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Thursday, 2 May 1957

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE (WakefieldMinister for Defence) . - I am sure the House and the people of this country will be extraordinarily surprised to know that the speaker on behalf of Labour, in discussing the defence programme that has been placed before this House, had not enough to say to occupy the time that he asked this House to grant him. It is perfectly certain that the spokesman who got up to state the attitude of the Opposition to the statement given from the Government side of the House found it so difficult to occupy his time that he meandered all over the world. He discussed all kinds of subjects, but, with all of them, he could not fully occupy his time.

Now, I have two matters I want to discuss at some length; but before I do so I wish to correct the misstatements that are continually being made by members on the other side of the House as to what Liberal Governments have done over the years in respect of defence. The simple fact is that in 1929, when the Scullin Labour Government came to power, it immediately suspended national service training and destroyed the whole of the defences of this country on the plea of economy. The Lyons anti-Labour Government came into office in 1931, and on every occasion on which it allocated money for defence there was criticism from the Labour party in this Parliament about the alleged waste of money. I well recall that on one occasion one of the Labour party's leaders in this House said after Munich that defence expenditure was war-mongering. Yet, these people have the hide to criticize what was done by anti-Labour governments during thai period and to criticize Australia's defence preparedness when Australia entered the war in 1939.

We have heard some quotations by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) from statements made by Mr. John Curtin on the defence of this country even before he became Prime Minister, and also after he became Prime Minister. I think that the House, and the people of Australia, should hear them again. On 12th October, 1941, shortly after Mr. Curtin took office as Prime Minister, he said in the Sydney Town Hall -

I have to pay tribute to the Government which preceded my own for the constructive work they have done in defence and the foundations they have laid. When I came into office the Navy was at its highest pitch of efficiency, as demonstrated by the notable exploits of its ships overseas.

Mr Ward - He was only bluffing the Japs.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will refrain from interjecting.

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE - Mr. Curtin continued on that occasion -

The home defence Army was well trained and its equipment had been greatly improved. The strength of the Air Force had been largely increased, both in respect of home defence squadrons and the training resources of the Empire Air Scheme. The equipment of the Air Force had also been much improved. Finally, munitions production and the development of production capacity over a wide range of classes, including aircraft, was growing weekly.

I have repeated those statements by Mr. Curtin in direct rebuttal of the statements made by the honorable member for Parkes about the condition of Australia's defences when the Labour Government came into office in 1941. The honorable member talked about strategic appreciations, and what the Prime Minister had to say. I shall give a very brief survey of the basis of our new review of the nation's defences. I say, quite categorically, that the changes we are now introducing flow from our reassessment of the present strategic position as it affects Australia. I should like to restate the main factors quite briefly.

First, because of the nuclear deterrent, it is believed that global war is unlikely, though it could occur from miscalculation. Limited war is generally more likely than global war, and could break out with little or no warning. At the same time, the Communists will continue to exploit every opportunity to achieve their aims by cold war techniques.

Mr Calwell - The Minister should not have to read his speech.

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE - Well, my speech will be accurate. It will not be like some of the speeches made here this evening. Secondly, this assessment of the international outlook, and our limited resources available for defence, dictate certain priorities of effort. We have concluded that preparations to enable Australia to participate effectively in cold war activities, and to increase her preparedness to participate in limited wars, should take priority, in that order, over measures directed solely to preparedness for global war. The probability that any wars in the future will be of shorter duration than previous wars is a major factor in determining peace-time preparedness and allocation of resources.

Thirdly, South-East Asia is of great strategic importance to Australia, and our primary effort will be directed to that area in cold, limited or global war.

Fourthly, the defence of South-East Asia and Australia is to be sought through the concept of collective security. For this reason we are participating in regional arrangements such as Seato, Anzus and Anzam. I need hardly remind honorable members that such arrangements are entirely in accord with the United Nations Charter. .

These strategic considerations determine the nature of the forces required by Australia to fulfil our role in all likely situations. For the cold war we must have trained regular forces available for use in areas of interest to us. Our participation in the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya is a highly important cold war activity. We must also be in a position to meet our obligations under the United Nations Charter, as in Korea. For limited or global war, to meet our regional obligations, we must have the ability to make a prompt and significant contribution of forces in the critical opening phases, and to follow these up with further forces as necessary. Appropriate forces are also required for defence of communications and other home defence tasks in accordance with the assessed probable form and scale of attack. The scale of civil defence preparations is likewise based on this assessment, and the resources that can reasonably be devoted to civil defence as part of overall national defence preparedness.

Our defence requirements can best be met by hard hitting, flexible, mobile and readily available forces. The decisions which have been announced by the Prime Minister are designed to achieve this. Our modifications of the national service training scheme and the building up of the brigade group of the regular field force, are in line with the priority that must now be given to highly trained, immediately available forces. Mobility, which is already a characteristic of the naval and air forces, will be further developed for all services by our plans to purchase modern medium range transport aircraft. The provision of modern equipment, and the re-arming of the Royal Australian Air Force with a new fighter aircraft, which is to be built in Australia, will greatly increase the hittingpower of the Australian forces.

Now, I want to say a few words about the control of nuclear weapons, about which we have heard so much from the Opposition to-night, and also over the last few months from the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) himself. With the advent of nuclear weapons, the nations which now possess them have the means to wage war on a terrifying and devastating scale. As the President of the United States has stated, science has brought the world to a point "where war does hot present the possibility of victory or defeat . . . only the alternatives in degrees of destruction ". We all wholeheartedly agree that the elimination of nuclear weapons is an essential objective to be pursued. But no responsible person thinks that this can be achieved by unilateral action on the part of the democracies. However much we may deplore it, the grim fact must be faced that if the great democracies can no longer possess the nuclear deterrent, the whole of the free world would undoubtedly fall victim to Soviet and Chinese Communist aggression.

We are all agreed that there will be no real safety in the world until there is disarmament. But nuclear disarmament "by itself would be completely disastrous to the free world, since it would give decisive military superiority to the Communist bloc, which would always be able to maintain much larger conventional forces, and thus be in a position to enforce its demands by orthodox military means.

The British Labour party has a realistic attitude to this problem, as evidenced by the following passage in a resolution of its National Executive Committee two years ago: -

Hitherto, only the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have possessed the hydrogen bomb. Labour believes that it is undesirable that Britain should be dependent on another country for this vital weapon. If we were, our influence for peace would be lessened in the councils of the world. It was for this reason that the Labour Government decided on the manufacture of the atom bomb and that we support the production of the hydrogen bomb in this country.

The solution does not therefore lie in a simple banning of nuclear weapons. The kernel of the people of the free world's position in this matter is stated briefly in the following basic principles which have governed their approach to the problem of disarmament: -

(i)   As the nuclear weapons possessed by the Western Powers are their main counter to the strength of the Communist Powers in conventional weapons and armed forces, any proposals for the prohibition of nuclear weapons are unacceptable, unless this is accompanied by simultaneous and major reductions in conventional weapons and armed forces to agreed levels and carried out to an agreed time-table, (ii) An effective system of international control and inspection is essential to the adoption of any disarmament scheme. This must include inspection of the means of employing nuclear weapons in a sudden surprise attack, since there is now general recognition thai no method of inspection known to science could detect with any degree of certainty the existence of stockpiles of nuclear weapons. This means that even if production of nuclear weapons were brought under control, there would be no assurance that a devastating supply of such weapons already produced could not be hidden for use in the event of war.

The history of the protracted disarmament negotiations since the end of World War II., shows that the democracies have made repeated proposals to achieve the introduction of a worthwhile scheme of disarmament, based on the essential and reasonable safeguards to which I have referred. These have all been met by political manoeuvres on the part of the Soviet. The Communists, on the other hand, have never put forward any proposals for the control of nuclear weapons, which were accompanied by enforceable guarantees that they would not use them themselves.

I would remind honorable members that America's foremost authority on Russia, Ambassador Bohlen, told American correspondents before leaving Moscow on 19th April, that the fundamental aims of Soviet communism remain unchanged despite veering tactics. Mr. Bohlen summed up Russian policy as " Peace at no price - to itself ".

It is of interest to note that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), during the course of a speech in New York in July, 1946, when, as Minister for External Affairs in the Labour government, he was chairman of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, made the following remarks on the United States plan then before the commission. I want the House to note particularly that the right honorable gentleman said, when he was in a position of responsibility -

The offer by the United States to give up this new and tremendously powerful weapon is, I think, an act unparalleled in history. The insistence of the United States representative that, as part of one general plan a control system must not only be commenced but made effective, is absolutely justified in the interests not only of the United States itself, but of all peace-loving nations. To pretend otherwise is sheer humbug.

Mr Curtin - What is wrong with that?

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE - I am in complete accord with it, but the Leader of the Opposition must have travelled a long way to the left since then. These remarks represent a sounder and more realistic approach to the problem of nuclear disarmament than many of the more recent statements by the right honorable gentleman on this subject.

The five-power sub-committee of the United Nations Disarmament Commission is currently meeting in London to consider a new series of proposals which have been formulated by the various parties. They are of a comprehensive nature, and cover the general question of nuclear disarmament, both as to manufacture, stocks and tests, and inspection and control. It is the earnest wish of the Australian Government, and of all peace-loving people, that this meeting will be successful in widening the area of agreement between the major powers. As honorable members know, reports have just been received of new Soviet proposals, the details of which will require close, expert examination before they can be properly evaluated. The free world is seeking, sincerely and painstakingly, to arrive at a basis for real world disarmament with the Communist bloc, but until such a system is agreed and effectively working, we cannot, in the interests of world peace and the security of all free people, afford to see the Communists gain an ascendancy.

Mr. Speaker,I turn now to the specific question of nuclear tests, and I should like to comment on this matter from two aspects. First, as I have stated, in the absence of an agreement for comprehensive disarmament, the security of the free world must continue to depend on the nuclear deterrent. To maintain this effectively, testing is essential. Moreover, it has now been established that a test limitation agreement could not to-day be effectively enforced, for technical reasons, nor could breaches of it be surely detected. Does any one seriously believe that the Western Powers should suspend their tests, without sure knowledge that the Soviet will do likewise? This would imperil the democracies' present lead in the field of nuclear weapons, and thereby weaken their power to guard world peace. All honorable members are aware that the Soviet has been conducting an extensive series of nuclear tests. As the Prime Minister asked in this House on 9th April, do we want the Soviet Union to have the monopoly of knowledge and experience in this field? If the Soviet Union is to have the monopoly, then what defence have we? Despite the concern of the Japanese Government about the forthcoming United Kingdom tests in the Pacific, they appreciate this aspect of the problem, as indicated by a statement made in New York the other day by Mr. Matsushita, the special envoy of the Japanese Prime Minister. He was reported as saying that it was " politically impossible for one nation to stop nuclear tests unless all the atomic powers did likewise". He went on -

If I were" Prime Minister of Britain or President of the United States, I would not do it unilaterally.

The cessation of nuclear tests is, therefore, not a matter that can be pursued in isolation from general nuclear control agreements of the kind which the democracies are seeking to achieve in their disarmament proposals.

I should like now to say a few words on the medical aspects of this problem. What I wish to refer to relates to the possible medical effects of nuclear tests because much has been said recently about this matter. Obviously this is a matter on which we must rely for advice on the best and most authoritative scientific advice available. At the request of the United Kingdom Government in 1955, the British Medical Research Council appointed an independent committee of the highest scientific authority to report on the medical aspects of nuclear radiation, including the genetic aspects. About the same time, the United States National Academy of Sciences appointed a group of scientists to investigate the effects of radiation on living things. The reports of both these bodies, which were published in 1956, are available in the Library, and I commend them to honorable members.

Mr Pollard - Read us what the " Lancet " said the other day.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE - I am reading what these two authoritative bodies, which were set up in the United Kingdom and the United States, have said. I will not try to summarize the reports, except to say that they both stress that every one is subject to natural background radiation due to cosmic rays, radio-active material in the earth, &c, and that the effect of increasing the radiation to which men are exposed is likely to be harmful. However, the radiation to which people are exposed from nuclear weapons tests is very small compared to this natural background radiation. The reports draw attention to gaps in scientific knowledge, particularly in regard to genetic effects of radiation; but both groups of scientists concluded that, at the present rate of firing, any biological damage to mankind from nuclear tests would be very slight indeed.

Mr Pollard - Rubbish!

Sir PHILIP McBRIDE - I know that my friends of the Opposition do not like the truth. They prefer to exaggerate the position to try to put fear into the hearts of the people. They want political advantage rather than the truth. I am endeavouring to relate the best authoritative opinion that is available on this subject to-day.

The United Kingdom report states that " the present and foreseeable hazards from external radiation due to fall-out from the test explosions of nuclear weapons, fired at the present rate and in the present proportion of the different kinds, are negligible ". Biologists are convinced that the population runs more serious risks from indiscriminate diagnostic X-ray examinations than from the fall-out from nuclear tests.

There has been much recent comment, particularly on the potential hazard of internal radiation from radio-active strontium which tends to accumulate in the bones. Both the United Kingdom and American reports deal at some length with this aspect and state that measurements of strontium 90 in human bones indicate that the amounts which have been absorbed from nuclear tests are only one-thousandth, or less, of the amount that is considered dangerous. The present strontium 90 levels in our large cities are well known and are quite safe.

Much was heard during and after the tests at the Monte Bello Islands last year of the radio-active fall-out at Marble Bar. The Australian Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee had a monitoring station nearby during the tests and it showed that the radiation received by an individual from the fall-out was less than that from a luminous wrist-watch over the course of three or four years. I do not want to belittle the possible hazards of radiation. On the contrary, I believe we must continue to keep a very careful watch on radiation arising from any source, whether it be from nuclear weapons testing, from peaceful uses of atomic energy, or from the use of X-rays or similar equipment.

The Government has, accordingly, decided to establish an independent and authoritative body to advise it on radiological surveys and measurements in Australia.

This body will be known as the National Radiation Advisory Committee and will report to the Prime Minister. It will include eminent scientists in biology, in medicine, and in nuclear physics. Sir Macfarlane Burnet, the distinguished director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and as honorable members know, a medical scientist of the very front rank, has accepted the Government's invitation to be chairman of the committee. The names of the other members will be announced shortly. This is not to say that this question of radiological hazards has not, up to date, been given the fullest possible attention, because the Government has been fully and most competently advised by various individual committees and authorities, such as the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee, and will continue to be so advised. But the continuing and rapid development of the relevant activities makes it desirable for the Government to establish this separate and somewhat special body which will .be in a position to advise on overall radiological aspects - in other words, a national authority on radiological effects.

The Government's defence proposals represent broad decisions on the organization and composition of the Services, on the basis of which the departments concerned are preparing detailed programmes. As stated by the Prime Minister, the Government has concluded that the cost of the defence programme for the year 1957-58 should be of the same order as that provided for defence during the present financial year, that is, £190,000,000. The Government believes that its proposals provide for a positive approach towards the development of a balanced overall defence effort, as determined by present strategic requirements, and within the limits of available resources. Our plans do not involve discarding the present structure of the Armed Forces, but rather building on what we already have, and establishing sound priorities for the future.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to make one or two observations about the comments of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), both before and after the suspension of the sitting. I thought it was extraordinary that he should criticize our proposal for a guided weapons installation at Sydney on the ground that it would make

Sydney number one target. Of course, Sydney is already number one target. Are we to assume from the comments of the honorable member that the best way to avoid a conflict is not to have any defences at all?

Mr Ward - He did not say that.

Sir PHILIP MCBRIDE - Obviously, he implied it. It was obvious that he wanted no defences at all for Sydney.

The only other matter I want to mention, and I shall do so briefly, is one of some importance, that of national service. A great deal has been said about the alleged inadequacy of the national service scheme that we inaugurated, and it has been stated that as a result of the scheme being commenced, the number of volunteers for the Citizen Military Forces has fallen away. But what are the facts? When Labour went out of office, the strength ,of the C.M.F. was nominally 17,000 and I stress " nominally ". lt was a matter of names on books. Despite all that has been said to the contrary, we find that to-day the strength of the CM.F. is 14.000, so that in those five years there has been a relatively small drop. In contrast to that, sir, we have had an establishment for the CM.F. which has given an opportunity for the training of the .officers and noncommissioned officers who will control and direct the forces in case of war. My service people will agree that Citizen Military Forces with a proper establishment are a very much better training ground .than are Citizen Military Forces which are under strength.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister's time has expired.

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