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Wednesday, 8 May 1957

Mr HOWSE (Calare) .- It is father strange to hear members of the tabour party advocating greater defence expenditure. On repeated occasions in this House and on the hustings, they have advocated a severe cut in defence expenditure. They have opposed national service training And recruitment, and have done many things to slow down our defence effort. Now they have changed their guise and come before us as people who advocate a greater ^defence effort. That just does not tie up at all.

The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has been welcomed by every one. Though the Government has made mistakes -on defence - and I have not agreed with all it has done - it has made a determined effort to put our defences in order. It would be foolish for us to imagine that we could match the defence effort of the United States of America. We are a small nation "with a population of only 10,000,000 people, but we have a huge continent and a long coastline. Great demands are made on our resources and on our means of development. But that does not excuse us from making an effort to put our defences in order. Defence cannot be bought on the cheap. A defence policy demands two things; first, we must make a maximum effort and contribution, and, secondly, we must seek our close friends and allies, get alongside them and obtain their assistance.

What does the defence policy of the United States mean to Australia? lt seems to be related to one problem - countering the threat of Russia. America aims to be so strong that it can keep pressure on the Communists so that they will blow up within. The world could then enjoy a certain amount of peace and get on with disarmament. The American defence effort is tremendous. I have some figures on American expenditure. In J 939. it spent one billion dollars and in 1958 the estimate of expenditure is 43 billion dollars. The number of men in uniform has grown tremendously. The cost of arms, equipment and other expenses connected with defence has jumped from .6 billion dollars in 1939 to an estimated 32 bi lion dollars in 1958. That is the defence effort of the United States and we are enjoying it. But, while Australia is scrambling to get under the defence protection of the American umbrella, do not let us forget what Great Britain is doing in the Pacific a-ea. Great Britain is maintaining a considerable force in Malaya, apart from the Commonwealth division. It has slated quite clearly that it is not reducing i's striking power. The striking power provided by additional weapons more than compensates for any reduction in man-power. Great Britain is a very active partner in Seato an 1 has troops in Malaya who could become effective immediately to support Seato. If one were to describe Malaya as a large bath, then the United Kingdom forces and the British Commonwealth forces, in which Australia and New Zealand are partners can be described as the plug in tHe ba'h. if that plug is removed from the Malayan bath, the tide of communism will certainly flow to Australia.

Let us look at the Government's defence proposals. The new defence scheme proposes that the average strength of the Navy will be about 11,500. To-day, the Australian Navy is stretched to the limit. Ships are being paid off because men are not available to man them. The Government proposes that the Navy will have an average strength of 11,500 for the next four years.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They are not short of admirals!

Mr HOWSE - There could be a few more. We know that the Army is having great difficulty in maintaining one battalion overseas. It is proposed that, for the next four years, we should maintain a permanent striking force with an average strength of 21,500 men. The strength of the Air Force is to be an average of 13,250 for four years. The Government proposes to buy 33 planes with a performance of 2,000 miles an hour at a cost of £1,000,000 each. These planes are to intercept. I do not know what they are to intercept; the Government has not explained that yet. They cannot intercept guided missiles. Are they to intercept troop-carrying planes? What exactly are these planes for? It seems to me that, if we are to have a force of this nature, the planes should be planes of a support group, which would be much more effective.

The Government has placed much emphasis on equipment, but I should like to know how it proposes to get the men to man these weapons. I directed a question on notice to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Davidson) to ascertain the wastage in the Navy. What is our man-power position? In 1954-55, the wastage from the service was 1,346. In 1955-56, the wastage was 1,177 and in 1956-57, 2,462. The strength of the force is only 11,000 odd, yet we have this tremendous wastage. The Government is still advocating more weapons and more equipment, but it seems not to have examined properly the great problem of wastage and where it can get the men to man all this equipment. Australia must seek its armed forces from volunteers to the greatest possible extent. Australians show reluctance in peace-time to join the armed forces. We must encourage young men to choose a service career and retain them once they have chosen this career. To attain these objectives, servicemen require some compensation which is more in line with that offered in industry.

Our problem is twofold. On the one hand, we must attract married men to the services and, on the other hand, we must provide benefits for servicemen who have families. There are many advantages for servicemen in Great Britain, and even more for those in America, which are not enjoyed by Australian servicemen. It was once the proud boast of an Australian serving in the forces that he was as well off as servicemen in other countries. That is not so today; we are falling far behind. Admittedly, an attempt has been made to attract and retain servicemen, but it has all been too small, too niggardly and too late. I therefore propose to the Government that it give most earnest consideration to setting up an all-party committee, armed with proper authority to examine and report to Parliament how the drift from the services can be arrested and how men can be encouraged to join the services as a career. This committee could be similar to the Committee of Armed Services in the United States, which was commissioned to examine and report on problems of this kind. The United States committee was responsible for the Career Incentive Act of 1955, which was passed by the United States legislature as the result of a presidential message to the House of Representatives. What are the great advantages of an all-party committee? One advantage would be that honorable members from both sides of the House would be kept informed of defence problems, which I believe is necessary. In addition, the committee would be a steppingstone towards a bi-partisan policy on defence.

The defence of Australia should be treated on national lines, because it is something that affects every man, woman and child in this country. It affects not only the present generation, but also generations yet to come. That being so, our defence policy should receive the closest attention of the Parliament and should have the keenest support of all members of the Parliament, on a non-party basis. Perhaps one of the most important problems that this parliamentary standing committee might examine is that of housing for servicemen. Undoubtedly, housing is one of the main factors in a serviceman's life. It is obvious that unless he is properly housed he will not be happy and, consequently, will not discharge his duties as effectively as he should. We all know of numerous instances of servicemen and their families living under most unsatisfactory conditions. I turn again to the Navy to illustrate my point. Recently, I asked the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Davidson) whether he could tell me the number of houses that had been built or purchased by the Royal Australian Navy for naval personnel during the last three years. He replied that, in 1954-55, the number was 217, in 1955-56, it was 52, and in 1956-57 it was six, with three homes under construction. Those figures indicate the need to do something about this vital problem.

Rehabilitation of ex-servicemen is another matter to which the committee might turn its attention, because when a serviceman leaves the forces to start out in the world he should be properly equipped to do so. He must be given the opportunity to learn skills which will help him to make his way in his future life. Another matter which the committee might consider is the question of insurance for servicemen. At present, the dependants of Fleet Air Arm personnel, for instance, who are killed in the course of their duty, receive very little compensation for the simple reason that the members of that service are not able to insure their lives adequately. Because of the risks they are required to take, the insurance premiums are prohibitive. The Government should provide generous insurance for men who are engaged on hazardous tasks in the services, such as those who serve in submarines and in the Fleet Air Arm.

Mr Falkinder - And in the Air Force itself!

Mr HOWSE - Yes, the Air Force could be included, too.

The committee that I have suggested also could consider the advisability of paying a re-engagement bonus to those who re-enlist in the services. The Royal Navy has adopted this practice, and the Australian Navy has been thinking and talking about it for some time, but nothing has been done. In the United Kingdom, the payment of a' re-engagement bonus has proved of real value as an incentive to exservicemen to re-enlist. In addition, the committee could turn its attentions to the kind of family benefits that are required. Apart from the provision of homes for exservicemen and their families, rental assistance should be given when high rents have to be paid. We know that, in many instances, servicemen must travel long distances to take up duty. There should be travel concessions for the families of servicemen in such cases. There are numerous other benefits that could be given to servicemen, and the committee could examine their nature and make recommendations to the Government accordingly. The Government should not use the excuse that the provision of such benefits would cost too much money. The cost of the benefits to which I have referred should be assessed, and if that were done I think it would be found to be manageable. What is the alternative? I suggest that, unless some incentives are given, the Government will find that it has plenty of equipment for defence but nobody to use it. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to the appointment of this committee.

I turn briefly to national service training. I support the view of the honorable members for St. George (Mr. Graham), Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), Angas (Mr. Downer), and many other Government supporters, that national service training should not be drastically curtailed. The benefits of such training have been clearly stated by those honorable members and I do not propose to reiterate them. The Government should take great pride in the scheme and also great credit for having introduced it. However, it is now proposed to reduce the annual intake of trainees from 33,000 to 12,000. Those 12,000 trainees presumably are to be used to prop up the Citizen Military Forces; but surely a great deal more attention should be paid to increasing the number of volunteers, now that the national service training scheme is being so drastically reduced! Perhaps it is the long-term aim, as it is in Great Britain, ultimately to replace national service trainees by volunteers, but it must be appreciated that the restrictions associated with national service training have been one of the principal obstacles in the way of recruiting for the C.M.F. It may be possible, in the future, to keep certain units of the C.M.F. completely on a voluntary basis and to build them up to full strength with volunteers. There is no doubt that the falling-off in the volunteer component of the C.M.F. has been due very largely to the national service dilution.

There is, however, another very important factor in relation to training in the C.M.F. That is, that in order to encourage volunteers to enlist, the C.M.F. must be given modern weapons and an opportunity to train with them. If a man is interested he will enlist and remain in the force. The lack of modern weapons probably was one of the main reasons for the wastage that occurred in the days before the national service training scheme was introduced. I am of the opinion that the public should see more of the C.M.F. There should bc more parades and marches with regimental bands. The members of the forces should be made to feel that they are a part of the community, and the public should have reason to be proud of them.

I wish now to say something about reserve training. As national service training is to be cut so severely by the Government, I believe that it is essential that the reserves of the armed services should be encouraged and augmented. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) made the excellent suggestion, which I hope will be considered by the Government, that there should be a tax concession in respect of reserve pay. I wish to pay a tribute to the men and officers of the reserve forces who have given their time voluntarily in the national effort, often at great financial loss and personal inconvenience. It is regrettable that the statement made by the Prime Minister contained no reference to the splendid work that they have done.

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