Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 May 1957


Mr FAILES (Lawson) . - It was refreshing to hear the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) at least make some constructive criticism of the statement on defence which we are examining. During the debate so far, other honorable members opposite have been critical but not constructive. I remind the House that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in making his statement to the Parliament, said that it was a review of overall government policy on Australian defence. It was not intended to be a detailed statement of policy or to deal with past expenditure on defence. After all, honorable members have an opportunity to discuss those matters from year to year during the budget and other sessional periods. The statement of the Prime Minister was an attempt, in a very limited time, to give an overall picture of the policy of the Government. The right honorable gentleman listed as the possible kinds of war, global war, limited war, and cold or economic war. He did not attempt to deal in full with any of those subjects.

The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who led the debate for the Opposition, took the Prime Minister to task and said that, in newspaper language, the right honorable gentleman had had a lead in and a lead out, but very little left for the speech. I am not surprised that the honorable member for Parkes remained a buck private in the Army, to use his own words, if he has always been in the habit of failing to appreciate a subject before voicing his opinion on it. I understand that it is basic defence strategy to evaluate a situation before suggesting corrective measures, and that in suggesting such measures the way should be left open for change if the circumstances demand it. As the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) has said, a man who has the courage to make a change when he finds that a change is necessary will produce a very desirable result.

So we get back to the statement of the Prime Minister which, in brief, first of all gives the House an opportunity to study the possible kinds of war that might be encountered, and secondly, details the overall policy of the Government in dealing with the situation that might arise in consequence of war. I cannot conceive of a more difficult task at this time than that of trying to decide the type of defence that is necessary for this vast continent, and the likely foe. There are very good indications, of course, of where the danger lies. I listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), who pointed out that Russia's activities in Hungary left her very suspect. I invite the attention of the House to the remarks of my colleague, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who said that Russia, not being a maritime nation, would hardly be likely to develop the largest fleet of submarines in the world unless she required it for aggressive purposes. It certainly is not required for purposes of defence, because she is not liable to attack from the sea. We may start off, then, by saying that Russia, or a Russian satellite, is the potential enemy. I need hardly remind the House of the possible danger of red China, with a population of 600,000,000 and an annual increase greater than our total population at the present time. We cannot overlook the menace of that country now that she has been indoctrinated with communism. So we face the question: What is Australia to do to ensure reasonable defence? I do not say " adequate " defence, but reasonable defence, particularly in co-operation with other friendly powers. Our association with the United States of America, and with New Zealand and other South Pacific countries in various treaties, means that we have to show at least a willingness to take our place with those nations, to integrate as much of our defence forces as we can with them, and to adopt the type of weapons and equipment that they use.

The general overall plan that has been laid down takes into consideration an appreciation of the position without disclosing completely - which would be unreasonable - the whole of the military, naval and air force development. After all, complete details of that matter should not be handed to the enemy on a platter. The statement gives a reasonable explanation of the general policy which the Government feels to be necessary. The Opposition has been very critical, not only of past defence measures, but also of the present plan. I remind honorable members opposite who are in a critical mood, of the old proverb that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. It is all very well for the members of the Opposition to say that they have the know-how in matters of defence preparation, but the only justification of that claim that they have advanced was that given by the honorable member for Banks, who said that a Labour government was the first to establish an Australian navy. Surely, they do not think that we would be unmindful of that! The honorable member also said that Labour was responsible for a voluntary system of military training in 1910. My recollection is that, in 1910, there was a system of universal military training on a compulsory basis. I do not deny that it was very good training. Indeed, it stood the country in good stead. But that is not a very great contribution to the defence of the country.

The other contributions made by the Opposition have been made during the stress of war when the necessities were obvious and when the generals, belittled by the honorable member for Parkes, would indicate fairly precisely what they required. Moreover, there was not a very great deal of trouble regarding finance at that time. Our allies were anxious and willing to do for us, on a lend-lease basis, those things that we could not do for ourselves. I remind the Opposition that it has not very strong grounds for criticism of the defence effort of this Government. It has not very strong grounds if one remembers, for instance, the manner in which it dealt with the disposal of equipment which had been bought with borrowed money during the war years. During 1947, 1948 and 1949, from memory, £135,000,000 was received from the sale of disposals equipment. That equipment was purchased with borrowed money. The disposal of it at a fraction of its value resulted in a sum of more thar £! '10,000.000 being obtained, which was surely little enough.


Mr Drummond - One hundred and thirty-eight million pounds.


Mr FAILES - I thank the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) for correcting me. That money was paid into Consolidated Revenue and enabled the socialist government of that time to reduce taxation. That is not a very creditable effort. At the end of a war, the country was made practically defenceless because the government at that time sold quickly everything it possibly could to get some money into the Treasury.


Mr Duthie - What happened to Manus Island?


Mr FAILES - An Opposition member asks: What happened to Manus Island? That is a page in the Labour government's hook that might well be closed.


Mr Beale - I do not agree that it should. lt was a crime against this country.


Mr FAILES - Yes, the episode was not creditable. The greatest naval base in the South Pacific, which cost 600,000,000 dollars, was given away because the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who was then i member of the socialist government of that time, could not come to terms with .mr allies. He preferred to see the base destroyed. All that is left is a wreck, which any one can see to-day. That is a page of history that the Opposition would be glad to bury. It would be just as well for Opposition members if they did not criticize too freely this country's defence policy!

A few minutes ago, an Opposition member commented that the Prime Minister said that man-power would be cut, or some such thing. I shall read from the Prime Minister's statement, because that assertion needs correction. In his statement, the Prime Minister said -

The emphasis is not, any longer, so much on numbers as on mobility, equipment and fire power. This is not to say that man-power is unimportant.

The Prime Minister did not indicate that man-power was unimportant. On the contrary, he said -

This is not to say that man-power is unimportant. It will still be necessary in the event if a great war to commit large forces to the struggle, but in the upshot speed and the capacity o hit will determine victory.

The basis of the Prime Minister's statement is that we should spend more money not on man-power, but, rather, on equipment which will give us speed and the capacity to hit. but not to the exclusion of man-power. 1 congratulate the honorable member foi Fremantle, who said that the defence appropriation, in his opinion, was not excessive. A similar comment was made by the honorable member for St. George (Mt. Graham). The defence appropriation is not excessive; indeed, in the opinion of many honorable members, it is not sufficient. lt has been said that we are not putting all we possibly could into this job. lt is a tremendous job, the limit of which we do not fully appreciate. We are putting in a certain amount, but whether we are putting in enough is questionable.

I shall make some suggestions as to how we could increase further our defence effort; and I do not suggest for one moment that we should reduce what we have already proposed. The Prime Minister's statement was based on a military appreciation, and that, to a very large extent, transcends civil affairs. Reverting to the Prime Minister's three classifications ot " global " war, " limited " war and " cold " or " economic " war, 1 say that, whilst at this stage " global " war is something that possibly we cannot discuss as animatedly as we should like because we do no* thoroughly understand it, we understand * " limited " war and we understand that codventional weapons will be required, dc matter what type of war it is, if it is te be carried to its conclusion, unless the world1 is to be wiped out. The story of " pug , button " war is possibly fantastic. Ever if it is not, conventional weapons will still be required.

It might be suggested that we should have atom bombs or other atomic weaponsand that we should be able to use them if necessary, as a deterrent to other countries using them. I am not completely or that opinion. There is still some doubt whether that would be sound, and I am not prepared to discuss it. However, weshould take advantage of every opportunity to provide the conventional weapons whichwe are likely to require in a limited wai Further, we should consider those phase*of our civil life which lend themselves to building what might be called the economic side of our defence. We found that, whenthe last war broke out, there was immediateoccasion for all types of equipment to bemade in Australia. Some factories wenprepared to do so, and some were able trchange over quickly, but others were not.

At this stage we should encourage those factories which can be converted to war production to expand as much as they possibly can. I do not suggest how this should be done, but the Government must consider that aspect of our economic life. The Government must consider not only our military, naval and air force defence, but also the economic defences that we can encourage in this country.

In addition, we have aero clubs, yacht clubs and rifle clubs, representing the three arms of the services. The budget provision for these clubs is not good enough. The last budget provided £ 1 83,750 for aero clubs. Australia has 23 aero clubs. The total enrolment of student pilots is 1,674, of private pilots 1,709, and of commercial pilots 222, making a grand total of 3,605. The aero clubs are doing a tremendous job. They come to the help of the public in times of flood, fire and national distress, but are receiving relatively little support from the Government. At the present time, one club is seeking to buy from England two Chipmunk aircraft with which to train pilots in a country town. The club has to go through the process of obtaining a licence from the Department of Trade before it can buy these aircraft at its own expense to do a job which is of national importance. That is where we are slipping. Let us give all the encouragement we possibly can to people who are willing to help themselves. The aero clubs, which are training 3,605 student, private and commercial pilots, are receiving only £183,750 from a very big budget allocation. T suggest that that is not good enough.

T cite also the case of the rifle clubs. They get an allowance of £71,600 from this Government. That is much less than the aero clubs receive. There are between 60,000 and 70,000 riflemen in Australia. The grant of £71,600 includes provision for ranges, efficiency awards to rifle club members who attend a certain number of shoots each year and qualify as marksmen, the Commonwealth council, the State associations and prize meetings. The allocation for those items is £30,300 of the £71,600 allocated to rifle clubs. The balance is made up largely of salaries of supervisors, inspectors, range clerks, clerks and a typist. Those charges amount to £25,224.

I suggest that that is another direction in which the Commonwealth could assist those who are prepared to help themselves. The riflemen build and maintain their ranges and carry out regular rifle practice. The Minister for the Army has alway, been sympathetic to them, and his main complaint is that they shoot off a lot of ammunition which his department has to supply at a reduced rate. If they did not use the ammunition, it would be carted away and dumped at sea. The riflemen are a splendid body of men and could be relied upon to act as home guards, if nothing else, in the event of a civil defence call being made upon them.

I suggest also that the service departments should not have to rely upon the Department of Works for their construction programmes. If the operations now being conducted by the Department of Works at the Hotel Kurrajong are an example of its efficiency, we can obtain some idea of the cost of work done by i> for the service departments. This shocking state of affairs cannot continue. Repairs, to the roof of the library in Parliament House cost £6,000. I suggest that the work force of the Department of Work> should be replaced by contract labour foi all defence work. If we did that, we would get some results.

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







Suggest corrections