Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 12 October 1949

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- I propose to reply briefly to some of the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy). Nobody can be satisfied that any branch of our armed services is satisfactory to-day. Everybody realizes that the future is fraught with great difficulties and that the possession of one aircraft carrier and a limited number of naval craft does not give us any cause for satisfaction. If the honorable member for Boothby is satisfied with that state of affairs he has po cognizance of the problems that beset us. The Government is much too complacent in this matter. In the very limited time at my disposal I propose to deal briefly with the failure of the Government to adopt an adequate and sound defence policy. The mere fact that a guided weapons range has been established at Woomera, in South Australia, does not satisfy me that the Government is doing everything possible to take advantage of the latest developments in scientific warfare. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) has said that the permanent forces now number 15,500 personnel. In answer to a question which I asked on the subject the honorable gentleman admitted that more than one-third of that number are non-combatants. That means that we have only approximately 10,500 combatant personnel. The honorable gentleman also admitted that 5,000 men had recently left the forces. That is a very sad story which does not justify the complacency that has been exhibited by the Government in relation to defence matters. On every occasion on which the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) has answered questions relating to defence or has dealt with matters relating to defence, he has boasted that Australia now has a larger defence force than it has ever had in its history during a time of peace. Such statements can be characterized as irresponsible and dangerous nonsense. In 1938, just prior to the outbreak of World War II., the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was requested by the Lyons Government to increase our militia forces from a total strength of 30,000 to 75,000. At the right honorable gentleman's request I was given the task of assisting him in Queensland. As the result of his efforts the militia forces of this country were increased beyond the target strength to a total of 85,000. After three months' training those 85,000 young men became the nucleus of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force which played such a prominent part in World War II. 1 invite honorable members to compare the strength of the militia forces in those days with the pitifully small permanent army that we have to-day. Surely the Minister for Defence cannot be satisfied with his efforts. How oan he claim that he is perfectly satisfied with the manner in which the Government's five-year defence programme is being implemented? During the eighteen months in which that programme has been in operation he has succeeded in enlisting a permanent army of a total strength of only 15,000 of whom one-third are non-combatants. Honorable members on this side of the chamber and the people of Australia generally are dissatisfied with the Government's defence policy.

Agreat deal of time has been wasted by honorable members opposite in trying to convince the people that they should derive a great deal- of satisfaction from the fact that, in conjunction with the British Government, the Commonwealth has established a guided weapons range in South Australia. That project will make little or no contribution to the defence of Australia for some time to come. It is merely experimental, and if it is successful a long time will elapse before practical advantage can be taken of it. What this country wants more than anything else at the moment is an army of skilled specialists to use the mechanized equipment with which modern wars are fought. Large numbers of trained personnel who served in World War II. are willing and anxious to help to train young men in the use of modern equipment. The Minister should do everything possible to secure their services by making the conditions of service in the armed forces attractive. I have a great regard for Lieutenant-General Savige, who is well known to every member of this Parliament. Lieutenant-General Savige has been most forthright in his condemnation of the state of our military forces, He does not bandy words. According to the press, this great soldier, who served with distinction in the two world wars, is unequivocally dissatisfied with our militia forces as they exist to-day. He is reported to have said recently -

The Federal Government's failure to train an adequate number of men to use modern weapons of war was a menace to the safety of Australia.

How can Ministers remain complacent in the face of such a statement by a distinguished Australian soldier? LieutenantGeneral Savige has spent a lifetime in the service of his country. He was a member of the militia forces prior to World War I. and in the period between the two world wars. He rendered brilliant service to his country in both world wars. The report to which I have referred continues -

Since the second world war there had been some big changes in the science of war. Only by universal training would it be possible to keep enough men abreast of these developments.

Lieutenant-General Savige was commenting on a statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that the Government had considered universal training and was of opinion that the present defence policy provided the maximum of security within the resources available.

He said the present voluntary system of training was most obviously a failure - not enough men were being trained.

Those who were in charge of -Australia's forces early in the last war knew how dangerous it was to try to properly train men for battle after the enemy was on the march.

In the future it would be more dangerous. There would be less time for men to learn how to use weapons of more intricate and scientific design.

In the last war the infantryman had dropped his old role as a foot-slogger, and had become a highly -trained specialist, using a great variety of scientific weapons.

It took a long time to train these specialists. Australia was desperately short of them. Universal military training was the only answer.

I ask the Minister, in the interests of the defence of Australia, to take note of the observations that have been made from time to time by a number of senior Australian officers who served in World War II. I appeal to the honorable gentleman to ensure that we have forces that are adequate for the defence of this country.

On the 17 th September, the American combined Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees stated that Russia had more than 5,000,000 men in its armed forces. In a joint report on President Truman's arms programme, the committees said that Soviet ground forces were in a better condition now than at any time since the war. Other points in the committees' report were that Russia had increased its military budget by 19 per cent, since last year, that the number of Soviet troops in Germany had increased from 70,000 to 100,000, and that the Soviet had intensified security measures along its borders and those of its satellites. The Minister must be aware of the Russian advance in Asia. Russia was thwarted in Europe and has now turned to the east. Communist forces are advancing in China, and are present in considerable numbers in the

Netherlands East Indies and South-East Asia generally. This country cannot remain complacent while Russia is expanding its military forces and bringing the Iron Curtain closer to our coasts. Russia is trying to ensure that nobody shall learn of what is being done behind the Iron Curtain. "We must strengthen our defence forces. We owe a duty to our young men to ensure that they are given an opportunity to receive military training. We cannot expect that in the future other countries will keep the enemy away from us while we are establishing our own defence forces.

Mr Chambers - Did the honorable gentleman say that we cannot get behind the Iron Curtain?

Mr FRANCIS - I say that it is diffiCUt to learn what is being done there.

Mr Chambers - If we cannot get behind the Iron Curtain, how does the honorable gentleman know that the information that he has given to the committee is correct?

Mr FRANCIS - I have confidence in the efficiency of the American military organization. We saw it in operation in Australia. We are indebted to it for the part that it played in the defence of this country and for the lessons that we have been able to learn from it. I believe that the American combined Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees are very alarmed about the possibility of the maintenance of the future peace of the world. I believe that the report that they made to President Truman was made with the object of ensuring that steps will be taken to maintain the forces of the United States of America at tho highest possible degree of efficiency.

According to the Minister for tho Army, we have a regular army of 19,000 men. I regard that force as a nucleus upon which to build. We must increase the size of the militia forces, which will, in my opinion, be required to shoulder the greatest burden if war occurs. If we approach this problem properly, we shall be able to establish a militia force that will be worthy of Australia. In 1938 we increased the size of the militia to 85,000 men, and I believe that we could do so again if the necessary effort were made. Nobody who has the interests of this country at heart can be satisfied with the present position. I appeal to the Minister to accept the advice of senior military officers, especially LieutenantGeneral Savige, who has stated that the lack of men in Australia who have been trained in the use of modern weapons is a menace to the safety of this country.

Suggest corrections