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Thursday, 22 October 1964


Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - I refer to Division No. 765 - Government Factories - Maintenance of Production Capacity. This relates to the activities of the Department of Supply. There are occasions when Senator Wright and I agree - on those occasions when he is correct. He is correct on this occasion when he demands that information to justify a proposed appropriation be given to the Parliament by the Government. I know that Senator Wright gives a lot of consideration, and sometimes a little thought, to these issues. We are not provided with any information on the details-


Senator Anderson - The honorable senator has all the information in Division No. 765.


Senator DITTMER - Is the Chairman in charge of the chamber or is the Minister?


Senator Anderson - 1 am merely interested in setting the honorable senator right.


Senator DITTMER - The Minister appears to me to be interrupting. I leave myself in the Chairman's hands.


Senator Anderson - In those circumstances, I take the point of order that there is no suggestion in Division No. 765 of any information being withheld.


Senator DITTMER - May I finish my story without rude interruptions? The Minister is not usually rude, and I know that he is anxious to provide information now, but can we not be provided with something other than what we find in the Press? Here we are dealing with an important section of the Department of Supply. In recent months we have noticed the concern expressed by the Services about inefficient materials supplied to them. In many cases, materials have been absolutely condemned because they have been inefficient and unable to fulfil the purpose for which they were prepared. We cannot maintain production unless we have a measure of efficiency in the whole set-up of the Department of Supply.

I do not propose to attack the Weapon* Research Establishment; it is doing an excellent job. It employs an extraordinarily talented group of men at both Salisbury and Woomera. But do not let us forget that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) has said that this probably will be our period of greatest danger. The people are concerned because of that. We must bear in mind that the activities of the Department of Supply are basic to the soundness of our defences.

There appears to be a deficiency in the organisation. There appears to be inefficient supervision. I do not know whether the people who prepare the materials that are rejected are not sufficiently qualified or whether the supervisors are not exercising proper supervision. If I wanted to drag in red herrings, I could refer to the "Voyager" disaster and many other Navy accidents. There seems to be a measure of inefficiency in administration. This is all the more worrying when we realise that Australia might suddenly face a catastrophe. We do not have to cast our minds back over very many years to recall the danger that Australia faced because the Government of the day - which was condemned by the then Minister for Defence, Mr. Thorby - failed to put our defences in a state of preparedness.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable senator is getting away from the subject before the Chair.


Senator DITTMER - I am merely saying


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable senator was supposed to be referring to Division No. 765.


Senator DITTMER - That is right.


The CHAIRMAN - I ask him to return to that subject and keep to it.


Senator DITTMER - I am relating my remarks to the maintenance of production capacity in Government factories. With due respect, Mr. Chairman, if I sometimes digress it is because I am enthusiastic to defend this country.


The CHAIRMAN - That is no excuse.


Senator DITTMER - I am excusing myself. You know my emotional approach to these issues. I am seeking something for the nation, not for the Opposition. The Opposition in this Parliament is relatively unimportant at present because the Government has the numbers, but things will change after the Senate election. All wc arc seeking is that there shall be efficient administration of this country. Surely that is not divorced from reality or from the estimates with which wc are now dealing. A great deal of money is involved in the appropriation for this Department. There is an appopriation of £1,520,000 for reserve capacity maintenance and £95,000 for re-arrangement of capital facilities. There is also another appropriation of £85,000, for which the Government has not seen fit to give any explanation, lt merely comes under the heading of " Other expenditure". Through the years the Government has got away with so much that I have appreciated the attempts of honorable senators on the Government side to see that it does the right thing and provides a real measure of information for all members of Parliament, whether they are in this place or in the other place, whether they arc on the Government side or on the Opposition side. Do not forget that honorable members on both sides of the other chamber are not particularly happy about our defence arrangements. Neither are we in this Senate.

The Department of Supply is a relatively important part of our defence mechanism. We cannot discuss our defences without considering the activities of the Department of Supply, because of the demands that have been made and will be made on it. The negligent approach to our problems and the present inefficiency in production must reflect in some measure on the Department. Let us be quite frank. It is time that the Government, the people and the Press recognised that any lack of productive capacity is the result of inefficient administration for which only one group of people is responsible. It is the Government of the day, and more particularly the Ministers. When we individualise, it must be the Minister in direct control of a particular department. Frankly, Sir, we on this side of the chamber are sick and tired of having personnel within the departments debited with so-called mistakes. In many cases, they are not so-called mistakes - they are real mistakes. The Government has got away with political murder. That is what it has been doing for many years. It is of no use for Senator Sir William Spooner to smirk over there, because he has been part and parcel of it for many years. He was the best propagandist-


The CHAIRMAN - Get back to this division.


Senator DITTMER - I can draw parallels, in my own limited way.


The CHAIRMAN - Provided they suit the Chair. Get back to the division.


Senator DITTMER - Suit the Chair? Have I not certain basic rights?


The CHAIRMAN - Yes, the honorable senator has, and I am quite prepared to see that he gets them, but he will not be permitted to abuse the privilege as he is trying to. Get back to the division.


Senator DITTMER - Mr. Chairman, I have never sought to abuse the privilege, as you know. .1 am trying to explain the deficiencies of the Government, how it can rectify these deficiencies, and how it must face up to them even in its own party room. When there are deficiencies in administration, as I said, it is of no use to blame the inefficiency of people in particular services or in particular departments. The end result is inevitable. It must be traced back. Rather should I say not " back ", because of their position, but " up " to the Minister in charge of a particular department. The Department of Supply has been under challenge for many years. It is not so long ago that we were even told of the amounts of money that had been wasted. It is not so long ago that we read not only of the amounts involved but also of the ineffective weapons that were produced. It is not only the money wasted in the department that produces these particular items that we must remember. It is the question of the utilisation of them. Perhaps they could have been something in the nature of a hazard to the people who were using them, if there had not been a measure of efficiency of supervision when these products were issued by the Department of Supply to the various Services.

I sometimes wonder, in my own ingenuous way, whether these departmental officers were not suspicious of the inefficiency of administration and the inefficiency of the conduct of operations within the responsibility of the Department of Supply. Ordinarily, being of a trusting nature, I would think that when it came from a particular department it was all right. 1 would accept it as being so. But apparently the chiefs in the various sections of the Defence Services ware suspicious. Why were they suspicious? I am not of a suspicious turn of mind, but I sometimes wonder why they happened to be suspicious. Their suspicion was justified. We have heard it so often. Questions have been asked and the answers have not always been satisfactory. We know that the Government has the right to indulge in propaganda and to cover up its sins of omission and commission. These are not sins of omission. Within the Department of Supply, these happen to be sins of commission. What would have happened to the various people in charge of these particular sections to which products from the Department of Supply had gone and which had utilised these products, if the products had been defective? What would have been the answer of the Government to the people, or more particularly to the relatives of people whose lives had been lost, whose health had been damaged or whose limbs had been destroyed? It is so simple to realise that this could quite easily have happened but for the astuteness of certain people. I am sorry I used the word " suspicious ".


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable senator's time has expired.

Progress reported.







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