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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator CANT (Western Australia) . - This is the first of the proposed votes associated with the defence of Australia. The appropriation for the Department of Supply last year was £32,382,050 and actual expenditure was £29,293,165. The proposed vote for this year is £33,044,000. We have been told that there is a dangerous situation to the north of Australia and that our position in this area, at the least, is not comfortable. We were also told when the Budget was submitted that, in peace time, taxation and other charges on the people have to be increased to improve the defences of Australia. Yet the appropriation for the Department of Supply this year is little more than it was last year.

I propose to deal with the items under the Department of Supply collectively but I notice that under Division No. 763 - Administrative, the proposed vote is £3,551,400. Under Division No. 771-

Weapons Research Establishment, subdivision 2, the proposed vote for administrative and operational expenses is £3,884,400. The appropriation last year for this sub-division was £4,299,600. I should like to know why the provision for administration has to be divided into separate pieces. I should also like to have a break up of the proposed vote for administrative and operational expenses under Division No. 771.

Under Division No. 769, the provision for storage services is £1,092,000 compared wish £1,058,000 last year when actual expenditure was £1,041,834. What is meant by " storage services "? I have vivid recollection of the Department of Supply closing down the naval victualling stores at Fremantle. I do not know whether this comes within the category of storage services, but as we go through the Estimates I shall inquire whether this is another of the reductions in defence installations in Western Australia. The victualling stores conducted by the Department in Fremantle no longer exist. Through these stores, the Department earned considerably revenue from overseas for Australia because all sorts of overseas ships were victualled there. The report of the Department of Supply states -

An income of nearly £6 million from overseas was earned during 1963-64 in return for exports of goods and technical processes and in return for services provided in Australia to other governments.

This is the connection in which I have mentioned the victualling stores. When naval ships from other countries came into the port of Fremantle they were serviced from those two victualling stores. It would seem that there has been some loss of trade as a result of the closing down of those stores. In my opinion, the closing down of the stores at this stage was not the right step to take. I should like to know whether the proposed expenditure under Division No. 769 includes stores such as those I have referred to.

In Division No. 773, subdivision 2, item 12, provision is made for project materials and contractor charges. The amount of the proposed expenditure is £1,209,500. This seems to be a new item. There is no reference to it in any footnote. Last year there was no appropriation for this purpose, and no expenditure. I should like the Minister to explain what the item covers. In the following item provision is made for the expenditure of £90,000 on contributions to research. I note that throughout these appropriations a considerable sum of money is to be expended in connection with the Weapons Research Establishment, and that there are many references to the space tracking stations. I do not know whether there is any association between those establishments and the proposed contributions to research. Perhaps the Minister can offer some explanation.

I referred earlier to the proposed expenditure of £1,092,000 under Division No. 769. Under Division No. 775 - Reserve Stocks, provision is made for the expenditure of £499,000 on stores and materials. If we subtract the sums that are not to be charged against the Department, we find that the total expenditure under this division will be £379,000. The Department should be able to offer some explanation of this proposed expenditure. The mere placing of it in the form in which it appears in the Estimates does not provide us with any information at all. Under Division No. 777, provision is made for an appropriation of £750,000 for furniture removals and storage. That seems to be a rather exorbitant amount.

Senator Wright - It is a new item.

Senator CANT - That is so. If we look through the estimates we find that this year the Department will acquire furniture to the value of £45,000. Yet we have this provision of £750,000 for the removals and storage of furniture. Just where are we going with this? The Department should give us some explanation. There seems to be some fairly sloppy book work going on. If we look at Division No. 786 - Other Administrations - Recoverable Expenditure, we find that in subdivision 1, item 04, Other - whatever that may mean - last year the Department expected to spend £1,042,000. It spent £719,526. This year it expects to spend £1,200,000. Surely somewhere along the line there is a better explanation of this proposed expenditure. What are the other Administrations? Some of the expenditure could relate to the United States of America, which of course would be associated with the tracking stations; some of it to the United Kingdom, in connection with the Weapons Research Establishment; and some of it to the European Launcher Development Organisation, which has been featured in the Press within the last few days. We do not know what " Other " refers to in item 04. The Minister should give us some explanation of that.

When we look at the report of the Department of Supply for 1964 we find that most of the projects associated with the Department are situated in New South Wales and Victoria. They are situated as follows: The Defence Standards Laboratories at Maribyrnong, in Victoria; the Aeronautical Research Laboratories at Fishermen's Bend in Victoria; the Aircraft Factory at Fishermen's Bend and Avalon, in Victoria; the Airframe Repair Workshops at Parafield and Northfield, in South Australia; the Explosives Filling and Ammunition Factories at Maribyrnong and Albion in Victoria, Mulwala in New South Wales, Footscray in Victoria and St. Mary's in New South Wales; the Clothing Factory at South Melbourne and Brunswick in Victoria; the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, New South Wales; the Ordnance Factories at Maribyrnong and Bendigo in Victoria; the Engine Works at Port Melbourne, in Victoria; and the Central Drawing Office at Maribyrnong, in Victoria. The Government should commit itself further to its announced policy of decentralisation. There should be some decentralisation of the activities of this Department.

Senator Kennelly - Is the honorable senator suggesting that some of them should be transferred to Perth?

Senator CANT - No. I suggest that they could easily be transferred to Kalgoorlie where there is adequate space. If the price of gold falls very much further, Kalgoorlie will become another ghost city. It would be an ideal place for these sorts of factories. To transfer them there would mean the retention of the population in that area instead of building up the mammoth cities which are unable, perhaps through lack of administration, to conduct their affairs properly. Overall, there are a lot of queries about the Department of Supply to be answered. A few weeks ago we were told by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) - no one has any reason to doubt him, as his department is gathering the information - that Australia was facing one of the most dangerous situations that it had faced since the end of the last war. Yet we find that the expenditure of this most important department, which provides the machines of war and the necessary war materials for the Services, is to be increased this year by only approximately £li million in spite of the fact that increases in taxation, allegedly for defence purposes, will amount to more than £36 million.

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