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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) .- Mr. Acting Speaker,the statement on defence made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), which is the subject of debate before the House at the present moment, is a statement which was necessary for this House to receive after we as a nation had spent some £1,250,000,000 on defence in the last seven years. In addition, £190,000,000 is listed for expenditure on defence during this current financial year. When one looks at the document and finds that it first of all deals with our external treaties, then deals with the arrangements that are made for the defence of Australia by the three services, and finally, gives some indications for the future, one must feel a very great sense of disappointment at the absence of information as to where defence expenditure has gone and as to the strategic values of the proposals which are somewhat vaguely listed in this document.

I express the opinion that the present system of defence which has been adopted by this country is outmoded when we consider the lessons that were learned first from World War I. and secondly from World War II. I think it is entirely wrong to place the responsibility for the defence of this country mainly upon the Army, which is regarded by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), according to the statement he made in the House recently, as the first line of defence for Australia. In adopting that attitude, apparently there has been a total lack of appreciation of the lessons of World War II.

The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) gave us some very important and precise information about what is being done in relation to defence in other countries which will be our allies in the event of war. I shall repeat these figures because of their very great importance. We find that in the United States of America, of the total amount of money spent on defence, 28 per cent, goes to the Navy, 24 per cent, to the Army, and 48 per cent, to the Air Force. The figures for Canada are 20 per cent, for the Navy, 28 per cent, for the Army, and 52 per cent, for the Air Force. The adjusted figures that were announced by the Minister for Australia are 26 per cent, on the Navy, 37 per cent, on the Army, and 37 per cent, on the Air Force.

If we are to have a defence system it must be an effective defence system, because unless it is an effective defence system it is no system of defence at all. The dangers that we have to .bear in mind are the dangers that we would have to face as a nation if we were the victim of aggression, because our whole system is built on defence and not upon aggression. Therefore we have a defence system for the express purpose of enabling successful resistance to aggression in this country.

We have 12,000 miles of coastline. We must maintain our lines of commerce with other countries, otherwise, as a war proceeds, we will find ourselves woefully deficient in commodities that are vital to our existence. Therefore the primary task of our defence force is that of preventing an aggressor reaching the shores of Australia. I suggest, therefore, that the whole system of defence in Australia must be based on three principles. The first is the securing of complete mastery of the air. Our second line of defence is naval action against submarines to enable the lines of commerce to be maintained. Our third line of action would come into operation only if Australia itself were invaded, and that is the use of the Army to repel an aggressor.

I suggest that so far as our defence budget is concerned, if those three precepts are recognized, the money should be spent in proportion to the value of the role to be played by each of the services in the task of repelling aggression. I say further that under present-day conditions, if we take any note at all of the lessons of World War II.. neither the Navy nor the Army can be effectively used unless there is absolute air mastery by the Air Force. 1 therefore suggest that complete air mastery is the first thing that we have to strive for in Australia. We need an air force with sufficient fighters, bombers and transport planes, to enable the 12,000 miles of coastline, particularly our northern coastline where aggression is most likely to take place, to be so guarded that air mastery will be ensured. Once air mastery is achieved we would have some chance of resisting aggression and effectively destroying the forces that are to be used to invade this country.

Under present conditions the type of aircraft which would be used would be either transcontinental or transoceanic in character. Unless we have that type of equipment, we have no hope in the world of being able to resist the aggressor. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), by interjection, suggests that it might be otherwise, but let me say this: Certain events in World War II. that must be known to the Minister indicate that without air mastery neither navies nor armies can make much contribution towards defence. What comes to my mind straightaway is the fact that the Battle of Britain was won because the Royal Air Force was able to repel the bombers of Germany and inflict such losses upon them that the bombardment had to cease. If one wants another case, one cites the loss of the battleships, " Prince of Wales " and " Repulse ". Both were destroyed because they had no air cover to protect them.

If the Minister desires a further illustration I refer him to the destruction of " Bismarck", the German battleship which eluded the British fleet after the destruction of the battlecruiser " Hood ". Aircraft from a British carrier destroyed the rudder of " Bismarck ", and practically immobilized the battleship, enabling units of the British Navy to intercept and sink it. If the Minister desires a further illustration, I remind him that in the Mediterranean Sea the aircraft carrier " Illustrious " was put out of commission by a few bombers. 1 suppose the classic case, which might convince the Minister for Defence that his strategic plans need to be revised in order to ensure that our Air Force will have air mastery, is the Battle of Midway. In that battle, the surface ships never met. It was a great battle to obtain mastery of the air. When four of the Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk, the remaining Japanese naval vessels retreated and the Battle of Midway was won.

I point out these things to indicate that an aggressor will attack Australia either by air or by sea and that we must have the means of destroying his forces before they are able to reach these shores. Even our Navy would not be able to keep our lines of commerce open unless it had an air cover to enable it to carry out its work effectively. I think those are the great lessons that were learned as a consequence of World War II. We know that before air power came into prominence Great Britain was able to defend itself against assault by sea because of strength of its Navy. The warship's kept its shores safe from aggression. The Navy has now been supplanted by the Air Force in this role and, therefore, I suggest to the House that our first task is to see that our Air Force is equipped with long-distance aircraft so as to be able to strike an effective blow against an aggressor before he comes anywhere near our shores.

I suggest that our second line of defence is the Navy. The battles of World War II. indicate that a new type of naval vessel is required for the defence of Australia. It is not a matter of aircraft carriers because they can operate only if they have adequate air cover. It becomes a matter of destroyers, frigates and above all, submarines. Unless we have submarines to enable us to prevent our own ships from being destroyed, and to be used as a counter to the submarines of other nations, we will not be able to make our Navy as effective as it should be. The Navy can carry out its task of ensuring that our commercial lifelines are maintained only if we have air mastery. 1 have made the position clear in regard to our first and second lines of defence. The military forces would be used in the actual defence of this country once the enemy had made a landing upon our shores. 1 think everybody will agree that it is far better for us to prevent the enemy from landing than to allow him to land and then try to eject him from the continent.

Following from that, the question arises as to whether the economic preparations in connexion with the effective defence of Australia are as satisfactory as they might be. I have read the document distributed by the Prime Minister and I heard him make his speech. One certainly was surprised, even in spite of the proposals for the re-organization of the defence forces of this country, at the little time and space given to defence production.

The provision of the things necessary to enable our defence forces to operate is dismissed in three small paragraphs in a very lengthy statement. The only things referred to are St. Mary's filling factory in some eight or nine lines, the production of the FN rifle in two lines, and the Jindivik pilotless aircraft in four lines. As our lines of communication may be interrupted in war-time, it is necessary that replacements, spare parts, equipment and munitions should be manufactured in the country.

Above all, if we are to have effective air mastery we must have in Australia the plant, equipment and skilled men necessary to manufacture aeroplanes. Instead of that being the position, we have been very gravely concerned during the last few months to find that the factories which have been producing the aircraft- the Canberra bombers and jet fighters - have been diminishing their output. Staff has been put off and the orders placed with these factories are gradually cutting out. We will find in a very short time that the whole of our aircraft industry has been closed down.

There is a proposal that we buy certain machines from America, and that may be necessary in order immediately to procure the right type of aircraft for the defence of this country, and to have sufficient of them to enable us properly to defend ourselves. But that is no justification for not producing aeroplanes, having spare parts available, or continuing to maintain plant to make repairs. Unless that is done then air mastery, if achieved, could be very quickly lost because of our inability to replace wastage and increase our air coverage as may be required.

In addition, we have to consider two other things. We have to make sure that our lines of communication in Australia are efficient enough to enable supplies to be taken from the south or east of Australia to the north-west, Darwin or anywhere else in the northern part of our country where the aerodromes would be situated. In that respect, it was very interesting to hear the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) tell of the deterioration of strategic roads and the condition of disrepair of the airfield at Cloncurry, which is gradually being overgrown and becoming useless. The Government is wasting money instead of improving our internal communications and increasing our defence strength. I suggest that the House might well consider the question of whether our defence funds are being expended wastefully and ineffectively. It is necessary for us to review the whole of our defence expenditure in order to obtain the best value for the people of Australia.

We want a defence programme that we can be confident will enable us to defend ourselves properly. Unless our programme is effective, we may as well have no programme at all. No one knows when the day of aggression will come. We want to be sure that, when it does come, we shall have properly planned defence forces available to protect us and repulse the aggressor. The Australian people want to feel safe and secure under the protection of their defence forces. They do not feel secure at the present time. It is imperative that we have mastery of the seas around our shores.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Sitting suspended from 5.48 to 8 p.m.

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