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Thursday, 9 May 1957

Mr DAVIDSON (Dawson) (PostmasterGeneral and Minister for the Navy) [3.16J. - I have a short twenty minutes in which to devote myself to a subject which, if it were to be covered thoroughly, would require a great deal more time. Therefore, I do not intend taking up very much of this short twenty minutes in dealing in any detail with some of the statements which have emanated from the Opposition side of the House. In this debate, we have had ample evidence of the inconsistency of the Labour party on defence as, indeed, we have had on other occasions in the past. Not long ago, in one of the general election campaigns, Labour pledged that, if it were returned to power, expenditure on defence would be reduced by at least £50,000,000 so that more money would be available for the purpose of doing things which are more pleasant than defence measures and more likely to attract votes.

In some quarters, that attitude has been, evident during this debate, but some speakers have adopted the alternative attitude. I think that some of the remarks of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) could be interpreted as meaning that, in his opinion, the Government's defence plan does not go far enough. On the other hand, one Opposition member stated last week that it was unnecessary for us to expend so much money on defence. The proposed expenditure would be wasted, he said, because if Australia were to declare itself in favour of peace we would be left alone, because other nations would say, " Australia is not going to fight, so we will not touch it ". Thus, there are inconsistencies in the Opposition's argument. I suggest that a policy based on such inconsistencies in a party could not succeed in its objective of ensuring the security of Australia.

I should like to try to clarify the position by going back to the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at the initiation of this debate. I remind the House that the Prime Minister pointed out that the defence policy enunciated in that statement was the result of an appreciation of the defence situation and defence requirements, not only in Australia, but also in the Far-Eastern areas. That appreciation, he said, had been made by Australian Chiefs of Staff. There is a bit of a tendency in some quarters to sneer at our Chiefs of Staff, and other officers of similar rank, as being " top brass ". In this respect, I was particularly struck with the wisdom and sense of the remark made a little while ago by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes). Although he has had, as we all know, long and honorable service in the defence of this country, he said that, at this stage, twelve years later, he would hesitate to challenge or criticize the opinions of those who have had experience equal to that of any of us in this House, and who have the advantage of being kept right up to the minute on the latest international developments and the latest developments in military science.

That is an attitude which I myself adopt. I claim to have had some such service and some experience. But if, in planning the defence of Australia, I found that I differed radically from the Chiefs of Staff, I would hesitate long before condemning them, and saying that they did not know what they were talking about, and that I did. As a matter of fact, I am pleased to find that I am very much in accord with their overall appreciation of the defence position. This appreciation indicates that a new pattern has developed for the defence of this far-eastern Pacific area. Australia is not playing a lone hand.

In developing an appreciation of any situation it is a very common and very sound military practice, in the widest sense of the word " military ", to take into account, first of all, the main factors which have a bearing on the objective of the appreciation. In order to get back to the basic facts that we are trying to determine in respect of our defence policy, I shall cite to the House what I consider to be the major factors which have influenced this appreciation. The first factor is the nature of the threat which Australia and our eastern neighbours are facing. The second factor is the force available to meet that threat. The third factor concerns the around most suitable on which to meet the threat. The fourth consideration is the important time factor. May I deal with those factors in some detail?

There is no doubt as to the nature of the threat. The only threat to Australia and to neighbouring countries is the possibility of the onward march of communism, down through China and the countries of Eastern Asia, right to the north of Australia. That is the threat of communism, and it could come in any one of three ways. It could come in the form of a cold war, or a global war, or what is now known as a limited war. As the Prime Minister mentioned in his statement, once we just talked about war. Now we have the cold war, the possibility of global war, and the limited war. The cold war is carried on by the subtle subversion of countries which are being literally attacked. It is carried on by the use of banditry in areas which lend themselves to that sort of thing as Malaya does at the moment. Subversion is also effected by infiltration, which is cleverly arranged where the conditions of life are such " that they provide a fertile soil for communism. We know the threat of the cold war. We have Australian components in the strategic force in Malaya, and our men have been fighting in Malaya for a long time in order to deal with the cold war there.

The second threat confronting us is global war. Those who are in a position to know have stated quite recently - and I think it can be accepted - that a global war would be a conflict between world communism and the major democratic nations. These people have said that should such a war break out - and it is unlikely - Australia's role would be a relatively minor one, at least at the start, and we would not be in danger of atomic attack. I mention that in passing because some speakers have attempted to influence this debate by concentrating on the terrors of atomic attack. I agree with their description of the terrible results which would follow the dropping of an atomic bomb. I, too, have seen what happened in Hiroshima. But let us not be misled into thinking that if a global war occurred we would be immediately smashed. I disagree with the honorable member for Blaxland, who said that, because we appear to be the weak link, in a global war we would be the ones on whom the enemy would concentrate first. That is foreign to all sound thinking.


Mr DAVIDSON - I am sorry if I have misconstrued the honorable member's remarks. It is conceded that, in the event of a global war, it will be a case of America and Great Britain versus the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and each group would go flat out to smash the enemy before there was any possibility of an extension of the war. The third threat is of a limited war, which we believe could, unfortunately, break out with little or no warning at a not far distant date because something might happen, or somebody might get a little trigger happy. If that should happen in an area which is of vital importance to our own Australian security, Australia will be forced to play a relatively major part in its conduct. A limited war, possibly because those behind it would not want to commence the use of atomic weapons, would have the accent mainly, although not wholly, on what we still call conventional weapons, lt would be a war in which troops would still be necessary to take and hold ground, and those troops would need to be supported by the usual methods, such as air cover, ground support by low-flying aircraft, and naval forces capable of keeping open our sea lanes so that troops could be transported, operating in conjunction with the air forces of the threatened areas. We should need naval forces capable of dealing with hostile submarine and surface vessels, which could be used against us even in a limited war.

This, our advisers tell us, is the most likely threat which Australians face in the immediate future, and it is that for which we are planning. The next factor that I have listed concerns the forces available to us. It is a factor which has not been taken into account very much in this debate, and it is one which has been very largely affected by the recent international developments. The obvious realization by the United States of the vital importance of preserving the strength of democracy in :this southern Pacific area, and of halting communism in that area, is a very real factor. A matter which influences the position in this regard is that fact that there has been, in recent years, the emergence of groups of countries just developing into nationhood to the north of us - countries which are determined to uphold their nationality and to defeat communism. As a result, we have this phase in our Australian defence policy, when we are forming a series of mutual defensive pacts. This is a part of our defence and of our plan, and it is one of the reasons for the action that we have taken in placing this paper before the House. The countries with which we are involved in these pacts are the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, France, the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan. That is a formidable array. As a result of the mutual defence pacts that we have made with those countries, We must, in preparing our defensive plans, take into account their co-operation, and we must set out to integrate our forces with the forces of our allies who would be operating with us in the event of a war.

I come now to the factor of the ground most suitable for defence. Surely, from what I have said during the last ten minutes, it will be evident that there is no question about the location of the ground most suitable for our defence. It must be the outer, northern fringe of the democratic part of the Pacific area. By making this choice, our advisers have ensured, first, that we will have every opportunity to preserve the territorial integrity of our allies, which is just as important to us as is the preservation of our own territorial integrity. Secondly, it will have the advantage that we shall be fighting far from our own soil. Then there is the time factor. Obviously, in the present circumstances there will not be any extended period of time for the preparation of our forces. We must be prepared' to fight at the drop of a hat. Therefore, we come to our plan - the plan on which the Prime Minister's statement is based, and in the course of which the right honorable gentleman stated that we must provide forces for immediate action to the limit of our financial capacity, capable of integration with the forces of our allies, and capable also of meeting the various types of threat which we expect. At the same time, we must also provide for the ultimate reinforcing of those initial forces, as time permits and as we succeed in holding the first onrush.

My colleagues, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) and the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne), have already dealt with what this policy means so far as their services are concerned. It is my privilege, on behalf of the service which I have the honour to represent in this House, to give just a few brief facts to show how the present organization which is being developed in the Navy conforms to the policy and to the factors which I have just enumerated. There has been a little cheap criticism about the number of admirals that we have. Criticism of that kind used to be made in the days ot bows and arrows by those who wanted soapbox stuff to put Over to the unthinking. Our naval plans provide for a relatively small put powerful force capable of hard hitting and designed to carry out the role which I outlined a few moments ago in relation to the defence of our sea lanes, the support of troops, and so on. What have we in the Navy to enable that to be done? As the Prime Minister said in his statement, we have first of all, " Melbourne ", one of the most modern fast light fleet carriers, equipped with five squadrons of 40 aircraft, comprising Venoms and Gannets. In spite of what has been said once or twice in this House, the Venom is not an outdated aircraft. It is one of the latest all-weather jet fighters. The Gannet. turbo-prop, anti-submarine aircraft, is one of the best anti-submarine aircraft. It is fitted with the latest devices for detecting submarines and is a very fine aircraft for this purpose.

There has been some criticism about " Sydney ". Honorable members will notice that, in the Prime Minister's statement, the right honorable gentleman points out that the Government, under this plan, proposes to recondition " Sydney " so that it will be able to carry out a limited flying role also. If there should be a limited war, that will enable us to use our Sea

Furies very effectively in close support of our ground troops. We also have three " Q " class destroyers which have been converted to highly effective anti-submarine vessels. We are concentrating on speed and the power to hit fast, particularly against light aircraft and submarines. We are developing the Daring class ships, which are virtually more powerful than pre-war cruisers. Furthermore, let us remember that practically the whole of the hulls, machinery, equipment and armament of these vessels has been manufactured and assembled in Australia. We have one of them in commission. Another will be in commission shortly, and the construction of a third is well under way. In addition, we have four modern anti-submarine frigates under construction.

Again conforming to our policy, we have modernized our ocean mine-sweepers. In addition, we have done something about which most people who have asked, " What do you do with all the money? " do not know. We have purchased for the Navy a modern, fast, 20,000-ton fleet tanker.

This is a very brief summary of the planning behind the defence policy which has been adopted and, so far as the Navy is concerned, of the way that that policy is being carried out. In addition to this planning, the great value of the work which this Government has done in recent years to build up the pacts to which I referred a few moments ago should not be overlooked. We now have the Anzus pact, the Anzam pact, and the Seato pact. Those who have had anything to do with our allied nations, such as America, New Zealand, Thailand and the other components of Seato, and who have seen how sincere and determined these countries are to work together in collaboration with all the democratic nations of the area, will have been very heartened indeed. There may be need for some adjustments of our planning as we go along, but we have built very effectively and very well. In conclusion, may I ask whether any one in this country believes that the co-operation and the trust, which is the basis of these pacts, would have been accorded to a government led by the Leader of the Opposition, as it has been accorded to this Government led by the Prime Minister?

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