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Wednesday, 8 May 1957

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

Mr. DALY(Grayndler) [5.131. - The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) usually makes a reasonable contribution to debates, and is full of vim, vigour and vitality in defending the Government's programme, but to-day even an unobservant member would have noticed that he was uphill from the beginning. He began by endeavouring to explain away the policy of the Liberal party-Australian Country party Government which left this country defenceless in 1939. He went on to attempt to explain away what Sir Frederick Shedden has described as our inadequate defence preparations, and our inability to mobilize even after expending £1,200,000,000 on defence. But no arguments that the honorable member can offer will convince Oppositions members that there has not been tremendous waste of money, incompetence and muddling in the defence programme of the present Administration.

The honorable member quoted a statement that the then Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) made four months before war broke out. The mere fact that that gentleman was, at the time, advocating the curtailment of defence expenditure is proof enough of his incompetence, and explains why Australia was then defenceless. The honorable member also took us back to 1950 and 1951 in order to quote the warnings that the Prime Ministers of this and other countries have given on the possibility of war. Every honorable member knows that this Government, despite all its election promises to the contrary, immediately it was elected, imposed tremendous taxation burdens on the ground that war was getting closer. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) even said that we must be prepared for war not later than 1953. From time to time the former Minister for Defence Production. Sir Eric Harrison, who is now in London, told us that the prospect of war had drifted another year or two further away. Ever since the present Government was re-elected we have had evidence of incompetence and muddling in this great problem of defence, and nothing that the honorable member for Canning or his colleagues may say will alter the fact that the Government has either wasted, or spent unwisely, the money that it has taken from the taxpayers for purposes of defence. If war were to come to-morrow we should find this country as defenceless as it was in 1939. Every honorable member knows that if an enemy aircraft had come over Sydney in those days, our antiaircraft guns would have been out. of ammunition in 30 seconds. That was the situation under a government which was responsible for the defence of this country.

We are frequently told that the late John Curtin, when Prime Minister, conceded that the previous administration had done a good job, but last night the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) quoted exactly what that great Labour war leader said in 1943. Mr. Curtin said -

The inheritance that the Labour Government accepted from its predecessors was a heavy burden. Blind to the dangers in the Pacific, the MenziesFadden Government had left Australia very much unprepared.

I will not go into it further now, but I could quote at length to show how the Liberal party-Australian Country party Government of those days fell down on the job. The reason is quite apparent when one realizes the attitude of the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) only a few weeks before war broke out.

The honorable member for Canning told us what had not been done on the western seaboard of Australia, where 4,300 miles of coastline is virtually undefended. This year the Government proposes to call up 12,000 national service trainees, or about one soldier for every mile of our coastline. If we are to defend this country we shall have to arrange with the enemy to land at a certain spot, otherwise there simply will not be enough equipment to go round. This is the situation after £1,200,000,000 has been spent on defence!

In common with other honorable members on this side of the chamber, I believe that if Sir Frederick Shedden, the former secretary of the Department of Defence, had not shocked the nation by telling the Public Accounts Committee that Australia could not mobilize there would have been no change in this Government's defence policy. In the last three or four years, especially, the Opposition has consistently charged this Government with handling the problem of defence inefficiently. Invariably, the next day the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) would spring to the defence of the Government. The Minister was forever telling us that we were adequately prepared for war.

When the Suez crisis arose, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) said that we could send 2.000, 3,000 or 4,000 men to that area. However, the Minister is regarded as being of so little importance that he is not even a member of the inner Cabinet. That alone is a clear indication of the Government's casual approach to thisgreat problem. On 9th August, 1956, a most striking commentary on the Government's defence policy was made by Sir Frederick Shedden. The following report appeared in the official organ of the Liberal party, the " Daily Telegraph ": -

Australia was not in a position to mobilize for war, Sir Frederick Shedden said to-day. Thereason was lack of money, man-power and resources, he said. Sir Frederick, the Secretary of the Defence Department, was giving evidence before the federal Public Accounts Committee. The Committee is investigating defence spending. Sir Frederick told the Committee that the defence forces had spent £781,200,000 in the last four years. He said that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had directed that the defence forces beready for mobilization by 1953.

Mr. Leslie(CP., W.A.), a member of the Committee: Would you have been ready for mobilization by then?

Sir Frederick:No, sir.

Would you be ready for mobilization now? - No, sir.

In other words, even years after the expenditure of £781,000,000 for defence, Sir Frederick Shedden was prepared to tell thiscommittee that the Government was not prepared to defend this country. That isan indication of the approach that the Government has made to defence. It indicates that it is not adequately using the money that it is getting from the Australian' taxpayer. The Australian Labour party believes in the adequate defence of this nation. We do not quibble so much over the amount of money allocated, but we complain bitterly about the manner in which that money is being spent. No person; would complain about the allocation of £200,000,000 for defence if it were used for the right purposes.

The honorable member for Canning(Mr. Hamilton), among other things, complained that there was not enough money to purchase equipment, yet a considerableproportion of the defence vote is unexpended in each year. Press reports have indicated that at certain stages there is a hurry-up in defence spending, so that the defence departments can justify their votes. There have been quite a number of reviews of the defence programme. Apparently, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) does not think that any of them are necessary, because I have a sheaf of newspaper cuttings containing speeches that he has made, every one of which indicates that the nation's defences are first class. Yet Sir Frederick Shedden has made a statement to the contrary. It was not the Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale) or the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) who decided that these reviews of the defence programme should be made. The Government has been forced to make them by criticism from this side of the House and from the press to the effect that its spending has not been in accordance with a necessary policy for the effective defence of this country.

Time does not permit me to deal fully with the Prime Minister's statement, but it will be seen that every one is affected by the Government's policy. Members of the Government repudiated Labour's criticism of the national service training scheme when it was introduced, but they have now had to eat their words. The Army, the Air Force and the Navy have all suffered as a result of the Government's policy. The Navy has been reduced to a minimum. Even the Air Force is allowing for an intake of only about another 1,000 men.

I agree with the Prime Minister's statement that too much money is being spent on men and not enough on materials. In other words, the Government has not had the necessary equipment to give to its forces. It has wasted money. Instead of purchasing the equipment necessary for men to protect this country the Government has spent money on the recruitment of manpower for which it has no equipment. That is a glaring indictment of the Government's approach to this problem, and the matter should be ventilated.

The Minister for Defence Production ought to remember that the Government has destroyed the aircraft industry of Australia. In time of crisis we shall find it necessary to purchase our aircraft abroad. The aircraft industry of this country, which was flourishing when the Labour Government was defeated, is now practically nonexistent because the Government prefers to spend money abroad to purchase aeroplanes and other equipment. That money might well be spent here in the production of aeroplanes, the making of which would give employment to men in an important sphere.

Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister and the Government are alarmed by the criticism that is being levelled at them. People are fearful that in the event of another conflict this country will again be defenceless, as it was in 1939. Every year, the Government says that £200,000,000 is needed for defence. It has never explained why it always wants £200,000,000. Does it guess this figure, or does it think of a number and double it or engage in some other such computation? Is it not remarkable that every year the Government asks for £200,000,000? Why is it never £198,000,000? Each year, the Government asks for £200,000,000, and each year less than the full amount is expended. Yet it has been stated that the Government is not getting enough money to purchase the equipment that is necessary properly to equip the number of men that has been mobilized. It is true that there is practically nothing to show for the Government's expenditure to-day.

The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) said that there were more mysteries surrounding defence expenditure at the St. Mary's project than there were in any mystery novels that he had read for years. He was speaking about an estimated expenditure on defence production of £23,000,000 at St. Mary's. I suppose that the figure will ultimately be £43,000,000 under this Government's method of finance. Matters like that, necessary as they may be in the broad scheme of things, show glaring incompetence in the Government's administration. The Prime Minister announced a change in the defence programme, and the Minister for Defence said that it was not necessary. Then Sir Frederick Shedden said that the changes were desirable. This illustrates the muddled thinking and planning that is occurring in this incompetent administration. It indicates that a change in the number of Ministers in the Cabinet would be desirable in order to speed up our defence programme.

I could make many suggestions for the improvement of the defence programme. When all is said and done, there are too many Ministers handling defence. I think that there could be more co-ordination of the defence departments with advantage to this country. 1 do not mind the Minister for Defence. He is a pleasant fellow except when he is talking, but it seems to me that there is a lot that he lacks in administrative capacity. Instead of constantly rushing into the Parliament and defending actions which cannot be defended, he should take notice of experts such as Sir Frederick Shedden, who have said that the Government is not spending the defence vote in a way that will provide adequate defence for the country.

It is beyond doubt that we have nothing worth while to show for the money that has been voted for defence purposes. All the preparations of which Ministers have spoken will be proved to be ineffective should an enemy strike while our forces still have insufficient equipment. As honorable members know, the defence of this country is a tremendous task for any government. Australia is as large as the United States of America, but has a population of only about 9,000,000 people. It has 12,000 miles of coastline. The late Ben Chifley often said, quite rightly, that as part of our defence programme we should cultivate friendship with our Asian neighbours, and endeavour to gain the friendship of these people. An attack could easily come from the Japanese or some other country of which the Government is not thinking. Therefore, a defence programme which provides a minimum of defence with a maximum of expenditure is something that no people can tolerate, and this Government deserves to be condemned for it. I am not speaking against the defenceof the country. I am saying that the Opposition believes in an adequate defence policy, and that we are not satisfied that the Government is spending the huge amount of money that it takes from the people in the provision of adequate defence for the people.

I hope, if nothing else comes of the Prime Minister's statement, that the criticism levelled so constructively from this side of the Parliament will be taken to heart by the Government. Surely the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) is competent to speak on this problem, and [ hope that his opinion will be considered by the Government. Criticism levelled by back-benchers on the Government side of the House, when they are game to talk, shows that the programme of the present Administration needs an overhaul if Australia is to be defended. With those few constructive remarks on this great problem.

I conclude by saying that defence is a responsibility of the Government and a matter of great concern to the Australian people. I hope that the Government will realize before it is too late that a complete review of its planning and administration is necessary, and that the next time this important issue is debated, the Government will have something to show for the £1,200,000,000 that it has spent on defence.

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