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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Barker is quite in order.

Mr FORBES - I am dealing with the point made by the honorable member for Parkes. The Government believes that we should get the maximum value for the money that we are able to spend on defence. We are being constantly criticized by the Opposition not only in relation to the total amount of money we spend on defence but also in relation to the value we get for that money. The Government has a different approach from that of the Opposition to the total amount that we should spend on defence. I do not propose to canvass that subject to-night, but the Government has set approximately £200-,000;000' as the most that we can spend on defence each year, having regard to the need for national development and so on. Having fixed that limit at. £200,000,000, it is essential that we get the best possible value for the money spent. I suggest that that is the spirit in which this measure is brought before the House.

If the honorable member for Parkes felt strongly on this matter, I should think that at least he would have informed himself as to precisely what this concession costs the defence vote. He could have discovered that from a perusal of the Budget papers. This concession costs the defence vote slightly over £300,000 a year. If we are trying to decide how to get the best value for the money spent on defence, £300,000 is a very significant sum indeed. Surely the Opposition will admit that we must ask ourselves whether the £300,000 now spent on these postal concessions would be better spent on other things, such as equipment for the members of the Australian forces so that they could be more effective in defending the country. The Government, in its constant vigilance to see that the money allocated for defence is spent in the best possible way, has looked at the matter in that light.

What are the circumstances which have led the Government to say that the £300,000 would be better spent in other ways? If we were at war, the Government perhaps would have retained the concession because of its value in keeping up the morale of our forces. But circumstances to-day are entirely different from those during the war period, when morale had to be considered. During the war period, most servicemen were away from their families for long periods. That does not apply to the majority of the members of the Australian forces to-day. So successful has the Government been in providing housing for servicemen that there is hardly a married serviceman in Australia who is unable to live in married quarters with his family on the station to which he is posted. That being so, the reason for this concession which existed during wartime no longer applies.

Another direction in which there has been a change of circumstances is in the rates of pay of servicemen. When this concession was first introduced, the Australian serviceman received virtually nothing. His rate of pay was 5s. or 6s. a day. To-day, judged by any standards, the Australian serviceman is very well paid and is therefore quite as capable of meeting postal charges as any other member of the community.

The next point I wish to make is one mentioned by the honorable member for Parkes. We no longer have national service training. If we still had national service training, I would say that there would be a very strong case for the retention of this concession, even if only for national service trainees. Under a national service training scheme we forcibly take young men away from their homes and families, and it is a good thing- to make it as easy as possible for them to communicate with their families. But, because of the change in the strategic situation, national service training is no longer necessary and therefore the only possible argument which could be put forward for the retention of this concession no longer obtains. 1 suggest that, in the light of the overall defence situation, the £300,000 which this concession is costing the defence vote would be far better spent on providing better equipment for the Australian forces. 1 repeat that it was only after deciding that better value could be had for the money by spending it in other directions that the Government decided to bring down this bill.

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