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Wednesday, 12 October 1949

Mr DAVIDSON (Capricornia) . - After the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) had trenchantly criticized Australia's defence training policy this afternoon, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) accused him of having indulged in party political propaganda and of having made a personal attack upon himself. Neither charge can rightly be levelled against the honorable member, because, for the last couple of years, ever since the Government enunciated its defence policy, we have criticized it, not for the sake of indulging in party political propaganda, but because we have a deep concern about what we consider to be the inadequacy of the training programme, livery honorable gentleman on this side who, by virtue of his own military service, is, in some way, qualified to speak, has completely condemned the policy. Surely the Minister will realize that the criticism is directed as something far transcending political propaganda, and therefore that it be heeded. But the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues refuse to listen to the criticism. The Minister buries his head ostrich-like in the sands of complacency, and refuses to face facts that ought to be obvious to any one with knowledge of the subject of defence. In reply to criticism of Australia's defence policy, we hear, from time to time, from honorable members opposite, the statement that Australia, has never been better prepared to defend itself than it is at present. Ministers are particularly adept at making that claim. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) is very fond of booming it forth, but it will take more than, that to convince the people of Australia, especially those with knowledge of the situation, that the Government's defence policy provides for the adequate defence of Australia. Another justification for its attitude that is advanced by the Government is that Australia, in conjunction with Great Britain, is doing a big job in developing the guided weapons testing range. That is essential and the development cannot be decried, but it cannot take the place of a complete defence policy. It is only a part of the whole picture, many aspects of which are missing. The Government's attitude is based on the belief that the development of the atomic bomb and guided weapons has, in some way, changed the basic character of warfare and Tendered unnecessary trained soldiers, sailors and airmen.

We often hear remarks about "push "button warfare" and other similar fatuities. Throughout history, every time a revolutionary weapon has been introduced, the same opinion has been voiced. It was voiced when the blunderbus replaced bows and arrows, when cannons were developed and when aircraft and tanks were developed. Now that science has developed the atomic bomb and guided weapons, we hear the same contention. Time has proved such an attitude to be fallacious, and it will continue to be fallacious. Every one with a knowledge of warfare knows that once ground has been taken highly-trained men are needed to hold it. No nation has been defeated without being overrun by enemy troops. Therefore, regardless of the development of new weapons, we must have men trained to throw out an invader should one attempt to conquer us. The present system is entirely inadequate, not only to defend Australia properly, but also to enable it to meet its obligations as a major nation in the efforts to preserve world peace. I propose to refer only to the Army and to leave references to the Navy and the Air Force, which I believe are similarly placed, to other honorable members, with experience in those arms, who are more competent than I am to talk about them. It is not my intention to offer much criticism of the broad defence plan as distinct from the defence policy. It is the policy that I regard as erroneous. The broad plan is that there shall be established in Australia a regular army consisting of a small highly trained force, which, in peace-time will carry out all the functions necessarily carried out by a regular army in peace-time, but which, in war-time, will be the nucleus of an army capable of adequately defending Australia. In addition, a citizen force is to be established. It will consist of men who will remain citizens, but will be sufficiently trained to enable them efficiently to take their place in the army at short notice to defend Australia. It must be remembered that, in an emergency, the fate of ' Australia would depend, not on the small regular army, but on the citizen army, of which theregular army would be the nucleus. In order to determine the success of our defence policy, we must assess the success that we have had in recruiting and training the citizen army. First, I point out that we are still operating on the voluntary system. I have condemned the system before, and I condemn it again. Under it, the cream of our youth, those who love Australia and have a sense of responsibility, are the ones who answer the call. That means that we are training them to take the first blow.

Mr Dedman - "Will compulsory military training be advocated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in hi= policy speech?

Mr DAVIDSON - The Minister for Defence will know what is in the policy speech when it has been delivered. I need all the time that I have available to me to deal with the Government's defence policy. That policy has had a fair trial in the last eighteen months or so. Every one with any knowledge must admit that it has been found wanting. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) said to-day, in reply to a question, that of the 50,000 men whom it was hoped to enlist in the Militia, only 15,000 had been enlisted.

Mr Chambers - It is a five-year plan.

M.v.DAVIDSON.- Yes, the Government hopes to develop a militia force of 50.000 men in five years. On that basis, the Minister for the Army contended that the enlistment of 15,000 in the first year or so was a good effort. I challenge that. We cannot afford to sit back complacently for five years hoping that we shall then have reached the stage at which we might be able to defend ourselves. Every one realizes that a force of 50,000 men is too small for the defence of the country. We must have a reasonable force trained as quickly as possible. We cannot sit back and wait for four or five years. The Minister for Defence said that he was satisfied that there would be no war within five years. I hope that he is right, but we must face the fact that the Russian bear may attack at any time. Moreover, the Government cannot expect the enlistment rate of 15,000 a year to continue. It is obvious that no progress is being made with enlistments and that the force has reached its maximum under present conditions. My inquiries have revealed that infantry battalions, which have an establishment of 700 or 800 men, have a maximum strength of about 200. In other words, the battalions are at about 25 per cent. strength. Amazingly, the support units, such as the artillery, are not attracting the enlistment that infantry battalions are attracting. Incoming troops barely balance the outgoing. Troops cannot be trained on imagination. It is practically impossible to train a skeleton force. We must have reasonable numbers of men to enable training to be carried on, particularly in the higher branches. In an under-manned unit, elementary training, such as rifle drill, can proceed, but there is a definite line, not much higher than that, beyond which instructors cannot go. As a result of a question that was asked this morning the fact was elicited that about 5,000 men had left the Militia Forces. I have found that that decrease is going on steadily all the time, and that the first flush of enthusiasm that existed when the recruiting programme started has gone. Men are beginning to drop out and unit commanders can do nothing about it. Apparently the only source left from which to make up the gap between 15,000 men and 50,000 men will be the young men who are now reaching military age. But I fear very much that the majority of those young men are not likely to offer themselves for voluntary military service because of the fact that, as the present system is staggering to a stop, the comment made to any one proposing to join up will be, "Don't be a fool! Why offer? It is not necessary". Another reason that will operate against further enlistments is, as the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) rightly said earlier to-day, the fact that the Government used troops as strike breakers in the recent coal strike. I join with the honorable member for Henty in saying that no other action could have been taken that would have had such calamitous effects on our defence policy as the use of those troops had. That action should never have been taken except as a last resort to prevent the country from being thrown into chaos, and I cannot accept any assertion that that was the position. The serious effects of that action on the recruiting programme are obvious to probably all honorable members. When a young man informs his mother that he intends to join the Militia she will say, "What for? To be used as a strike breaker?" The Government's action in using soldiers as strike breakers must, I repeat, have a serious effect on an already unsuccessful scheme.

In his reply to the honorable member for Henty the Minister, in an attempt to justify as far as possible the present defence policy claimed that there was plenty of equipment available. He had started out to say how splendidly the present position compared with the position before the last war, but I noticed that he stopped at the subject of equipment. I am quite prepared to concede that the equipment now available for the training of both the Regular Army and the Militia Forces has never been better. But it is not the slightest use having a lot of splendid equipment if it is only to lie in drill halls and ordnance stores. If we have not the men to train in the use of that equipment we might as well not have it. I consider therefore that although it is a matter of congratulation that we at last have some decent equipment, it cannot be claimed that it is something for which the Government should receive credit.

Mr Harrison - Some of that equipment is surplus war material.

Mr DAVIDSON - Some of it is. I have seen a great deal of valuable equipment, and if men were trained in its use a great step forward would have been taken. In addition to equipment, we have plenty of fine instructors available at the present time to train the Militia. They are men who served in the last war and whose outlook is such that they are prepared to offer themselves as instructors for the Citizen Forces, and many of them are indeed at present acting as instructors. They command the great respect of the young men whom they are training. The experience of these men should be used to the utmost while it is available, but their enthusiasm is waning. There is a spirit of frustration growing among them because they are becoming' weary of the round of night parades and week-end bivouacs without sufficient men to train. We shall find that unless we do something about getting men for those instructors to train we shall lose their services. If the Government's present policy continues I consider that we shall be lucky if we have even the present 15,000 militiamen at the end of the five-year period.

I cannot accept the Minister's complacent assurance that because of the fact that in the first year we got 15,000 recruits we shall obtain the required 50,000 by the end of another four years. All the evidence points to the fact that the momentum that was developed at the start of the scheme has now been lost, and recruiting is actually now working in reverse because so many men are leaving the Citizen Forces. I said at the beginning of my remarks that my criticism does not arise from any desire to make political propaganda. This is far too serious a matter to be used as a basis for political propaganda, because I believe that Australia is facing a steadily increasing menace. We were told by the Minister for the Army this afternoon that there was no particular menace facing us. He told us that Italy was " out " as a nation and that J apan was completely destroyed as a fighting force. He made various other statements of a like nature which suggested that there was no particular threat facing Australia. I need not deal with that matter at great length because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has dealt with it very successfully and conclusively, but I draw the attention of the committee to the fact that a red tide is steadily surging down through China at this very moment and there is no knowing when it will stop moving. Already Great Britain has been forced to reinforce the defences of Hong Kong because of that threat. The position in the Netherlands East Indies is, at the moment, indeterminate, and we do not know what will develop there. The statement that Japan has been completely destroyed as a military power is a most dangerous one to be made by a man who holds the position of Minister for the Army.

Mr Chambers - It is true nevertheless.

Mr DAVIDSON - I do not know how any one who knows how Japan emerged 50 years ago from the dark ages and was able to develop itself to a position where it could do what it did in the last war can say that that nation has been completely destroyed as a fighting force. From what I have seen, Japan, if given a free leg, could become in ten years a serious menace to Australia. It is obvious that it will not be long before a peace treaty with Japan will be signed. The feelers are out already and it is obviously the desire of the United States to finalize such a peace treaty so that it may develop Japan into something in the nature of an ally. There have already been suggestions that Japan may be permitted a certain degree of rearmament. That is the thin end of the wedge. Let us remember that greedy eyes in Japan are turned towards New Guinea. Those honorable members who have been to Japan will bear me out in that statement. There are Americans in Japan who consider that one of the outlets for surplus Japanese population lies in the direction of Australia. In view of these facts - and they are facts - the statement that Japan has been completely destroyed as a possible threat to Australia cannot be sustained.

In addition to the menace facing Australia which I have briefly outlined it must also be remembered that Australia has certain obligations under the North Atlantic Pact, and lately there have been suggestions that a Pacific pact should be brought into being. According to recent statements that have been published it appears as if the United .States, which previously was not very favorable to the suggestion for a Pacific pact, is now turning its thoughts to the development of such a pact somewhat along the lines of the North Atlantic Pact. Australia would have to play a major part in such a pact. Having regard to Australia's present capacity for defence I ask whether we could expect America to place any great reliance upon this country as a partner in the Pacific. We should certainly not be in a position to do anything of a major nature in respect of taking any great share of the obligations which we might incur under such a pact. Yet the development of such a pact is vastly important. If we could show that we were moving towards a realization of our obligations, as New Zealand has done, the likelihood of such a pact coming into existence would be increased.

I conclude by placing a plea before the Minister for the Army to pay some attention to the opinions expressed by honorable members on this side of the committee. I assure him that those opinions are not voiced for purely political purposes. They are based on sound knowledge. If the Minister would care to appoint a select committee of the House of Representatives to investigate charges that the training of the militia forces is not proceeding as it should be doing, and call in service chiefs who would not otherwise be in a position to speak their minds, he would discover that there is a substantial basis for our charges. Improvements in the scheme which would result from such an inquiry would lead to a development of Australia's defence policy so that this country could claim eventually that it was in a position to defend itself. That is not the position at present.

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