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Friday, 13 November 1964

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). There has been a lot of emotion during the whole of this debate. I think it is quite understandable when we examine the question. Generally, we have got right away from the matter that is before us. Honorable senators have been seeking to determine how best political capital can be made out of this debate, even to the extent of making damaging statements against men who are unable to defend themselves. We have passed the stage when we should permit such statements to be made under privilege of Parliament, They should be made in a place where they could be challenged. Wc have heard an attack on the honour of two of the greatest Ministers we have had in Australia. If anyone made a contribution to our defence in the last war it was the late member for East Sydney who exposed the Brisbane Line. As members of the War Cabinet, Dr. Evatt and Mr. Ward helped to save Australia from the invasion which was threatened and which would have succeeded had it not been for the change of Government.

I started by saying that we had drifted away from the question before us. Before people's names are dragged through the mud, as they have been, such innuendoes and statements, if they are true, should be supported in every possible way, including the naming of the informer who told what transpired in meetings of the War Council.

Let me return to the point at issue: On 10th November the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) made a statement in another place, which was repeated by the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) in the Senate, which indicated a serious threat to Australia by forces outside, mainly in South East Asia. According to the Prime Minister, these threats are so great that it is necessary to adopt methods of defend this country that are different from those that have been adopted in the past. The Prime Minister outlined the Government's proposals.

Last night, the Leader of the Australian Labour Party in another place spoke on these proposals and made one of the most devastating attacks of his career on the Government. In fact, Mr. Calwell's speech has been commented upon, even, by senators on the Government side of the House, and referred to as one of his greatest contributions. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate today again condemned the Government's attitude, activities and the proposals contained in the statement. He repeated, with enlargements, much of what Mr. Calwell had said. We believe that a reply must be made to the accusations and charges that have been levelled at the Government. If no reply to those accusations and charges is forthcoming, we must accept that there is no reply to them.

The Government has claimed superiority over Labour in its ability to defend this country. That is not the truth. Although we all speak with emotion, although we all speak of what other Governments have done at other times, the point is that the Leader of the Opposition in another place and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate have said that the crises to which the Government has referred develop in election years and recede immediately after each election. The Government is so consistent in this respect that it is generally accepted that we will have a crisis just prior to an election. If these claims are not true and if these crises do not develop only in election years, let the Government deny that that is so.

The Labour Party has never said that we should not defend our country. The Labour Party has never said that there are no dangers confronting Australia at the present time and that we should not be prepared to meet them. But it has said that there is no greater threat to Australia today than there was three weeks ago when the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes), on the advice of his military advisers, expressed entirely different views from those held now by :he Prime Minister and rejected the proposals subsequently outlined in the Prime Minister's statement.

That position must be explained by Government Senators who intend to contribute to the debate in an attempt to justify the Government's actions. They must show that here is a threat today to Australia that justifies the acceptance of the advice of those who advise Cabinet, as Senator Wright has said, and the rejection of the advice, of the generals who advise the Minister for the Army. One line of advice must be accepted and one must be rejected. It must be shown, not that there is a threat to Australia but that there is a greater threat to Australia today than there was 17 days ago. To condemn the Labour Party and say that it does not have a defence policy and to claim that somebody in another place says we should spend money on universities instead of on defence does nothing to answer the question: Is there a greater urgency today in matters of defence than there was 17 days ago? We are still waiting for the answer.

The Leader of the Opposition said that the present proposals are contrary to military advice. That has been claimed by the Leader of the Opposition in both Houses. The Government has not replied to that accusation, if it is in a position to reply. We have been told by one man that the present proposals were introduced on the advice of those who advise the Cabinet on these matters. Obviously the Cabinet's advisers on these matters are not the military chiefs who advise the Minister for the Army, because they reached different conclusions. It could well be that the Cabinet's adviser on this matter is the person referred to by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Kennelly) as the great white father. Perhaps it is he who advised the Cabinet that there should be some alteration in our military set-up and some change in the method of providing recruits for the Army.

The Government has yet to tell us why these proposals were adopted other than on the advice of the military experts. The Leaders of the Opposition in both Houses have stated that the proposals will not give Australia worthwhile or adequate defence until 1970. That allegation must be dealt with by the Government. In his defence statement in 19S3 the Prime Minister said that we had three years to prepare for the possibility of war. If the methods adopted at that time to meet that emergency were satisfactory, surely the urgency cannot be so great today because the Government's current proposals will take six years to implement. Although "in 1953 we had three years to prepare for war, apparently in 1964 we have six years to prepare because it will take six years before full effect can be given to the Government's new proposals.

The Labour Party has deep and traditional views about conscription. But on this occasion the Labour Party has not said whether it supports or opposes conscription for service here, there or anywhere. All that Labour has said is that conscription is not the best way of providing a suitable force to defend Australia. Which Minister has dealt with that aspect of Labour's argument? We have heard all about the unfairness of hiding behind volunteers. We have heard about the slur that is cast on the fellow who does not volunteer. But we have not heard one word about whether conscripts or volunteers are better for the purpose of defending this country. The Government has not answered the claim that conscription is not the best method of defending Australia. The Government has claimed that conscription is necessary because of the failure of the recruiting campaign, but the Leaders of the Opposition have stated that voluntary recruiting has not been given a- satisfactory trial, nor has sufficient thought been given to building tip a defence organisation which men could feel proud to belong to and which could compete for manpower with industry. The Leader of the Opposition has said that a superior force would be obtained by voluntary enlistment to that which would be obtained by conscription, if this method were a real trial. All these statements have to bc answered by the Government. We are looking for those answers now. The Government offers nothing which will give the people an opportunity of deciding whether the proposal is a genuine attempt to defend the country, to meet any threats that may be confronting it, or whether it is just an election gimmick.

In reply to what I have described as the most devastating attack I have ever heard, which was made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place, the second in command of the Government in that place sought through all the garbage tins for statements that any member of the Labour Party had' made during his lifetime which could bc used to help the Government to win votes. There was even some mention of what Mr. Barry Jones had said on one occasion. Mr. Barry Jones is entitled to his opinion. All this was done in an attempt to belittle the Labour Party's record. We saw similar tactics adopted today in Senator Branson's contribution to the debate. All through his speech he made references to what someone in the Labour Party had said and asked what Labour would do or what the country should do. He argued that the Labour Party had no policy on defence. Does any of that type of thing answer the questions that have been raised here? Does any of it provide justification for the Government's proposals? What we want are proper answers to our questions.

We appreciate that the Government is bankrupt of ideas with respect to defence when we see the Treasurer searching around for statements made by members of the Labour Party in the past, and when we see the Government in this place bringing Senator Wright into the debate to use his eloquence in an endeavour to cover up the whole issue with a flow of words. AH this clearly demonstrates that the Government has no answers to our questions. Strip Senator Wright of his abundant vocabulary, take away all the embellishment of words, and we find nothing left to answer any one of the questions that we have raised. While Senator Wright may be capable of playing on the emotions of people by saying how he speaks on this matter with a heavy heart and so on, I suggest that he has good reason to examine his own conscience with respect to the attitude he has adopted today. I repeat that when we strip away the excess language we find that he has said nothing which answers any of the questions we have raised. The fact that Senator Wright has been brought into this debate shows how desperate the Government is. Possibly his appearance in the debate is the price he has to pay for rehabilitating himself after the attack made upon him the other day for voting mostly with the Australian Labour Party.

I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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