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Monday, 16 November 1964


Senator CORMACK (Victoria) .- There are one or two matters to which I wish to refer at the outset of my speech. First, I reject the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition. Secondly, 1 do not think there is any man or woman in this country who looks forward to war with excitement or great enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, the men and women of my generation who have served in wars know the futility of war as well as the dangers, the horrors and the destruction that inevitably ensue. As Senator Paltridge mentioned this afternoon, there has never been an occasion when attack on any neighbour country has been advocated by a member of any Australian Parliament. That has been my experience since I have been interested in politics. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves at the present time, it is proper that I should say here in the Parliament - as indeed other honorable senators have said - that we seek to attack no-one. But we are involved in a situation which calls for serious consideration.

When I was speaking in the debate on the Defence Bill I mentioned the problem of the national will. Let us put this matter in perspective. If we accept what Senator Fitzgerald and other honorable senators opposite have said, we have failed in our external policy and we have failed in our defence policy. I think it is proper at this stage that I should define what an external policy is and what a defence policy is. When the external policy fails, the defence policy must ensue. Lord Strange, who was the Permanent Secretary of the British Foreign Office, in a book that he wrote, said that foreign policy " must be related in its general direction to and be tempered by the domestic situation of the nation ". In other words, a foreign policy must be related to what a nation conceives to be its foreign policy needs. I think that this test has been made of our foreign policy in the post-war years. We have given constant assistance to .Indonesia as well as to other countries. This assistance has been given generously. If the foreign policy tends to fail, it must be succoured and sustained by the defence policy. Lord Strange went on to define defence capacity as being " related to the minimal defence of the nation and fulfilment of treaty obligations".

Having said that, I want to refer to the general attack which has been launched by members of the Opposition both in this place and in another place upon the defence statement which was delivered by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). It is manifestly impossible for me to canvass and refute all the allegations that have been made. I must confine myself to a general outline of the allegations. Great sport has been made of the number of statements which have been delivered since 1950 relating to Australia's defence. This was held up to derision. However, the truth is that circumstances are constantly changing. There is no static situation in relation to defence. I suppose that at least some members of the Australian Labour Party envisage a defence effort in terms of a dozen warships lying off Garden Island in Sydney, an annual fly-past of aircraft over Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, and a garrison battalion parading each night, beating retreat at sundown. They believe that that constitutes a defence effort. They visualise defence forces in a static situation and with a static role.

I want to relate the question of changes in defence posture to the problem which is faced in war. There is not one Army commander, Corps commander or Divisional commander who, as a result of defence appreciations, does not change substantially the disposition of the. forces that are at his disposal. The situation in war changes every hour and every day. So it is with a nation. A nation's responsibility in relation to defence changes, particularly in these days, when having regard to the speed with which troops can be transported, the speed at which rockets and aircraft travel, and the speeds - up to 40 to 50 knots - at which submarines can travel. It becomes quite clear that the speed with which the international situation changes is related to the speed with which men can move about the world today, and to the changes relative to the imperial forces of Communism which seek to penetrate South East Asia and Africa.

I want to relate the constant changes in our defence posture in Australia to the events which have occurred since 1950. Each of these matters places emphasis on the defence requirements of Australia, not the offensive requirements of Australia. They have been mentioned in a dozen defence statements made by the Prime Minister or his Minister for Defence from time to time. There was the war in Korea, then the war in Vietnam, then the problem in Malaya, where British, Australian, New Zealand and Fijian troops spent eight years to bring that country into order after Communist penetration from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Now there is the problem of South Vietnam. This sets up another set of circumstances in relation to our defence posture.

We have the confrontation of Malaysia, which is a current problem. A new situation arises as a result of explosion of an atomic bomb by the Republic of China. We have the problem of the split between Russia and China, which has set up new strategic pressures all over the world. Each one of those new defence appreciations has required of Australia a new understanding and a new appreciation of the defence needs involved. So these constant changes in the defence posture are legitimate to this extent. If the Government had not been changing its defence posture and changing its requirements and equipment in relation to its defence posture, it would have been recreant to the responsibility with which it is charged by the Parliament and the electorate. 1 turn to deal for a few moments with the naval problem. Great play has been made of the fact that the Royal Australian Navy, in terms of ships, is not as great a Navy as Andrew Fisher's Navy in 1914. This is perhaps a legitimate political quip, but it does not bear any examination, because the Royal Australian Navy of the 1914-18 war was only a titular Navy. The problem of manning the ships was solved by drafting British seamen to the tune of over 90 per cent., as well as some of the 1 00 hungry officers, as 1 have been reminded by a colleague. The problem then was to have a fleet in being in the Pacific so that it could exert a strategic influence. But the strategic influence of a fleet in being in the Pacific today is accepted by the Navy of the United States of America, and, therefore, the Royal Australian Navy is a Navy with a tactical role within the strategic responsibility of the United States. The plain truth is that with modern equipment costs it is not possible for the Royal Australian Navy to accept a strategic role. It has been suggested by implication by the Leader of the Opposition-


Senator Cooke - Does the honorable senator think that it is not possible or that it is too expensive?


Senator CORMACK - I am about to tell the Senate and to give one explanation. Much play has been made of the fact that H.M.A.S. " Melbourne " is to come in for refit, to have new parts gummed on to it to make it a more effective fighting ship. Oddly enough, this occurs in war more often than in peace. I think it is wise at this time that opportunity should be taken to put " Melbourne " into dock to carry out a refit in relation to her tactical role. When it comes to having an aircraft carrier to occupy a strategic role, it is doubtful whether at that level one aircraft carrier would be effective. Let us suppose that we have to expand the Royal Australian Navy to exert a strategic role. The only aircraft carriers available at present, as I understand it, are the Essex class carriers in mothballs in the United States. They were built in 1944-45. That is to say, they were lightly constructed as a result of wartime requirements. It would cost about £30 million to buy one. According to the condition in which the carrier came out of mothballs, it would probably cost another £40 million or £50 million. So £90 million would have to be invested in one ship to produce a strategic element which in itself, in my opinion, would not be adequate.

But that is not the end of the story. If we wished to use this aircraft carrier in a strategic role we would have to put on it modern fighters capable of flying on and off and competent to deal with any land based aircraft that they might meet. Probably another £40 million would be required to equip the carrier with aircraft. So to purchase, as it were, from the American Woolworths one of the mothball fleet of aircraft carriers would cost - without support vessels - about £150 million. I am no professional; therefore, all that I can do is accept the best technical advice that I can get. That is the technical advice conveyed to me by the Government, and that I accept.

I turn to the problem of the Royal Australian Air Force. A great deal of play has been made of the fact that the R.A.A.F. is not in a posture that will enable it to meet an enemy that it may be required to meet. All that I can do is to turn to a defence statement made by the Prime Minister in 1957, in which he made this remark in relation to aircraft -

Having regard to the almost alarming rate at which military aircraft become obsolescent and finally obsolete, it was thought . . .

He was referring to the requirements of the Air Force at that time -

.   . that the last word would be best. But the type of aircraft which may be needed must always be considered in the light of the country in which it is to operate and the nature of the air forces which it may be expected to have deployed against it.


Senator Ormonde - That means: Who is your enemy?


Senator CORMACK - Yes. So we find ourselves in the situation in which Great Britain found itself prior to 1939, of delaying to the last possible moment the selection of and freezing upon the air equipment that it would require in order to conduct a defensive war in the event of its being attacked. Taking this cold and calculated risk, Britain came up with the Spitfire and Hurricane which, right to the very end of the war, going thought the various marks, were able to establish technical superiority and to maintain the superiority that they established. This cold decision was made by the British in 1937 and 1938 in response to German rearmament. Yet one gets also the reverse picture - I mention it for the information of honorable senators - when it comes to armoured fighting vehicles. The allies never caught up with the standard of German armoured fighting vehicles and only the enormous superiority of American mass production of Sherman tanks enabled that superiority to be overcome.


Senator Ormonde - Second class aircraft won the Battle of the Coral Sea, did they not?


Senator CORMACK - I do not know whether one would call them second class aircraft.


Senator Ormonde - Second line aircraft.


Senator CORMACK - The Japanese were using Zeros. The Americans were using Kittyhawks. The Japanese came down to a level at which their operational capacity was diminished, tactically making a mistake which allowed, for example, the Australian Beaufighters to cut them to ribbons. There was a second reason for this. The Japanese had no radar. The Americans and the Australians did have radar and they were able to pick the Japanese up as they came through and vector our own aircraft on to them. Was the honorable senator referring to the Bismarck Sea or the Coral Sea?


Senator Ormonde - The Coral Sea.


Senator CORMACK - That was a line ball or draw. It was not until the American Hellcat fighters came in the next 18 months that the Americans were able to take the

Zeros on. I thought that the honorable senator was referring to the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. In the Coral Sea Battle, I think, the Americans were beaten in the air in an aircraft to aircraft fight. The Japanese got the wind up and pulled out. They thought that they had sunk the "Yorktown" or the "Saratoga". The Americans were able to get it back to Pearl Harbour and repair it in very short time for use in the Battle of Midway. The Americans found themselves in the same position as the British. They had to defer a freezing on to the types of aircraft they wished to use until the last moment.

So far as the Air Force is concerned, I suggest that at present we cannot exercise a strategic role; that must be left to the United States of America. We have a tactical role only within the overall strategic capacity of the United States. The decision of the Government to postpone the purchase of aircraft of a strike and reconnaissance capacity until 1968 is quite important.

Having rebutted, not in great detail but at least in general, the attack that has been made on the equipment problem, I turn now to what I describe as being the time factor in relation to danger. The Prime Minister's statement clearly indicates that the professional advice that has been tended to it by, I assume, the Department of External Affairs, and the intelligence information that has been gathered by our own armed forces and which is available from our allies, indicate that the crisis may develop in the late 1960's. I am not in possession of any more information than is any other honorable senator, but it is quite clear, when we look at the equipment programme and the delivery dates, that the crisis period may well be in the late 1960's. It is very proper, therefore, that the Government should have designed its re-equipment programme to meet a crisis at that time. Indeed, it is quite clear that the whole of the defence posture is being planned with that in mind.

I turn now to die Army. Senator Fitzgerald spent most of his time by talking about national service. There is nothing in the Prime Minister's statement about national service, which is the calling up of every able bodied youth in the country - we had experience of this in the post-war years - giving them 60 or 70 days training and then expecting them to do some training with the Citizen Military Forces. That scheme was objected to by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force on the ground that it was not possible to fit national service trainees into those Services, So national service training became the residual responsibility of the Army. Because during the 'fifties the emphasis was changing from time to time and the Government was reluctant to divert more money to defence than was being asked for by the Army - probably the Government was taking calculated risks - the Army decided that it would sooner spend on equipment the money that became available as a result of the abandonment of national service training. I agree with its decision.

What the Government now proposes to introduce is not national service. It proposes to introduce selective national service, which is a horse of another shade altogether. Senator Fitzgerald and other honorable senators have referred to what they describe as the hurling of young men 20 years of age into battle. It is not proposed to make the first call-up before 30th June next. The period of service is to be two years, the reason being that it takes two years to train a soldier. Honorable senators can take that from me as being so. In my opinion, a soldier cannot be put into battle without two years' training. If a man is put into battle with less than two years' training, he is being trained in battle. By doing that we would be inviting casualties of a substantial order. Honorable senators opposite and Opposition members in another place have derided the government that sent divisions abroad in 1940. We must remember that it was possible to train those men near the scene of battle. They were trained for at least 1 8 months before they went into battle. Unfortunately, a great number of others had to be trained in battle. But when they returned to Australia they were seasoned troops and probably were of the highest quality in the world. Who will give us two years in which to train our Army for the next situation which may develop? Who will guarantee to hold the ring? That question has not been answered.


Senator Kennelly - Did the honorable senator not say a moment ago that, according to the Government's plan, it is expected that nothing will happen until the late sixties?


Senator CORMACK - I said the indications were that nothing will happen until the late 'sixties. If the first call-up is made on 30th June next, two years' training will take us up to 1967. The training of the 1966 intake will make those troops available in 1968. So there will be a building up of our Army to a strength of approximately 40,000.


Senator Wright - To meet the crisis.


Senator CORMACK - Yes, to meet the crisis which may develop in the late 1960's. Any government which did not plan accordingly would be recreant to the Australian people.

Now I shall deal with the dispersal of Australian troops, the consideration of which has been coloured by a terrific amount of emotion. As I have argued in this place on previous occasions, we must either decide to defend Australian beaches whereever we think the attack will take place, that being a tactical situation only, or we must disperse our Army and our Air Force, the Air Force being the shaft of the spear and the Army the head of the spear, in the area where we think we can defend ourselves against a physical invasion of Australia. That question arose in early 1942. It led the late John Curtin to go to the Federal Conference of the Australian Labour Party, which has already been mentioned here this afternoon. According to my information, he first appealed to the Conference on 18th November 1942, but he did not obtain a resolution from it until 14th January 1943. I have taken the liberty of obtaining the official report of the proceedings of the special conference which was held in Melbourne on Monday, 16th December 1942, and again on Monday, 4th January 1943. It is not possible for me to read here the full report of the conference, of which I understand Senator Kennelly was the secretary.


Senator Kennelly - No.


Senator CORMACK - That is not true? I am afraid I do not know; I just thought that was so.


Senator Kennelly - The voting was 24 to 12.


Senator CORMACK - I am not concerned with the votes. I have extracted a quotation from the remarks of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, to whom history has not yet accorded the stature which I think he will be accorded when the scene is viewed from a greater distance. I believe he will be regarded as being one of the great, distinguished Australians of the 20th century. I should liketo take advantage of this opportunity to say that from this side of the Senate. When addressing the Labour Party Conference, the then distinguished Prime Minister of Australia said -

The problem of Australia's defence is a strategical one. If an area is vital to Australian strategy that area must be the one to which Australia must give full weight.

That area has nothing to do with the equator or anything else. Mr. Curtin asked for the Party's platform to be changed by adding these words -

.   . such other territories -

The word is spelt with a small " t ", meaning, I assume, such other areas of land - of the south west Pacific area -

General MacArthur's command extended as far north as Japan - as the Governor-General proclaims as being territories associated with the defence of Australia.

That proposal was advanced by the distinguished Prime Minister of the day who, at the time of that January conference, said that he did not wish to live the previous three months over again.


Senator Ormonde - That was sound reasoning.


Senator CORMACK - It was very sound. I am not being mealy mouthed about this. I do not like raking up words against another man, but it must be said here that when the then Prime Minister asked for leave to make his statement, he was opposed by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Mr. Calwell said that Mr. Curtin had not consulted any section of the Labour movement and that not one of the 37 persons present at the conference had been aware of his proposal. He said that they had had no opportunity to consult their State branches or the rank and file. Mr. Calwell opposed the extension of powers which the Prime Minister sought fort he defence of Australia.


Senator Kennelly - Those are the rules, if the honorable senator wishes to know them.


Senator CORMACK - I know of the rules, but sometimes rules have to be torn apart in the interests of the nation.


Senator Kennelly - The honorable senator is not going to tear them up just to suit himself.


Senator CORMACK - I am not trying to suit myself, I am trying to suit the Australian people. May I pass now to the problem of mixed units. Anyone who has seen service in wartime in a mixed unit is aware of the problems that arise when some men volunteer to go - in the present context - to the Australian Regular Army, and the other portion does not wish to join them. A unit may be under orders to move beyond a particular point, but cannot do so as a unit because 20 per cent. of the men are protected by the Defence Act and may not be moved. A tragic situation arises, and the story must be told. It was found necessary during the 1939-45 war to break up literally dozens and dozens of units and send the troops back to a General Details Depot. This situation was forecast by Mr. Curtin in his address to the Australian Labour Party conference. At the General Details Depot it was necessary to sort out the men who had volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force and disperse the members of the Australian Military Forces, as they were styled in those days, amongst other units.

I come now to the policy of volunteers advocated by the Labour Party. I agree that volunteers make the best fighting force. With volunteers you form a corps d'elite. This was proved by the United States of America in the South Pacific theatre of war when the American Marines - and they were not draftees - formed the corps d'elite of the United States forces. In Australia we formed the A.I.F., a volunteer organisation, to go abroad. We formed a corps d'elite and called it the Australian Imperial Force. But what ruin was left in the train of the formation of that force.

I shall explain that statement. I believe that men volunteer, particularly in wartime, mainly from a sense of duty. It is not always the young men who volunteer, as was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. When danger flows men make decisions to volunteer as an act of will and not from emotion. I wish to illustrate that point by saying that when France was falling the Seventh Division with corps troops was formed. Volunteers were called for to form the Seventh Division. I do not know, what was the position in the Eighth Division, but the Seventh Division consisted of men who had volunteered and their average age was 30 years; 75 per cent, of the men were married. Amongst one corps was a regiment of 1,100 men. It was an antiaircraft unit. The colonel of the unit boasted to me after the war that it was the finest regiment to go abroad, I asked him why he said so and he told me that there was no other Australian unit which contained men of such calibre. He said that it contained 750 potential officers and 200 potential sergeants.

When the dangers of war came closer it was necessary to conscript troops in Australia. As has been mentioned by honorable senators opposite, we had no officers and no wherewithal effectively to lead the Australian Military Forces, because the junior leader component of our troops had gone abroad with the corps d'elite - the A.I.F. Unless the situation of conscription is faced in peacetime so that the Army may be adequately filled, when war comes and a volunteer Army is raised, the corps and divisions to go abroad - which are composed of volunteers - take away the potential leadership. The troops left behind, however willing they may be, are not capable of carrying out the obligations placed upon them.


Senator Ormonde - Is that an argument in favour of a selective system?


Senator CORMACK - Yes, that is in favour of a selective system. I turn now to the claim that we are not making the best use of volunteers who are offering their services. The Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) has been good enough to provide at my request an analysis of the volunteers in the last year. Because the Army is the Service involved in our present problem, I shall confine myself to the results, of my examination which relate to Army volunteers, at the same time bearing in mind that the Navy and Air Force, in the expectation of equipment coming forward in the next three or four years, believe they are obtaining enough men and will continue to obtain enough men to fill their establishments. Last year the Army received applications from 11,079 volunteers. Of that number 1,230 were rejected for medical reasons. To me that seems to be a reasonable proportion. There were 1,417 rejections for educational reasons and 5,593 rejections for other reasons. I sought an explanation of the expression "other reasons" and was informed that it covers persons who failed to follow up their applications, withdrew applications, failed to report, had unsatisfactory civil records or were below required training potential. " Below required training potential " is a very carfully worded phrase and I shall not eleborate on it.


Senator Ormonde - Is the honorable senator referring to applicants for the Army?


Senator CORMACK - Yes. I shall read the information I have been given so that it may be incorporated in " Hansard ". Currently between 10 per cent, and 20 per cent, of applications to join the Army are rejected on the grounds of failure to reach the standard of literacy required. A further 20 per cent, of applicants are rejected as below required training potential. I am explaining now the expression "other reasons ". I believe that all honorable senators will benefit from this information. In the case of the Army, the minimum standard is in fact equivalent to an educational age of about 10 years. Suggestions that the Army should lower its educational standard if adopted would involve infanticide.

The truth is that the Army is a complex organisation. It has changed greatly from the time when I was a young man of 21, with saddle and bridle hanging ready for use and a rifle standing outside on the verandah. A uniform was available to be worn and if war broke out I was expected to mount my horse and go to war. Today war is extraordinarily complex. In Australia, with our small population, the best use of our ability lies in the technical resources available here. In order that our technical resources may be fully exploited we require men who are technically qualified and of a high level of literacy and ability to handle the weapons provided. That is a substantial reason why we must have a selective system of national service. Behind every infantryman - the point of the spear - it is necessary to have hundreds of men to maintain his equipment so that he can successfully carry out the final function for which he is in the Army - the penetration of the area held by the enemy.


Senator Ormonde - Would all the selected men be of leadership calibre?


Senator CORMACK - I think that selection would help to improve the efficiency of the Army and also would help in the provision of technical men, which is one of the great problems that the Army has.


Senator Ormonde - But would it provide potential leaders for the Army?


Senator CORMACK - Leadership material is what we need at all levels, from the level of corporals and sergeants in charge of platoons, upwards. When Vulcan pulls {he bolts of war out of the forge it may be too late.







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