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Wednesday, 10 September 1958
Page: 1080

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- Having regard to the disturbed international situation to which the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) has directed attention, I should imagine that anybody who could suffer listening to his speech for its full length must have been terrified at the prospects of defending Australia whilst the present hopeless crew remains in control. At least there was one bright spot in the Minister's speech and it came near the end when he said he was going to retire. I will say that his retirement is long overdue, although I will admit, with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), that the position could not possibly be quite as bad as the Minister's speech made it sound.

Let me turn to the defence expenditure of this Government. The Minister spoke of expenditure as though it were some accomplishment. He said, " We have spent so many millions of pounds on the Army, so much on the Navy and so much on the Air Force ". Then he looked around with a great sense of pride thinking that he had achieved something. The Australian Labour party believes in an adequate and proper defence for Australia. We also believe that the defence position ought to be reviewed having regard to modern developments. All that we insist upon is that when the taxpayers are providing the tremendous amount of money that they have provided for a number of years now, they should be getting value for their money. I shall endeavour to show in the time at my disposal that they are not getting it.

As a matter of fact, if ever there was a hit and miss procedure in the defence services as to how much they should put on the Estimates each year, it is shown by what has happened over the last few years. Since this Government took office, it has expended altogether on defence £1,530,000,000. That is quite a sizeable amount of money, and it includes the current year's estimates. Let us see how the Government has been able to estimate what it required for defence. Last year, the Government provided on the Estimates, £23,000,000 for the construction of the St. Mary's filling factory, or at least a sizeable part of that amount. The St. Mary's project is now finished, and although the Government admits that it cost £5,000,000 more than the original estimate, the Government cut the work by about £2,000,000 in an attempt to restrict expenditure. In spite of that experience, the Government is back to the old figure of £190,000,000 for its defence vote. The Government merely decides on a figure and then, at the end of the year, desperately attempts to expend that amount of money so that it can show that its estimating was correct.

In the financial year 1954-55, the Government underspent its Estimate for Defence by £14,500,000. In 1955-56, expenditure exceeded the Estimate by £716,000. In 1956-57, the Government underspent by £1,500,000. In 1957-58, it overspent by £10,000,000. The highest expenditure was in June, the last month of the financial year, and it was the highest expenditure for the year because the Government had sent out a directive that at all costs the departments must spend to reach the Estimates.

Let us now turn to what is happening; and honorable members can check these figures if they care to examine the Budget Papers. Let us take the Army first. On this year's Estimates, we are to get one more brigadier, one more colonel, 51 more majors, captains and lieutenants, 180 more warrant officers, 21 more staff sergeants, 73 more sergeants and 72 more corporals, but 400 fewer privates, gunners, sappers and drivers! So, honorable members can see that our Army is to be like the Portugese Army. We will have all generals and officers and nobody in the ranks. The president of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, Mr. Yeo, directed attention to this situation not long ago. He said that too much was being spent on high pay for senior officers.

According to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), we have this new concept of defence - the brigade group of 4,000 men which is said to be a mobile force. Everybody knows that the brigade group to which the Minister has referred, if called up for active service to-morrow, would not have enough reinforcements to maintain its strength for one week. It is well known to the people of this country that when the Brigade Group with some of its equipment was paraded in Sydney not so very long ago, it was shown to be using the 25-pounder gun which, I understand, was used in the First World War. That is the type of equipment with which it was parading!

Let us have a look at what the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) had to say. It was reported that he said a survey was being made of the Army to see whether its members were happy in the service. There was a number of psychologists, experts, and long-haired gentlemen conducting a survey in the Army to see whether the men were happy in the service. There has been no announcement of the result of the investigation.

Now I turn to the Navy, the disappearing Navy! It is quite true that the men who serve actively in the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force, are doing an excellent job and are first-rate men. But there is not enough of them, and they are disappearing. They are disappearing because they have become completely dissatisfied and disillusioned as a result of the activities of this Government. Honorable members heard what the Minister for Defence said about the Navy. Our active, fighting Navy will be constituted of, first, one aircraft carrier, " Melbourne ", which he described as the most modern of its type, but I think that if anybody cares to examine the records in this respect he will find that " Melbourne " is by no means the most modern vessel of this type in the world. We are to have four destroyers, five frigates and two vessels of a type which I failed to hear when the Minister announced it. These make twelve in all. He said that in addition there are a number of small craft, and he referred also to the reserve. He included the reserve to try to make it appear that these vessels were manned and ready at any time, the moment they were needed, to put to sea in defence of the country. What is the situation? The Government has decided to loan " Sydney ", which is at present in moth balls, to an American film company. Far from its being ready for action, the ship has to be towed to Melbourne, where the film is to be made, and towed back to Sydney. That is the position of these vessels which the Government terms as being in reserve.

Here is the position in regard to personnel in the Navy. The Estimates show that this year we will have one more rearadmiral, one more commodore, four more commanders, and a total of 230 officers of ranks from commander to admiral. There will be. on the Minister's own assessment, 230 officers of those ranks for twelve active ships. Junior officers are to be reduced by 110 to 1.055, and petty officers and seamen - despite the fact that we will have all this galaxy of toD brass, as it is termed in the Navy - are to be down by 1,261. The disappearing Navy! When we see naval men in the various cities wearing on their caps the names H.M.A.S. " Cerebus ". " Harman ". " Melville ". " Albatross ", " Rushcutter ". " Kuttabul ". "Nirimba", "Penguin" and "Watson", we should not be misled into believing that those are active fighting ships. They are shore establishments; they do not go to sea at all. They are given the title of a naval ship in order to mislead the Australian public.

While the Minister is trying to convey the impression that our defences to-day are better than they ever were before, at the Garden Island naval workshops, where the actual work of keeping the ships in good order and condition is done, 300 of the trained personnel are being sacked, in a period when, the Minister says, there are terrific international tensions.

Now let me turn to the Air Force. It will be remembered that on 4th April last year, after a great deal of criticism and pressure, the Prime Minister announced a new defence policy. We get such announcements quite frequently, when the Government decides that it will introduce some new system. If honorable members care to examine that speech, they will see that we were told that the Royal Australian Air Force was to be equipped with the Lockheed FI 04 Starfighter, the best of its kind in the world, and we were assured by the Minister for Defence himself that this decision was based on the recommendation of the Government's military advisers. So later the Minister set out for the United States of America, ostensibly to purchase these planes. What happened? It was an abortive mission. He got about a dozen transport planes, but he could not get any Starfighters at all. When the Minister returned to this country from his abortive mission, the Prime Minister went to his defence and said -

The McBride mission achieved more than I would ever have thought possible.

Listen to this! He went on -

As a result of Sir Philip's important discussions, we have been relieved of the tremendous problem of finding many millions of scarce dollars for the FI 04.

So actually this mission overseas to purchase the Starfighter was, according to the Prime Minister, a great triumph when it failed, because the Government could not get the Starfighter and therefore did not have to find the dollars that were in short supply. In the very year when the Government was saying that dollars were in too short supply for Australia to buy the Starfighter, the Government relieved the American film companies of the restrictions which had been imposed upon them in regard to their earnings in Australia. In that same year, 1957, when we were told that dollars were in too short supply for us to buy the Starfighter, this Government was allowing the American film companies to take out of Australia as many dollars as they could earn here. That was the situation.

When that abortive mission returned, we were told that there was nothing to worry about, that more Sabre jets were to be ordered. Everybody knows what happened in the Australian aircraft industry. Men were being dismissed, and others were resigning because they could get no information in regard to the future of this great industry, which was rapidly disintegrating. When the mission overseas failed and the Government had to purchase or order more Sabre jets here, that helped to correct the situation in the aircraft industry. The Minister said -

We are ready to take advantage of the development of an alternative all-purpose fighter.

After the Government had failed to get the Starfighter, which it had decided to purchase on the advice of its military experts, the Government decided that Starfighters were not suitable for Australian conditions, and it was waiting to take advantage of the development of an alternative all-purpose fighter. The Minister made some reference this evening to the all-purpose fighter. I am reminded of the plan to make the FN30 rifle at Lithgow; the Government is still waiting for it to develop. If this Government remains in control, it will be waiting much longer. We shall certainly see that things are speeded up and that the gallant men who serve in the armed forces will get the equipment they need after 22nd November, when this Government ceases to exist.

Now let me turn to the Department of Defence, because the Minister made some reference to the Morshead investigation. The report on the investigation conducted by the committee of which Sir Leslie Morshead was chairman was practically ridiculed by the Prime Minister when he was giving his reasons for not accepting its recommendations. The major recommendations of the Morshead committee were completely rejected and were ridiculed by the Government. I understand that one of the recommendations of Sir Leslie Morshead - the report has not been tabled or made available to members, for obvious reasons - was that certain changes be made in the control of the Service departments. '

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