the C.M.F. has not benefited, but on the contrary that national service training has been very much to its detriment. Diluted as it is with national service trainees, C.M.F. volunteers have fallen off, and the enthusiasm which was once its main characteristic has seriously deteriorated. If it can be carried on as before with volunteers and thereby help to provide leaders, officers and non-commissioned officers who cannot be trained in six months* so much, the better. I must say that enthusiasm _ becomes dampened and efficiency slowly disintegrates when you carry on series after series of what is known in the Army as. " tewts " - tactical exercises, without troops. Therefore in some small way the revised scheme may provide some of the troops for the training of our leaders.. After all, one has to remember that it takes much longer to train leaders than it does to train the rank and file. If any honorable member has any doubts on that matter I suggest he read a book written by one Field Marshal Sir William Slim, entitled "Defeat into Victory ". Certain passages of this book would be very enlightening to those who have any doubts as to the length of time it takes to train officers, non-commissioned officers and men and to convert them into a hard-hitting efficient mobile fighting unit.

I do not know what the Chiefs of Staff think of the Government's proposals. The Parliament cannot know what they think. Not so very long ago, I dreamed that a Chief of Staff was invited by the Cabinet to give his frank opinion on such things as national service training; and he did.

Mr Mackinnon - That was not a dream; that was a nightmare.

Sir WILFRED KENT HUGHES - Perhaps it was. He asked, " Is it desired only to be able to put one division into the field after six months? " I do not know at what intervals other divisions were to follow, but we shall say that there was to be a second one in nine months, and so on. The dream went on until he was asked to appear before Cabinet a second time. At that stage, I woke. As with most dreams, a clear recollection of everything has not remained. I have forgotten the name of the Chief of Staff in question, and I am unable to say whether there was any reality in the dream.

The Government is responsible for defence policy, and no Chiefs of Staff can in any circumstances run counter to government policy. The Parliament itself has a responsibility to tender advice to the Government in matters of this kind, and even individual members may tender advice on policy if they disagree with what is proposed. The national service training proposals are only part of the Government's plans for defence re-organization. Although I consider that parts of the Government's plans are inconsistent and unrealistic, 1 think that the proposals that were placed before the House by the Prime Minister on 4th April represent a great advance on the existing scheme of things. Having said that, I go on to say that I have very grave doubts about the national service proposals. I cannot see why, if 25,000 national service trainees a year would not suffice, we should do any better with 12,000, especially as such trainees have not volunteered for overseas service and cannot be sent abroad. This brings me back to the point that no one wants war. Nevertheless, we must have a defence policy, in the present state of the world, either as an insurance policy or as a deterrent. If it is to be an insurance policy, let it at least be realistic and worthwhile. As to its being a deterrent, I suppose that there are many aspects of the defence proposals that it would not be in order for me to mention in the debate on this bill.

I remind honorable members again that we should compare the expenditure for every head of the population in Australia with that, not of older countries that are well developed, but of younger countries such as Canada. I think that, in these terms, our expenditure is only about 50 per cent, of that of Canada. Some honorable member may say, " No one is criticizing us abroad ". Have honorable members read to-day's newspapers? One headline is -

Australia must play bigger part in Pacific defence says Admiral Stump.

I would describe Admiral Felix B. Stump, the United States Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific, in good old British terms, as a gallant sea-dog. Here he has spoken in diplomatic words, but any one who cannot read between the lines is blind only because he does not want to read. Admiral Stump said also -

No matter what happens in the world, the United States and Australia will have to be on the same side.

He also made the following comment: -

The United States and Australia are in the same pot, whether they like it or not . . .

I think we like it. I do, and that does not weaken my ties with the Mother Country, as I. have already said in this House. But Australia should not be just the flavour of gallic rubbed round the edge of the pot, or a small pinch of herbs tossed into the siew. In plain terms, 1 think we should consider this matter a little more closely than we have done in the past. Does Australia expect the younger generation in Britain, Canada, and the United States of America to fight for, and the taxpayers of those countries to pay for, our security in the future?

Mr Curtin - Australians have never indicated that before.

Sir WILFRED KENT HUGHES - They have not done so, but they have a moral obligation which, perhaps, the honorable member may not understand. If we wish to call on the aid of our allies, we have a moral obligation to share the burden. This was stated very clearly by the Prime Minister in these words - . . I want to give emphasis to the belief of the Government and, I am sure, of the Australian people-

He might very well have added " irrespective of the honorable member for KingsfordSmith "- that we would not, except at our peril, think of the defence of Australia as a purely local matter, confined within the Australian coastline . . . We cannot expect the defensive assistance of the great democratic Powers unless we are ourselves prepared to take a proper part in the common defence.

Those are excellent words, which we as a parliament must translate into deeds and not allow to remain only as excellent words. This is where I think the re-organization of the national service training scheme and the Army falls short of what is worthy of the Australian nation. One can hark back to the past, if one likes, and say that other people have made mistakes. Those of us who can cast our minds back to World War I. can recall some of the criticisms that we heard then. We can still hear echoing down the corridors of time the cry, " You were too proud to fight ", which, at the end of World War I., was directed at nationals of one country, and that of " You fellows are grand fighters, but you do like to fight at home ", which was directed at nationals of another country in World War II. Each of. us can decide for himself whether there was any justice in those emotional criticisms which we all want to forget. No one wants to bring them up again. We must rise above them, and remember that Australia is a very responsible member of the family of free nations in the Pacific. Assuch, it is not sufficient for us to be prepared only to provide, from national service training, a partly-trained reserve sufficient only for support and reinforcements for one brigade group and one battalion group. That is not enough, because 12,000* partly-trained men a year will be of no more value - and, indeed, of rather less value - than 25,000. We have to look at the problem in that light.

In the midst of the Coral Sea Week celebrations, to which we have invited Admiral Stump as guest of honour, is any member of this House going to say that we should merely give lip service in the praise that we give to our own servicemen and those of our allies who fought in the Coral Sea Battle which we are now celebrating, and which saved us from our enemies in those days? Shall we say, in the midst of this week of commemoration, that the tasks of defence should be left to taxpayers and the younger generation of our friends and allies in Britain, Canada and America who, for some years past, have been subject to two years or eighteen months of compulsory military training with obligation for overseas service? The Australian Labour party will never have at any price compulsory training for overseas service. We saw that during World War II. The Labour Government established Australia's line of defence on the footpath in front of our house, as it were, and refused to allow our troops to go beyond this artificial line.

Surely, in a time such as this, we shall not so reduce our national service training scheme and our establishment of permanent troops as to permit us to have available for service overseas only one brigade group and one battalion group! If what the Prime Minister said about the dangers of communism in South-East Asia is correct - it is on record for honorable members to read - this brigade group will have to be composed of supermen to be able to carry Australia's full responsibility. Therefore, we must ask ourselves what this revised national service training target of 12,000 trainees a year will achieve. I think it represents the worst of both worlds. It neither constitutes a scheme of universal training, nor does anything to increase our defence potential except so far as it releases a certain number of permanent army men from training duties. In a lighter vein, I do not know what we will do with all the sergeant-majors. Perhaps we shall have to tie them up in bundles of ten and return them to the stores. However, that is another problem. But if 2,000 men are to be released by reducing national service training, then 4,000 would be released, if we eliminated national service training; and 4,000 is the strength of another brigade group. They may not all be suitable. The sergeant-majors have done a wonderful job and do not let it be thought that I am slinging off. They have done the job excellently and I am sorry for them, because it will be hard to know what to do with the surplus non-commissioned officers. But if we wiped out national service training, practically 4,000 men would be released and that would provide a second brigade group. That is something which has to be taken into consideration, because what is the proposed partly trained reserve going to do?

First of all, if an emergency breaks out - and I hope it never will - men in reserved occupations will have to be sorted out. How many of them will there be? Then we will have to call for volunteers, because unless we alter the Defence Act - I believe it should be altered - only volunteers can go overseas. Then we will have to start all over again with a re-organization of units from scratch. Therefore, we might as well start off voluntary recruiting in the first place without bothering about all this administration and sorting out, and still have a division trained for service within six months providing we have the officers and non-commissioned officers.

Mr Cramer - There are the volunteers.

Sir WILFRED KENT HUGHES - As I said earlier, I hope we can carry on the Citizen Military Forces with volunteers, but I think the Citizen Military Forces are sliding down hill in the present circumstances. Therefore, I think it is better to abolish the scheme than to delude ourselves that this outward and visible form is something worthwhile in defence whereas it has no actual substance in fact. We are still going to ask other young men of our allies and the people we look to for support to do what we are not prepared to ask our young men in Australia to do. If we are to drop completely the universality of national service training - it was curtailed to a certain extent a little while ago - I would rather see a selection by ballot of lads who would go in for eighteen months, be properly trained instead of partially trained, and also be available for overseas service. But do not ask them to give up such an amount of their time without compensation by way of rehabilitation. Ask any exserviceman on either side of this House what it meant to try to start off again in the face of handicaps which confronted him when he returned home. Even with rehabilitation, good as it was, the ex-serviceman had a very difficult problem compared to those who had not been away.

The plan I have suggested would provide at least a division - head-quarters, ancillary troops and three brigade groups - in two years and then they would go, fully trained, into reserve and others would take their place. If such a proposal is adopted it will be necessary to institute some form of compensating rehabilitation benefits as has been done in other countries. I think it would be right and proper.

Although I know we have no actual legal commitments with regard to Seato, should we not ask ourselves what our allies in Seato think about this limited effort on the part of Australia? A country of 10,000,000 people can only produce one brigade group and one regimental group for service overseas! I know there are other aspects of the defence policy, and we can discuss those when we discuss the main defence statement; but one brigade group is only playing with the problem. At least we could have two brigade groups by wiping out. national service training altogether and a whole division by instituting the scheme that has been operating in Great Britain and America for several years past. I know the difficulties with which this Government has been faced. To my knowledge it has been struggling with them for at least two years, if not three; but it is no good producing a scheme that is not workable. This scheme may be workable, but it is certainly not useful even though it may please the largest number of people. If we can retain national service training for civil defence or for citizenship, that is all right, but do not put it down to defence expenditure. In trying to placate the greatest number, I think we are making the worst case possible for the Army itself. It is now seven months since this defence re-organization was undertaken, if I remember rightly, and all we have achieved is a certain number of general principles. But the world moves much faster than that these days. I do not want to deal with the full picture on this bill, but 1 do say that we should either completely abolish national service training or reorganize it on the basis that has been operating in America and Britain. We could then have at least two brigade groups, and possibly a whole division, with the fully trained reserve. If that were done we would be taking some steps to enable Australia to play a bigger part in Pacific defence. Otherwise we shall be leaving it all to the other fellow and getting away with an expenditure of £20 a head as against £109 in America and £53 or £54 in Canada. I am certain that the people of Australia, if given the right lead, will agree to one of the two schemes I have suggested, and also to end this limitation of overseas service to volunteers.

I have not made these remarks in any spirit of carping criticism of the Government. I know the difficulties facing it, par.ticularly the difficulties that the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) has been up against. He was most unfairly criticized in a " Sydney Morning Herald " leading article recently. I have reason to know certain things and I have a reason for saying that. I appeal to the Government and to members on both sides of the House. The last defence policy of the Opposition was practically to wreck the whole show, and T appeal to honorable members opposite to lake a more realistic view. We have not been doing what we as a nation should do, and therefore I would ask the Government to have another look at this problem before it institutes a foreshortened system of national service training, which to my mind - and I feel this very strongly - is partly a waste of money and largely a waste of effort.

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