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Tuesday, 30 November 1971
Page: 3793

Mr BONNETT (HERBERT, QUEENSLAND) - Is the Minister for Defence aware that a well known radio commentator stated on Sunday night that the McMahon Government and the Labor Opposition had obviously reached a bipartisan consensus on defence and foreign policy? Does the Minister agree with this statement?

Mr FAIRBAIRN (FARRER, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Defence) - My attention was drawn to the statement which the honourable member has mentioned. Quite frankly,

I was amazed. I would like to see a bipartisan policy on defence and foreign affairs so long as it was our policy. It appears that there are very many areas in which there is a wide gulf between the LiberalCountry Party policy and the Labor policy. First of ali the Leader of the Opposition, while saying recently that a Labor government would maintain about the same expenditure of resources on defence as the present Government, went on to name a figure of between 3.2 per cent and 3.5 per cent of the gross national product. If the lower figure of 3.2 per cent were accepted this would immediately mean a reduction in defence expenditure of about $80m. This would have a quite disastrous effect on the purchase of new equipment or on the number of servicemen that we could retain in the Services.

Mr Bryant - I raise a point of order. Standing order 144 provides that questions should not ask Ministers for an expression of opinion or to announce the Government's policy. However questions may seek an explanation regarding the policy of the Government, its application and so on. The question did not fit in with that and the Minister's answer has nothing to do with it. Therefore I believe the question is out of order.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! As I have said before in this House, the Chair is not aware of any Government policy nor is it aware of the policy of the Opposition.

Mr Charles Jones - It is about time you were.

Mr SPEAKER -I would suggest that any remarks while the Speaker is addressing the Parliament are extremely out of order, and if they occur again I will deal with the honourable member responsible. I warned one of the offending members earlier this afternoon. I have forgotten the actual wording of the question but I think it revolved around the difference between the Government's policy and the Opposition's policy in relation to a particular matter. If the question related to policy it is not for the Chair to decide whether the differences in policy are wide or narrow. It is up to the Minister concerned to say whether he wishes to answer the question if it relates to a matter of policy. If there is a further query in relation to policy an honourable member may ask the Prime

Minister to explain the Government's policy. 1 think that is the meaning of the standing order to which the honourable member for Wills has referred.

Mr Bryant - In the course of the question the honourable member for Herbert asked about policy. That seems to me to be a contravention of Standing Orders. He also asked for an expression of opinion. Whatever the Minister does is within his prerogative, though I might disagree with him. I accept your ruling on thai, Mr Speaker, but the question by the honourable member for Herbert asked for 2 things - a statement about Government policy and then an expression of opinion about our policy. Both of these make the question out of order.

Mr SPEAKER -The policy .1 have always adopted since I hay:e been Speaker is to allow the Minister to whom the question is directed to state whether the question relates to a matter of policy.

The second part of the question asked whether he agreed with that policy. In that context the honourable member for Herbert is asking for an expression of opinion. ] suggest that the Minister for Defence confine himself to answering the first part of the question.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Certainly I will confine myself to the differences between the Liberal and . Country Parties together and the Labor Party in matters of defence..

Mr Scholes - Mr Speaker, a point of order. If it is in order under the Standing Orders, and if the Minister is responsible to the House for expressions of opinion on Labor Party policy, is it also in order for questions to be directed to the Leader of the Opposition on the same subject and is he similarly responsible to the House on that matter?

Mr SPEAKER -I will rule only on that part of the point taken which is a substantive question and not the hypothetical aspect. The question put to the Minister for Defence at this stage concerns differences of policy. Provided that the Minister's answer is relevant to the question, it is in order, because, as I have said before, it has been the custom and the practice of this House since I have been Speaker, and prior to that, that whether a question deals with policy is left to the individual Minister concerned.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - I will confine myself to the differences of policy between the Liberal and Country Parties and the Labor Party. The next matter I would mention is the complete difference of policy in relation to national service. The Government believes that it should use national service to the extent necessary to boost voluntary recruitment to what it believes is a desirable requirement for the Australian Army. The Labor Party completely disagrees with this and has said that it would abolish national serVice immediately. This could result in a reduction in the force of the Regular Army by about one-third. The Labor Party has said that it would withdraw immediately from Singapore and Malaysia. It would do this without consultation. This would completely undermine the Five Power arrangements which have just been put into-

Dr J F CAIRNS (LALOR, VICTORIA) - Another point of order: 1 think your ruling, Mr Speaker, wa.s a clear one, that the Minister was entitled to give his opinion of the differences between the policies of the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. He is now going much further than that. In addition to saying that we differ about troops in Malaysia he is now going on to give his opinion about the effect of that and saying that it would cause disorder and confusion in Singapore. Tt seems to me that he is going far beyond your ruling.

Mr SPEAKER - Provided the answer is relevant to the question - I submit that it is relevant to the question in relation to the differences - the Minister is in order.

Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, I believe that it will be helpful if the Minister, in view of the length of his reply, were now to take the advice which you have given to other Ministers, and make a ministerial statement. I make this submission to you all the more heartily because it is well known that the Minister announced that he was going to make a ministerial statement on defence and has been precluded from doing so.

Mr SPEAKER -The Chair is not aware of any reason for it, but 1 ask the Minister to make his answer as short as possible.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Certainly, Mr Speaker, but I draw your attention to the fact that it has been the length of the interruptions and not the length of my reply which has taken up time. I complete my reply by saying that there is complete divergence of opinion between the Government and the Opposition on the question of foreign owned, controlled or operated -bases on Australian territory. 1 finish by saying that our defence policies are poles apart.

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