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Monday, 9 November 1964

Senator PALTRIDGE - I did notice in this morning's Press the reports of what was said in the weekend by the Leader of the Opposition and by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in another place on (he subject of defence. I noted those points carefully, and I should like to comment on each of them, if I may. Mr. Calwell said, critically, that there had been five defence reviews in five years. I put it to him that this should not surprise anyone aware of the changing situation that has occurred and the need to keep our defence position constantly under review. The number of defence reviews which have taken place would, 1 think, reflect the continuing concern in respect of defence matters which the Government feels, and its flexible approach to defence matters. If Mr. Calwell is surprised at the number of reviews which have taken place in the past, I give him warning that he will be more surprised in the future as the Government continues its policy of meeting the changing scene and giving defence its constant and close attention. It probably surprises Mr. Calwell to know that our last two reviews have increased defence expenditure by 38.6 per cent, over the period of two years.

Senator Cant - 'What defence has it given us?

Senator PALTRIDGE - If the honorable senator, who interjects from ignorance rather than from knowledge, wants to comment on this matter, he will have an opportunity to do so and, particularly in view of his stand on the North West Cape project, we honorable senators, and his Western Australian constituents in particular, will be delighted to hear what he says. Mr. Calwell went on to say that the TFX deal had been bungled, leaving Australia's air defence dependent upon the Canberra aircraft. There is no doubt about Mr. Calwell's own consistent bungling in respect of his failure to grasp the true situation. He has said this before and he has been confounded many times.

The fact of the matter is that the TFX bomber, the last word in modern strike aircraft, will begin to arrive in Australia in 1968, a full two years before the Canberra will begin to be phased out of service. To call the Canberra obsolete is pure nonsense, and it does not surprise me that Senator Cant contributes to the nonsense. The Canberra is still a most useful operational aircraft; it is in use in many countries. Does Mr. Calwell forget that Britain recently reinforced its own air forces in Malaysia with Canberra bombers? Does he forget that the Americans in Vietnam use the B57 bomber, the American version of the Canberra? He said that the present neglect of the defence forces in respect of expenditure was something about which the Government should be criticised. Regarding his assertion on defence neglect, it is significant that in this current year the Government is already spending nearly six times as much as Labour did when last in office. It is further significant that Labour's own defence budget was actually falling year by year. Between 1947 and 1949-50, its defence expenditure fell from £71.6 million to £54.2 million.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition commented critically on the fact that the Service departments, as he said, had had 35 Ministers in 15 years. I point out that this number is only one less than the 36 faceless men who look after the defence policy of the A.L.P. The generalisations that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made are all very well but let us have a look at the facts concerning the appointment of Ministers for Defence. In the past 15 years, two Ministers have served a total of 13 years. The first of them, Sir Philip McBride, retired at the age of 66 years after 8 years in office and the second, Mr. Athol Townley, served for 5 years until his death in December last year.

Mr. Whitlamalso said that there had been insufficient contact between responsible Ministers and their Service advisers. This is just plain rubbish and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows it. If he does not know it, he should keep quiet. The Service Ministers are in constant touch with their Service advisers and hold regular consultations with them almost daily.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the Minister for Defence in Australia saw less of the Chiefs of Staff than the Secretaries for Defence in Great Britain and the United States of America. I can only say that the responsible Ministers in Great Britain and the United States of America must virtually live with their Chiefs of Staff if they see more of their military advisers than I have in the past six months.

Mr. Whitlamalso said that the Defence Committee was heavily weighted by civilians who were senior to the Chiefs of Staff. I point out that half the members of the Defence Committee are Service chiefs. The civilian members are experts in vital fields pertaining to Defence. They are Mr. E. W. Hicks, Secretary of the Department of Defence; Sir Roland Wilson, Secretary to the Treasury; Sir Arthur Tange, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs; and Sir John Bunting, Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that there had been lack of co-ordination between the Government's defence and foreign policies. My reply is that this co-ordination takes place on all levels as the very membership of the Defence Committee alone clearly demonstrates.

Mr. Whitlamfurther stated that the Government had failed to maintain naval shipbuilding in Australia and had left the Navy without docking facilities on the west coast. My comment is that the facts on shipbuilding speak for themselves. In the past few years, nine major warships have been built in Australia and three more are currently in the course of construction. In addition, the Navy this year took delivery of a £2 million survey ship from the Newcastle State Dockyard, in addition to numerous smaller craft from naval and private yards. As well as the extensive new construction, there is the regular demand on naval shipyards for maintenance and refitting. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also stated that the Government was in a state of confusion over defence. The fact is that Mr. Calwell and Mr. Whitlam are well qualified to talk about confusion. As usual the Opposition is cartwheeling. Recently, Mr. Calwell implied that the Government was not spending enough money on defence, yet two elections ago he claimed that defence expenditure was "pouring money down the drain". Confusion on the part of the Australian Labour Party is synonymous with its backing and filling on the North West Cape naval communication base and party disunity over Australia's role in Malaya.

Senator Cant - I rise to a point of order. Is the Minister for Defence giving the Senate the Government's statement on defence now instead of presenting it later?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order! There is no substance in the point of order.

Senator PALTRIDGE - I was merely saying, Mr. Deputy President, that this state of confusion is synonymous with the Labour Party's own confusion as shown by its backing and filling on the North West Cape naval communication base which should be of particular interest to Senator Cant who hails from Western Australia. This is synonymous with the Labour Party's disunity over Australia's role in Malaysia and its inability to determine its views on what should or should not be done in Vietnam.

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