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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr DOWNER (Angas) .- The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has, I regret to observe, fallen into the habit of certain members of this House and, more seriously, of people outside it, of making unpleasant animadversions about my friend, the Minister foi Defence (Sir Philip McBride). Accordingly, I should like to begin my remarks this afternoon by paying a very sincere tribute to the Minister for his administration of a most difficult portfolio in recent years. Last year, particularly in quarters outside this House, he was most unfairly attacked, and when he refused to fall into the trap which, no doubt, his critics hoped to set for him, and create a big public controversy in the course of which secrets, as they hoped, might have been revealed, they moved one stage farther and started to condemn him. Sir, 1 do not agree with every aspect of the Minister's policy, as 1 shall indicate later, but I think that most people who know him, both in this Parliament and throughout Australia, will agree that there are few men in this Government his equal as an administrator - and none of us here excels him in probity and honesty of purpose.

I listened very carefully to the Opposition's view of the Government's defence programme, which was put in the speech by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) on Thursday night, when he led. officially, for the Opposition in this debate. 1 also listened carefully to the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) this afternoon. The honorable member for Parkes, as one might expect, entertained us with a polished, amusing speech, and just now the honorable member for Melbourne Ports added to the Opposition's expressed view on the defence statement some very forceful criticisms. But both of those honorable gentlemen, in what they have put before the House, are saying things that are negative, that are lacking in construction. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, in particular, in his attempted flagellation of the Government's large expenditure, completely overlooks the fact that the defence role of any country, in the times in which we live, must vary. Surely, the most fatal thing of all, the most cardinal of blunders, would be for a government to be static and to try to delude itself, its supporters, and the people whom it controls, that defence is a matter of positive absolutes. I would think that, on the contrary, however unpleasant it may be in the quickly changing revolutionary world in which we find ourselves, the criterion of sound defence policy must be suppleness, and courage on the part of the Minister for Defence to alter the course whenever he deems it to be necessary for him to do so.

In the criticisms which Opposition members have levelled - and I refer particularly to the honorable member for Parkes - they have most adroitly tried to throw a smokescreen over the official statements of their leader, from time to time, on the larger questions of Australia's defence policy. I should imagine that, by now, most people have realized that if the Opposition had its way, as expressed - I emphasize this - by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), it would throw away all the cards we hold at the present time. For example, the Leader of the Opposition is continually saying, not only in this Parliament, but also throughout the country, that he wants A-bomb and H-bomb tests abandoned, irrespective, it seems, of the action of other countries, particularly of our potential enemies. He is doing his best, whether deliberately or unconsciously, to generate on this question a scare atmosphere among Australians.

Surely, all of us agree that nothing is so unbecoming to a virile, progressive country such as Australia as to try to flurry the public into an attitude of mind resembling that of a pack of frightened old women. The right honorable gentleman and his followers, as we who were inthis Parliament in 1951 remember so well, denounced national service training in every form. Now, of course, the Opposition - admittedly being perfectly consistent - has moved an amendment to the National Service Bill proposing the immediate abandonment of so much of the national service training as the Government proposes toleave in existence. Repeatedly, the Opposition had previously opposed the despatch of Australian troops to, and their stationing in, Malaya. The Leader of the Opposition himself continues to be sneeringly critical of the military aspects of Seato. He is openly antagonistic to any real Australian military assistance to Great Britain, the United States and our other allies in any efforts that we may formulate to stem the surge of communism southwards in Asia. " Let others brandish the sword ", he seems to say: " That is not for us. We will quench communism with smiling faces and peaceful words ". That is the attitude of honorable members opposite, and the people of Australia should realize that it is an attitude that will bring comfort only to our enemies, and will fill the minds of our friends withthe gravest apprehension.

Any defence plan must turn on the answer to what is perhaps the most difficult of all the questions that a modern government has to face: What kind of war are we likely to face in the future? I agree with the analysis of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that a global war involving the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs ispossible but improbable. I agree, too, with respect, that we in Australia are far more likely to be involved in localized conflicts involving the use of so-called conventional weapons - the kind of conflict that we have seen in the last ten years in Korea, IndoChina, Malaya, and more recently, of course,, in the Suez Canal area. Nevertheless, surely it is prudent for us to insure against the contingency of a world-wide atomic war. I should imagine that nuclear weapons are most necessary for a country with the disadvantages of geographical configuration that Australia has. One cannot help thinking of our continental area, our sparse population, our slow communications, and the reluctance of most men tr join the services to-day on account of the widespread prosperity that most people are enjoying. But let us all beware of the folly of discarding conventional weapons too hurriedly. Recent statements of great military authorities such as Field-Marshal Montgomery, and only a fortnight ago, General Maxwell Taylor, a distinguished American visitor to Australia, all emphasize the need to retain conventional weapons for a good many years to come.

I feel that the Government is right to redesign our defence structure, in the way that the Prime Minister has outlined, but I hope that the right honorable gentleman's speech can be taken as only the first instalment rather than a fully rounded scheme. In making our plans, let us never forget our commitments under the Anzus and Seato treaties, the readiness which we, as a member of the British Commonwealth, must always show to help our Mother Country, the United Kingdom, and, of course, our obligations, as a member of the United Nations, towards that organization, in the light of these undertakings, of the constant unrest in the world, and of Russia's patent strategy of abetting a series of probing wars in both the eastern and western hemispheres during the next twenty years, the Government could not safely or conscionably do less than it has announced it will do. Indeed, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, we might very well ask it to tlo more. Feeling that as I do, I was pleased that my friend the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) put a similar thought to the House on Thursday evening and pleaded with the service Ministers for a more accelerated policy in this respect. One brigade group ready for instantaneous service, as is planned, together with the battalion that we have stationed in Malaya, should, I think, be taken as an expression of a principle rather than as a goal in itself. But I believe - and I think that my friend the honorable member for St. George also was aiming at this - that if we are to fulfil adequately our international obligations, we should aim, at the very least within an immediately measurable time, at having one division ready for immediate service anywhere.

Sir, Iam quite unmoved, as are many honorable members on the Government side of the House who have spoken in this debate, by the size of the defence bill.

Australia's expenditure on defence has been compared with that of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, with its almost insoluble financial difficulties, Canada, and, of course, the Soviet and its satellites. I think that, in passing, we might remember that the cost of the implements of war is ever rising. This is due, not solely to inflation, but also to the increasingly scientific and intricate nature of contemporary and future warfare. Therefore, it is quite misleading for honorable members to base any criticism, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports tried to do this afternoon, on a bare statistical statement that £190,000,000 is being spent this financial year, or that £1,200,000,000 has been spent over a seven-year period. I think that most people will agree with many parts of the Prime Minister's statement. In realistic terms, we must accept the wisdom of the standardization of Australian equipment with that of the United States. 1 agree, too, as any sensible person must do, with the transfer of the defence departments to Canberra. One can only regret that this move was not made much earlier. I have already mentioned my qualified support of the plan to have a brigade group ready for immediate service anywhere, which the Government is now seeking to implement.

My chief regret, and my main criticism of the programme that has been announced, is that the Government and its advisers have decided to reduce national service training for the Army. I admit that the case for a reduction with respect to the Navy and the Air Force is strong, but I feel that, in the case of the Army, Ministers have made the decision too quickly, and, if I may say so without, I hope, appearing to be unkind, apparently without maturity of thought.

Of course, one would not pretend that the great national service training scheme was perfect. As those of us who have been in the services are only too well aware, any form of military training involves a certain degree of waste. There is something about service training, it seems to me, that develops a predatory instinct in man. But, without any cavil at all, every member of this House must admit that national service training has done a great deal for Australian youth. We all have seen how camp life has improved physique, inculcated much-needed discipline, and educated our youth in some of the realities of the dangerous world in which we live. It has taught our young men the usefulness of co-operation, and, most importantly, it has inter-mixed all classes in the community and generated the best possible understand-' ing among them of one another's problems. lt has given these young fellows at least a basic military training and some knowledge of army life, and this must have great potential usefulness in civil defence, a fully developed scheme for which I hope will be put before the people in the very near future. Indeed, the Government, in the statements made by some Ministers, has admitted that national service training has had these great benefits, but I do not think that Ministers realize sufficiently that, in accomplishing all these things, national service training provides the very best foundation possible for the quick assembling of a large field force in times of emergency when general mobilization is required. If a nation does all the things that I have mentioned for its' young men, it surely has a magnificent foundation to build upon speedily.

What is put before us now? Henceforth the essence of national service training is to be distilled to the point of destruction. Only two and a half years ago, the call-up was limited to 33,000 personnel, together with a virtual exemption of men in country areas. Under the new scheme, the intake is to be pared down to a mere 12,000 men. National service training, having already lost its universality, is to be emasculated. This I lament, because the idea for the short time, historically, that it was in operation was fast becoming an accepted feature of the curriculum of Australia's youth. What will be the monetary saving of this supposed reform? I understand that it will be something to the tune of £7,000,000 a year. Let us compare that with the accomplishments of officers and men alike in the training camps, and let us compare it again with" the size of the defence vote. As an economy, it is surely neither here nor there.

A more compelling reason put forward by the service Ministers is the drain that national service training has made on regular Army instructors to the point where the efficiency of the regular Army has been affected. If the choice is between continuing National service training at the rate of 33,000 men a year and moulding from the regular Army a brigade group ready for immediate service, then, even in to-day"s circumstances, the Government may be right; but I am not satisfied that this is the only alternative. I ask the Ministers how far in actual fact they have gone in seeking to relieve the regular Army by. for example, older officers and noncommissioned officers from the C.M.F. or retired regular officers who are over age for active service purposes. I should say that, if we were still short of instructors, perhaps they could be reinforced by others recruited from the army in Great Britain, always providing, of course - and 1 emphasize the importance of this very much - they can condition themselves to the necessities and the temperament of Australian life.

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