Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 13 November 1964


Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) . - The Senate should be reminded that today it is taking the responsibility of endorsing or disputing the national defence policy announced by the Government which has the authority to govern this country. We have listened to Senator McKenna giving the second edition of the thoroughly politically expedient speech to which Mr. Calwell gave expression last night in another place. But the second edition did not have the fire, the spirit, the lightness of phrase, or, I am bound to say, the reason that was in the carefully written speech that Mr. Calwell read. I am bound to discuss this matter with a solemn sense of duty, broadly based, I hope, on the national interest. If we do not rise to the realisation that this issue demands of us a judgment which ignores party politics and electoral interests, we fail. In order to indicate the degree to which Senator McKenna wallowed in those considerations, let me take two points.

First of all, he summoned some synthetic heat and said that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) makes scare statements, creates an atmosphere of crisis and postulates that there is an emergency. Then in the very next paragraph of his speech, Senator McKenna put forward a prattling argument that the people should know that many of these giant defence construction measures will not be completed for 18 months, two years or three years. On one hand, the Labour Party breathes the suggestion that reference to the development of a crisis is mere scare imagery to delude the electorate. On the other hand, the Party is so utterly lacking in realism and judgment in respect of preparation for armed conflict that it thinks that an aircraft carrier can be re-converted in six months.


Senator Hendrickson - Who said that?


Senator WRIGHT - That is the implication


Senator Cant - Say what was said; never mind about the implication.


Senator WRIGHT - I will quote exactly what was said. There was the criticism that aircraft will not be available until 1 968, and then the false information was given - on challenge this could not be supported - that a statement had been made that the aircraft would not be available until 1970. After that Senator McKenna said that it is just as disgraceful that they will not be available until 1968 as it would be if they would not bc available until 1970. 1 deplore completely the weakness of reasoning by a man who, I hope, gave some continuing and earnest consideration to the problems of national defence before standing up to speak this morning and, first, suggesting that the idea of emergency is unreal and imaginary and then expecting the people to be persuaded that, because some of these defence weapons and defence preparations will not be available or completed until the end of the three year period that the Prime Minister's defence statement covers, the Government has neglected defence.

Mr. Deputy President,1 take another aspect Of the argument of Senator McKenna. He referred to the statement of the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes) who, some three weeks ago in Hobart, as the Leader of the Opposition read, made a statement to the effect that the Service chiefs had advised that conscription was not the most efficient way of assembling an Army.

No doubt Dr. Forbes spoke with a good deal of understanding and on information which was satisfactory to him. But the fact is, I am assured, that the advice of the defence chiefs is that in the present situation, to get even the numbers that this programme demands and to increase the number of personnel in the Army from 22,750 to 37,500, or an effective increase from 22,750 to 33,000 in the time that the strategic assessment suggests is necessary, the method of compulsory service is advisable. Let it be understood by the country that that is the position that is to be challenged. Let it be understood also that these proposals-


Senator Hendrickson - Who are the honorable senator's advisers?


Senator WRIGHT - 1 do not make a statement to the country on a matter of such importance as this without direct assurance that my statement is based upon the advice given to the Cabinet itself.


Senator Hendrickson - Has Dr. Forbes been sabotaged? The Government should sack either the defence chiefs or Dr. Forbes.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - -Order Opposition senators will have the opportunity later to reply to Senator Wright.


Senator WRIGHT - Our political system is such that the defence advisers do not come into this debate. I take the political responsibility of making that statement. I want it to be understood that the advice of the defence chiefs goes to the Government of the day for its considered judgment, and the Prime Minister announces the national policy. In this instance, it is supported by the fact that a large and resolute section of Government supporters has been giving continuous consideration to this matter, in direct consultation with heads of the Services, over the last three months. The proposals are fully supported by the members who sit behind the Government, after taking care to consider them.

Having said that by way of criticism of the politicising of the Leader of the Opposition on this subject, I suggest that the " Sydney Morning Herald ", by way of commentary on Mr. Calwell's speech of which Senator McKenna's was a second edition, put the situation rather well in its leading article. It said that Mr. Calwell's speech was one of the best and most effective political speeches he had made. I made a similar comment to one of Mr. Calwell's supporters in the gallery at the end of his speech, but I endorse the newspaper's appraisal as a better expression of my judgment. It reads -

All Australians concerned with the safety of their country will regret that he did so. Mr. Calwell had a clear choice. He could, accepting the fact that the country stands in grave danger, acknowledge that its defence was an urgent matter above party politics. He could, on the other hand, exploit the weaknesses of the Government's past record in defence for immediate party political ends.

In the event, he took the baser course.


Senator Kennelly - That is not what the honorable senator said last night.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order!


Senator WRIGHT - Honorable senators are discussing the issue of national defence. The defence statement that we are either endorsing or disputing concerns a proposal to increase defence expenditure in 1965 to £370 million, in 1966 to £421 million, and in 1967 to £429 million. The statement also contains a proposal to increase the size of the Army from approximately 22,000 personnel to an effective 33,000 personnel, with actual personnel of 37,500, to increase the number of Navy personnel from, in round figures, 13,000 to 17,000, and the number of Air Force personnel, again in round figures, from 17,000 to 21,000.


Senator Ormonde - We do not oppose that.


Senator WRIGHT - Honorable senators opposite say they do not oppose this. What are they doing? The Opposition has made it abundantly clear that it is using every political artifice and descending to duplicity to induce people to lose their confidence in the proposal that these works should be carried out, that these armaments should be supplied, and that these men should be recruited for compulsory service in the national defence. Honorable senators opposite have not confined themselves to. disputing only that part of the statement which deals with compulsory national service.


Senator Hendrickson - Yes, we have.


Senator WRIGHT - I will come to that in a moment. It is the fundamental basis of Labour's approach which needs to be understood. I do not approach endorsement of the expenditure of this money or the use of these men for war purposes with other than a very heavy heart. The waste that is involved and the dreadfulness of the means of settling disputes appalls us. Therefore, we should examine the suggestion made by the Opposition that the international facts do not warrant this step in national defence, and that the wrong methods are being adopted to achieve national defence.

Senator McKennaargued that to say that the strategic position internationally is deteriorating, is scaremongering. We have listened to the suggestion that the fomenting of this idea is simply for electoral purposes. Yet, there are behind the honorable senator some bona fide persons whose hearts burn to think that this is the issue. They are in the minority. They are allowing their leaders to speak for them and to put forward the contention that the risk of national danger does not in reality and as a matter of stern, sober challenge, warrant these steps. I believe that we as a Parliament are bound to say that the present international situation, as it has deteriorated in the Pacific, does warrant a programme that requires not a crisis, not a declaration of war or complete mobilisation of the Services, but a properly studied programme of strengthening our defences to meet the challenge if the situation should deteriorate into war in the foreseeable future - that is to say, in the period for which this programme has been announced.

The fact is that any member of this Parliament who appreciates the situation to our north and in the Pacific where we live and where our nation has its existence ought to take firm resolution and solidly support these measures. This is a situation in which the defence vote simply must be increased and the armed forces simply must be strengthened. Why? Because a serious threat has arisen as a result of the increasing weakness of Malaysia. What is our interest in Malaysia? The situation now is no longer one in which any political party in this country will advocate the withdrawal of Australian defence units from Malaysia? There are about -2,000 Australan personnel in that peninsula and its environs, and they are thought of very highly there. Indeed, their worth is out of all proportion to their numbers.

We are not defending Malaysia just to keep it in existence, and. for no other reason, although, having been freely created and having its independence endorsed by the United Nations, and as a member of the Commonwealth, it is entitled to our friendly support. We find in Malaysia that which divides Communist China from Indonesia and that which affords to Australia a front line of defence against any development of Communist China from the north or against other hostile elements. We find that both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party of Great Britain are committed without qualification to the programme of support. Britain is spending £li million each week there on its armed services alone. Britain is maintaining an infinitely greater number of troops in that area than we are.


Senator Ormonde - We are committed to it too.


Senator WRIGHT - I know that Senator Ormonde says that, but I wish the whole of his party would say it. I pause for a reply. There being none, I remind isis party that the United States of America, after hesitating a little, has for the past six or eight months revealed itself as resolute in unity to defend Malaysia. That being our cardinal proposition, is it not registered in the mind of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Kennelly) that there is a growing weakness evident in Vietnam?

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.


Senator WRIGHT - Before the suspension of the sitting I had said that our defence strategy was supported by the AngloAmerican alliance, and that Great Britain, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia are all in complete agreement that the first barrier against Communism in South East Asia is Malaysia. Everybody who has a concern for the welfare of this nation should understand that the recent events in South East Asia have aggravated the danger to Australia, and have imperilled our cause in that area. In support of this statement 1 need mention only the Tonkin Gulf episode, the recent destruction of American bombers by the North Vietnamese and the frequent changes that have occurred in the Vietnamese Government. All these events cast their long shadows southwards and cause concern. A collapse in that area would pose a terrific threat to the security of Malaysia from the north.

What about the south? Has the threat from the south to Malaysia increased in recent weeks? We have done all we can to persuade the Indonesian people that wc in Australia wish to live in peace with them. Our policy gives them terrific opportunities to fulfil their aspirations if they can only sec the advantages of reciprocal trade and reciprocal understanding with this country. But Indonesia is spending three-quarters of its revenue on defence, and Dr. Sukarno has never dissociated that defence expenditure from his vehement threats to crush Malaysia. Furthermore, we should remember that before Malaysia was established Dr. Sukarno had no opposition to its foundation. But the Communist Party in Indonesia, now in the ascendant and presenting a threat to the very existence of the government of that country, did preach the crush Malaysia doc trine 12 months before Sukarno ever adopted the cause. Are there other events to cause us concern? There are in Malaysia the guerrilla activities, the landings of armed men by parachute and finally - every Australian should harken to this - the first contact by Australian troops with the invaders from Indonesia, which has taken place within the last few weeks.

I ask the people and the Senate: Do those events square up with the suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition that to call the country's attention to this growing threat is warmongering, and that those incidents have been conjured up simply as an election issue? What sort of an election is this in a country such as Australia? Why is it suggested that the proposal to increase defence expenditure enhances any political party's electoral chances in this country? The suggestion can be made on only one basis, and that is that the thinking elements in this country are already in advance of the Government in understanding the apprehension that these events create. Do honorable senators really think that conviction and confidence are inspired when Senator McKenna quotes the journal of the Indonesian Embassy to support his interpretation of this Government's proposals? He is attempting to make the people believe that the Government's move is a political effort rather than a move, inspired by genuine concern, to adapt its defence preparations to the growing danger? I believe that it is one's inescapable duty to support firmly proposals that will ensure adequate defence preparations in terms of armaments and men.

I turn now to the calling up of men for military service. It is said, Mr. Deputy President, that we should retain the volunteer system of recruiting men for our Army. I think the figures show that, in the present circumstances, voluntary recruitment will not muster the necessary number of men for the Army, even to bring its strength up to the modest total of 37,000 men, in the time envisaged by the Government. I have the greatest admiration for the volunteer tradition. It is wonderful, but it has been unfair. Few men and women in Australia will fail to recognise that the men of this country will accept their obligations when called up for duty, if the obligations are fairly distributed.

Are we to retain behind the Australian coastline men who are called up in this way, or are we to have them ready to fight abroad if need be? This question has only to be stated in relation to the two world wars that most of us have witnessed. It would be completely horrible to think that any responsible section of Australian opinion would take the view that our defence effort is not to extend outside Australia unless only those who volunteer will be sent abroad. Whether alone or in conjunction with our allies, the effectiveness of defence increases tenfold when action can be taken abroad if need be. If we in this country relegated ourselves to a garrison situation, we would lose the confidence of our allies and be annihilated. I heard a lot of tin pot nonsense in another place last night to the effect that we, a nation of fewer than 11 million people, can provide adequate defence against possible invaders by taking measures within our own borders.


Senator Ormonde - Who said that?


Senator WRIGHT - Two or three Labour speakers in the other place said it. We then ask whether this obligation for service abroad should be accepted in peace time, Mr. Deputy President. No more is there a long and gloomy twilight between peace and war, followed by the night that begins on the declaration of war. In these times, war comes upon us with a suddenness that can be counted in minutes, and with terrifying power. The idea that we should wait for a formal declaration of war before imposing on our men an obligation to be prepared for service abroad is outdated.

In 1916, Australia held a referendum on this subject. I thought then, and still think, that it is most discreditable for any government to seek to escape its responsibility by neglecting, of its own decision, to fill the ranks of fighting men when they become thinned, with a single battalion holding almost a divisional front, and by failing to send reinforcements raised by the exercise of all the authority at its command. Today, we have grown into a stature of nationhood in which, I think, we shall not resort to a referendum. The Government accepts the responsibility for the decision which it has announced. The Government has made that decision, knowing that it has to face the judgement of the people at the forthcoming Senate elections. If any honorable senator can tell me that conscription is attractive to any democratic peace-loving people such as Australians, unless they are convinced that the danger is real, then I know nothing at all about this country's affairs. In my judgment, these proposals are completely necessary. I think that anything else would fail the nation's defence. I believe that the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is designed to defeat the effectiveness of the nation's defence and that therefore it should be defeated.







Suggest corrections