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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) . -The statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), to my mind, is the clearest possible indication that what the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) has been pleased to call the taxpayers' money has, in fact, been wasted over the past six years by the present Government. It will be recalled, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that during the debate on the Defence Estimates in October last - and it ought to be remembered that twelve months prior to that, the same thing occurred - the Opposition moved the traditional motion that the first item of the Defence Estimates be reduced by £1. Broadly, our attack was based on two grounds: First, sheer inefficiency and lack of planning in regard to the expenditure that was being considered; and secondly, that the basis of defence in Australia was antiquated, in the light of atomic and nuclear weapons.

I suggest that this statement is a belated recognition, in 1957, when nearly £1,200,000,000 of the taxpayers' money has been expended, that, by and large, the majority of that money has been wasted in terms of what can be called defence in this age and generation.

Sir Philip McBride - That is complete nonsense.

Mr CREAN - It is not nonsense if you read between the lines. No one could follow the mumbling apology of the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) when he spoke in this debate last Thursday night The Prime Minister made it clear in his statement that there had been an undue emphasis on man-power and that there were disturbing deficiencies on the equipment side. This matter, to be seen in its proper perspective, needs to be viewed in the light of the statement that the Minister foi Defence made last year. In the course of that statement, he summarized the position Referring to defence expenditure since 1949-50, he said-

The total expenditure over the six years 1950-51 to 1955-56-

There is now £190,000,000 to be added- has been £1,031,000,000, including £20,000,000 paid to the Defence Equipment Trust Account; £324,000,000 or 32 per cent, has gone into increased capital assets, and £707,000,000, or 68 per cent., has been required for maintenance costs. Of the total capital expenditure of £324,000,000, £226,000,000 has been devoted to the provision of new equipment for the services or the modernization of existing equipment; . .

I ask honorable members to compare that information with the statement of the Prime Minister that there are still disturbing deficiencies on the equipment side. Even though £226,000,000 was spent on new equipment, there are still disturbing deficiencies on the equipment side. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is interjecting, has already said something, and no doubt he still has a lot to say. I ask him to let me say my piece. The Minister for Defence continued - £84,000,000 has been spent on buildings, works and acquisition of sites, £14,000,000 on machinery, plant and equipment for the Departments of Defence Production. Supply and Defence. The expenditure-

Again. 1 ask the House to note this in term* of the-

Sir Philip McBride - Where are most of the members of the Opposition now?

Mr CREAN - I am not worried about . where they are. What you should have explained more adequately to the House and the country is where is the value for the amount of nearly £1,200,000,000 that has been spent on defence. In the past, we on this side of the House have been bamboozled by large numbers, but now we are threatened to be blinded by science. The shift is now from large numbers to something that can be called the mystical side of defence. The question now is whether we are to have conventional weapons - that lovely term! - or atomic weapons. No indication has been given to the House of how much emphasis is to be placed on atomic warfare and how much on conventional weapons. The statement went on -

The expenditure of £707,000,000-

That is a tremendous sum of money - on maintenance included £124,000,000 for maintenance equipment, replacement stores, ammunition and general stores of all kinds. The balance of £583,000,000 has been spent on pay, rations and general maintenance, including the maintenance of buildings and works.

Now we are told that Australia's allocation of man-power and its defence expenditure, which has formed the bulk of our expenditure, has largely been misdirected, in terms of the circumstances of to-day.

Mr Cramer - That is not true.

Mr CREAN - The Government is scrapping and dismantling its whole defence project.

Mr Cramer - You cannot even read, let alone understand the statement.

Mr CREAN - One needs to be able to do more than read to follow the defence policy of this Government. I submit that there has been no policy. There has been confusion. There has been change, almost in the middle of the consideration of the Estimates. On 2nd October last, my colleague, the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), asked a question of the Prime Minister on defence, and the Prime Minister, in reply, said -

The defences of this country were never in better shape in time of peace in the history of Australia.

That was said by the right honorable gentleman on 2nd October, 1956. On 4th October, 1956 - two days later - the Prime Minister announced that it was proposed to undertake a complete and thorough examination of the defence policy of Australia. That complete and thorough examination was undertaken only because of the criticism in the press and from this side of the House of the Government's defence policy. We said that the Government did not know where it was going. It certainly knows very little better now. I submit that this House requires a great deal more information and a great deal more re-assurance than we have so far received from the Minister for Defence or the Minister for the Army.

What does the Opposition want? It wants from the Government, first of all, a much clearer indication than was given in the Prime Minister's wordy statement of what Australia's role is intended to be, both in its own defence and in relation to overseas commitments. In the past whenever a finger of criticism has been pointed at the Government in relation to its defence expenditure, the Government has tended to reply, " You are unpatriotic; you do not believe in defending your own country". But that charge cannot seriously be laid against the Labour party. As speaker after speaker on this side of the House has said, we of the Labour party have as much love for the Australian people and as much regard for our country and its great traditions as have members on the Government side, and I would suggest that at least our honesty and sincerity of purpose should be conceded when we are making this criticism.

The Opposition has no confidence in what it has been told of the Government's defence measures, either in relation to civil defence against the great terrors of potential atomic warfare, or in relation to the relative roles to be played by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. There has been no clear picture given of where the Government believes the emphasis should be. Indeed there has been a considerable number of variations of policy from time to time. We have been told for instance that a modern army is not as reliant on man-power as were armies of the past. But when it is pointed out that over half the total expenditure on defence in this country in the past has been on man-power, the Government dodges the issue. At least it is clearly conceded in this defence statement that in the past there has been an undue emphasis on man-power so far as the balance of Australian forces is concerned. These are not my words; they are the words of the Prime Minister. This House is entitled to say, " We told you so more than two and a half years ago, and you did not do anything about it". In fact, nothing is being done about it now. As I have said, in the past more than half the total defence expenditure has been on man-power, yet, although the Government is reducing the man-power of the services, it maintains that defence expenditure for the year ended June, 1957, is still going to be £190,000,000!

Mr Cramer - Do you not agree with that?

Mr CREAN - 1 do not agree with it if it means that a large part of it will be wasted as it has been in the past. I am as one with my friend the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) when he says that the taxpayers' money should not be wasted. I say that in the past the taxpayers' money has been wasted and that we have not got value for it.

Mr Stokes - I did not say that.

Mr CREAN - No, but the honorable member said that consideration should be given to whether the taxpayers' money has been wasted. We on this side of the House say it has, and we want greater assurances than we have had in the past about what the £190,000,000 is likely to be spent on. There has been no clear indication by the Government of what is to be got from this continued large expenditure, even conceding that there are to be some changes.

Mr Cramer - You have the budget.

Mr CREAN - We should not have to rely on the budget for that information. I suggest that the Government, which has sheltered behind its high man-power commitment in the past, is now going to seek refuge in a different way. The Prime Minister said -

It is, for obvious reasons, not desirable that the whole of the military appreciations which have guided our analysis should be made public.

Well, it may not be desirable to make everything public, but I submit that it is desirable that a great deal more should be made public to the people of Australia about this important matter than has been made known in the past. We did not get much from the Minister for Defence the other night in his mumbling apology, and after all, he is the architect of the defence programme of this nation. It involves a matter which can be seen by anybody who reads the chart attached to the back of the twenty-ninth report of the Public Accounts Committee. Apparently, that has been shown to be the unwieldy method of doing things, because in the Prime Minister's statement it is indicated that changes are to be made.

Sir Philip McBride - Wherever necessary.

Mr CREAN - Yes, and I suggest that a lot are necessary if events of the past are a guide, lt is said that to improve the swift co-ordination that is necessary, the Government intends to shift the head-quarters of certain defence activities to Canberra. That is rather ironical, because this improved co-ordination is not going to begin until 1959.

Sir Philip McBride - It needs more than words.

Mr CREAN - The Prime Minister is a very good man at spinning words. His speech was very little more than a web of words and it gives very little comfort to the people of Australia, who, like people in other parts of the world, are very fearful of the likely consequences of another war. I have heard talk of the great scientific changes that have taken place, but those great scientific changes merely mean that the power of destruction in 1957 is much greater than it has ever been before. I have in my electorate of Melbourne Ports three aspects of defence activity in this country, and to my mind they are a good illustration of the Government's failure to indicate clearly where it is going. I have the major part of the aircraft industry including the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, and the Department of Aircraft Production. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) so tellingly pointed out the other night, there is a kind of creeping paralysis among the workers of that industry, because they do not know what their future is. Similarly, 1 was asked a fortnight ago by the workers at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard to go down and hear some of their views. They are in a similar position to workers in the aircraft factory at Fishermen's Bend. They are men who have contributed a great deal in the past to the defence of this, country. They are men who have a great pride in their craft and in the work they are doing,

Hit they, like everybody else, have families to look after, and they are wondering whether they should stay in the industry or should go out into what might oe regarded as safer jobs economically; because there has been no indication on the part of the Minister for the Navy as to what future construction work will be given to the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. Now, I suggest that an indication, given well in advance to these undertakings, of their likely work programmes for the next two or three years, would not be any breach of national security.

Finally, 1 have in my electorate that great white elephant, the Williamstown rifle range. We are told that we are to get a new kind of rifle in a year or two, for use by the Army; but, by and large, there is not the same emphasis on rifle practice to-day as there was in the past, and time after time the Williamstown City Council has approached various Ministers for the Army asking them what their intentions were for these many hundreds of acres of land reserved for the rifle range, and scarcely used at all in any defence capacity.

Mr Cramer - Why did not Labour deal with this matter when it was in office?

Mr CREAN - The Labour Government promised in 1946, at the end of the war, to do something about it but, as the Minister well knows, certain construction problems were involved, and there were other things of relatively more importance to be done first. In 1957 the same excuse does not hold water. The opportunity is now available to the Minister, as Minister for the Army, to do something definite about the Williamstown rifle range. I am sure that if the Minister were to order the vacation of the rifle range by the Department of Defence the Williamstown City Council would have pleasure in naming the area " Cramer Park " after him, and he would then at least have some memorial of his occupancy of his present position in the Government.

I repeat, the criticisms that the Labour party levelled against the Government's defence programme more than two and a half years ago are proved, by the statement presented to us and which we are now debating, to have been justified. Those criticisms were that there have been inefficiency and lack of plan in regard to expendi ture on defence and also that the basis of defence in Australia is inadequate in the light of the development of nuclear weapons, and the possibility of atomic warfare. The Government, having belatedly come to admit that point, should now do what it has failed to do in the past - it should give greater publicity to defence requirements and measures, it should take the people of Australia into its confidence more as to what it intends in this vast field of defence. As the honorable member for Parkes said in his speech last week, defence is far too important a matter to be left entirely in the hands of generals. It may be the generals who will run the war, should a war come, but whatever part of the nation's resources is devoted to defence means that so much less is left over for the normal welfare of the people.

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