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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1641

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) - I was not inclined to speak in this debate but last night I listened to the fallacious statements of many Government members, and I have just listened to a few from the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin). On the basis of these statements I decided to speak in the debate. The Bill basically is an amendment to the National Service Act io reduce (lie period of military service for national servicemen in Australia from 2 years to 18 months. The House will recall that the original legislation was introduced in 1964 to raise the strength of the Army from 23,000 people to a level that would suffice for service by the Australian military forces in Vietnam. To date 51,000 national servicemen have been called up to fulfil, as the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) says, our role in national defence. 1 would like to examine the question of national defence in relation to the call-up. The national defence the Minister speaks of is the Australian commitment to Vietnam. When, with Australia on a peacetime footing, hundreds of Australian boys have had their lives dislocated and 300 young men have died in an undeclared war, because the Australian Government offered to support various regimes in South Vietnam that purported to be governments we have a very serious position indeed. It was revealed in this House a couple of weeks ago that the only correspondence from the South Vietnamese Government which led to our involvement in Vietnam was an acceptance of the Australian offer of military assistance. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) said that Australia's offer had been made after negotiations with the South Vietnamese Government, but that is pure conjecture. I think everyone would believe that the Australian Government offered assistance to the regimes of South Vietnam after pressure from the American Johnson Administration. : lal are we fighting for in Vietnam? Are we fighting for a free democracy as opposed to the authoritarian regime of a Communist-imposed dictatorship? For what have we been fighting for 7 years? I think everyone is aware of the fact that President Thieu rushed through a constitutional amendment that virtually forced every other candidate for the presidency of South Vietnam out of the field. Because it appeared too rough President Nixon recalled Ambassador Bunker for quick consultations on the matter. Bunker returned to Saigon and screwed Thieu's arm to take steps so there would at least appear to be a semblance of democracy. Thieu apparently has sway over the Supreme Court of South Vietnam. As a result of a Supreme Court decision Ky" name was put back on the ballot paper, but then Ky said: 'What is the point of going on with the thing? I cannot win anyway.' This is the Government we have been defending. After 7 years this is what we are left with - one man manipulating the constitution of the South Vietnamese nation and the Supreme Court of South Vietnam. This is what we have been fighting for. For this the guilty men who sit opposite have sent 300 Australian boys to their death. We have just had a debate in which it was made known the times when we will withdraw our forces from Vietnam. We will probably find that the figure of 300 deaths will have increased by the time all Australian troops are withdrawn.

In his second reading speech the Minister for Labour and National Service said:

The Labor Party's attitude is one of rigidity. It is therefore inadequate, and this is one of the lessons of history.

What are the lessons of history in relation to the Labor Party and Australia's defence? On 2 occasions, in 2 major wars, the Australian people have called the Labor Party to the treasury bench of this Parliament to defend Australia. The Government of Sir Robert Menzies, and the Lyons Government prior to that, had let Australian defence industries and defence Services run down to such an extent that the Labor Party had to come to the assistance of the country and had to very quickly upgrade our defence forces to meet the Japanese threat. So the Labor Party's record on defence is solid gold and always has been, and honourable members Opposite know it.

This whole national service debate hinges around Australia's defence. This Government has never had a consistent and continuous defence policy. In the 2 years I have been a member of this Parliament there has been no debate on Australia's defence. A major Government statement on defence was made on 10th March 1970 by the Honourable Malcolm Fraser, who was then the Minister for Defence. There was never any debate on this statement. Six months later in the dead of the night, like a cat burglar, the present Treasurer (Mr Snedden), when he was the Leader of the House, came into the House and tried to have this matter removed from the notice paper. Fortunately the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) and I prevented that from happening. But he got us. Six months later it was gone. He caught us. So there was no debate on this major statement. When we look at the consistency of the Government's policy we see that the Government is just not credible on the subject of defence. The Honourable Malcolm Fraser, when he was the Minister for Defence, said this - and this is basically the Government's defence approach:

We reject the concept of detachment.

He was having a poke at the Labor Party's defence policies. He added:

We accept the risks and opportunities of involvement . . . because we believe isolation would lead to greater risks both for the region and for Australia. We do not believe there is any security in isolation.

He subsequently resigned his portfolio and was followed as Minister for Defence by the right honourable John Gorton. On the same subject, in a speech he made as Minister for Defence to the Australian Imperial Services Club, he said this about Australia's defence:

As 1 see the concept -

He was talking about Fortress Australia, whereas his predecessor had been talking about forward defence - it is not one of retiring behind the moat of the oceans which surround us: There to wash our hands of responsibility for what happens outside our continental limits. It is not a concept of isolationism. For such a concept would indeed badly serve the future defence of Australia. Rather it is the realisation that any operations in areas outside Australia require that Australia itself should be a secure base, firmly defended, from which such operations can be mounted and sustained . . . And the Australian continent is, in the ultimate, the only firm and enduring base ob which we can rely. Should we not therefore regard the provision of strong defences for that base, for Australia, as the primary but by no means the only task for our defence. I think we should.

What a great Government! What a consistent Government! One Minister for Defence says we must have forward defence and that we should forget the Fortress Australia approach. He said: 'Do not worry about the base here.' Then the next Minister for Defence said: 'The forward defence concept is out. What we need is a strong Australian defence base'. So there is absolutely no continuity in policy. What does the present Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn), the man to whom the former Prime Minister referred as being pedestrian, say? What has the pedestrian Minister had to say about defence? The Parliament has not been told of his personal attitude to Australia's defence. Over 24 years this Government has guided the defence capacity of Australia on an ad hoc basis. There has been absolutely no planning.

I think it is fair to say that the basic requirement of any defence capability is an independent industrial capability. Today war is a clash of rival technologies, and if a country is not technologically competent it is not able to defend itself. This Government has neglected all its defence industries. Basically this has come about because there has been no government defence policy. None of the Services has been able to foresee its hardware requirements because there has been no consistent defence policy whereby it could tailor its hardware requirements for a particular role. Therefore we have seen all our defence industries decreasing in manpower and technological skill.

I would like to refer to a statement made by a former Secretary of the Department of Defence, Sir Henry Bland, who on leaving the Department spoke about the way in which Australia selects defence equipment. I do not think that this statement has ever been read in this House. I think it should be recorded in Hansard. It is quite lengthy but it is worth recording. He said:

As is well known, compatibility of weapons and equipment with those of the USA has been a cardinal principle of Australian defence policy for some time. There is room for wondering whether habit has led this policy to be interpreted to Australia's long term disadvantage.

He went on to say-

If the USA is to continue to be the principal determinent of our compatibility policy, we are, unless we are careful, committing ourselves to equipment which is almost invariably complex because it tends to be an element of a more comprehensive integrated system and so to maintain our compatability, we are led to more complexities and we are committing ourselves to equipment which is likely, to be designed for theatres of war and operations in which we are unlikely to be engaged and to equipment which is inevitably horribly costly.

The emphasis has been towards highly sophisticated weaponry, 1 suggest we should turn our eye in the direction of less sophisticated weaponry. If we can surmount this mental block the projection of these possibilities would add immensely to the importance of the new machinery for industry's connection with defence administration and policy, lt would offer unique scope for defence to foster a real burgeoning of research and technology, in Australia.

What he is virtually saying is that all of our Service requirements and the equipment that we have acquired for our Services have been based on the wrong premise. They have been based on the Menzies theory that the United States of America will always come to our military assistance. In view of the realities of the Nixon Doctrine we have to realise that we must stand on our own two feet. This requires us to develop our defence industries to the point where we can keep the equipment of our Services in a condition where they can compete with any other nation which may turn out to be an aggressor. The Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) when he was Minister for Defence, said:

We could not design, develop and produce the various guided weapons and aircraft our forces needed.

This is what he told a Liberal Party luncheon in Brisbane on 20th July and it is reported in the 'Australian'. That is the attitude of the Government towards our defence industries.

Let us have a look at the defence equipment this Government has selected. As we all know the Fill aircraft was ordered in 1963 but it still has not been delivered and it is now 1971. The performance of this aircraft has failed to meet in any way the specifications originally laid down for it. Look at the Royal Australian Navy. The Government purchased DDG destroyers, worth about $50m or S60m each. Their primary role is to protect our aircraft carrier, which has a maximum speed of 21 knots and at that speed it could not keep up with merchant vessels. We now find that there has been great celebration in the RAN because the old aircraft carrier has just been refitted and we are buying extra Skyhawk aircraft to equip it. Everyone in this Parliament knows that we can never replace HMAS 'Melbourne' with a new aircraft carrier of 50,000 tons or anything that is regarded as an optimum size for our purposes because of the cost involved. Let us have a look at the DDL destroyer. It is a light destroyer the Navy had designed as a multi-role vessel. 1 think it started off at somewhere about 2,500 tons to 3,000 tons. Its size has escalated to 4,000 tons. Originally it had a unit cost of $18m but it is now up to $40m or $50m. Word has it that because of the escalation of costs our magnificent Government has decided it may not be best to build it in Australia because it is too expensive and the order for construction might have to go overseas. Again our defence industries - shipbuilding, electronics and aircraft industries in relation to weaponry - will be the losers in the event of such a decision.

The whole premise on which equipment was selected for our Navy led to the purchase of aircraft carriers. DDG destroyers to protect them and now DDL destroyers at 4,000 tons. The original order was to be for 6 DDL destroyers with a possibility of 24 being built. One has to consider the stupidity of such an approach in view of the massive coastline of Australia. Why are we not looking at fast patrol boats with nonplaning hulls with a dash capacity of 60 knots, perhaps with an endurance of 3,000 miles and supplied with weaponry developed by the Australian aircraft industry?

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