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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator LAUGHT (South Australia) , - I rise to support the defence statement and to reject the criticism contained in the amendment. Senator McKenna has moved -

That the following words bc added to the motion - " and opposes the Government's proposals to conscript Australian youth for service overseas, regrets it failure to stimulate recruitment for the regular Army and condemns its delay in securing Naval and Air Forces to safeguard Australia and its territories and communications".

I have listened with great interest to this rather long debate, which has been characterised at one time by reason and at other times by passion. I think that such an important statement should be debated without too much passion. First, we should consider the need for a re-assessment of Australia's defence needs and programme. The Opposition has said that the statement by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) is an election stunt. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna) referred to defence as a political football. It is terribly important that we look at this matter with 1964 eyes and not dwell too much on what was proper and expedient in 1917 or 1942. I shall deal with that point in more detail later.

The second question I pose is: What is our strategic position in 1964, not in 1914 or 1939? This involves, of course, an examination of our neighbours and our international associates. The third question is: What new defence provisions, if any, should be made? Finally, I shall discuss the question: What is the best way to deal with the situation from the point of view of equipment and personnel?

I agree that there is need for a reassessment of our defence position. The defence of any country should be continuously under review. The Opposition has chided the Government for making many defence reviews since it assumed office in 1949. I do not. I think the Government has been prudent. The defence needs of a country change continually because of the policies of other countries. In the immediate vicinity of Australia when the last war ended, the French were a big influence. The British, the Americans and the independent nation of Thailand also wielded influence in this area. Since then a number of countries have gained their independence. The French have virtually dropped out of the Asian scene. The place of the Dutch has been taken by the Indonesians. The Philippines have become independent. Malaysia and Burma are independent nations, and we have North Vietnam and South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. With these changes going on all around us, it is quite logical and proper that the defence programme of Australia should be continuously under review.

I pay a tribute to the Minister, who has not held the portfolio of defence for very long, for the thorough way in which he has done his job. In particular I should like to complement him on the "Defence Report 1964 which was put into our hands recently. Reading it, one sees that under the defence set-up in Australia the Minister and the Department of Defence are responsible for the formulation of a unified defence policy and that the respective Ministers for the Navy, for the Army and for Air administer their Services in accordance with the approved policy. The Minister for Supply comes into the set-up, as the activities of his Department also are administered in accordance with the approved policy. There is a common strategic purpose behind the activities of each of the defence Departments. We are indebted to the Minister for causing this document to come into our hands. On virtually the first page of the report, the situation in South East Asia is dealt with. Whatever our views, South East Asia is important to us and we must gear our defence policy to events that are taking place there.

In considering defence I do not think it appropriate that debating points or tricks be taken. Nobody wins a defence debate. If nothing happens, it can be said that the money spent on defence is wasted. If something does blow up, it can be argued that too little money has been spent on defence. Defence is not something to which you can fairly apply hindsight, and on which you should take debating points. First, we should carefully examine the strategic position. I deplore some of the remarks of members of the Opposition, not so much in this chamber as in another place, to the effect that the Government is stunting by bringing forward this defence statement at this particular time. I think we must carefully examine the strategic situation on the mainland and in the islands of South East Asia.

I should like to pay a tribute to some very dedicated. Australians who are at present in those areas. Seeing that this is a defence discussion, I should like to mention the liaison officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force who are attached to our embassies and high commissions in that area. I should like also to mention the military observers attached to the South East Asian Treaty Organisation and other organisations of which Australia is a member. These men all have good service records. In many cases, towards the end of their service careers they are devoting their attention to assisting Australia's needs defence-wise in the areas in which they are serving. Our appreciation of the strategic position is helped considerably by the efforts of these men. On visits that I have made to this area, I have had very interesting and informative discussions with these people. They are completely tireless and are able to work alongside people in friendly nations in South East Asia who are interested also in defence questions.

I was privileged to be a member of the same delegation as Senator Drury, who has just concluded his speech. I discovered that every country in South East Asia which I visited with the Australian delegation had its eye cocked on Communist China. We in Australia, whatever else we do, should have our eyes cocked on Communist China, too, and should work out our requirements from what are the probable needs of that huge nation. As I see it from my reading of the articles and books which have been written in connection with Communist China, or mainland China, for the first time in 300 years this country has become unified. There is a ruthless dictatorship in charge of it at the present time. What is more, there are Chinese minorities in every country in South East Asia. In Indonesia, there are traders, storekeepers and businessmen who are Chinese. Chinese are in the majority in Singapore. In the Peninsula of Malaya, approximately 50 per cent, of the population are Chinese. A large portion of the northern part of Burma contains Chinese people. Throughout South East Asia there are to be found Chinese. They are hard working, industrious people. When one goes to Singapore, one realises how well they have progressed and what an important part they are taking in the government of that democratic part of Malaysia.

Mainland China should be uppermost in our mind. The people of that country are very active. One should not forget, as no doubt honorable senators are aware, that about two years ago this country invaded India. China had done a tremendous amount of preparation work for this invasion, I am told, by way of building roads, to carry armoured fighting vehicles, to replace the tracks which once existed. In the huge area lying to the south of mainland China, there is a series of roads leading into Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Nepal, and Butan and also into Burma. Those roads were formerly tracks. Now they are as jeepable, I believe the word is, as they could be. To the north of South East Asia the Chinese have concentrated heavily on roadmaking. The roads are built by their people who are conscripted for service. I understand that the stones and rubble are conveyed in baskets by thousands of men and women and thus the roads are constructed. This enormous roadmaking programme is a physical feature of that area and it extends down towards Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Nepal and Burma, and also down into Laos and Thailand. I am mentioning this fact as something which could, in the course of time, seriously affect the defence position of Australia.

As I sec it, further activities of this tremendous country of mainland China are going on in other directions as well as the ideological side. When the parliamentary delegation was in Burma, we were told that certain border disputes that had existed between Burma and mainland China had been resolved and that there was a state of comparative equanimity and peace between the two countries. There was a real fear that Burma some day might be used by mainland China as a springboard into Africa using the splendid river system of the lrrawaddy to get down to the Port of Rangoon. From there, it is a very short sea haul across to Africa. When one considers the activities of Premier Chou-En-Lai within the last year in Zanzibar, the Congo and on the west coast of Africa also, one realises that he was not down there just for his health. One realises that in the not too distant future the aims of mainland China could well be directed towards that country.

I suggest that it is wrong to think of China as carrying on in the historic way it did and rather remaining to itself for the last 300 years. From my reading and observations and discussions with people in parts of South East Asia, I conclude that China is expanding and moving out from its erstwhile territorial country. Its move into India is quite significant when one realises that certain of the turmoil in the newly founded independent State of Zanzibar has been attributed to Chinese inspired activity. We could look a bit closer to Australia to see the effect of this Chinese plan. The Australian Government is engaged in several very interesting ways in Thailand. Firstly, Bangkok - Thailand - is the base of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. The Secretary-General and the officers of a number of cultural sectors of S.E.A.T.O. are based there. The Australian Government regularly supports S.E.A.T.O. exercises with elements of the Navy, Army and Air Force. In most cases, these exercises take place in or near Thailand.

When the parliamentary delegation of which I was a member was in this area about 18 months ago, it was obvious that the S.E.A.T.O. exercises were based on the possibility of an intrusion into north west Thailand from infiltrators in the direction of Laos. It was put to us, and it was pretty obvious, that the peace loving peasant folk of north east Thailand had their eyes on the Mekong to the north and the people beyond it because they feared the intrusion' into their country from Communist China via Laos, and via Cambodia also. To assist the Thai people to retain their independence and integrity, the Australian Government has sent into that area engineers from the Snowy Mountains hydro electric scheme. They are helping the young Thais to build roads in the rather low-lying area which is normally flooded by the Mekong River. All this is being done to enable the Thai Government to retain its legitimate control and to service this territory. It is hoped that these bridges and roads will enable that Government to keep subversion to a minimum and maintain the prosperity of the area.

I mention these things in some detail to indicate to the Senate that there is a real danger to a rather famous historic independent country of South East Asia through infiltration generated from mainland China. Thailand is an admirable country. It has never been a colony of a European power. It has been independent for a long while, and it is in our interests and the interests of the free would that its independence be vouchsafed. I would suggest that our defence programme is rightfully geared to what help we can give there.

The Australian Government is acting very sensibly. It is not providing a sort of army of occupation to help the Thais but is providing skilled officers and non-commissioned officers to run a military school for the maintenance of motor vehicles. These include both vehicles to convey army supplies and fighting vehicles. This quasi military help by the Australian Government assists the Thai people to maintain their vehicles, and the young Thais go to the villages at the end of their training and brighten the ideas of villagers on the maintenance of motor vehicles.

We were privileged to have a good look at the Malay peninsula and were able to make contact with the Australian Forces - the Royal Australian Air Force at Butterworth and the Army near Malacca. We came away with the definite conclusion that the branches of the Australian forces forming, with British and New Zealand troops, a component of the Strategic Reserve were doing a splendid job for Australia. They were becoming acquainted with conditions in South East Asia and were learning how to live, manoeuvre and fight in those conditions. They were also giving a great sense of security to the peasant population. With the advent of the British forces, the peasants were able to go about their occupations, growing crops and tin mining. The Malay peninsula had not known this sense of security for a long time until the Far East Strategic Reserve put down terrorism. I mention that as another illustration of the work that is being done in that part of the world by our armed forces and of the uses to which our forces are being put there.

I do not propose to go into any more detail on these matters but 1 assure the Senate that, from my observations, this overseas service by Australian forces is of great importance. It shows we are prepared to co-operate with the United Kingdom and New Zealand forces and with elements of the American forces within the terms of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. We are also a party to the A.N.Z.U.S. pact. It would be a very bad thing if we did not stand shoulder to shoulder with the British and New Zealanders. As members of S.E.A.T.O. we must show our good faith to our allies by actually being on the spot. Of course, we also have cultural organisations active in the area. We have people working under the Colombo Plan and in the agencies of the United Nations Organisation. Australia is showing a real interest in that area, and it is important that the integrity of the countries there should be safeguarded in the light of the ambitions of mainland China.

I think some honorable senators on the Opposition side have forgotten that we have not an umbrella over us now as we did in 1914 and 1939, when we had the protection of the United Kingdom. We are an independent nation and have to stand on our own feet. We should not expect help, from the United Kingdom. Since we have not this umbrella over us, we must expect that, if anything blows up, it will blow up very quickly and without very much warning. Like all honorable senators, I am rather concerned as to whether we have got going quickly enough, but I say that what we have done is quite important and quite significant. We have to realise that we are an independent nation, standing on our own feet and relying very much on what our allies can do as well as on what we can do for our allies.

I do not propose to deal in detail with the various items of defence equipment that are mentioned in the defence review of the Prime Minister. If this matter is carefully studied, it will be found that our equipment is as up to date as is possible for a nation of our size, but I want to stress that we have highly sophisticated pieces of equipment requiring men with more than just Saturday afternoon training to handle them. Our advisors have told us that the minimum time for a man to be trained to be useful in the handling of this sophisticated army equipment is two years. In view of the strategic factors in South East Asia, the Government rightly has come to the con.culsion that the correct way to defend Australia is not on the beaches of Australia or from hide-outs in the Blue Mountains or the Adelaide Hills, but by defence in depth. By defence in depth I mean defence in areas of insecurity at the present time. In other words, the question is: Where are our ramparts? Are they in Australia or are they in South East Asia?

I believe that the Government has made the correct decision in requesting that the men of the Services should be prepared to serve overseas. There has never been any doubt with the Navy or with the Air Force in that regard. If we were to restrain naval recruits or men in the Royal Australian Air Force from serving overseas, we would be in bother straight away. Honorable senators opposite say that the young men who are to serve in the Army should not be sent overseas. The Government has been unable to get the numbers it requires by a system of voluntary enlistment. Therefore, its plan has involved the question of compulsory national service, including overseas service. I believe that the Government went as far as it could in trying to get the numbers it required under the voluntary system. The reports from the Defence Services, as incorporated in the Prime Minister's statement, indicate that it has not been possible to ensure that there will be enough trained personnel to use and to man the sophisticated equipment that is contemplated. Consequently, the Government has been forced to the question of call-up.

A good deal has been said about the inequity of using the lot system in the callup. I do not see anything morally wrong with it. I would like to point out to the Senate two instances of the system that come to my mind. One is in regard to jury service. It would be most improper for an officer of the court to bring in certain selected persons and say that they would constitute the jury. Instead, a large number of jury men, far more than are required, are called up. By means of the lot system a jury is chosen from the persons who are present in court. I understand that that system has been operating for hundreds of years. Also, to come nearer home and to something that affects all honorable senators, I refer to the system that is used to determine the position of the candidates on the ballot paper. It is determined by the lot system, which has operated for a long time. Yet one never hears any objection to this system from members of the Labour Party, particularly the honorable senators from New South Wales who have received the first position on the ballot paper for the forthcoming Senate election. In other words, the lot system has been used for the selection of our juries and for the selection of positions on the ballot papers in Senate elections. When everyone is equal, we have to determine an order of preference. Statements which have been made concerning the selection of men by the lot system indicate that emotion has been allowed too much rein, lt is a system which is well ingrained in our law.

I desire to refer to an article which appeared in this morning's Press. It relates to the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia and concerns the question of whether call-up by means of a ballot would have a serious effect on the economy. The following article appeared in this morning's " Australian " -

The Government's decision to embark on a scheme of selective national training and its increase of defence commitments will place a burden on industry, but this will be readily acceptable in the broader interests of national security and survival

The Chambers of Manufactures put it at that level. Yesterday honorable senators opposite complained about the effect that the selection by ballot would have on the young men and apprentices, and the bad effect that it would have on industry. But Mr. Anderson, the Director of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia is reported to have said that there was no reason to fear any serious disruption to Australian industry or the economy because of this decision. He went on to say -

Manpower is, of course, becoming critically short in Australia, but the situation need not be unduly aggravated by the proposed call-up.

Senator Tangney - The honorable senator should read the rest of the article to see how they are going to overcome the difficulty.

Senator LAUGHT - Mr. Andersonreferred to the fact that there would be coming forward a number of 20 year old youths who were born just after the last war. He then said that in 1966, 104,000 young people would turn 20 - 12,000 more than in 1965- 'but that the call-up in 1966 will be only 6,900. He argues, of course, that it will not bring the dire results to industry that some honorable members opposite mentioned yesterday.

Prom my examination of the situation I approve of what is contained in the Government's defence statement. I believe that, reluctant as the Government was to engage in this system of compulsory national service, it was forced to do so. With the clouds gathering in the South East Asian area, generated by the expansionist ideas of Communist China, the demands of the strategic position left the Government no alternative but to carry on with the plans which are envisaged in the defence statement.

Senator Hannan - I wish to make a personal explanation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wedgwood). - Does the honorable senator claim to have been misrepresented?

Senator Hannan - Yes. I claim that I was misrepresented by Senator Drury. He said that when I criticised the defence policy of the Australian Labour Party at the last Senate election in 1961 I was only quoting from newspaper reports and that therefore the criticism could be disregarded. I made it quite clear at the time I spoke that I was in fact quoting, not from newspaper reports, but from the " Speakers' Notes " of the Australian Labour Party which were issued for the federal election on 9th December 1961. 1 had then and I have with me now, a photostat copy of the notes.

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