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Monday, 16 November 1964

Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) . - During this debate we have beard much about events that happened in 1940, 1941 and 1942, when this nation faced the greatest perils it has ever faced. I suggest that it is about time honorable senators brought their minds back to a consideration of the situation which faces us today. Senator Cormack gave us a dissertation on the political and military history of the 1940-42 period, but the question under discussion is the defence of this country today, not as it was 18 or 20 years ago and not as it will be in 4, 5 or 6 years' time. We are discussing what is perhaps the most important question that this Parliament could debate. We are speaking of the defence of this country at the present time.

Having read closely the statement made last Tuesday night by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in the House of Representatives, and the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) in the Senate, I agree with my colleagues that this is no more and no less than a political stunt which has been brought on three weeks before the forthcoming Senate election. We of the Australian Labour Party oppose the Government's proposal to conscript Australian youth for service overseas. We regret the Government's failure to stimulate recruitment for the Australian Regular Army, and we condemn the Government for its delay in securing adequate naval and air forces to safeguard Australia and its territories and communications.

Less than three weeks ago the estimates for the Department of Defence were discussed in this chamber. We had before us a rather glossy document entitled " Defence Report 1964 ". We were led to believe that everything in the garden, so far as defence was concerned, was rosy, that everything was blooming, that we had nothing to fear, and that all the facts in the Government's possession had been placed before the Parliament and the people of Australia. Let us look at one or two of the matters mentioned in "Defence Report 1964". Under the heading " Manpower ", the report states that all aspects of defence manpower, including the present strengths, the means of achieving the expanded numbers which are considered to be necessary, and the ready availability of each element of the forces to perform its intended role, had been carefully reviewed. The glossy document goes on to refer to matters which had been considered by the defence advisers, but there is not one word, nor was there in the Estimates debate less than three weeks ago one word, about the calling up of Australian youths for overseas service.

In reference to the Royal Australian Navy, the report states -

The Royal Australian Navy is combining a period of rapid expansion of ships and manpower with a programme of increasing operational activity. Ten new ships are on order for the fleet; manpower strength is rising by 1,000 per year; and today's fleet is undertaking increasing operational commitments in the defence of Australia, her Commonwealth partners, and her allies.

So much for the Royal Australian Navy. In relation to the Army, the report states -

The Army continues to be expanded and developed as a highly trained, hard hitting force directed to meeting any likely threat to Australia and its territories and the fulfilment of obligations under defensive Treaty arrangements.

In relation to the Royal Australian Air Force, the report states -

The Royal Australian Air Force, with a large contingent overseas, is now making its greatest peacetime contribution to Australian defence.

According to the report, and also according to the statements then made by the Minister for Defence, everything in relation to the defence of this nation was in a fine condition. RUt last Tuesday night the Prime Minister walked into the House of Representatives, and the Minister for Defence walked into the Senate, and stated, amongst other things, that there had been a deterioration in our strategic position since the review Which had been announced to the Parliament last year. That had occurred, not since the presentation of the "Defence Report 1964" three weeks ago but since the defence review of last year. According to the Government, in a period of slightly more than twelve months our international strategic position had changed. It has taken the Government 12 months to bring down the statement which the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence delivered to the Parliament last week.

Senator Cormacksaid that we are today involved in problems which cause him to think. I believe that all honorable senators should think about those problems. The Government has decided to think about them, but apparently it thinks that they can be put to one side for a considerable time. Let us refer to the ministerial statement to ascertain what is to happen in the field of defence. The Minister said that the review of May 1963, two years ago, raised the programme for 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1967-68 by about £40 million a year to a total of £816 million. He went on to say -

This present review raises that total to £1,220 million. That is, a further increase of £404 million.

Of course, that sum will not be spend straight away. It will be spent over a period of four or five years. The Minister went on to say that over the programme period to mid-1968, the Navy and Air Force will require a considerable increase in manpower to correspond with the planned expansion of these forces. He continued -

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