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Thursday, 9 May 1957


Mr WILSON (Sturt) .- I find myself unable to support this bill because it reduces the number of national service trainees from 33,000 to 12,000. I also strenuously oppose the amendment moved by the Opposition, because it proposes to destroy national service training entirely. I have the honour to represent a party which places defence and national service in the forefront of its policy. The objective of the Liberal party of Australia is to have an Australian nation safe from external aggression, and living in the closest communion with its sister Dominions of the British Empire, and playing its part in world security by the maintenance of the necessary forces to defend the peace. National defence is a matter of universal duty. The spirit of patriotism is fostered by Australians uniting in the common service of their country. I believe that national service training is one of the Government's finest achievements. It was part of the policy on which the Government parties went to the country in 1949. In pursuance of the objectives of the Liberal party, the then Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration (Mr. Harold Holt), on 21st November, 1950, introduced a bill, for national service training. The Minister said -

But whilst national training is directly linked with the nation's defence, the Government's approach to the principle of national service is directed to the attainment of two objectives. The first is the contribution which can be made in this way to our defence preparedness, and the second is that we should improve the physical fitness - using that phrase in the widest sense - of our young manhood.

Almost every member who has spoken in this House, and all those who have spoken from this side of the House, have paid a tribute to national service training for the part it has played in the fitness of the youth of this country. The Minister, when introducing the bill, said -

The Government remains very conscious of the considerable social value of the scheme. Quite apart from its value to the services, the scheme has encouraged a sense of discipline and it has improved the health standards of those who have come within its scope.

When national service legislation was first introduced, there was quite a deal of opposition to it. It was strenuously opposed by the Australian Labour party, and the early gallup polls taken in respect of national service training showed that only a small majority of the people were in favour of it. Each year that has passed since then has produced a greater majority of the people of Australia strongly and overwhelmingly supporting the scheme. Those people are not entirely conversant with the defence needs of the country, but they know the value that national service training has been to the youth of this country.

The Minister himself has paid tribute to its value to the physical fitness of the population. Are we now to sacrifice the fitness of the youth of Australia because, for financial or other reasons, the Government is unwilling to carry on universal training? Are we to sacrifice the health of the community because the Parliament is unwilling to retain the scheme? I believe that the physical fitness and health of the youth of Australia is as important as any other consideration in the community.

What arguments are advanced for this very substantial reduction in national service training? The first argument is that it will save £7,000,000 a year. It has been said that the defence chiefs have stated that they will be able to spend that £7,000,000 in better ways, from a defence viewpoint, than on national service training. In a budget of £1,000,000,000, a sum of £7,000,000 is not very large. For the sake of £7,000,000, are we to jeopardize the physical fitness and the health of the young manhood of our community? The second reason advanced by the Government for the abandonment of the scheme is the lack of instructors. The Army, in its new role, will need to be highly trained and mobile, and apparently the defence chiefs say that they will require all the regular Army for that new role. They suggest, therefore, that they will be unable to provide the necessary instructors to continue national service training on the same scale as heretofore. If that is so, I suggest to the Government that efforts should be made immediately to enlist a special corps of instructors to train national service trainees. I have no doubt that instructors could be obtained. Many people join the Regular Army knowing that they will be sent to other States and even to other parts of the world. That is the career they want; it is the career they choose. There are others, particularly family men, who even in times of peace think that an army career interferes too much with their family life, but who would be just as loyal and just as willing to serve in time of war. I suggest that they would be available and would willingly volunteer for a corps enlisted especially for the training of national service trainees. I think that neither of the two reasons that have been advanced for this very drastic reduction of national service trainees is valid.

My personal belief is that the whole approach to this problem has been erroneous. I do not challenge the presently accepted belief that, if there is another world war, atom bombs and hydrogen bombs will be used, and that that situation must be met; but if atom bombs and hydrogen bombs are to be used, the probability is that the safest place will be in the armed forces and that the people who will really " get it " will be the civilians. That being so, what is more necessary than to have a disciplined population? What better method have we for imparting discipline to our community than national service training? I recently had the privilege of attending the civil defence school at Mount Macedon. We had explained to us there the devastation that occurred in Japan after the dropping of two comparatively small atom bombs. If one thing was impressed upon us, it was this: Above all, we need a disciplined population which understands first aid, fire fighting techniques, self-protection, and methods of saving oneself and one's friends.

I believe that national service training provides the essential basis of training for civil defence and that there should be formed another arm of the services, a civil defence arm, which should be equally as important as, if not more important than, other arms of the services. I believe that national service training should be the medium through which the whole population, over a period of years, is trained in civil defence. It may mean that the basis of training could be altered, or may even mean that it could be somewhat shortened; but it certainly means that in the long run all our citizens would be trained in such matters as fire fighting, first aid, and the saving of those who are injured as a result of raids.

It was pointed out to Us at the civil defence school that civil defence against an atom bomb or a hydrogen bomb is only slightly different from defence against any other hazard. The only difference lies in the magnitude of the destruction. It was pointed out that the training that would be needed to cope with a flood or a fire would be substantially the same as that which would be needed to meet an atomic or hydrogen bomb attack. If, as I suggest, we had this fourth arm of the services, the civil defence arm, of which national service training formed the basic training, we would have at all times a body of men available for any national emergency. What a wonderful thing it would have been if, during the disastrous floods in South Australia last year, a civil defence corps could have gone into action! Millions of pounds worth of damage could have been obviated and, at the same time, the civil defence corps would have had one of the best possible practical training experiences to fit it to meet an atom or hydrogen bomb attack. So I suggest that the Government should reconsider this matter. It should appreciate that this legislation was introduced originally to serve two purposes. In proposing to curtail national service training, the Government is looking at only one of those purposes and is ignoring entirely the value of such training from the discipline, health and civil defence aspects.

Recently, we have had a visit from a very distinguished American admiral who was both friendly and outspoken. What was his message to us on his arrival in Australia? He said, " Australia needs forces ten times as strong as it has to-day ". While that gentleman was in Australia he saw this bill come before the Parliament for the purpose of reducing the number of national service trainees, small though that number was, from 33,000 to 12,000 a year. During the same period, President Voroshilov of Russia was visiting Indonesia, stirring up trouble in that country and urging the Indonesians to make an attack on Dutch New Guinea. Suppose, for example, that the Indonesians, either in the near future or in two or three years' time, responded to that propaganda. It is not unusual for the government of a country which is torn to pieces by internal strife, as Indonesia is torn to-day, to divert the attention of the people and try to unite them on some matter related to external affairs. What if Indonesia decides to attack Dutch New Guinea? Are we going to stand by, or will we marshal our forces to play our part? I venture to say that far too much attention is being given to so-called push-button warfare. I am afraid there are too many buttons and not enough push, and that what we really need is not only the most efficient and up-to-date equipment, but also the trained man-power behind it, with the necessary organization to train the manpower.

In my opinion, the national service training scheme has been one of the greatest monuments of this Parliament, and it is most hurtful to me to see it so drastically cut down at the present time. I should like to see every young man in this country trained through the national service scheme, and I should also like to see such training available for civil defence purposes. The Government should realize that this scheme has been one of the most valuable avenues for the assimilation of migrants. What better way is there to assimilate young migrants than to put them into national service training camps where, shoulder to shoulder with natural-born Australians, they will learn discipline and engage in healthy exercise, and at the same time, become thoroughly and efficiently trained?

The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) himself said on this matter -

We consider that training for national service alongside Australians of the same age would play an important part in the assimilation of migrants.

Are we now to abandon that important aspect of immigration policy by substantially reducing national service training? If only one of every six of our eligible youths is to be trained, it is obvious that the scheme will be of little value. It is obvious, too, that many immigrants who otherwise would be assimilated by close association with Australians will lose that great privilege. I believe that universal training is both a privilege and a duty. It improves the physical fitness of the community, as well as teaching hygiene. It eliminates class hatred and class distinction. It gives discipline to the whole community, and it is valuable, as I said before, in relation to the assimilation of migrants. I therefore urge the Government to reconsider its whole attitude to this matter and to give serious consideration to the establishment of a new arm of the services to deal with civil defence, to which the national service training organization could be attached.







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