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Tuesday, 22 March 1966

Mr BENSON (Batman) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I rise to support the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). This debate arises out of the statement made to the House by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) on Tuesday, 8th March. In that statement, the right honorable gentleman covered so much ground as to leave with us plenty of subjects on which there is need for comment. He has the unenviable task of following in office Sir Robert Menzies, who by native cunning and other means was able to stay at the helm for a very long time. We on this side of the House think it was far too long. Whatever anyone may feel about that, Sir Robert served his country well and did his duty as he saw it. I want to take this opportunity briefly to wish him and Dame Pattie well in their retirement. How long the present Prime Minister will stay in office is a matter for the people of Australia. I believe that for many reasons they will surely vote against the present Government at the next general election, whenever that may be.

This Government is at present suffering from what could be described as self inflicted wounds. There is a feeling of uneasiness throughout the land. We are now experiencing the lull before the storm. Members of this Government keep repeating that the national economy is sound, but their utterances are not in line with the statements of the experts. I believe it is fair to say that Government supporters considered Sir Arthur Fadden to be a very good Treasurer. In fact, many of them have said that he was the best Treasurer ever. I do not wish to take sides in any argument about who was the best occupant of that office. Sir Arthur is now, as many honorable members know, a director of many companies, among others L. J. Hooker Investment Corporation Ltd., which controls more than 100 subsidiary companies. Some are small and some are large. Last month, at that company's annual meeting the following remark was written into the annual report -

The unsettled state of the economy is affecting some forms of the company's real estate activities.

That statement was reported at page 88 of the February issue of the " Stock Exchange of Melbourne Official Record ". In addition, today's issue of the " Australian Financial Review ", under the heading " Interim wage rise urged - economic boost", reported views expressed by Mr. Staniforth Ricketson as follows -

If the Federal Government felt some economic stimulation was advisable, it could seek an immediate interim increase in the basic wage pending completion of the present Arbitration Commission hearings.

Mr Curtin - Who said that?

Mr BENSON - That was the opinion expressed by Mr. Staniforth Ricketson, a man well versed in the economic life of this country. I shall not comment on all that he was reported as having said, because it would take too much time. The report continued -

Commenting on the uncertain state of the economy, Mr. Ricketson pointed out that the Arbitration Commission's judgment was not expected before June. " It can hardly be expected that any necessary measures could be deferred merely on this account ", he said.

I mention that because of the remarks made by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), who seemed to think that the Leader of the Opposition had no right to propose an amendment which mentioned the adverse state of the economy. The Leader of the Opposition has every right to do that, as have all other members of this House. Any honorable member who sees what he believes to be something amiss should rise in this chamber and say so. Not only honorable members on this side see things going wrong. Problems are seen also by men like Sir Arthur Fadden, who was a respected Treasurer in an earlier government as a member of this House. He has said that the situation is uneasy and that things are going wrong with the economy. Mr. Staniforth Ricketson has said something similar. It is interesting to note that these two businessmen who are accepted as experts in their fields of operations are more concerned about the nation's economy than, I suggest, are many honorable members opposite. I have not heard any speaker on the Government side in this debate say that there is cause for the slightest alarm. We gather from what speakers on the Government side say that all is well with the economy, but is everything going as well as we are led to believe?

I may say that Mr. Ricketson's advocacy of an interim wage rise is in line with Labour's policy. Prosperity depends solely on what the people can purchase. At present, many items of production, especially motor vehicles, television sets, refrigerators and most other electrical lines, are over produced. These goods cannot be disposed of because the purchasing power of the people has diminished. Mir. Ricketson readily sees this. He realises that in order to preserve the economy money must be put into the pockets of the people. Who has to put it there? This Government is the only agency that can do that. But what do we in this Parliament witness year after year? We see people who need succour and assistance coming to Canberra and begging for an increase in pensions. They may ask for an increase of Si a week or even only a few cents, but no one in the Government seems to worry. It seems unable to find a few million dollars to provide for an increase in age pensions when Budget time comes along. How shall we pay the bill for the Fill aircraft? Shall we say: "We have not the money"? The funds will be found just as they are being found now to prosecute what ever activities outside Australia this Government considers are necessary.

To make ends meet, the Government keeps up what has been described by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen), who is Deputy Prime Minister, as a policy of selling a piece of the farm each year. Although he has given many timely warnings, the Government takes no heed. This evening, however, he did not choose to give us another warning. He preferred to speak about our commitments overseas. I shall have something to say about that matter later. I believe that the right honorable gentleman's words should be taken very seriously. He said that if we become dependent for our growth on decisions by people overseas whether to invest or to refrain from investing, the development of our country will no longer be completely in our own hands. Those words should be acted upon by all honorable members in the interests of all the people who were good enough to elect us to this House.

I have not sufficient time to discuss all the subjects with which I should like to deal, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I propose to take a little time now to give to the country my views about the international situation with which Australia is faced at present. As I have mentioned two great men in the economic field, I think it is as well to recall the remarks of another great man, Lord Bruce, whether we like him or not. Lord Bruce chose conscription as the subject for his maiden speech in this House. I happened to read a description of this event in last night's Melbourne " Herald ". Evidently Lord Bruce had been baited by Mr. Frank Brennan, who was then the honorable member for Batman, the electorate I now represent. The article had this to say -

Having rejected conscription, Australia was scraping the volunteer barrel. It was proposed to permit lads of 18 to 21 to enlist, even without the consent of their parents.

Frank Brennan, a Labour M.P., asked for tha opinion of the Member for Flinders.

That was Mr. Bruce, as he was then. The article continued -

Bruce interjected (rather magisterially for a new boy): "The House will have it".

When his turn came, Bruce said: " I have seen the effect on boys under 21 and on men over 40 when they get into the firing line, and I say it is a grave blunder to send them in if it can possibly be avoided."

Mr Daly - Who said that?

Mr BENSON - Lord Bruce. This was in 1918 when he came back from the war. The war bad not ended and he spoke in this House as a wounded ex-serviceman. I am not against conscription if conscription is necessary, but I have not heard an honorable member on the Government side say that this country is in a state of emergency.

Mr Daly - We are not at war.

Mr BENSON - If that is-so, why do not honorable members opposite get up, be truthful about it and tell the people of Australia what the real position is? 1 remind the House of the forces that were raised during World War II. The Government that held the reins of office from 1939 to 1941 was of the same political colour as the present Government. In that period, we had four divisions overseas, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth and the ninth. We had the huge Empire Air Training Scheme in progress in Canada. We had airmen flying over Germany and Italy. We had naval ratings based in England. But there was no emergency, because the Government found no need to introduce conscription. There was no emergency, although all those men were fighting. How can any person draw a comparison between the Government's action then and its action now? When we were standing alone, as Mr. Churchill said, when nobody came to our aid, when Russia was not on our side, when Tobruk was beleaguered, there was no emergency. The Government was in office; all was right with the world.

Mr Peters - Was that a Menzies Government?

Mr BENSON - That was the Government between 1939 and 1941. Nothing was wrong then. But now, in order to get a few hundred soldiers out of Australia, conscription is necessary. I want to be quite fair about this. I cannot see the consistency in the Government's action in the two situations and I hope that somebody will tell me where consistency is to be found. There is no need to conscript anyone at present for the Navy or for the Air Force. But where will our future civil pilots be found? In the main, the pilots who are now flying our civil aircraft were trained as pilots during World War II and they are quickly going out of the business. I have stated this to the House previously. But is there any scheme at all to train men in a civil flying organisation? Is any effort being made to train men to take over when the civil pilots now in service leave their jobs? Of course there is not. Nonetheless, the Government says there is a need now to introduce conscription to obtain men for service overseas.

The whole business seems to me to be pretty odd. We are in Vietnam because of our obligation as a member of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. The Prime Minister said that we are winning. If we are winning, why must we send more men there? It all seems pretty odd to me. With the huge forces that are in Vietnam and with the huge pile of modern equipment that is in the area, it is taking a long time to win. It seems to me to be a pretty phoney effort. I want to refer to the attitude of some of the other members of S.E.A.T.O. The United States of America is a member of the Organisation and is involved in Vietnam. Britain, which is also a member, is not involved in Vietnam. Indeed, as an honorable member on the Government side of the House pointed out, Britain is trading with the enemy and is sending ships into Haiphong. I do not know whether France is still a member. I read a report in the Press that she was getting out of S.E.A.T.O., Australia and New Zealand are committed. Pakistan is not committed. I saw a Press report that the Philippines is considering sending troops to South Vietnam. But what is the position of Vietnam's next door neighbour, Thailand? We are committed to Thailand. There are no Thai troops in South Vietnam, but we have forces in Thailand. The Thais, who live next door to Vietnam, do not seem to be worried about the situation. But Australia, which is thousands of miles away and which is a member of S.E.A.T.O., as Thailand is, sends troops to Vietnam.

Our population is a little over 11 million. We have a commitment to our north in New Guinea. We have another commitment to a fellow Commonwealth nation, Malaysia, where we have troops. We say we will help to the best of our ability. But has Malaysia, which has a population about equal to that of Australia, sent any troops to South Vietnam? No, she has not. Where does it all end? All I can say is that it is a most confused situation and a situation that has not been looked at calmly and clearly. Between 1939 and 1941, when we had men scattered all over the world, when we were told that we were fighting a war to end wars, the Government saw no emergency. It was not necessary then to introduce conscription. Government supporters say that the Australian Labour Party introduced conscription. We did that because the enemy was advancing towards this country. But in the short time it was in power the Labour Party had done a very good job of putting this nation's affairs in order. Anybody who reads " Hansard " will be able to judge for himself what a mess the country had been left in. I do not want to quote what has been said on this subject. Even Mr. Hasluck in his book complains about the lack of equipment.

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