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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- The credit for the present shake-up in the defence forces of this country, if I may use that term, must go to the Public Accounts Committee, and to Sir Frederick Shedden, who, at the time the committee made its inquiry, was the Secretary of the Department of Defence. Unless somebody had drawn attention to the very bad state of Australia's defences, there would have been no announcement from the Government and no new plan of defence. The Government would still have gone on muddling along, because the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made his statement on 4th October last to the effect that the defence programme was to be revised from top to bottom, only after Minister after Minister had tried to discredit the statement made by Sir Frederick Shedden. Then we discovered - no doubt to the great surprise and horror of the Australian public - the sorry state of affairs that existed in our defences. I was a member of the first Curtin Labour Government in 1941 and I have a very clear recollection of the state of affairs that existed when we took over the reins of government. History is repeating itself, because it is with the same type of government and with the same Prime Minister that we are dealing at the moment. The only difference between the two situations is that in 1941 we had been at war for some considerable time, whilst fortunately at the moment, when we make this great discovery, we are not at war with anybody.

The Prime Minister said that these great changes are necessary because there have been great scientific and technological developments in the recent past. What the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) said a little while ago is perfectly true. In 1950 and 1951, when we were criticizing the Government's plan to introduce national service training - and any honorable member who cares to look at the " Hansard " reports may read the speeches of members of the Opposition - we told the Government that it was thinking in terms of the Boer War instead of having regard to the developments that were then apparent. Does anybody suggest that in 1950 or 1951 it was not clear to every member of this Parliament who had given any thought to the matter that the next war would nol be a war fought by infantrymen forming fours and using rifles but an atomic war? But the Government, instead of preparing for that kind of eventuality, went on in its old incompetent way, muddling the affairs of this country and wasting its finances.

Evidently, in 1950 and 1951 the Prime Minister was fully aware of what the Government was preparing to meet, because when he returned from overseas he said that the position was so grave that " if we are to be ready we cannot and must not give ourselves a day more than three years ". He was not talking about a minor war. Wars are now divided into major wars, in which you do your best and use all the weapons you have, and minor wars, in which you do not use all your weapons. But this was to be a major war, because the Prime Minister said he was preparing for the contingency of a third world war. Apparently, the grave situation had not improved by 1 4th May, 1952, because the Treasurer of the Commonwealth (Sir Arthur Fadden) then said that Australia must prepare for possible mobilization for hostilities by the end of 1953. That is the type of thinking that has been guiding the affairs of this country!

Including the last budget provision, we have spent approximately £1,250,000,000 on defence since 1949. Listening to the Ministers who spoke to-night, one might have imagined that we had an effective defence machine, and that this country and its people would be in no danger, no matter from what quarter a threat might come. But that was all exploded by the former secretary of the Department of Defence, Sir Frederick Shedden, who, when giving evidence before the Public Accounts Com mittee, said that not only was Australia not ready for mobilization in 1953, but it was not ready now. He went on to say that the services were 5,000 below strength.


Mr WARD - Quite recently - a few months ago. The " Sydney Morning Herald " leader had something to say about it, and surely nobody would suggest that that is not a source which normally is favorable to the Government. On 10th August. 1956, that newspaper said -

Sir FrederickShedden's evidence will confirm the fears long held by many Australians that our defence programme is ill-conceived and badly administered The first conclusion to be drawn is the need for a new and stronger Minister for Defence That the time has come for a high-level shake-up there can be no doubt at all.

Well, we are not getting a top-to-bottom shake-up, because we find that immediately after Sir Frederick Shedden made his statement the various Ministers rushed in to try to discredit what he has said, although Sir Frederick Shedden had for many years, including the war years, been the Secretary of the Department of Defence. I should imagine that he would be one man in this country who would know something about the subject of defence. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), in an attempt to combat what Sir Frederick Shedden had said before the Public Accounts Committee, stated -

Never in any earlier period of peace had Aus, tralia been better prepared and equipped to meet the emergency of war than in 1953. It is certainly no less so to-day.

Then we had the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). Listen to his contribution -

Despite uninformed criticism the statement by the Minister for Defence was literally true.

What do you mean when you say that a statement about the defence programme is " literally true "? He went on -

We have at least 140,000 fully trained or partly trained mcn, equipment to the value of approximately £400.000,000-

And then, as a qualification, he added - much of it, of course, cf last war vintage, but still very useful in the event of war.

That is exactly what the Menzies Government said way back in the early days of the last war, when our heroic airmen were using training aeroplanes in trying to combat the efficient Zeros used by the Japanese. The Wirraway aeroplanes were very useful!

We find, too, that a former member of this Parliament, a member of the Australian Country party, had something to say on this subject. Labour members will remember Mr. J. P. Abbott. In a letter to the " Sydney Morning Herald " of 17th August, 1956, he said-

The difference between the Secretary of the Defence Department and the Minister-

That is, the Minister for Defence - is that the former spoke for the security of the nation and the latter to excuse the deficiencies of the Government.

What are these deficiencies? Let us have a look at the defence structure that has cost the taxpayers of this country £1,250,000,000. Let us take the Navy first. By the way, apparently the Prime Minister is satisfied with the plan in respect of the Navy, because he has announced that there is to be no change in it. We have two aircraft carriers, One, H.M.A.S. " Melbourne ", has a speed of approximately 24 knots, compared with the 33 knots of a similar type of aircraft carrier in the United States fleet. The other aircraft carrier was used for training purposes until only recently. In addition, we have five frigates, a few destroyers, four minesweepers, four boom vessels, one tug, one ammunition store carrier, and sundry small vessels. So what are we worrying about? I think that the Prime Minister made the understatement of the century when he said that the Government had been spending too much on the man-power side of defence and not enough on equipment. To command the Navy, we have one chief-of-staff, six rear admirals, four commodores, 154 commanders, 55 captains, and junior officers, so that we could have a rear admiral, or at least a commodore, to command every vessel from frigates upwards! It seems that the Prime Minister was not as complacent about the position as were the so-called Defence Ministers, because in the course of his statement he said -

We have for some time been greatly disturbed.

And so would I, if I had known the state of affairs at the time -

Too small a proportion of our expenditure has been available for equipment.

Now let us turn to aircraft production. The Minister for Air has spoken about the Air Force. What would happen to our Air

Force if our allies were busily engaged elsewhere and could not provide us with aircraft, or with spares for the aircraft we had procured? The aircraft production industry that was established and developed by the Labour government has been allowed by this Government to go down the slide. The " Sydney Morning Herald " has had something to say on this matter also. On 10th August last it stated -

The story of aircraft production alone, as told by the surprisingly frank Sir Frederick Shedden, is a severe indictment of ministerial competence.

The Treasurer, in his budget speech, said -

The defence programme has been lagging and the Armed Forces have been losing strength instead of gaining it.

Why would they not be losing strength? Look at the men in charge of the various defence activities! The Prime Minister said -

We have quite frankly disturbing deficiencies on the equipment side.

Let us consider the Ministers. I said that there had been no shake-up from top to bottom. Surely, in view of the apparent deficiencies and the wasteful expenditure over the years, the first thing the Prime Minister should have done, if he wanted to do anything in respect of defence, was to shake these drones out of the positions they occupy in the various defence departments. Let us examine their places in the team. The Prime Minister is a bad captain. We have, first the Minister for Supply. In addition to being in charge of supply and defence production, he is in charge of the development and production of nuclear weapons. With all due respect, there are men on the Government side who have had more experience than the Minister has had and who could have done a better job in that portfolio. I do not want to belittle the Minister's efforts, but I understand his principal contribution during the last war, to gain administrative knowledge, was to organize the defence of the oyster leases at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. Then we come to the Minister for the Army. His experience was as a member of the Volunteer Defence Corps. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) also had similar experience. I turn now to the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne). He served with great distinction in the Navy, and, because of that, he was made Minister for Air. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Davidson) had distinguished service in the

Army, so he was made Minister for the Navy. Then we come to the Minister for Defence. He is completely hopeless. Any one who heard him speak in this debate must have realized that. This is not merely a case of a government being compelled to change its defence policy because its existing plan had proved to be a failure; the facts are that, by its wasteful expenditure, it has left this country completely defenceless. 1 turn now to nuclear warfare. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock; asked why there was no mention of civil defence. Why are we not frank and honest about it? ls there any adequate defence against nuclear warfare? Even if the plans of the honorable member for Indi are carried out and warning is given in time to permit people to go sufficiently far underground to miss the effects of the bomb, what happens about the effects of the bomb on the earth itself? Does it not destroy all life? Where is the difference between being burnt to death by the bomb and dying of starvation if one survives the effects of the bomb? The result would be the same. There is only one effective defence against nuclear warfare and that is to prevent any such war from taking place. According to the Minister for Supply, we are very anxious to obtain an agreement to cease the tests of the atom bomb and to guarantee that it will not be used in warfare. I suggest to the Minister that he examine the speech of the Minister for Defence, who said quite plainly that, even if th; Soviet were prepared to forgo nuclear tests and to undertake not to use nuclear bombs in warfare, we still would not agree, though we believed that the Soviet was sincere in its approach. According to the Minister for Defence, we will agree to the discontinuance of these tests or undertake not to use the bombs in warfare only if the Soviet and other nations agree to disarm completely.

Mr Ian Allan - What is wrong with that?

Mr WARD - There is nothing wrong with that, if it is capable of being accomplished. No realistic member of this Parliament, knowing the world situation, would suggest that that was a feasible proposition at the present time, or one likely to succeed. Why cannot a start be made to discontinue the use of nuclear weapons? The

Prime Minister said that if a major war - that is one involving the use of nuclear weapons - occurred, it would lead to mutual destruction. 1 think it was the Minister for Supply who said that the moment we know a bomb is on the way to us. we press a button and a bomb is on the way to the enemy; there is nothing to worry about, every one will die together. That is the type of thinking we get from these gentlemen. The Minister for Defence admitted that there may be some danger from radioactive fall-out, but it would not be very great and, therefore, we need not worry about it.

In the few moments that remain, I want to refer to a rather remarkable situation. Whilst this country has been obliged to spend £1,250,000,000 on defence, that does not necessarily mean that we would have only one potential enemy. That is the trouble with the thinking of honorable gentlemen opposite. When they talk of defence preparations, they talk in terms of the threat coming from only one quarter. But does anybody dismiss completely the idea, horrible as it may be, that some day in the future we may again be challenged by an aggressive and armed Japanese nation? When the Prime Minister paid his recent courtesy call on his old friend, the Emperor of Japan, he advocated the complete rearmament of Japan, and no: just a police force to maintain civil order in that country. Has he any guarantee that a rearmed Japanese nation would fight on our side in the next war? There is no guarantee of that at all. The Japanese may become possessed of nuclear weapons. Already, according to newspaper reports, some of these nuclear weapons are to be placed off the coast of China. As these weapons are spread around the world, more danger spots and more threats to peace are created. That is not the way to obtain a settlement of these terrible disputes and to overcome the possibility of wholesale human destruction.

Let me deal, briefly, with the new defence proposals. The Prime Minister said that we are now to have a completely new defence structure, which is to be co-ordinated with the forces of the United States of America. My opinion is that a nation is always vulnerable from the viewpoint of defence if it cannot maintain supplies for its armed forces from the resources and production of its own industries, because its allies may not be able to continue to supply the necessary items. As far as it is practicable, it is good to work in this way with those who are our allies or our potential allies. Mention was made of the F.N. rifle. Everybody knows that this Government has delayed, vacillated and messed around so much that, by the time it decided to use this rifle, it had been abandoned by the United States.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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