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Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1224


Mr PEACOCK (KOOYONG, VICTORIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Does the Minister agree with Major Peter Young, a member of the Australian Labor Party Federal Executive Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, who yesterday referred trenchantly to the Government's slashing of the defence vote? In particular he said that if the Army's morale had not hit rock bottom it was only 2 inches from it. Does the Minister recognise therefore the appalling decline in the morale of the services? Will he also cease the secret, covert disbanding of units, for example many Royal Australian Air Force units, and the cancelling of procurement orders, for example the assembly of light observation helicopters, the number of which will be cut back? Will he reverse the trend, publicise and build up the Services and recognise that if his claims for a more independent defence force are to be achieved the Government must spend more on defence and not less?


Mr BARNARD - The honourable member has asked a series of questions. I shall refer to the first one first. I have not yet had the opportunity to look at the transcript of the statement made by Major Peter Young yesterday, but in any case Major Young is not the defence spokesman for my Party. I am the Minister for Defence and the decisions will be made by this Party and by this Government and not by Major Young. The honourable member has referred to the question of morale. It is true that a number of statements have been made or a number of contributions have been made by journalists dealing with the question of morale. A number of them have appeared under the name of Mr Denis Warner. I offer no criticism about Denis Warner's attitude towards defence and his ability probably to be able to comment on defence, but I merely say that honourable members ought to remember and probably take the opportunity to read some of the articles Denis Warner has written about South East Asia in recent years. In every case, he has been proved wrong. So I can dismiss Denis Warner's attitude because what he has done is to set out deliberately ito lower the morale of the defence forces.


Mr Sinclair - Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is the Minister for Defence permitted in this place to cast reflections upon the professional integrity of a man who is not a member of this Parliament?


Mr SPEAKER - Order! There is no point of order involved.


Mr BARNARD - I believe that the statements that have been made recently have been made to cast a reflection on the great majority of the personnel of the Army on the question of their attitude to the defence forces and the morale of the armed Services. Let me talk about morale because Mr Denis Warner has not made any reference to what has been done for the defence forces since this Government came to power. Let the honourable member for Kooyong stand up and move a vote of no confidence in this Government or in me in relation to what has been done by this Government to improve conditions for the armed forces generally.

I believe that I should reiterate once again for the benefit of honourable members opposite, as I have done before, the attitude of those honourable members to the Army and to the armed Services generally. I take one issue as an example - the question of the defence forces retirement benefits legislation. Can anyone forget the deplorable attitude of members of the Opposition in relation to that legislation?


Mr Lynch - Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. If the honourable member wants leave to make a statement on defence, the Opposition parties will certainly provide it.


Mr SPEAKER - Order!


Mr BARNARD - As I said when I rose to answer this question, the honourable member for Kooyong deliberately asked a series of quesions. If he wants an answer to those questions, I believe that I should be given to opportunity to give him a full and complete answer.


Mr Lynch - I wish you would start answering the question.


Mr BARNARD - I have answered the question on 2 points. I have dealt with the question of morale. Members of the Opposition know that they are in a very weak position when they begin to suggest that nothing has been done for the defence forces of this country. Denis Warner and others who have referred to the Government's statement that the size of the Army will be 34,000 by 1976 and that there will be a review of the size of the Army after that period forget, of course, that in the 1960s - a period to which I referred on one other occasion - when this country was engaged in confrontation, or was using confrontation as a policy issue, the strength of the Army was about 22,000. The Army now stands at 31,000.


Mr Lynch -How many civilians?


Mr BARNARD -If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wants a precise figure, I will give it to him.


Mr Katter - Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Minister for Defence is utterly deceiving the House by making a comparison between 2 groups of figures, 22,000 and 31,000, which are completely deceiving.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member---


Mr Katter - Mr Speaker, if he-----


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. There is no point of order involved. The honourable member will obey the Chair.


Mr BARNARD - I was about to give the figures in the 1960s, a period in which, as I said, the former Government claimed that this country was concerned about confrontation. In 1964-65, the year in which the former . Government decided that it would enter into the Vietnam campaign, the size of the Army was 25,314. In 1963-64, the year before, the strength of the Army was 22,681.


Mr Sinclair - Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.


Mr BARNARD - Today, when we have been informed by all our advisers - -


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I made an appeal last week that questions and answers to questions should be as brief as possible. I am here in particular to see that the private members get as many opportunities to ask questions as possible. I am asking that questions be short. It was a long question but I am asking the Minister to make the answer as brief as possible.


Mr Sinclair - On a point of order, I ask the Minister to table the paper from which he is reading.


Mr BARNARD - I seek leave to have the figures to which I referred incorporated in Hansard.


Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows>

 


Mr BARNARD - Finally, the former Government was a government which during a period when it was prepared to use confrontation as an issue in this country kept the strength of the Army to approximately 22,000. This Government has moved to provide a volunteer Army in this country of 31,000 by the end of this year. It will rise to 34,000 by 1976, despite what our critics have said. This, of course, indicates the strength of the Government's position and I believe the extent to which its policies in relation to improved conditions for servicemen have been accepted, because those who are now coming forward as volunteers are somewhat of an embarrassment to those who have to enlist personnel into the armed forces in this country. The plain fact is that the number of volunteers exceeds even the Government's expectations, despite the fact that we were told by the Opposition when it was in government that it would not be possible to have an all-volunteer force in this country.







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