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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr OSBORNE (Evans) (Minister for Air) . - In the comparatively short time during which he has been a member of this House, the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) has given us reason to expect from him thoughtful and considered speeches, but I must confess that to-night he has profoundly disappointed me. He has made a lot of disconnected and unsubstantiated complaints. He said that there was nothing new in the Government's review of defence policy. With those few words he dismissed the complete and most profound changes that have occurred in the defence services in the last twelve years.

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I did not say that.


Order! The honorable member for Darebin must not interject.

Mr OSBORNE - Does the honorable member wish to tell me that he did not talk about writing off equipment as being outmoded? I. am not aware of any wholesale writing off of equipment. He said that if we want to move a brigade group, we have to borrow the aircraft. If he has read the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) he obviously has not comprehended it, because he has overlooked the statement that the Royal Australian Air Force is to be re-equipped with modern transport aeroplanes of the American C.130 transport type.

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Where is the Air Force going to get them from?

Mr OSBORNE - If the honorable member is patient, he will find out. They are made by the Lockheed company at Marietta, in Georgia, so presumably, if the Air Force is to get C.130 aircraft, they will come from Marietta, in Georgia. The honorable member compared the state of our defence with that of Germany. He compared this large island continent, with its sparse population and its problems of distances with one of the most intensely developed and highly populated countries of Europe. How does he imagine that we can build autobahns from Melbourne to Darwin and all over the country for defence purposes? If we attempted to do so, we would not have any money left for development, quite apart from defence. That is the kind of ill-considered general criticism that comes from an Opposition which obviously does not understand the problems of defence. Fundamentally, it does not believe in defence. It believes in defence by words, not by-

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) Mr. R.W. Holt interjecting,


Order! The honorable member for Darebin will remain quiet.

Mr OSBORNE - When the honorable member for Darebin and his colleagues in the Opposition criticize the Government for not having embarked upon a re-equipment of this kind before, they completely overlook the fact that at this very date the services of the United States of America are being drastically re-organized, and that the services of Great Britain are undergoing the most drastic re-organization that they have ever known. So it seems to me that, instead of being behind the times, we are marching forward step by step with our greatest and most dependable allies.

The changes that have been announced by the Prime Minister affect the Air Force very considerably. The task confronting the Air Force is to provide for the defence of Australia and its territories, to play an effective part in the cold war, and to be ready to make a contribution in the event of another limited war or of total war. For that task we need three things. First, we need a mobile operation force that is able to make a contribution towards the Commonwealth strategic reserve for the defence of the free countries of South-East Asia. I remind the House that, if those countries remain free, the defence of Australia at a distance from our shores is assured. Secondly, we need an operational reserve of aircraft and trained air crews to back up our section of the air component of the Commonwealth strategic reserve. Finally, we need a home defence force for the protection of our lines of communication and the mainland of Australia in time of war.

Mr Ward - And a few new Ministers.

Mr OSBORNE - Some of us are fairly new, as the honorable member knows; at least we are entitled to a short trial. For the tasks to which I have referred, we now have fifteen operational squadrons as a framework. Our bomber squadrons are equipped with Canberra twin-jet aircraft which are still very useful. As the House knows, they are made in Australia. The first line of our air interceptors consists of Avon Sabre jet aircraft, which also are made in Australia. They are not in the front line of the most modern aircraft that are being introduced into the United States air force; but they are very useful front line operational aircraft, and all the advice that I can get indicates that they will remain so for a very long time. They have a second and very important function - that of ground attack. We also have our home defence fighter squadrons, which are equipped with Meteors and Vampires. One home defence reserve squadron is still using Mustang aircraft, lt is very easy to decry our defence effort, but the formation of fifteen squadrons by a small country of the size of Australia, with its problems of development, is no mean effort.

If is easy to say that these squadrons are inadequate for the complete air defence of Australia, but what small country can afford all that it needs against all the contingencies that face it in this dangerous world to-day? I think the Opposition would do better to examine the effective potential of our present defence forces, and to examine constructively the plans that have been made to improve them, than to decry the very effective effort which has been made with the limited means that are available in this country.

In addition to the aircraft that I have mentioned, we have two maritime reconnaissance squadrons, one of which is equipped with Neptunes which, as I have reason to know, are very up-to-date aircraft. The other squadron is equipped with refitted Lincolns. These facts present a picture of a useful air force which represents a very commendable achievement by a young country which has other problems on its hands. No small country can do all that it needs to do for its defence against all contingencies.

The Air Force has some pressing problems. The Air Staff advises me that the most immediate need is for the reequipment of our transport squadrons, which are still equipped with Dakota aircraft. As the Prime Minister has announced, they are to be re-equipped with C.130 aircraft, which I know, having recently seen and flown in one, are very remarkable aircraft indeed. Their performance is quite beyond anything that we had thought about in Australia, and they are likely to remain in the front line of transport aircraft for a very long time. Secondly, we need fighter squadrons equipped with modern fighter aircraft. We need bombers, too.

I have told the House that the Canberra jet bomber is still a very useful and effective aircraft and would be particularly useful in the kind of warfare in which Australia could conceivably become involved. But to keep up to date, we will eventually need bomber aircraft, and will also need to enter into the field of guidedmissile defence. The Government's decisions go a long way towards satisfying those needs. I have said more than once that the Prime Minister has announced that we will re-equip our transport wing with aircraft of the Lockheed C.130 type. It is planned to buy twelve of those aircraft over a period of time. That may not seem to be many, but when one realizes their capacity for carrying troops and great weights, and the multiple uses to which they can be put, including parachute dropping and inflight refuelling tankers, one realizes just how great will be their usefulness. Twelve of those aircraft will provide a very formidable transport wing for the Air Force. As a beginning, we are to have a squadron of modern supersonic fighter aircraft. The Prime Minister has announced that they will have a performance equal to that of the celebrated F.104 fighter, which is produced by the Lockheed company.

Over recent years, the Air Staff has informed the Government of its requirements. Its principal advice has been based on technical discussions which were held a couple of years ago, and it is necessary that that advice should be brought up to date. That will be done. The Air Force having given its advice, the matter is now primarily one for my senior colleagues, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) and the Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale). I am confident that a decision will be made soon and will be given effect. As the House knows from the statement of the Minister for Defence Production, the aircraft that will be used will be substantially manufactured in Australia. The Air Staff supports that decision, because the problems of operating modern aircraft in Australia without a manufacturing component to fall back on in the event of modification or for repair of damaged aircraft are almost insuperable. 1 said that in the course of time we will need replacements for our bomber squadrons. At the present time, to provide ourselves with the desirable kind of longrange bomber aircraft is beyond our capacity, nor is a suitable bomber for our purposes immediately available. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock), who, in view of his long experience and the very high rank which he held in the Royal Australian Air Force in war, must command a respectful hearing at any time in this House, has suggested that we would do better to use our available funds to buy twelve B.47 aircraft, with the idea of discouraging any attack on this country by a capacity to destroy at long range. I disagree with him. As I have said, I pay great attention to what he says, and I have a profound respect for the experience which lies behind what he says, but in this instance I disagree with him completely, and I do so on the advice and information which I have gained from the Air Staff.

I do not believe that to take part in the intercontinental destruction race is the function of small powers. One function is to look after ourselves. I described the functions of the Air Force at the beginning of my speech. They are to make our contribution to the strategic reserve, to back up that strategic reserve and, in a contingency, to look after the defence of Australia. I think that the plans which have been made, within the means available to us, represent the best ways in which those purposes can be achieved. T think that the honorable member for Indi, in putting forward this argument that we put all our eggs into a small basket of modern bombers, overlooks completely the excessive vulnerability of the modern bomber to defensive equipment. At the present stage, although we concede that it is extremely difficult to prevent one, or a small number, of a large bomber force from getting through, it would be comparatively easy for a wellarmed and powerful enemy to destroy all of a small bomber force. We would be in the position of having all our eggs in one basket with a rather defective handle.

At the present time, there does not exist, so 'far as I am aware, a light bomber within the means of this country and suitable for our requirements. It is not at all inconceivable that such a bomber may be developed in the years ahead. I have formed the impression, from discussions elsewhere recently, that the tendency to require the highest performance the technology of the time can produce is passing. We appear to be entering a period in which consideration will be given to the economics of the matter and to the simplicity, manoeuvrability and " usability " of aircraft, if I may use such a term. It is by no means inconceivable that a light bomber of simpler construction, but still of high performance, will be produced in the course of time. 1 hope that when that position is reached, we will be in a position to re-equip our bomber squadrons with modern aircraft capable of speeds on the threshold or beyond the speed of sound. At the present time, the decision to rely on our Canberras, which are still very effective for the purposes for which we will need them, is, I think, wise and, indeed, inevitable.

As the House knows, a decision has been made to make a beginning on missile defence. I feel, however, that some warning should be issued about this. There is a strong tendency in Australia to believe that once we have a missile, all piloted aircraft will cease to be necessary. I believe thai to be completely fallacious. A series of missile defences suffers from an immobility compared with manned aircraft, and from other defects, lt will be many years, I believe, before piloted aircraft will be replaced completely, or even substantially, by guided missiles, though, quite obviously, the development of guided missile defence must proceed from now on hand in hand with piloted aircraft.

The Air Force is affected by the decision to reduce the national service intake and. indeed, to give up national service training for the Air Force and the Navy. The Ai, Staff has advised for a considerable time that the direct contribution of national service to air defence is very slight indeed and it would have preferred to spend the resources that have gone -into Air Force national service training on things with a more direct application to air defence. This has a more considerable effect on the Air Force, however. The reduction of the national service intake for the Army, which. I believe, is the beginning of a very considerable change in our attitude towards Army defence, means the removal of a heavy drain on our defence expenditure and the prospect of allotting more of our funds to the Air Force. That is, 1 think, a necessary trend.

Mr Duthie - The honorable member for Indi has been telling you that for five years.

Mr OSBORNE - I am glad to find myself in agreement with the honorable member on one subject at least. Over the last few years, the average percentage of the defence services vote in this country allotted to the Air Force has been 32 per cent. Under the new scheme, it will rise by 5 per cent, to 37 per cent. I believe that this is a tendency which is inevitable and correct, and one which must continue. In the United States of America, for example, the Navy gets 28 per cent, of the total vote, the Army 24 per cent, and the Air Force 48 per cent. In Canada, the Navy gets 20 per cent., the Army 28 per cent, and the Air Force 52 per cent. In Australia, the allotment under the new scheme will be, for the Navy 26 per cent., the Army 37 per cent, and the Air Force 37 per cent. 1 do not disguise my own opinion that the tendency to devote more of our expenditure to the air is necessary and inevitable, and one which I hope and expect to see proceed in the years ahead.

In 1954, my senior colleague, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), announced in a White Paper -

There will be a weighting of the defence effort in favour of the Air Force.

That was re-affirmed in a further statement by him in September, 1954. That process has gone on steadily, and it has now reached the point where the Air Force is getting 37 per cent, of the total vote. As I have said, it is an inevitable process. The whole logic of the times and of events leans that way. This is a technological age. In weapons of offence and defence, the advance of technology has been at a far greater rate in the Air Force than in either of the other services. I know very well that some of my friends on this side of the House, with whom I served in the past on the Government Members' Defence Services Committee, may feel some amusement at recollecting the vigorous defence of the naval vote that I have made in the past, but I will not be the first person to whom responsibility, work and knowledge have brought a change of mind. I have no desire to underrate the needs of naval defence, or, indeed, of naval aviation, because all that I say about the needs of the Air Force applies, I believe, with equal force to aviation for the maintenance of sea power. But in a country where the butter of defence has to be so thinly spread, because of our resources, over a vast area, it is inevitable that we should seek the most effective means of spreading it. Defence, just like superphosphate and other things of an agricultural nature, can be spread very effectively in difficult terrain by air.

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

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