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Wednesday, 10 September 1958
Page: 1091

Mr. STOKES(Maribyrnong) [12 midnight - Mr. Chairman, before I turn to the Estimates now under consideration, I should like to join with those who have paid tribute to the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride). I pay tribute to him particularly for his political service to this country over more than a quarter of a century and for the sterling and downtoearth manner in which he has administered the portfolio from which he is soon to retire. In common, I am sure, with all other honorable members, I wish him well in his retirement.

Now I address my remarks to the Defence Estimates, Mr. Chairman. I doubt whether T have ever heard such glorious inconsistency as I have heard to-night in the remarks of Opposition speakers who have discussed these Estimates. In one breath, they cry that we have not adequate defence, that there is not enough money to buy materials to keep men in work, and that there is not this and there is not the other thing; and, in the next breath, they try to tear down the defence programme by pressing for a reduction of the Defence vote by £40,000,000 or £50;000;000. I do not 'think one would ever' hear such inconsistency -except from ' members of the present Opposition party.

My friend, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), and the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), seem far more concerned about keeping employed in industry certain elements of the work force than about the defence of this country. I agree with them that nobody wants to see men out of work; but that seems to ' be their primary concern. The honorable member for Batman discussed the Lockheed FI 04 Starfighter and talked about the reasons why we could not get delivery of it. The fact is that that aircraft was found to be unsuited to our requirements. Another fighter - a Northrop aircraft - was coming along for testing, and we thought that it might suit us. I fancy that it has now been found that it perhaps does not meet our requirements. If they may not suit us, how can we afford to mess about with prototypes of various fighters, and why should we do so, when we have a powerful ally willing to experiment and test new aircraft? We can reap the benefit of the experience gained and choose a suitable aircraft that will not be obsolete. Yet, when we decide to do this, we hear loud squeals from the Opposition. The honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) talked about the obsolescence of aircraft carriers. I think, from memory, that at least one of our carriers was bought by a 'Labour government with aircraft that the honorable member now says are obsolescent. That is what happens. From the moment one acquires an aircraft, it tends to become obsolescent. That is the very thing that we are now trying to avoid.

The Defence vote remains the same, at £190.000,000, as it was in the last two financial years. As you know, Mr. Chairman, and as we all are aware, there has been much opposition and criticism from honorable members opposite over the expenditure of defence funds and the fact that in the financial year 1955-56 an amount of £10.000.000 remained unexpended. Despite protests from the Services about moneys earmarked for payment for items of equipment from overseas in respect of which there was difficulty in obtaining delivery, the Services were not 'permitted to carry those "funds over in order to pay for that equipment if it was 'delivered in the following fiscal year, and the Defence vote was arbitrarily reduced by £10;000,000, the amount unexpended. As a result, Mr. Chairman, the services were able to spend less than before on equipment that was still desperately needed.

In order to compensate for the lack of funds with which to purchase ' that equipment certain economies were ma'de. One of them was the curtailment of the national service training scheme -which resulted :in its modification, as you, 'Mr. Chai'r'ma'n, know, to provide for selective 'ballots for a maximum of 12,000' trainees a year, and a reduction- of the period of continuous training from' 98 to 77 days. Although this curtailment resulted in a saving of, 1 : think, approximately £4,000,000 per annum, it is my opinion that it has 'not been in the best interests of Australia or of the young people who will be its future responsible citizens. Personally, I consider it is high time that the defence vote was increased to the original figure of £200,000,000. This is seen to be particularly necessary when we take into account pay increases and the higher cost of keeping men in the field to-day.

Concentration on the permanent brigade group and the training only of this limited number of national service trainees will undoubtedly leave this country, in the event of war, in much the same position as in 1939 with respect to its preparedness, lt is my opinion that the best that Australia could do in an emergency in the way of mobilization would be to raise a division around the nucleus of the present brigade group. This would probably take about three month's, and the raising of two divisions would probably take five months. It would probably be eight months or more before we could get a corps into the field. In the present state of the world, such a lapse of time is completely 'farcical, to say the least, and we should use every endeavour to shorten the time that it would take us to mobilize our force's. I suggest that, even within our present limited financial capacity, we could improve the position materially at a minimum cost by augmenting the present method of national service training. We already have in the Department of Labour and National Service the necessary machinery for the registration of all youths becoming eligible for training. The -average registrations, I think, would approximate 30,000 or perhaps 40,000 per annum. Of these, only 12,000, mark you, are selected by ballot and receive training. The training of the others is deferred sine die.

Mr Duthie - The honorable member voted for the ballot system.

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