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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1246

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I rise to give the strongest possible support to the motion moved by Senator Bishop. lt affords to us an appropriate and timely opportunity to consider a matter which is of very great consequence and importance to this nation. I refer to the very existence of an aircraft manufacturing industry making frames, components and systems which can be put into aircraft manufactured in this country. Over a period of years the aircraft industry has provided quite outstanding employment opportunities for a very large section of the work force. It also has provided an opportunity for amassing skills and techniques in this highly sophisticated industry which is very essential to many aspects of life in this country. When one refers to a matter of this kind involving the national aircraft industry one must have very serious regard to the implications of its continued existence. It would be of the greatest concern for the defence potential of the nation if the industry were to go out of existence. I would like to devote part of my speech this evening to that aspect of this matter.

We have in this country, as you, Mr President, and honourable senators would well know, a very proud record in this field, going back well over a quarter of a century - in fact well over 30 years ago when aircraft were first manufactured in Australia. It was essential to the defence of this nation in the years of the Second World War to have an aircraft manufacturing potential. We were able, with the skills and ability of Australian citizens, to develop that industry and we were forced to rely very heavily on it in the course of the Second World War and in subsequent years. I recall, as a serviceman of those days, taking a great deal of interest in the type of training aircraft developed in Australia. I remember the Wackett trainer. Subsequently I can remember a particular type of aircraft developed and manufactured in this country which made quite a notable contribution to our defence potential in the Second World War. It was the Boomerang. I remember - I guess this will be news to a number of honourable senators and to many people throughout Australia - that Sir Lawrence Wackett developed a twin engined bomber which at that time seemed to offer us an opportunity to extend our defence potential in the direction of the manufacture of multi-engined aircraft. That aircraft was designed, tested and flown in this country but I do not believe it was ever flown operationally.

The point I want to make is that there was within this country the skill to design, develop, manufacture and bring an aircraft into service. It is sad to reflect that over the past several years, despite the claims which the Government makes about the need for the development of the highest level of defence potential, we have seen a quite serious decline and a very serious fluctuation in the fortunes of the various sections of the aircraft manufacturing industry in Australia. It is very sad indeed. One would have thought that having regard to all the factors involved - the need to develop these skills within this country, the need to provide the educational opportunities for people engaged in the industry and the need for facilities to be available to provide for the rapid development of the potential of the aircraft manufacturing industry in Australia should the need arise - the situation would have been different.

This Government claims to have the interests of the defence of the nation very much to heart. With all the warnings that have come from the Government side of the Parliament over the years one would have thought that the Government would have expanded the aircraft industry, that it would have done everyhing it possibly could to ensure its continued existence - and as lively an existence as possible. In fact we have seen the opposite. We have seen a rundown, a decline, a fluctuation in the employment available at various levels of the aircraft industry in Australia. People are coming into and going out of the industry, and there is a general disenchantment on the part of people who have been engaged in the industry over the years. Honourable senators may say that I must spell this out in greater detail. That is exactly what I propose to do now. During the evening I have been engaged in a very important committee meeting concerned with the final judgment on the merits of a report on the defence forces retirement benefits and I have not had an opportunity to follow as closely as I might the fortune of today's debate. I hope therefore that the Senate will bear with me a little if I tend to traverse again ground which may have been covered by earlier speakers.

Senator Marriott - Just fly over it.

Senator DEVITT - No. I detect a very serious need. I believe that I am the person who should endeavour to educate some of the speakers from the Government side of the chamber.

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