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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - in reply - I do not propose to speak at any length in closing the debate, but there have been some criticisms of this measure from both sides of the House about which I would like to make a few comments. The criticisms, although they have come from both sides, have been made for very different reasons. The criticisms which have come from the Opposition side of the House express the traditional hostility of the Labour party to the principle of national service training. There is nothing novel about that, and honorable gentlemen opposite have made their position clear. It remains unchanged. They intend to oppose this bill. If they had their way, national service training would be eliminated altogether.

Mr Makin - No, it would not.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - In that case, I have misunderstood what some of the honorable gentleman's colleagues have been saying.

Mr Makin - You know that.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I do not know it. If the members of the Opposition are trying to imply that they would support a national service scheme - national in the sense that it extended throughout Australia, but not national in the sense that it produced an equal obligation for people of the same age and in the same category - that is another matter. Those of us on this side of the House can recall very little enthusiasm when the co-operation of honorable gentlemen opposite was sought in the past in order to make a system of voluntary training - voluntary national service, if you like to put it that way - a success.

The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) has been addressing himself to this question. He may be interested to know that once I had the privilege of serving in a very inferior capacity under his brother, who was a very able officer of artillery, in a scheme of voluntary training in peace-time. I should be very surprised if his brother endorsed the confidence which the honorable gentleman has expressed in the likelihood of a great body of young men coming forward in response to an appeal from the Government at this time. I do not intend to reflect on the young men of this country, who, as I said in my second-reading speech, have contributed to the success of the present scheme of national service training. They have responded admirably to their obligations. But the figures that I gave to the House previously show that since we gave an opportunity to persons to volunteer who would not otherwise have been called up - less than 50 per cent, of those who are in the relevant age groups have been called up in recent years - 125 persons have offered themselves as volunteers throughout the whole of Australia, of whom 74 were accepted. I mentioned previously that even in that number - not a very large one - there were some people who had found when they offered themselves for employment for policemen they were required to have gone through a period of national service training. I think it is only the most sanguine who would expect the kind of response to a voluntary system that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has indicated.

But I do not propose to devote much time to analysing the attitude of honorable gentlemen opposite; that has been done on other occasions. What I would like to turn my attention to is the criticism which has come from some honorable gentlemen on the Government side of the House, and I repeat that those criticisms have been made for radically different reasons than the criticisms offered by the Opposition. Honorable members on this side, far from wanting to abolish national service training, have attacked the Government because it is reducing the number of people who henceforth will be liable to do national service training. In making the comments which they have made, some of our supporters have emphasized the value which, as a nation, we have derived from the training of those who have been called up under this scheme - not merely the military value to the nation, but the social and community value, the value in terms of health, standards, and the higher degree of discipline which has been inculcated in the young men coming under the scheme. I admit every one of the comments made along those lines. We appreciate the value which we, as a nation, have gained from the scheme. But, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) have pointed out, a military problem had also to be approached. That problem was how to make the most effective use of regular trained service personnel and to continue our national service training scheme in its current form and, at the same time, have available in the numbers we wanted regular trained service personnel. The two things could not be managed together. Therefore, we have brought forward the best scheme to meet the military needs that our advisers have been able to produce for us. That does not mean that we have deserted the national service principle or that this is necessarily the last word on national service training.

Some very helpful and constructive comments have been made by those who are loath to see us reduce the extent or scope of training in this country. They have pointed to the modern problem of civil defence and have indicated that, in an atomic age, under the threat of atomic warfare, we need to do more to bring home to our people, not only the dreadful consequences of atomic war, but also the means of survival which may be open to us if we are aware of the dangers and are weD trained to meet the . awful incidence of atomic destruction if we should unhappily come within its path. The Government is by no means unimpressed by what hasbeen said on that aspect. I am authorized by my colleague, the Minister for Defence to say that the Government will arrange for a careful study to be made of the feasibility of including in some scheme of civil defence, a degree of national service training. lust how practicable and feasible such a scheme may be is, of course, not readily determined at this point. It will require careful study and some examination of what is being attempted by other countries in this direction. But the study will be made; and, if it is proved practicable within the means of the Government to extend the national service principle in order to give some training, which would have the advantages of extending the range of disciplinary training and at the same time equipping our young manhood to assist the community in meeting a problem of civil defence, should it arise in those circumstances, then we shall see that the fullest consideration is given to that practicability.

Mr Lindsay - Will that be surplus to the 12,000 or out of the 12,000?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I imagine that, if it was to have the value which has been pressed for by honorable gentlemen, it would necessarily be surplus. That does not mean that those included in the 12,000 might not, in the course of their own training for other purposes, be given some sort of training in dealing with the problem of civil defence. The sort of thing I am putting forward as a matter for study by the Government is whether we might usefully be able to take advantage of the service of our young manhood in a scheme which would not be conducted along the military lines of the present national service training scheme but which would be specifically directed to the problem of civil defence. No details have as yet been worked out; but the assurance I am now giving on behalf of my colleague and the

Government is that a careful study will be made along the lines I have mentioned. I commend the second reading of this bill to the House.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Haylen's amendment) stand part of the question.

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