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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . I have been interested in this debate to hear the views of honorable members on both sides of the House. Some honorable members opposite have complained that the Government is not tackling the problem of defence in the right way, and have suggested other systems. Honorable members on this side of the House have objected to the slowness of what is being done by the Government and have advocated that more should be done quickly. At the same time, honorable members have pointed out that, as soon as something is made here, it is out of date by world standards. I listened intently to the honorable members for Indi (Mr. Bostock) and Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes). I must confess that I cannot follow the lead they have given. This question is so big and the methods of warfare and defence are advancing at such a rate that, unless one is an expert in these matters, it would be very difficult to suggest what type of defence we should have. However, I approach the question of defence from the angle of the man in the street. The ordinary Australian believes that the government of the day should make every effort to ensure that we have an adequate system of defence, compatible with the ability of the country to maintain such a system.

The question arises: How are we to achieve that objective? Some honorable members have complained about the reduction of national service training. There is only one system of national service training in which 1 believe - and I. said that I believed in it when it was introduced by this Government - and that is a system in which there is no distinction. Every one should be required to undergo a period of national service training, and not merely a selected few. I do not like the idea that the number of men undergoing national service training will be reduced to about 12,000. If we attempt to do that, we will waste money. In addition, national service training will become a gamble. The drawing of marbles related to dates of birth will determine which young men shall undergo a period of training. That is not a good system. I admit that national service training has improved the stature of many of our young men and improved their outlook in connexion with discipline. The present system has been a success to that extent, but a system of physical training that would not cost 1 per cent, of the amount spent on national service training would be just as successful. I agree with the decision of my party on that matter.

The next question I ask, is: If an army is necessary to defend this country, how would it be obtained? Last night, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said very definitely that the Labour party believes in a proper defence system and that that system should be efficient and up-to-date.

How will we achieve that purpose? Honorable members who come in contact with young men who have enlisted in the Navy - I am not speaking of national service training - for six or twelve years, know that many of those men seek to be released after three or four years. Honorable members know also that despite all the efforts that are made and all the money that is spent on advertising to attract people to enlist, we cannot get sufficient men to form an efficient force.

If we are not able to build an efficient defence force in this country, what will we do? If we are to have a defence force, what is it to defend us against? It must be against some potential enemy. If we cannot obtain an efficient defence force to defend ourselves against a potential enemy, through limitation of numbers or of finance, we must work with others to create an efficient defence force of which we will be a part. That raises the question of the attitude we should adopt in regard to the pacts we have with other countries. We have the Anzus pact and the Seato pact. An honorable member mentioned that Pakistan and other countries in South-East Asia are members of Seato. If I am any judge, I can assure the House that those countries are most concerned about their own defence. I am most concerned about our defence. Unless all members of Seato are prepared to play their part, I cannot see how a defence force can be created that will be sufficient to meet any aggression against us.

Mention was made last night of the number of United States troops in the Pacific area. The figure was given at approximately 500,000 men. Though the Americans have 500,000 men in the Pacific area, we ourselves, if we are very fortunate with the defence proposals now put before the House by the Government, will have in 1960, in round figures, only 60,000 men. That is a very small number compared with the number of United States forces in the area. However, the United States should feel that we are in earnest, that we want an efficient defence force, that we want to work with them as allies in a proper defence system, and that we wish to have the best. Have we the best? I do not agree with the view that we have nothing to show for the £1,000,000,000 that we have spent on defence. I do not say that we have obtained full value for that money; and I know that we have spent a tremendous amount on defence. Those who question whether we have anything to show for the money we have spent should consider the amount of money that has been spent on maintenance of personnel in the forces. The aim of this country is to obtain efficient equipment. Those who say we have nothing to show are correct to a degree, if they compare Australia's effort with the effort of the United States.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What sort of an air force have we?

Mr THOMPSON - We have Sabre jet fighters and we are told that, of their type, they are very suitable. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) advocates the purchase of a different type of jet altogether. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has emphasized that we should be able to put into the air planes that will stand up to the enemy. The Sabre jet could have done that very well indeed four or five years ago, but to-day it could not combat the super jet bombers of the Soviet Union. Whether we are able to purchase the type of plane that would is another matter altogether.

Earlier, in referring to enlistments in the Army and the Navy, I said that the greatest call to our young manhood was that of learning to fly. Figures have been given of the numbers who, in aero clubs, are training voluntarily at week-ends. The clubs are, to a certain degree, subsidized by the Government, and their members may some day take part in the force that I believe Australia most needs. I recall that, away back in 1936 or 1937, the Labour party had a federal conference in Adelaide. The Menzies Government was then in office and, even in those days, the late John Curtin was advocating that the Labour party's policy should be to develop an efficient and up-to-date air force. He regarded an air force as the most mobile and effective force that could be employed in the defence of this country. I do not want to say anything about the Wirraway, and what happened when the Japanese attacked, but the fact is that the Government did not carry out the policy that Labour had advocated. I am a great believer in having an efficient air force. I believe that it should still be in the forefront of government policy. However, any force, to be effective, must be able to employ the most modern armaments. In this matter I come down on the side of the guided missile and the atomic warhead. As much as I hate and detest the thought of war, I believe that to train men and put them in aeroplanes that have not the fire power of the most modern types is akin to returning to the days when the Wirraway fought the Japanese Zero. We must see to it that the men who offer for the defence of this country are not asked to use a blunderbuss against the latest type of machine gun.

How are we to obtain these modern armaments? The Labour party established in South Australia a testing ground for guided weapons, and big sums of money have since been spent on what is to-day regarded as one of the greatest testing sites in the world. It has cost millions and has, on the surface, provided little in the way of defence materiel. But we know that in fact the money has been well spent in providing us with the most advanced guided missiles and other armaments.

Many honorable members have said that it takes years to get this or that done, but as a member of the Public Accounts Committee I found that the defence departments were not always able to spend the money that they had been allocated. I think that not more than about £20,000,000 annually could be spent upon equipment. Reference has often been made to the evidence given by Sir Frederick Shedden. That gentleman told us that the department was not able to spend some £9,000,000, and that this money had been put aside for the purchase of later equipment that would bring us up to date. I am not unaware of the great difficulties that beset the defence of this country, but as a member of the Opposition, it is meet for me to criticize the Government, which has the responsibility of doing everything possible to provide this country with an effective defence.

I was pleased that my own leader emphasized on behalf of the party that we wanted a good and effective defence policy for this country. I agree, also, that we cannot go on year in and year out spending huge sums of money in order to deter the other fellow from attacking us. The world must return to a frame of mind in which it will be possible to get together round a table and talk things over. I detest communism, but when it comes to the recognition of red China, we must be realistic. The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes) suggested that when our representative went to Washington he should promise that we would not recognize red China. We may well object, with all the. power at our command, to the form of government in that country, but how are we to alter it? Government supporters know, as well as I do, that the millions of Chinese who accepted communism did not know what it meant. Most of them were illiterate and of the coolie type. They worked in the fields, and lived little above the level of animals. Naturally, when they were told that they would no longer have to work hard, or live miserably in a mud hut, passing over a large proportion of what they grew to some one who did not work at all but would, instead, be given the right to use the land and take the produce for themselves, they were willing to agree. We may say it is all an illusion, and that nothing will come of it, but it was no illusion to the Chinese coolie. His condition will not be cured by our saying that we will not recognize red China. Whether you call it co-existence or something else, it must surely come.

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

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