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Tuesday, 7 May 1957

Mr MAKIN (Bonython) .- I am sure that after listening to the broadcast of this debate, the Australian nation is satisfied that members of the Opposition have stated a substantial case in challenging the Government's handling of defence expenditure, particularly over the last six years. Mishandling and extravagance in this direction have been such that the AuditorGeneral has seen fit to offer very caustic comments about the matter, with the result that the Public Accounts Committee has made an investigation with a view to devising means of conserving public finances and protecting public interests.

The report of the Public Accounts Committee on this matter contains some very interesting information which should be made known to the Australian community. In the six years to which I have referred, the tremendous sum of approximately £1,200,000,000 has been expended on defence, and little or no justification can be found for it. In paragraph 56 of the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the Defence Services and the Estimates the expenditure for the year 1955-56 is set out. For the Navy, £36,000,000 was spent on maintenance, but capital expenditure for arms, equipment, buildings, works and so on, was only £11,287,000. For the Army, of a total sum of £61,446,000, £48,980,000 was spent for maintenance purpose, but only £12,466,000 was devoted to capital expenditure on arms and equipment. For the Air Force, of a total of £52,138,000, £37,625,000 was expended on maintenance and only £14,513,000 for the purchase of equipment. Summed up, the position is that of a grand total of £161,608,000, only £38,266,000 was used for the purposes of equipment essential to the needs of our defence forces. Those figures certainly indicate how essential is a new outlook by the various branches of the departments responsible for the defence of this country.

When I was a member of the Curtin Government, 1 was given the responsibility of organizing the munitions projects of Australia and also of supervising the activities of the Navy. At that time, we had to prepare to meet an enemy almost at our door. We were bereft of the things essential to our defence, although the previous government, which had been led by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), for many years had assured us of the nation's ability to meet its responsibilities in regard to defence. We found how handicapped we were at that critical moment because we were unable to exert the strength that was essential to our defence.

I now direct the attention of the nation to the fact that in many respects during the last six years, a recurrence of that lack of preparedness has been apparent. Although the huge sum of £1,250,000,000 has been expended, there has been practically no addition to the establishments essential for defence and nothing of a substantial character exists to justify that expenditure. Australia is in great need of more durable roads and better harbour installations, as well as of more aerodromes, particularly along the north-western coast, which to-day is practically unguarded. Radar stations and other installations of that kind are urgently needed also for defence purposes.

The professions being made from the Government side are not convincing, in view of the lack of essential requirements. It is necessary that Australia should be safeguarded against finding itself in an unfortunate position similar to that which existed when World War II. broke out. In order to provide that safeguard, a complete revision of defence policy is required.

There seems to be a desire on the part of the Government to make Australia a mere appendage to other nations. We do not seem to be capable of undertaking our own defence responsibilities. With regard to the rifle which is to be the new standard equipment for Australian servicemen, I want to say to the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) that I strongly suspect that when it is produced in .1959, it will be found to be obsolete. Although preparations are now being made to tool up to manufacture this rifle, I find that the American authorities are producing an improved pattern. If there is available equipment of a later pattern which would provide more effective defence for the free world, surely it should be made available to us. Our servicemen should not have to use a weapon that is antiquated and obsolete from the very beginning. I offer my objection to having something palmed on to us that is not right up to date and efficient. The lives of the members of our defence forces depend on the effectiveness of the weapons with which they are armed. I say to honorable, members on the Government side that any equipment which is other than the best is not good enough for our servicemen. If such equipment is brought into service, that will be a further indication of the inadequacy of this Government to meet its responsibilities for the defence of Australia.

It has been said that only a partial form of defence is possible for Australia because there is not enough money available to enable all necessary defence measures to be undertaken. The Government has not even expended the defence vote for the current year. As the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) reminds me, the Government has failed to spend £25,000,000 which it had set aside for the defence of this country. Clearly, the Government cannot claim that it has not had the money to carry out any plan that it might have made for our defence. Even the Prime Minister has recognized that whatever the Government may have accomplished in the last six years, there are " alarming deficiencies " in the equipment that is available to protect Australia.

Mr Curtin - Who said that?

Mr MAKIN - It was said by no less a person than the Prime Minister himself, lt is evident that the Australian people have not been fairly treated so far as the application of the defence vote is concerned. This Government has continued to deny to the people of Australia that security of life and well-being that every nation should enjoy.

Turning now to the Government's policy on defence training, 1 find that, of all things, the young men who are to be selected for this purpose will in future be obliged to take part in a lottery. The drawing of a marble wilt decide whether a man should render service to this nation or not. Surely the question whether a young man is fitted, by his outlook, his willingness to serve and his physical and mental capabilities, to undergo training for the defence of this country, is not likely to be resolved intelligently or logically by recourse to a. lottery. I am sure that if a sample of public opinion upon this matter were taken, the Government's action would be not merely rejected but condemned. A system of voluntary enlistment would be far preferable. We could then avail ourselves of the services of those young men who are anxious to give of their best on behalf of their country. We should then be getting the very best value for the money expended upon training young men for leadership in any armed forces.

Because of the limitation of time, my remarks on the subject of nuclear warfare will necessarily be brief. Although we have been assured that there is no danger in the kind of test that is shortly to be made, the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) did admit to-night that every atomic explosion produced some " fall-out ", and that eventually this might constitute a very serious threat to the health of men, women and children everywhere. If there is no danger, why is it necessary to appoint a select committee of expert scientists to advise the Government on the degree of danger, if any, involved in these tests?

This merely shows that the Government itself is not convinced, and is seeking a further examination of the matter.

To-day, the two great opposing forces which seek domination in the world are those of communism and capitalism. Is co-existence possible? I cannot answer that question, but I can surely say that we need a new way of life which will incorporate more of the Christian formula - a life of freedom from the acquisitiveness that to-day detracts from universal well-being, and of freedom from the tyrannies o/ frantic fanatics who seek to enslave our civilization. It is surely not too much to ask that these thoughts should guide us in making decisions upon the tremendous and challenging issues that mean life or death to the people of our time, and to future generations.

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