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
Monday, 16 November 1964


Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - Let us face the issue of defence quite squarely. Senator Lillico spoke of a wholly political atmosphere being developed. Does the honorable senator spell the word he used to begin with a " w " or an " h ". The honorable senator spoke of the adoption by our allies of the system of conscription proposed by the Government. Does he not realise that the late President Kennedy of the United States of America was investigating the abandonment of a compulsory system of conscription. Honorable senators may term it what they wish; the Government terms it compulsory national service. It is a system identical with conscription.

Air Vice Marshal Bladin in a recent television interview said that the term " compulsory national service " has a spiritual significance.


Senator Henty - He made mincemeat of the honorable senator's cobber on that programme.


Senator DITTMER - Who said he was my cobber? Who said that I even agreed with the person who was on the opposite side of the table?


Senator Henty - I have always thought that there was a certain affinity between you.


Senator DITTMER - I did not interrupt the Minister. I ask him to let me proceed until I get into my stride, and then he can do what he likes. Compulsory national service is a system of conscription, and honorable senators should not forget that. If compulsory military service has a spiritual significance, so has conscription because it serves a similar purpose. President Kennedy sought an alternative method to conscription and his successor is seeking a means to abolish compulsory national service, conscription, or call it what you will. If senator Lillico does not know the position in the United Kingdom, I suggest that he look it up. He referred to the collision between the " Melbourne " and the " Voyager " and used the incident as the basis for an attack on the distinguished Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna).


Senator Lillico - Read his speech; read what he said.


Senator DITTMER - I am not making Senator McKenna's speech. 1 am not using the speeches of other people to the extent that Senator Lillico did in an attempt to delay me from making my speech. A closing time for the debate has been proposed and I am grateful to Senator Lillico for resuming his seat before 9 o'clock. I ask honorable senators to forget what Senator McKenna said about the collision between the "Voyager" and the "Melbourne " and examine what the Government did subsequent to the inquiry. It changed the procedure. Let us see what transpired. The steps taken by the Government must reflect on the efficiency of the administration, which must be traced back to the political parties in control of the treasury bench. During the inquiry it was found that vital spanners were missing from the " Voyager ". Lifebelts were stored in an inaccessible position.


Senator Lillico - That had nothing whatever to do with the collision.


Senator DITTMER - But it had something substantial to do with the loss of 82 lives. I did not interrupt the honorable senator's speech very often. I do not mind his interrupting me, because he helps to highlight the inefficiency of the Government's administration. I shall deal with it in greater detail. It was found that the boats that might have saved a number of lives could not be used. The hopeless failure of some of the boats' to be used in rescue operations reflects in no small measure the inefficiency of the administration of the Navy. I refer now to the midshipmen who lost their lives in the sea near the Great Barrier Reef. I draw the Senate's attention to the differential treatment of the Captain of the "Sydney" and the Captain of the " Melbourne ". Do honorable senators wonder why the people are hesitant to trust the Government with the defence of this country?

I shall speak very briefly because my time is limited. The issue of defence should be faced squarely. The Opposition has been challenged by Government members who have suggested that we are treating defence as a political issue, as though a political issue is of necessity divorced from a national issue. Do not honorable senators realise that the control of this country and its natural endowment - the rights of its people are determined by our politics? Any matter that is of the nature of a national issue must necessarily be a political issue. Why should there be such acrimonious discussion simply because the Opposition sees fit to disagree with the Government on this occasion? On many occasions we have disagreed and in the majority of cases the Opposition has been right. In the course of time its suggestions have been adopted - in a dilatory fashion - by the Government.

In the years I have been a member of the Senate 1 have' never heard a more acrimonious discussion than has occurred during the present debate, nor have I heard more insults hurled at members of the Opposition. I do not know what occurred during the debate on the defence statement of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in the other place, but I do know that Senator Wright saw fit to belittle Senator McKenna in the debate in this chamber. Senator Wright referred to synthetic heat. If there is anyone more coldblooded or logical that the distinguished Leader of the Opposition in the Senate I have yet to meet him. Senator Wright referred to a second edition of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in another place, Mr. Calwell. With his truly basic actor's approach, the honorable senator sought to create the impression that Senator McKenna had followed entirely the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. A second edition of a scientific work is justifiable and may be worth while because of changes that have taken place. In the interpretation of historical events a second edition, altered as it may be, is justifiable. There are many other instances that I could give, but in regard to a story, a second edition is interpreted to mean a complete repetition. Anyone who read the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in the other place and then listened to Senator McKenna's speech would appreciate that of necessity Senator McKenna would take from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in the other place certain essential features because of the very truth that underlay them. But when we compare the two speeches there is no suggestion of a second edition. Senator McKenna detailed instances which time precluded Mr. Calwell from mentioning.

Then we had the unfortunate incident last Friday, which I think was due, not to basic vileness, but to immaturity and to listening to gossip. At least the honorable senator saw fit to retract the statement he made. I had thought .that we would witness, either today or tomorrow, a complete retraction of the attack that had been made on two distinguished Australians who served Australia well in waT and peace. I understand that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), big minded as he is, to his credit, saw fit to disown the statement completely this afternoon. During the debate, Senator Mattner, from South Australia, a man distinguished in war and a brave warrior, when challenged by an honorable senator on this side of the chamber said that he had a dossier and that if he was provoked he would use it. Just how far do we intend to go in this august and honorable chamber, if supporters of the Government or even members of the party to which I belong sink so low as to use such a mechanism in order to achieve political ends? The supporters of the Government see fit, in their determination to win the Senate election, to sink to any depths and to accuse the Opposition of the vilest and the lowest purposes in political life.

Let us consider the issue that we are debating. I do not propose to deal with all the statements on defence that have been made during the period, of almost IS years that the Government has been in office. There have been no fewer than 17 statements on defence. I have appreciated every statement that has been made, but I would have appreciated them much more if they had been backed by realistic performance. Unfortunately, the history is there to be read. They have not been backed by realistic performance. The Prime Minister, who has enjoyed the prestige of being Prime Minister for a longer period than any other occupant of that office, has been acclaimed as a past master of political trickery. On this occasion he has been acclaimed by Government supporters for pulling the greatest political trick of all time. Let us be quite realistic in our assessment of this issue. Perhaps in the hurry scurry of the Senate election the Government parties may have pulled the greatest boner of all time. We must realise that the nation is not united behind the Government. Even distinguished churchmen have seen fit to attack the Government. I am not going to detail their names. They are there to be read.


Senator Kendall - Were they connected with the peace front?


Senator DITTMER - Would the honorable senator say that a distinguished Methodist minister in Sydney would be in that category?


Senator Kendall - Several of them were.


Senator DITTMER - I am not as immature as the man who levelled the vile charge last Friday. Therefore I say that Senator Kendall is not going to goad me into stating names. I take it he has read the article to which I am referring. If he has not done so, others who are interested in the matter have read it. The man to whom I refer gave a considerable measure of detail. He spoke of a lottery of death. It could be a lottery of death. Perhaps it is a barrel of death filled with marbles, each number synonymous with possible destruction. I again say that the honorable senator is not going to induce me to name the clergyman concerned. All I am saying - and the article is available to be read - is that churchmen have made such statements. If Government supporters have anything against the churchmen, or know of anything to their discredit or of actions that are against the interests of the nation, or if they say that the churchmen are wrong or insincere in sponsoring the rights of these young people, they should challenge the statements. If the sittings of the Senate are not prolonged sufficiently to enable honorable senators opposite to do that in this chamber, they may do it through the Press or by way of statements through other media.

Let us consider the statement made on 8th March 1963 by the late Mr. Athol Townley, who was then Minister for Defence. He said -

Never in the peacetime history of Australia have our defence forces been more readily available, better equipped or as efficient as they are today.


Senator Henty - That is right.


Senator DITTMER - Why should it not be right, irrespective of the inefficiency of administration? The Government had spent £2,700 million since 10th December 1949 on defence. When we think of the peacetime Government prior to the last war, we realise the complete ineptitude of that Government. The present Government proudly boasted in 1963 that after spending £2,700 million on defence we were better prepared than we were prior to the 1939 war. Prior to the 1914-18 war there was a Labour government which saw fit, even though we were protected by the wealth and prestige of the United Kingdom and by the invincible British Navy, to establish a navy and introduce compulsory military training. That merely highlights the contrast between the efforts of that Government and the peacetime efforts of a former anti-Labour Government. 1 do not propose to refer to all the statements on defence that have been made, but there are some that I must use. In fact, I propose to use only four of them. One of them must be accepted because it was made as recently as last month at a particularly important conference. It was made by the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes) when he claimed that his military advisers had advised him that they were opposed to conscription. The day before that the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Chaney) had claimed that if compulsory national service were utilised for the purpose of increasing the number enrolled in the Navy it would vitiate voluntary enlistment in the Navy. The Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) is a distinguished, competent and aggressive person, but I have never seen him so meek and mild as he was this afternoon. According to his statement of last July, apparently the Government had no intention of introducing conscription.

These statements are important. The Australian people may be gullible as far as the propaganda mechanism available to the Government parties is concerned, but they are not complete idiots. There must come an occasion when they will awaken to the true position and realise the facts. Only 14 months ago the then Minister for the Navy, who was fortunate enough not to be in charge of the Department of the Navy when the royal commission was held into the collision between H.M.A.S. " Voyager " and H.M.A.S "Melbourne", said that the " Melbourne " would serve for ten years. He said that it would not need the extra speed necessary for it to operate with fixed wing aircraft. Now, of course, the Government has changed its mind again and is going to modernise the " Melbourne " at a cost of £10 million and is going to use fixed wing aircraft on it. That will be in the sweet bye and bye, in 1969, if, of course, the " Melbourne " is ready. In the meantime the S2E Tracker piston-engined aircraft are becoming obsolescent, even though they are being used by the United States at present. What their role will be by late 1968 or 1969 no-one knows.

If the Government is really interested in defence, then, in view of the fact that by the end of this financial year it will have spent £3,000 million, it should have a fair idea of the defence needs of Australia and of the mechanism that should be used, in keeping with the financial resources of this country to satisfy our obligation to our allies. It happens that on this occasion, on the eve of an election - this has happened often before - the Prime Minister decided to highlight an emergency - a real crisis. The timing was such as to ensure that his political opponents would not have the opportunity or the time to convey in full to the people of Australia the real deficiencies of the Government. Here we arc, within a fortnight of a Senate election.


Senator Henty - And the honorable senator is still talking in the Senate.


Senator DITTMER - That is my responsibility. If honorable senators on this side of the chamber did not continue to speak, Government supporters would be the first to say that we had run away from our responsibility and were not game to face the issue. It would be suggested that we were treasonable and guilty of treachery to the nation, as I have heard said in this chamber in debates on a matter such as this. It is our responsibility to remain here. If the Government had seen fit to do so, it could have introduced its proposals months ago. If members of the Government had had a sense of national responsibility, not divorced from competency, they would have done the correct thing months ago, and the position would then have been seen and understood by all of the people of Australia, who could have cast an impartial vote confirming or condemning the action of the Government. If the people had voted to condemn the Government, before the next

House of Representatives election the Government might, perhaps, have trimmed its sails to conform with the wishes of the people.

If the Prime Minister, with the academic brilliance that is so characteristic of him, were to put as much zeal into governing in the interests of the nation as he devotes to winning elections, he would leave a much greater impression on the history of Australia than will be the case. He would leave an impression that would be in direct proportion with his brilliant intellect. However, as it is, he will be remembered only because he enjoyed a record tenure as Prime Minister and in some small way sponsored assistance to universities. We may be able to deal with matters affecting universities tomorrow.

One of the leading daily newspapers, for which I have a great respect, said that the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, Mr. Calwell, made a great speech. If it had stopped there, having said that he had made a great speech in relation to the defence issue which is before the Parliament of this country, that would have been all right, but the newspaper did not stop there. It had to say that he made defence a political issue. I dealt with that before, and I do not propose to traverse the ground again because my time is limited. However, I would be failing in an obligation - not to honorable senators on this side of the chamber but to those on the Government side - if I did not have placed in the records of the Senate the failures of the Government that the Leader of the Opposition outlined. Honorable senators will pardon me if I quote the Leader of the Opposition verbatim. I say to Senator Wright that my speech does not happen to be a second edition of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition in the other place. This is what Mr. Calwell said -

Let me list a few of the failures and deficiencies which have resulted from the confused policies of the past 15 years. The Government has failed to recruit sufficient of our youth to the Services. It has failed to define an effective role for the Citizen Military Forces. It has failed to replace the outdate and immobile Centurion tanks.

In fact, these tanks cannot travel on the railways of this country; they cannot go through the tunnels and they cannot be transported. Mr. Calwell continued -

It has failed to provided a temporary replacement for the Canberra bomber. It has failed to make any decision on the future of the Fleet Air Arm-

In fact, there will be no Fleet Air Arm - and as a result it has now given the Fleet Air Arm its death warrant. It has failed to make a decision on the purchase of a modern aircraft carrier. It has failed to provide an adequate radar system.

If I might digress for a moment, honorable senators will recall that only recently the radar system in Darwin was operated on an eight-hour basis. However, since attention was drawn to the matter the system has been put on a 24-hour basis. Mr. Calwell continued -

It has failed to develop the service industries.

In- this regard, Australia has a counterpart in Indonesia. Although that country may be better armed than Australia, it has not the industries to service the means of war. Mr. Calwell went on -

On the contrary, these industries have been allowed to become run down to a dangerous level. It has failed utterly to provide defences for our 12,000 miles of coastline, either by way of adequate surface combat ships, or naval, military or air bases.

Each of these failures is a critical failure.

I do not think that Government supporters have an effective answer to any of these charges. They have seen fit to say that we are opposing conscription for the Army. The Navy has had no trouble in enlisting the number of men it visualises will meet its requirements. Neither has the Air Force. The Army is the only Service that has fallen down in this respect. Sometimes I wonder just why it has fallen down. As recently as last year 23,000 men sought to be enlisted but of that number only 6,300 were accepted 4,400 being rejected on the grounds only that they lacked suitable educational qualification. I do not know the basis for the rejection of the others; it might have been for medical or other reasons. The point I make is this: Surely the Government should have pursued the issue when 4,400 men were rejected on the basis of lacking the necessary educational qualifications. There has been compulsory education in this country for a long time. It is plain, and it has been reported in the Press, that intelligence tests do not define the highest level of educational qualifications. But surely there are many positions in the Army that could be filled by other than Rhodes scholars, doctors, engineers, lawyers or parliamentarians. Has it ever occurred to the Government that it might pursue this issue further and that many of the 4,400 young men could be trained to take a place in the Army in the following year or in two years' time. In the last war we found that not all the courageous men came from the ranks of those educated at secondary schools and that not all of them had topped the Scholarship, Intermediate or Matriculation examinations.

On the other hand, there is another avenue to be explored. In Sweden, for instance, military personnel are not utilised for all the Services in the homeland. As a matter of fact, some duties are not performed by any of the Services - .the Navy, the Army or the Air Force. Civilian personnel fulfil certain obligations and occupy certain positions in those Services. That procedure might well have been worthy of consideration by the Commonwealth Government but, almost certainly, the Government did not look at it because it is wedded to the traditional approach. That is the whole position. The Opposition feels that the approach of the Government, apart from the political chicanery associated with this plan being introduced so close to a Senate election, was immature. We certainly believe that the Government should have been seised of a sense of national responsibility and, if it was so wedded to the efficient defence of this country, it should have taken action within the limits of the finances of the nation so as to convey to Australia's allies that we are making a real endeavour to protect our own territory and fulfil our obligations under the treaties into which we have entered.

There is no reason why the Opposition should not at the present time, not necessarily out of a sense of political antagonism, oppose the statement simply because it was made by the Leader of the Government in the person of the Prime Minister. If we saw fit to agree with it, if in all sincerity and in all truth we thought that it was worth while, and justifiable, and that the Government had used every efficient endeavour over almost 1 5 years of office, no-one would have more readily sided with Government members than members of the Labour Opposition. No party is more Australian in its outlook than the Australian Labour Party. No party has served this country better, in war and peace or in government or Opposition, than the Australian Labour Party and its members have done. It has been unfortunate for this nation and its people that, through as I say' political tricksterism and political chicanery, the anti-Labour Parties have occupied the treasury bench of this nation for a long time. The Australian Labour Party says that it is basically opposed to conscription for overseas service.

When we think of loose arrangements entered into by the present Government of Australia, we say that we are not opposed to the integration of the territories that constitute the Federation of Malaysia. The Labour Party has repeatedly said that it is in favour of that Federation and it's preservation. But we on this side believe, and we say we are justified in thinking, that we should know what our obligations are to Malaysia. There is no treaty involved. Whether or not it was the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who determined that Australian troops should go to Malaysia, the Parliament of this country docs not know. All that we have been told is that our troops are over there. Let me show how interested the members of the Government were in our troops overseas. Until last year when I visited Terendak where a battalion of Australian troops has been stationed for years, no Federal Parliamentarian from the Government side had visited them. That is how interested the Government was in its troops in overseas countries. The Government had sent a battalion there, replaced it, and replaced it again. Terendak is comparatively close to Kuala Lumpur, and only a few miles out of Malacca. But no Government member or Minister, had seen fit to go there until last year. I take it that the journey was finally made only because I saw fit to visit the boys from Australia who were over there serving, as the Government would have us believe, the interests of Australia on distant shores.

The Government says that it has fulfilled its obligation to South Vietnam. The Government had 30 service personnel there. It substantially increased that number to 65. That must be a great effort on the part of Australian servicemen. If the Government thinks that that sort of thing justified a pride in fulfilling its obligations under a particular treaty, then its efforts bring it a peculiar sense of gratification.

When we seek the alleged jusification for the introduction of this defence statement on the eve of an election, we find that the key word used is " emergency ". We could say " crisis ". But in what way in the last week or so has the situation, even in South East Asia, changed? Prior to the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia, Dr. Sukarno, the President of the Indonesian Republic, had breathed words of fire and destruction. He had threatened confrontation and subsequent to the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia, he saw fit to embarrass the Federation. Subsequently, he landed troops in Malaysia. But those events did not happen in the last few weeks. Those things have been going on for nearly two years now, apart from the landing of the paratroops in Malaysia.. The position in South Vietnam has been turbulent over the years. So, how in heaven's name can the Government justify this particular time for introducing such substantial measures? It may think that they will embarrass the Opposition but I suggest to the Government that they could embarrass it at the Senate election on 5th December. But perhaps the Government saw fit to introduce its defence review statement because it thought that the election was so close that it could not be really embarrassed by a full, proper and effective discussion, not on what it proposed, but of what it had failed to do in relation to defence expenditure over its long, continuous period in office.

I think nearly every honorable senator who has spoken in this debate has dealt with the subject of conscription. As I said earlier, let us be under no misapprehension about this matter. It was a desirable word by some in the First World War just as it was a hateful word to others. It was utilised in the Second World War and although Air Vice Marshal Bladin has said that compulsory national service has something of spiritual significance, it is not different from conscription. The names of eligible youths will be drawn out of a barrel and a bullet will be marked for somebody. In the process of time, if war comes, that will be the fate of many, irrespective of whether we have volunteers or conscripts.

What does the Government propose? In 1953, we were said to be living on the edge of an international abyss. The Prime Minister said we should be prepared for war in three years and he said that perhaps that was a liberal estimate. The right honorable gentleman used similar words or manufactured a similar crisis on the eve of the 1958 elections. In 1961, he was so arrogant in his expected assumption of power that he did not enunciate a defence policy but in 1963 he borrowed Labour's policy. Now, with a Senate election coming up, the Prime Minister sees another crisis developing.

What is the Government's solution? We shall have two of the Adams class vessels with guided missiles allegedly available next year and one is to follow two years later. We have ordered 100 Mirage fighters but they will not be effective on an operational basis probably until 1970. The TFX bombers were promised for 1967 as an election gimmick last year when the then Minister for Defence, the late Mr. Townley, purchased them in a hurry. He would not even look at the British counterpart. The TFX bombers were promised for 1967 and now we are to get them in 1968 or possibly 1969 but they will not be operational until 1970. We are to get S2E Tracker antisubmarine aircraft. These are twin pistonengined aircraft and are now becoming obsolescent in the U.S.A. They are to be used in a year or in five years time but experts say that the pistonengined type aircraft will be quite out of date.

Then we are to have four Oberon class submarines to be delivered in the process of time. The aircraft carrier H.M.A.S. " Melbourne " is to be reconditioned at a cost of £10 million and is supposed to be available at the end of 1968. But knowing the hill-billy approach of the Government, if it retains control of the Treasury bench we can expect that the carrier will not be available until 1969. Fourteen months ago the Minister for the Navy at the time said the vessel would serve us for ten years. Will it suffer the same fate as H.M.A.S. "Hobart"? The Government spend £6 million on it and then a few months later sold it to the Japanese for scrap. We do not know what this Government will do. If it wins the Senate election, the people will not be surprised if the Government scraps parts of its defence programme. That has been its tactics in the past.

What is suggested for the future? Senator Lillico quoted statements by industrial giants and said that industry would not be inconvenienced by the call-up of 4,200 young men in the latter half of next year and 6,900 each year thereafter in the foreseeable future.


Senator Henty - The election will be over if the honorable senator does not look out.


Senator DITTMER - It will be a success for the Australian Labour Party if I have my way. If we have an opportunity to tell our story to the people and if the Press and radio give us a fair go in the interests of the nation, the election will certainly be over and Labour will demonstrate that it can criticise the Government constructively as it has done in the past. The Government of course will again borrow brilliant ideas from us as it has always done. Is that sufficient answer for the Minister for Civil Aviation?

Senator Lillicosaid industry would not be inconvenienced. It will not be inconvenienced because the Government is proposing to bring migrants from overseas. They will benefit from the Australian way of life but they will not be obliged to serve in the forces as conscripts. 1 say with all respect that we have approached this issue with the realisation that the defence programme has been delayed by the Government for political purposes in an endeavour to achieve electorial success in the Senate elections on 5 th December. We appeal to the people to look at this issue closely. It is not an obligation on the Australian Labour Party to put forward a policy. It is for the Government to answer for its deeds and its misdeeds. We see this election as an opportuntiy for the people of Australia to register their condemnation of the Government by voting for Labour candidates in each State. We say further that if in the process of time there is Labour control of the Senate for the remainder of this Government's tenure of office in another place, we will realise that we have an obligation to the country and its people should the Government introduce worthwhile legislation. In that event, Labour will assist the Government as it has done in the past with helpful suggestions such as those it has made prior to every election.







Suggest corrections