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Wednesday, 8 May 1957

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- The imminent suspension of the sitting for dinner will make my speech of a somewhat fragmentary nature, but perhaps that is appropriate in view of the fact that we are considering a fragmentary plan to deal with a very grave defence situation. Some honorable members opposite who have spoken in this debate have demonstrated a rather sycophantic attitude towards the United States, a country for which I have a great regard. Australia has no need to be apologetic about its achievements in the defence of freedom in two world wars. In 1914, and again in 1939, the call of the bugle took a long time to cross the Atlantic. In the 1914-18 and the 1939-45 wars we lost 100,000 men. The United States, with a population approximately twenty times greater than ours, lost about 300,000 men, and some of the other countries to which honorable members opposite often point as examples also have a long way to go before they can point the finger of scorn at us. That applies also to visiting American admirals. Not that I have any objection to them, but let us not, as a general national attitude, be so apologetic about things. However, perhaps we may be apologetic about the defence programme, on which the Government has spent more than £1,000,000,000 in the last six or seven years, and which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has now said will be reorganized. Government supporters have said that it needs re-organizing. I well recall the Army maxim, " Order, counter-order, and disorder ". That is the state of affairs that now exists.

Neither the general public nor Opposition members, of course, can ignore the fact that defence presents great difficulties today. The Prime Minister has outlined the probabilities. He said that a general war was unlikely. A global war may be unlikely to occur as a result of deliberate planning, but it could occur as a result of sudden passion or miscalculation. A limited war is always possible, and therefore Australia should be prepared to take an active part in a limited war, particularly if called upon to do so by the United Nations.

I should like to mention one other matter before I turn to the tenor of the debate. Opposition members have been criticized for not making more constructive suggestions about the defence programme. But what information have we been given? There are five Ministers concerned with defence, but the Minister for Supply and Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale), who is now at the table, is probably the only one of the five who has taken positive action to inform us what happens in the departments under his administration, and I congratulate him on that.

As for the rest, what do honorable members really know about the re-equipment of the Air Force, and about any weapons that may have been developed for use by the Navy or the Army? The Government has a duty to inform the people generally, and all members of both Houses of the Parliament, what is happening in the armed forces and what equipment they have and need. I think that we can answer the criticisms that have been directed at the Opposition by saying that, over the last 50 years, a good deal of Australia's defence planning has been initiated by Labour governments. I think it is true to say that the Australian Regular Army, the Royal Australian Naval Air Service, and the Woomera Rocket Range, of which the Minister for Supply is so proud, were the result of planning by Labour governments.

We on this side of the House admit the difficulties of the Air Force. We do not know what is the solution, any more than the Government does, and we do not claim to have a solution or to have ready answers to the many questions that arise. We admit the existence of all the problems that are associated with defence finance and development, and the manufacture of aircraft in a modern age. After all, the air is now almost a realm of fantasy, in which aircraft travel at speeds of 2,000 miles an hour, and in which scientists are looking for push-button methods of preventing air attack. However, our own aircraft manufacturing industry has been practically crippled. The government aircraft factories have almost ceased production, and the work force has been dissipated, the workers going into other industries. No matter how hard the Government tries to induce to return to its service workers who were employed in government aircraft factories for eleven or twelve years, and became highly skilled and valuable tradesmen, it will not trap them into returning to the service of a government that is likely to dismiss them at short notice.

The Royal Australian Navy has two aircraft carriers. The great capital cost of naval construction imposes a particularly heavy burden on the Australian nation. What is our position in this respect? According to " Jane's Fighting Ships ", the average maximum speeds of even the larger modern aircraft carriers of Britain, and of other countries, are considerably greater than the maximum speed of the Australian aircraft carriers. Among the British vessels, "Ark Royal" is capable of a speed of 31 knots, and " Eagle " has a maximum speed of 31.5 knots. " Saipan " and "Wright", two United States aircraft carriers of a class equivalent to the Australian vessels, have a displacement of 14,000 tons, and are capable of a speed of 33 knots. But both the Australian aircraft carriers have a maximum speed of only 24 knots. On the other hand, the fastest Russian submarine can travel at 20 knots. Opposition members do not suggest that it is not difficult to solve these problems, but the Australian people are entitled to expect something better than they have received for an expenditure of more than £1,000,000,000. Our two aircraft carriers are so slow that a really modern submarine could almost outpace them.

We have spent millions of pounds on " Hobart ", and we have spent approximately £100,000,000 on national service training. Surely the Government does not expect us to believe that we could put into the field an effective fighting force, even with the support of the 170,000 or 180,000 partly trained national service trainees to whom the Prime Minister referred. It takes more than partly trained men, more than mere bodies, and more than money to build up an army. I think it is fair to say that one of the Opposition's greatest criticisms of the Government's defence programme is that the Army is inadequately equipped, even when one takes into account the equipment that has been purchased recently. It is also immobile. The Australian transport system could not cope with the transport of the great Centurion tanks that we now have. Top-level policy also has been indecisive. No one in the Army is sure what will happen to it next. Over the years, there has been no long-range plan. No effective fighting unit can be developed without continuity of planning, and an understanding of what will happen next.

The morale of the Army has not been maintained. Traditional features of the Australian Army, such as tan boots, unit colour patches, and the slouch hat, have virtually been cast off by the way-side. Although those are, perhaps, only minor adjuncts, they represent part of the tradition that plays an important part in building up an efficient army. There has been a continual change of emphasis from jungle warfare to open warfare and back again, and consequent alteration of the establishments of army units. This continual switch back and forth, and the indecisiveness of the Government's policy, have carried their evil influence right into the ranks of those who spend their Sunday afternoons, week-ends and annual holidays, in part-time soldiering, as well as to the ranks of the Regular Army men who make the service a career. These things have undermined their morale and sapped their enthusiasm to serve. I suggest that honorable members on both sides of the House take some note of any Regular Army men they know, and see for themselves how many of those men are resigning from the service, not because they think the pay is inadequate, or the general working conditions are unsatisfactory, but because they are frustrated, and because the system, generally, prevents them from giving their best to the service to which they have dedicated the most worth-while part of their lives. Another criticism that I make with respect to the Army concerns its rather unimaginative approach to the problems of present-day organization. I should like to develop this theme after dinner. Would this be an appropriate time to suspend the sitting, Mr. Speaker?

Mr Beale - The honorable member had better continue. There are still three minutes left before the normal time for suspension.

Mr BRYANT - I can annihilate a government in three minutes. Let us consider what we have received from the Government's great expenditure on the Army. We were told, on 9th October of last year, that the Army had 119 Centurion tanks.

Mr Beale - In view of the honorable member's kindness a few moments ago, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that this might be a convenient time to suspend the sitting.

Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.

Mr BRYANT - Before the suspension of the sitting we were examining the position of the Army and the purchase by it recently of armoured equipment. Last year, the Minister told us that Australia had purchased 119 Centurion tanks, 33 armoured personnel carriers and 264 ferret scout cars, so many mortars and so many wireless sets. What effect have those purchases had in producing an effective Australian defence system?

One hundred and fifteen tanks is possibly an armoured brigade - not quite. After all, there are 225 vehicles of various descriptions in a modern armoured brigade. What intrigues me is the purchase of 264 ferret scout cars at a time when we are short of tanks and when we have only 33 armoured personnel carriers. Who was the supersalesman who sold those to us? I understand that a ferret scout car is worth about £9,000. It is a beautifully made vehicle with a Rolls-Royce engine, but it only carries a couple of men and it is only a reconnaissance vehicle. Five ferret scout cars equal one tank. Two hundred and sixty-four ferret scout cars equal 50 tanks. The Australian Army, if it is to be an effective army, must train with first-class equipment.

Mr Cairns - The same Minister is going to buy other equipment.

Mr BRYANT - That is right, and I hope the Minister will take somebody with him who is not so susceptible to sales talk. Thirty -three armoured personnel carriers will carry about seven people each, so with a bit of luck a couple of hundred men could be shifted, but where to we do not know. 1 want to refer now to the role of the Citizen Military Forces, which has received scant attention in this debate, and none whatsoever from the Prime Minister. In the last two wars, the Citizen Military Forces had increased tenfold by the time the war ended. The 40,000 in 1914 became 400,000 in 1918. The 78,000 in 1.939 became 800,000 in 1945. At the beginning of each war we had only about 2,000 permanent soldiers. So, the people who will fight any war of the future which is to call upon the resources of the Australian nation to a greater extent than was the case in Korea, are now walking the streets in civilian clothes, and they are the people who must be trained and be attracted to the forces. I suggest that the Minister give consideration to the re-organization of Citizen Military Forces training; that he reorganizes his three infantry divisions, mechanizes them, armours them and gives them first-class equipment. It would not be necessary to purchase equipment for three divisions. If we had one full armoured brigade with 225 armoured vehicles, with tanks at £48,000 each, a total of about £12,000,000 for fighting vehicles, and another £8,000,000 for ancillary equipment, we would have a first-class fighting formation for somewhere in the vicinity of £20,000,000. For this £20,000,000 we could have the equipment and the armour to train people. You cannot tell me that it is necessary to conscript Australian youth or Australian manhood to do this sort of job. The military age is between 18 and 40 years. In Australia at the present time there are more than 1,000,000 men between the ages of 20 and 40. If we want three effective armoured divisions or any other sort of C.M.F. divisions there is something wrong with the system, and with the whole of society, if we cannot get 60,000 men to volunteer. After all, that is a very small proportion. I suggest that the training system be looked at anew and that we abandon some of the concepts we have had. It seems that Saturday afternoon and week-night training is not effective. It cannot be effective. The kind of people we want in these forces are people who have important civic duties, important jobs in civilian life, and they have family responsibilities. They are groups from which will come the leaders and the noncommissioned officers. So, we have to find some system which does not disrupt their job or their home life and does not place too great a strain on their patriotism and sense of duty. I suggest that there be a four-weeks or five-weeks training period, not necessarily every year. Is there any reason why we should base all our systems on the fact that the earth moves around the sun once every 365 days? The way to create an effective force is by a period of training, with good equipment, and for long enough for people to know what they are doing. With good men and good equipment it should bc possible to produce, in four or five weeks, not a fully trained man fit for combatant duty perhaps, but certainly a man fit to go on parade, and to take his place in a force which would be ready for some form of urgent duty in at least two or three months. This should be our objective.

I suggest that instead of a yearly training schedule there be an eighteen months' schedule. Three divisions with perhaps nine or ten brigades, would require only one set of first-class equipment, and if there is first-class equipment for men to train with, they will be prepared to train. The equipment provided in the last few years has been enough to drive people out of the Army. The training conditions in the camps have been enough to fill soldiers of the Regular Army, members of the Citizen Military Forces, and national servicemen with despair. They have driven people out of the services.

I believe that this nation has an important role to play, and that the Army in the end will probably have to play it. It may not necessarily be a fighting role. At the present moment there are trouble spots all over the world where the United Nations cannot effectively step in. The smaller nations, such as Australia, which have a little less suspicion cast at them by the big countries involved, can offer something. Generally speaking, Australia can step into world affairs without too much stigma of past conquests and colonialism - barring a few incidental happenings in the last few years under this Government. If we were given something to do in Kashmir or Nicaragua or Algiers, what would we have to offer? So far we have nothing to offer. The Minister for Defence has been suggested as a possible offer, but he might be sold too many swift stories. The defence system of the last few years has produced nothing effective.

What will the brigade group, to which the Prime Minister referred, consist of? This is not a battle formation trained to the highest pitch. I suppose it will have our 115 tanks and, as a result, the C.M.F. will have none to train with. These matters have to be given earnest consideration. It is futile to think of maintaining an army to take part in a general war. How effective would the 115 tanks be in a major battle? In the battle of Kursk - one of the greatest tank battles of all time - which took place between the Germans and the Russians during the last war, the Germans had engaged on each kilometre of front - five-eighths of a mile - 4,500 soldiers, 40 to 50 tanks, and 70 to 80 pieces of artillery. It is futile for us to consider taking part in that sort of war. We could not do it. But we should be able to offer something in the form of a unit or units, ready at short notice to carry out the missions to which the United Nations would entrust us. It is not very often that I can agree with the Prime Minister, but I do agree with him that an all-out global war is unlikely. Therefore, I say that the whole concept of our defence has to be based upon a useful role for the Australian forces in a limited war, and an effective one. We have to base most of it on men in civilian clothes, so we must create a citizen military force that has pride in its formations and traditions, and with the history and achievements of the Australian Army behind it. Surely, we can find among 1,000,000 Australian men, 60,000 ready to serve the United Nations cause wherever required.

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