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Thursday, 2 May 1957

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- The resumption of the debate is on a statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) which has been printed and circulated to members of this House. It refers to the new and, I think, the fifth or sixth defence plan that has been brought down by the Prime Minister. It is well bound and presented as a useful parliamentary document, but I must say that anybody seeking a solid, integrated defence plan would be bitterly disappointed with the document because the " lead-in ", as newspapermen would call it, is some dissertation upon total war, global war and all the planners' language in relation to war which takes up at least one-third of the first section of the document. The lead-off, of course, is an attack on the Communists when this country desires only to exist and, in order to exist, must co-exist.

So somewhere in this volume there is a slim content of what the Government hopes to do in the future, and to that section of it I will bend my remarks. It is not so much what the Prime Minister has said but what he has left out that requires some elucidation. The first question that springs to the mind of every Australian whether he supports those on this side of the House or those on the treasury bench is this: What has happened to the £1,000,000,000 that has been expended in defence in the last six years? Echo answers: " What indeed? " Because, on the admission of this statement, there is no defence worth a tinker's damn in Australia to-day.

Mr Cramer - You were told in the budgel what had been done with the money.

Mr HAYLEN - Never mind that. What is important is what I am telling the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) now, and I. want the Minister, as one of the service Ministers, to listen because this is above party and above politics and is of vital importance to the people. A huge sum of £1,000,000,000 has been dissipated in six years, and there is nothing to show for it.

Mr Cramer - That is not true.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!

Mr HAYLEN - Are we reverting slowly to the position that existed in 1939-41? The Prime Minister is a perfectionist in slipping backwards. In 1939-41, we heard the same remarks. Everything in the garden was lovely. The oratory was there, but the tanks were not. Now we are in the same position, with strategy shot to pieces and everybody worrying themselves to death about what sort of war we will be fighting if it comes. Everywhere there is fear of what the awful consequences will be, but even in the essentials, the old accepted ideas of defence, we are sadly lacking.

Let us take the Army first, and the Minister should listen to this carefully. He cannot be happy about the abject failure of the national defence scheme. A few hours ago this House buried it gently and without ceremony. On this side of the House we pointed out that an army of 12,000 trainees is just nothing to shake the chancelleries of Europe as Australia's defence plan. That is what it has come to now.

This was another scheme about which the Prime Minister made a magnificent oration. He is always the expert entrepreneur, promising a good performance, but he walks away and there is no performance. That is the situation that the Minister for the Army has had to face up to to-day. I leave that matter now and will revert to the situation facing the Minister for the Army later. The Government substituted the volunteer system which in our day was good, strong and vital, and now the system of calling up the youngsters has failed, simply because the Army administration could not carry it. It was eating the heart out of other sections of the Army - the Citizen Military Forces and the Regular Army which must provide the personnel to train the youngsters. Thus, we come back to the bitterness of birthday battalions and lottery lads going into the Army! The Minister cannot be proud of that, lt was a terrible performance.

Now I turn to the Navy. The Navy is a good, solid service, but I did not see a line in the Prime Ministers statement to suggest that the Navy is concentrating on submarines as it should be doing. I am merely a student of war - probably a poor one - who tries by study and as an amateur to understand the elements of defence. As Clemenceau has said, " War is too important to leave to generals ". I think that perhaps because of our geographical position we will be sorry that we have not thought more of submarines.

The modern trend is not to abolish the Navy. You just put it under the water where it can be protected against atomic attack. The Russians have done that ami other nations, particularly the United States of America, have followed the same policy, but we have only the pathetic story of H.M.A.S. "Hobart". It cost £2,000,000 to refit so that it could be made modern if possible. The old girl could not stand the changes. She is at Walsh Island wrapped in cotton wool and quite useless. So, £2,000,000 has been wasted. That is No. 2 indictment on the Government. Nothing of that appears in this document.

The Army is shot to pieces. It does not know where to turn on problems of strategy. The next move is to have 4,000 troops of a crack division in order of brigade, and I shall deal with that and other prospects later, as they seem to be a bit more feasible.

The Royal Australian Air Force has been waiting for years through the administration of various Ministers and various planners to know when it is to be reequipped, and with what. That has been the position year after year. Now we hear that the Air Force is to be equipped with Starfighters. The trouble with the planners in the Air Force - and not so much the personnel who are ready to do their job as usual - is that they are struggling with the words obsolete and obsolescent. The Government buys an aircraft for £1,000,000 and it is obsolete or obsolescent before it reaches this country. Technically there is not much difference in the definitions of the two words obsolete and obsolescent, but definitions can mean everything to the man who has to fly the aircraft. His sense of definitions fc extraordinarily acute.

So, we have nothing for the Army; the Minister himself admits that. In the Navy, we have the horror of what happened to H.M.A.S. -i Hoban" and the general waste of money. That is where the £1,000,000,000 has gone. In the Air Force we have this dickering to see what it will be equipped with next. Nothing is heard of the most important defence measure. During the days of the Curtin-Chifley Government the aircraft building industry was really something. It was important inasmuch as it engaged technicians. It was important in our scheme of full employment, but it was doubly and trebly important in the fact that it gave us a chance, if we could get by those first terrifying hours of total war to rebuild our cargo planes, for example, and so on. That has been touched upon lightly by the Prime Minister in his report. You can feel the same thread running through his discourse, of opportunities missed and apologies in profusion. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force all have their sad story to tell. A huge sum of £1,000,000,000 has been wasted and the people are asking where is the defence that we should have obtained from those millions that they have provided.

Then we come to administration. That will be dealt with by a member of the Australian Labour party, the gallant and honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee. He can tell this House plenty about what was revealed to the Public Accounts Committee on administration when Sir Frederick Shedden, then the top man in administration in the Department of Defence, appeared before it. " When can we mobilize? ", he was asked. Sir Frederick had not heard the word. It was something new to him. Honorable members will remember the furore that was created when one of the members of the Public Accounts Committee asked Sir Frederick, " How soon can we mobilize - instantly? ". Sir Frederick shook his head sadly. "No", he said. "When, then?", he was asked. He could not say. There it is. Even at this stage we hear how reluctantly the bureaucrats have been dragged out of Melbourne - the " top brass "- to come to Canberra and sit down and get closer to the Ministry to belt out a defence scheme for us. The civilian is at a disadvantage with the " brass ". As I found out when I was a full buck private, the best way to deal with the " top brass " was to get stuck right into them. All that can happen is what usually happens when a private attacks a general. It is of no use to tinker. I pass that advice on to the Minister for the Army in case he is having difficulty.

An amount of £1,000,000,000 has been spent and the Prime Minister just rubs his hands in front of the eyes of the assembled public and makes it disappear. It has gone, and we must look to the future. The same sad story applies to administration of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. We feel justified in asking: " Does history repeat itself? " Must the terrible history of 1939-41 repeat itself? Is the Government drifting, drifting, drifting and sinking, because of its own incompetence, back to what happened in the early days of World War I.? It is well to remind ourselves of what the then Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, said in his policy speech on the 27th July, 1943 about the strength, disposition and condition of Australia's defences when Labour took over in 1941. He told us that in those days we had several warships in overseas theatres. We were 20 per cent, short of rifles for initial requirements - not the requirements of the accelerated war effort launched by the Labour government. Let me pause here to say that Labour makes no claim that it won the war, as a government. That distinction belongs to the people of this country, to the exservice men and women, and to the second line of defence, the people in the factory and on the farm. Between them they built up a war effort which was second to none. One man in every eight was in the armed services and there was a correspondingly severe man-power restriction and call-up. No government other than a Labour government would have been able to obtain such co-operation from the Australian worker. The present Government knows that.

To-day, despite all this rosy talk of preparedness, the same ugly picture of 1941 obtrudes. It inserts itself into the pattern of to-day. As I have said, in 1943 the then Prime Minister told us that we had been 20 per cent, short of rifles for initial requirements. Honorable members will recall the stories of rifle butts and no barrels. Mr. Curtin also spoke of a 28 per cent, shortage of sub-machine guns, a 48 per cent, shortage of light machine guns, a 21 per cent, shortage of anti-tank guns, a 9 per cent, shortage of anti-aircraft guns and 56 per cent, shortage of field guns. These are all cold, hard statistics, but what a tragedy lay behind that deficiency! How perilously near we were to total extinction as a democracy because of it!

We had five Royal Australian Air Force squadrons, all outside Australia, and no fighter aircraft. Honorable members will remember the Wirraway trainers which took on the Jap Zeros. We had only ten light tanks, mostly used for war loan rallies. What a war effort! We fear that this may come again, and for that reason we are asking the Government to consider what has happened in the past. Surely it could present us with a document more in keeping with the times.

Mr Cramer - Do you want us to spend more money?

Mr HAYLEN - I do not care what money is spent but I would like to see a plan.

Mr Osborne - Will you remember that? You do not care what money is spent.

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