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Tuesday, 7 May 1957


Mr COSTA (Banks) .- The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) sounded very depressed in his approach to this important matter, and I feel that it was not because of his chronic complaint against the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), but because of the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). We all listened with very great interest to the review by the Prime Minister, on 4th April, of Australia's defence preparations. If the righthonorable gentleman's statement has done anything, it has confirmed the contention of the Opposition, which has stated, from time to time, that this Government has spent a tremendous lot of money on defence preparations, but has not anything to show for it. Reference to the records will show that defence expenditure during this Government's, term of office amounts to approximately £1.200,000,000, but that, on the credit side, there is very little to show apart from a lot of obsolete junk. Of course, we have the St. Mary's ammunition filling factory, which, although the experts say otherwise, will produce only conventional equipment. I feel that, eventually, it will be of very little value from the defence viewpoint. I hope that the plant, which is costing £23,000,000, will become useful as a factory area in time, but I repeat that, from a defence viewpoint, it is of very little value.

When the leader of a nation makes a statement on such an important matter as defence preparations, he should also mention what preparations he is making for peace, and should advance some proposal for establishing peace. But the Prime Minister did not say one word about disarmament plans, even although it was an opportune time for him to do so. We cannot expect any such contribution from the leaders of the big nations. They have such an enormous potential for producing defence weapons, and such a large capacity to defend themselves, that I feel that, from time to time, they are submerged in their own smugness and we are not likely to get a lead from them in relation to disarmament. Although Australia lacks quantity, it does not lack quality, and I believe that we should be giving a lead to other nations, particularly the small nations, by presenting a bold front in an effort to bring about disarmament. Australia should take a lead in moves made within the United Nations organization to achieve disarmament. There is a sub-committee on disarmament within the United Nations organization, and I repeat that the Australian delegation should constantly be advancing this cause.

I listened, as I said earlier, very intently to the Prime Minister's speech, but it seemed to me to be more like a declaration of war than a statement on defence preparations. I wish to make it clear that, when I say that, I do not hold the view that we should not make defence preparations. On the contrary, the policy of the Australian Labour party is to have adequate defence preparation; but Labour believes that our preparations should be arranged in a better way than that in which this Government is arranging them. The Labour party, by its performances, has proved its capacity for defence preparation. I do not think any one will take me to task when I say that war is not one of Australia's national pastimes. We are a peace-loving nation, and our conception of war is self-defence. The Labour party believes that we should always be in a position to defend ourselves. The main purpose of welding the Australian Slates into a Commonwealth was to place us in a position to defend ourselves. At the time of federation, we were surrounded by enemies, or potential enemies, in the Pacific area. The Germans were in New Guinea and the French were in New

Caledonia, and we know that their colonization policy was to grab any area that was. not strong enough to defend itself. lt fell to the lot of the Labour party, in the 1910's, to give effect to what wasintended in the establishment of the Commonwealth. Labour established our Navyintroduced military training on a voluntary basis, and proved its capacity for defence* during two major world wars. Labour was in office for a period of eight years during and after World War II. Thi* Government has been in office for a similar period, and in times of peace has spent almost as much money as did the Labour party during the last war. World War 1.1 cost Australia £1,500,000,000, but, as J pointed out earlier, so far this Government has spent approximately £1,200,000,000 on defence in times of peace. When th« Labour party was in office, there was something to show for a big defence expenditure, but under this Government there is nothing to show for it. Had the Labour party still been in office, we should have more to show for the expenditure of £12,000,000 than we have under this Government.

When the Prime Minister took office in 1949, he said that we had to be ready for war in 1951, or not later than 1952. A little later on, the then Minister for Defence Production, Sir Eric Harrison, who is now the Australian High Commissioner in London, said that we had to be completely ready by 1953. Let us have a look at what a defence expert has said about this. I refer to a report of proceedings before the Public Accounts Committee. Sir Frederick Shedden, our chief defence administrator, gave- evidence. The report reads -


The Chairman - Can- we go back again, Sir Frederick, to the matter of the programme? When we were dealing with the Supplementary Estimates you will remember that we found there had been considerable under-estimates in several items due to the circumstances you have indicated and to which we drew attention. We did not have an opportunity to ask you or the Defence people about it when we were discussing the Supplementary Estimates, so Mr. Leslie will do so now!


Mr Leslie - You made a remark this morning which, perhaps, will indicate what I want to get al. You said that the Prime Minister stated at the outset in connexion wilh this programming that the proposal was that we were to be ready for mobilization by 1953? Would we have been?

To this, Sir Frederick Shedden replied, " No sir ". Mr. Leslie asked, " Would we be now? " This was in 1956. Sir Frederick snedden replied, " No sir ". The Secretary of the Department of Defence thus confirmed the Labour party's criticism. We -vere correct when we contended that

Although a lot of money was being spent, a'e were in no position even to mobilize then if it was necessary to do so.

The Prime Minister also said in his statement that defence policy and economic policy must run together. That is what the Labour party has been saying for years, ever since we have been discussing the budgets presented by this Government. The Prime Minister says that that is what he believes. but he confirms, in his statement, that the Government has not run those policies together, because we have neither adequate defence equipment nor national benefit to show for this expenditure.

Time will not permit me to deal with all the matters that should be discussed in this debate, but one matter should be referred to briefly, namely, the weakness in administration and the need for co-ordinating defence organization. The Prime Minister did say a little about that matter. He said (hat the Government's intention was to bring the defence chiefs to reside in Canberra side by side. 1 feel, however, that that will not contribute much towards improved administration or the coordination of our planning, because, after all, the defence chiefs now reside in Melbourne, which is only about an hour and a half away from Canberra by air. Therefore, this will not provide the answer to that important problem. The Department of Defence is like any other big business; it has separate sub-departments. Business undertakings do not have a number of managing directors; they have one. I believe that the defence of Australia should be under one command. There should be a commander-in-chief of all the Australian naval, air and military forces.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is the armaments race between the great powers. This should have been commented upon by the Prime Minister. He should have given some lead in the cessation of this race. If the colossal world expenditure on armaments, which will wind up only in the destruction of civilization, were put to peaceful uses, it would do away with all the poverty and slavery that exists in the world and meet all the great civil needs. All the money that will be spent this year on defence would cure many of the serious ills that exist in the world to-day. We know that during World War II. the world spent trillions of pounds on armaments, and moves should be made to avert a repetition of a tragedy of that sort.

The Prime Minister did not say much about civil defence. I know that we have a school of civil defence at Mount Macedon. I have not had an opportunity to go there, but some of my colleagues have had the opportunity, and 1 have discussed the school with them.


Mr Whitlam - All of the Ministers refused the opportunity.


Mr COSTA - That is right. I understand that all that students are learning down there is how much destruction atomic bombs will cause and how we will be affected if they are used against us. It is handy to know that kind of thing, but i> is not of much help when it comes to defence. I believe that the best civil defence we could engage in would be expenditure on roads and lines of communication so that, if need be, we could at least evacuate people from danger areas. I venture to say that if our metropolitan areas were attacked with these bombs - I know Sydney best - we should all be killed in the attempt to get out of the way. We would destroy each other If defence and the development of the economy should go together, as the Prime Minister said, we should at least build s> road or two as a part of our civil defence preparations. A question was asked the other day of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), to which he replied that only £7,000,000 had been spent on strategic roads in Australia since this Government had been in office. That money did noi come out of the defence vote; it came from the petrol tax collections. The Commonwealth has collected nearly £450,000,000 in petrol tax, but we have not many road* to show for it. The Government should spend some money, in preparation foi defence, on lines of communication, which are very important. Roads, harbours, railways and aerodromes are indispensable from the defence point of view, and the> are great assets for the development of Australia. The Labour party had to provide those things during the course of the last war. We built harbours and roads, including about 1,000 miles of all-weather road through the Northern Territory.


Mr Duthie - And this Government is letting it fall to pieces.


Mr COSTA - This Government is letting it fall to pieces. The road is starting to crumble and transport is bogging down on it. If the Government could spend a few million pounds on maintaining that road or on building extra roads, it would be money well spent from the viewpoint of defence. lt is important that greater expenditure should be made on our railways. Recently, a Liberal party committee made certain recommendations to the Government for the standardization of railway gauges. We all know that railways are indispensable from a defence point of view, and that it is necessary to be able to move troops and heavy equipment quickly from point to point. We bogged down on that in the past because of breaks of gauge. The Liberal party committee to which I have referred recommended that, for the present, or as a first instalment, standardization of gauges should be limited to those lines between Albury and Melbourne, Port Pirie and Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie and Perth, so that there would be a direct route between Brisbane and Fremantle. The cost of the undertaking would be £41,000,000, which would not be missed from the defence vote. What great value such a direct route would have if we had occasion to defend ourselves! Itwould mean that we could move our troops and equipment, from one side of the continent to the other without having to trans-ship them several times at State borders.

The Labour party believes that defence and national development should go together, and that the huge sums which have been wasted from the defence vote each year should have been spent on roads and railways. All honorable members remember that the Clapp report recommended the standardization of railway gauges. Had that been done in 1945, the cost of the entire work would have been £45,000,000, whereas now, that sum would cover only a portion of it. The Government has fallen down very badly in its defence preparation measures.

My time is running out, but in the few minutes remaining to me I wish to say something about the control of atomic and nuclear weapons. I think that the Prime Minister should have said something about this matter when he spoke to the House recently. Atomic and nuclear tests continue to be conducted, and judging from what I have studied on the matter, it seems, clear that if the tests go on it will not be necessary for a war to break out to destroy civilization; atomic and nuclear tests will bring that about.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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