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Wednesday, 8 December 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -If the honourable member is going to be provocative I will have a hard job protecting him.

Mr ARMITAGE - The amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley states:

That all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

The White Paper of the Minister for Defence presented to the House this day entitled 'Australian Defence' be referred to the Standing Committee on Expenditure so that the fiscal implications of the proposed program, especially in relation to its effect on other programs and its requirements for additional revenue collections -

Mr McVeigh -I rise to a point of order. I noticed when the honourable member for Chifley was reading from a prepared speech that he had his feet on the seat. I ask: Is that a dignified manner for a member of Parliament to act. After all, he is not at home.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -There is no point of order. I am sure that the honourable member for Chifley will make himself comfortable in his own inimitable fashion.

Mr ARMITAGE - The amendment continues: can be investigated and reported upon and that such report be available to this House not later than the last sitting day of this House in March 1977.

At this stage I want to make it clear that I was not reading my speech. I was reading the actual amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley. More and more people and members of this Parliament are coming to realise that Australia is not getting value for its defence buck, for a dollar spent on defence in this country. There have been a number of occasions recently to be concerned about this aspect. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament- I am not giving away anything confidential because these were public inquiries- I can only say that I was shocked, and I know that other members of the Committee were shocked, at what could only be termed the complete inability to appreciate the need for tighter accounting systems. I know that the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) is loyal to his Department and that he has some conscience in these matters. I think it would be a good thing if he could go through the transcript of evidence taken before some of these public inquiries. We are simply not getting value.

Most honourable members have heard about the recent case of $34m worth of spares for the Mirage aircraft which were mentioned in the report of the Auditor-General. This matter is going before the Public Accounts Committee for investigation. I raised a question in the House concerning this matter. The Minister replied to me on 13 October. He stated:

I have examined the Auditor-General 's comments-

Mr Baillieu - It is confidential.

Mr ARMITAGE -There is nothing confidential about this matter. It is extraordinary that although the Minister and I are on different sides of the House there is a large element of trust between us. The letter continues: and find there is no case for instituting the investigation suggested in my Department or the Services, on the basis of the matters to which you refer.

The reference in the Auditor-General's report concerns accounting responsibility of the former Department of Supply (now the Department of Industry and Commerce) for raw materials and lead-in supplies for the manufacture of the Mirage aircraft.

My colleague the Minister for Industry and Commerce is making a thorough investigation of the manner in which this situation developed and will make a statement in due course. However, it should be noted that the aircraft built from these so-called 'lost' parts were completed and delivered to the Air Force some years ago.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What was the date of the letter?

Mr ARMITAGE - The letter is dated 13 October 1976. It is from the Minister for Defence to me in amplification of a question which I raised in this Parliament. I have read the report of the Auditor-General and I think it should be remembered at all times that the AuditorGeneral is a person who is above the control of this Parliament and the Executive. That is to say, he submits his report annually and he makes his own decisions as to what is investigated. The report is delivered to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, not to a Minister, and is presented in this Parliament. It is a very admirable system, one which is above politics and above the Executive. But the facts are that he has reported, despite what the Minister says, in very scathing terms indeed. The Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament would have no alternative but to carry out a full scale inquiry. I will give another very small example. It deals also -

Mr Baillieu - Speak to the amendment. What are you talking about?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -The honourable member for La Trobe will cease interjecting.

Mr ARMITAGE - They have had too good a party tonight.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -The honourable member will not reflect in any way upon any other honourable member.

Mr Lusher - Tell them what you were doing on the verandah.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I warn the honourable member for Hume. If he continues to disobey the Chair I will deal with him.

Mr ARMITAGE - I discovered, purely by accident, that members of the Australian Women's Army Service working on telecommunications equipment and activities are being transported daily, irrespective of whether they are on day shift or night shift, from Victoria Barracks and Remington-Rand, which is, I think, in Elizabeth Street or Castlereagh Street in Sydney, to and from their homes. In other words, ordinary workers, people undertaking normal activities no different from those of a person working in any other organisation, receive this very special privilege of being transported by Army car or by private hire car, as m the particular instance of which I was informed.

Mr Martin - It would be a waste of money.

Mr ARMITAGE - As the honourable member says, it is undoubtedly a waste of finance. I think these activities, as there is very strong opposition from the Department of Defence at the present time to removal of their fleets of cars to the control of the Department of Administrative Services, should be investigated. Of course, the Department of Defence is opposed to it; the lurks are too good. The Department of Defence wants to maintain them within its own responsibility.

Mr Killen - Would the honourable gentleman provide me with details of that?

Mr ARMITAGE - By all means. I am only too pleased to provide the Minister with these details. I came upon this situation purely by accident. I am happy to give full details of the matter to the Minister. It is for this reason that I believe that many people are very deeply concerned about the financial accountability of the defence services generally and the Department of Defence. They are deeply concerned as to whether we are receiving full value for our defence dollar. It is a question of how much more could be done in carrying out an activity more effectively and efficiently. At the same time a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has been set up to inquire into the industrial back-up required for our defence Services. In fact, in correspondence coming to me I have noticed that the committee has been named the Hamer committee' after its chairman. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) is a member of this House. The facts are that this committee is carrying out a full-scale inquiry, as the Minister for Defence is aware. It has gone to a lot of trouble. During the last recess of the Parliament, the committee spent considerable time visiting both government and private defence and semi-defence establishments throughout

Australia which provide industrial backup for our defence services.

I think it is important that we should examine the merchant ship building industry. I am particularly interested in that subject at the moment. I have certain responsibilities in this regard and I should like to make it clear to the House that at this point of time I am expressing a purely personal opinion. I am not expressing the opinion of the committee which still has to make its final determinations. I think it is reasonable to say that I have formed the firm opinion- I think others have also- that there is a very definite need for a merchant ship building capacity to be retained in Australia. I should like to point to the reasons why our ship building industry has become inefficient. Undoubtedly, as it stands at present it is inefficient.

Mr Martin - It has defence potential.

Mr ARMITAGE - I will deal with the defence potential of the ship building industry in a few moments. I think it is most important to point out why the ship building industry has become inefficient. The reason is that the necessary capital has not been injected into the industry. The facts are that since the mid 1960s there has been doubt about the retention of the industry in Australia. Accordingly, capital has not been invested in the industry and the industry has not been updated in terms which are comparable with its overseas competitors. This is the sort of thing which happened to the British ship building industry for exactly the same reasons. This is the reason why other countries took over the British ship building industry. In addition, industrial unrest has occurred in the industry. Demarcation disputes have arisen because if a person 's job is on the line he will fight to keep his job. If a person from another union wants to take it over -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! I ask the honourable member to tie-in his remarks to the motion before the Chair.

Mr ARMITAGE - I am very much tying in my remarks to the motion before the Chair. The merchant ship building industry basically is a party of our defence capacity. The facts are, as honourable members will find when the report of the Committee is tabled in this Parliament -

Mr Yates - Respect the Chair!

Mr ARMITAGE - It will indicate that our merchant ship building industry is a defence requirement and that in the event of a high level attack on Australia it will be an essential part of our defence. If, for example, Australia were cut off from other countries we would experience difficulties in obtaining supplies. The ships which ply our coast bringing food and so on sail under foreign flags.

Mr Yates - Address the Chair.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I remind the honourable member for Holt that the Chair can look after itself. I do not need any suggestions from him.

Mr Yates - I rise to a further point of orderMr DEPUTY SPEAKER- I did not know that the honourable member had a point of order but if he has I ask him to tell the Chair about it.

Mr Yates - I was making no reflection on the Chair. I only asked that the honourable gentleman on the other side of the House address his remarks to the Chair. That was all.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -The Chair is not being helped by certain interjections in deciding what is relevant.

Mr ARMITAGE - I want to make it clear that on 2 occasions this week I have risen to speak in this House and on both occasions I have been interrupted by continuous points of order. It is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to stop me from voicing an opinion in this Parliament.

Mr Lusher - I rise to order.

Mr ARMITAGE - The Government will cop it from me.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -The honourable member for Chifley will resume his seat.

Mr Lusher - The honourable member for Chifley is not relating his remarks to the subject matter before the Chair. If he wants to make a personal explanation he will have the opportunity at a more appropriate time to do so.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - I think the Chair will decide that issue. The honourable member for Chifley is attempting now to tie in his remarks to the debate on the defence statement. The Chair will judge in a minute or two whether his remarks are relevant.

Mr ARMITAGE - It will not be very long if you look at the clock, Mr Deputy Speaker. My time has been taken up by this crowd and I assure them that I will pay them back.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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