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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator GORTON (Victoria) (Minister for Works and Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research) . - I enter this debate mainly for the purpose of endeavouring briefly to direct my mind to some of the criticisms that have been made by the Opposition about our defence preparedness and what we think requires to be done at the present time. The amendment that we are discussing is directed to the proposals that have been set out in the defence statement made by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and which will be implemented when a Bill shortly to be introduced in this place is, I hope, passed.

It has been stated that the Government has done nothing to improve the Air Force, the Army and the Navy, and that what we now propose to do will not come to fruition for some years. It has been further suggested that those proposals will not meet our needs and therefore they ought not to bc implemented. If we put aside for one moment selective national service, the proposals set out in the defence statement do not constitute the first attempt that has been made by this Government to increase our defence capacity. They constitute an extension of the action that has already been taken. They do not constitute a new departure but, as 1 have said, are an extension of what has already happened.

What has already happened in the Services is by no means negligible. Let me speak first about what has happened in the Navy. Over the last five or six years frigates which were more than 20 years old and River class destroyers which dated from the last war have all been replaced with new and modern ships of the Daring and type-12 classes which are equipped with missiles and other improvements to fighting capacity. In addition eight other ships have been added to the fleet. That has involved the recruitment and training of crews and the maintenance of those vessels in all ways. During this same period there have been added to the Navy the anti-submarine helicopters to which Senator McKenna referred.

To illustrate the planning that has been applied to all three Services, I should like to advert to a question that was asked by Senator McKenna as a result of the statement that it is proposed to spend money within the next few years to modernise those anti-submarine helicopters. Senator McKenna asked: Why is this to be done? Were they not modern when they were bought? The answer is that, when they were bought, they carried the latest equipment that was available at the time for the purpose for which they were to be used. It was known that advanced equipment was being developed, and that probably it would soon become available. Special arrangements were made for this new equipment which had not then been completed but which had reached the final stage of testing to bc put into the helicopters later without any structural alteration. This is an example of the continuing process of improving the armament and equipment of all the Services.

Senator Willesee - How long would that process take?

Senator GORTON - For each helicopter?

Senator Willesee - Yes.

Senator GORTON - I am afraid I cannot answer with the degree of certainty that the honorable senator would like, but I should say that it would be a matter of weeks, because these helicopters were so built that this equipment could be put into them.

Senator Ormonde - Will that make them equal to anything of the same type overseas?

Senator GORTON - I am now speaking at a time somewhat removed from when the original acquisition was made and I cannot be absolutely certain, but I believe it would make them equal to anything else in this field.

We have been subjected to the criticism that what we now propose to acquire for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force will take a long time to arrive. Of course it will. It takes a long time to build a ship or a modern aircraft. As evidence of what has gone before in this field, I point out that in the coming year there is to be a major addition to the Navy in the form of two D.D.G.'s. They will not be replacements of ships previously on strength but will be additions to the fleet. They will be bigger than any ships that have been added to the Navy in the last 10 years, with the exception of the aircraft carriers. In the year following that the first submarine will come into service, and following that another D.D.G., a submarine and an escort maintenance ship will come into commission. So year by year we will see the results of planning over past years for additions to the fighting capacity of the Services. I remind the Senate, too, of new ami-submarine weapons that have been developed, including the Ikara, and the added anti-submarine capacity that will be given to the " Melbourne " when Tracker aircraft eventually replace the Gannets.

I shall now refer to the Air Force. The Mirage fighters are coming off the assembly line as a result of the planning done in the past. These aircraft are moving into service with the Air Force as replacements of the Sabres. It is evident that this is not just a new and sudden move, but is a continuation of a move which, over the years, has borne fruit and is now bearing fruit. Hercules transport planes have been bought and placed in operation and are now to be augmented. Caribou aircraft have been bought, delivered and placed into operation. Orion anti-submarine aircraft have been bought as replacements for use with the R.A.A.F. Helicopters have been added to the Air Force and bombers are now in the course of construction as a result of fast action. This is all evidence that the Services have not in the past been neglected. It is evidence that the charge that nothing has been done in the Services is demonstrably wrong to anyone who looks around and sees the ships and aircraft and the men who man them, the accommodation for the men and the stores which already have been obtained and those which will come into operation in the Services in the next two or three years.

I move on to the Army. The issue between the Government and the Opposition in relation to the Army is whether at this stage there should be selective national training for overseas service. On this subject there is a clear-cut difference of opinion. I believe that because of the position in which this country now finds itself, national service training is necessary. It is surely a requirement of Australia to have in being sufficient numbers in the Regular Army to be able to fulfil our commitments and, at the same time, to retain in Australia a force sufficient to be able to organise and train and rapidly bring to a useful capacity the floods of volunteers who will flow to the colours when fighting actually starts. There is no need, and it would be wrong, for this country ever to try to hold a large standing Army in being. We have too much else to do. We have too much scope for development, too many other requirements and too many economic needs.

We should never seek to hold divisions in being, but we should seek to have enough men to fulfil our commitments and to have a nucleus of trained men who can take the civilians who will come when the need arises, and rapidly turn them into an army without detracting from our capacity to fulfil our overseas obligations to our allies.

Senator Ormonde - Do you think it is a good idea that conscripts should be mixed with volunteers?

Senator GORTON - I believe that if you had a battalion or a company composed of conscripts and volunteers, after a week no one would know who was a conscript and who was a volunteer. That is my own belief in this matter. I was seeking to demonstrate that there is a requirement for a sufficient number of men to fulfil our two tasks. The numbers that are believed to be sufficient to do so are the numbers at which the Government is now aiming. There is a choice which can be made in seeking to arrive at those numbers. In order to train an Army sufficiently successfully to fulfil your obligations you can rely on the volunteer system. This method will take some years.

The alternative, if you think the situation justifies it, is to call up for national service training sufficient numbers to reach the position where you can do these works. It seems to me that the argument resolves itself to this: Is Australia at this stage in a position where it needs as quickly as possible to build up to the number of men required to fulfil these two tasks? If it is in a position where it needs to do that as quickly as possible, then selective national service training is the only way it will be able to do so. We believe that Australia is in the position where our numbers should be built up as quickly as possible. We have formed that belief because of a number of things that have happened in recent months and have not happened before.

Senator Willeseehad a lot to say about the cold war. I agreed with much of what the honorable senator said, particularly as it relates to Europe. However, we have in this part of the world, as he pointed out, a man named Mao Tse-tung, whose philosophy is that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. He has used the barrel of a gun to expound his political philosophy and has done so quite successfully. He has used the barrel of a gun, for example, in Laos, where half the country is under his control or the control of his myrmidons. The same is true of Cambodia, for whatever reasons its ruler may be casting his eyes in the direction of Mao Tse-tung. In South Vietnam the barrels of Mao Tse-tung's guns have inflicted and are inflicting untold misery. I emphasise the position in South Vietnam, because the barrels of American guns are not inflicting misery in North Vietnam. The Americans have not gone to North Vietnam seeking to impose political power out of the barrels of their guns. It is the Communists who take their guns to other countries to use them. It appears now that within a period of time there will be still more force behind this philosophy.

I think there is a need more urgently to build up our strength. But apart from the question of Communist expansion, which is only one aspect of expansion, we have also had the experience of Indonesia launching with small forces sporadic invasions of another country. Armed men have been taken over and dropped from aeroplanes at night or landed at the coast from landing craft at night on the mainland of Malaya, not in the territories over which Indonesia claims to be in dispute with Malaysia. This is not a matter of the expansion of Communist philosophy. It is a plain and simple matter of one country seeking to impose its will upon another country by the use of armed forces.

Senator Ormonde - Or as a diversion for Sukarno - which?

Senator GORTON - I do not wish or propose to go into the underlying reasons which may motivate Indonesia. What concerns me is that we live in a world which could avoid fighting wars if people would avoid doing these things. In the clearest terms one country is prepared to use armed mcn to attempt to impose its will upon another country outside the borders of the first country. This has nothing to do with Communism, but is the old story of power politics. Examples of this have been multiplied in the last few months. Once this situation arises, once there is evidence of a willingness to do this kind of thing, I believe that a country faced as Australia is faced must say: "We cannot, apart altogether from questions of ideology, stand by and permit the use of armed forces by one country on another country if there is anything we can do to prevent it ". Apart from the fact that this sort of thing escalates into the wars which we seek to avoid, the situation is comparable to that described by John Donne, the poet, when he wrote -

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; lt tolls for thee.

Once this situation is allowed to occur without question, this country, or some other small country, may be the next one into which armed men will come. This is happening very close to us now.

For these reasons, which have become more and more evident in recent times, it seems to me that we must do something to meet, not an immediate situation, but a situation which recent events indicate is now more likely to arrive quickly. In order to meet the situation, we must have the capacity to fulfil our obligations and to expand our Army if the need should ever arise. The Government thinks that its proposals represent the proper course to take for the safety of all Australians. If the Opposition thinks that these measures are not required and that we should not take this action to meet the present situation because world events do not require us to do so, let that be the issue between us and let the issue be argued as far as possible on logical lines.

There is one other point I wish to make. A number of honorable senators have sought to make fun of the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes) and to show that he made a complete volte face in the various statements he made on this subject. I should like to put it on record that over the last 18 months or so the Returned Servicemen's League and other similar organisations have been advocating national service training. They have been suggesting that this training should be for a long period of time. They have suggested national service training which would involve the call-up of all the 20-year olds or the 21-year olds, whatever the age chosen might be. They have advocated something on a far wider scale than the Government is proposing. It was believed, properly in my view, that an effort of that kind, a call-up of that size, would have diffused the Regular Army to such an extent that it would not have been in a position to do the job which it should be able to do. The Government proposes a different proposition altogether. It proposes to call up a limited number of people from one age group. That is the first great difference between the proposition to which Dr. Forbes was addressing his mind and the proposition which is now before the Australian people.

Senator Ormonde - Both were selective.

Senator GORTON - I have always understood that the proposition of the R.S.L. was a large scale call-up of virtually all youths of a particular age, subject to exemptions of course. The R.S.L. wanted a large scale call-up similar to the call-up when national service training was previously in force. There is all the difference in the world between the two propositions. I think it may well be that some of the disabilities the Army saw in a large scale call-up will, for a short time, be experienced even with a small scale call-up. However, if the situation facing Australia now is such that the Army needs to be built up to a particular size, and if what the Government proposes will enable that to be done reasonably quickly then, with the changed situation, sone disabilities must be endured for a short time.

That, I think, concludes all that I wish to say.I shall summarise in a few sentences the points that I have made. The Government believes that in the situation in which Australia finds itself, it is imperative that we quickly get an Army large enough to be able to do the job needed to be done, and, if necessary, to be expanded. The Opposition apparently believes that the increase in the Army should be brought about purely on a voluntary basis. The Government has done much to improve the Army and the Navy, as can be readily seen. The additions which will be made year by year will provide evidence of past planning to build the Services up so that Australia will be in a position, not where it can defend itself alone, but where it can make a growing contribution through all three Services, which will be, in view of all our other requirements, the best that this country can have. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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