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Wednesday, 10 September 1958


Mr ANDERSON (Hume) .- 1 am very sorry indeed that this will be the last time that t the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) will be present during a debate "on the Defence Estimates. He has given a lifetime of very fine service to his country, and it is with real regret that I see him going after the difficult years of changing circumstances 'in "defence since the Korean 'war.

First of all, I should like to criticize the Opposition's approach to the subject of defence. One Would have expected that on the very important subject of defence, at this time - :an election year - :the alternative Prime Minister would have fed the debate for the Opposition. Who do we "find leading the debate for the Opposition, following the Minister's important statement? We find the 'honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). Even his most ardent admirers will not regard him as a great strategist. He made a terrible mistake in regard to the 25-pounder, one of the most popular field pieces ever handled by artillery men. What he had to say sent shudders down their backs. He does not realize that the 25-pounder is being left out nowadays because of the necessity for standardization with our allies. The honorable member for East Sydney is notorious in the Labour movement as a sort of rough and tumble fighter to be used to break down a previous speaker's case. He is the man who led the Opposition's attack on the Government's defence policy. Even the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) might have been a better choice. One might well have expected the alternative Prime Minister to lead the debate; and to criticize our defence expenditure, as at the last general election he proposed, that such expenditure be reduced by £50,000,000. It was rather frightening to hear the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) suggest recently that our complete defence vote was wasted. He also seemed to think that the atomic bomb was no real deterrent. This is the approach to the security of our homeland which is adopted by Opposition members.

During the speech of the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) we heard a series of interjections by honorable members who have no' knowledge of military affairs. Were they merely whistling in the dark, or were they guilty of a sinister attempt to cast doubt on the defences" of this country? To me it is frightening that the rest of the World should be told by members of this Parliament that Australia's defences are useless.

That, of course, is not in the least true. The Government may decide defence policy, but the money which it provides is spent by service chiefs whose performance in two world wars has proved that Australia can produce generals arid military brains equal to the best in the world. They are career officers and are responsible for the defence of their homeland, regardless of the government which happens to be in baca. Honorable members opposite may say that Government policy is wrong, but they should recognize that the way in which the defence vote is spent should be very close to being fight. In fixing the size of the defence vote the Government is guided by what the economy can stand. I should like to see a little more spent on defence, but I am satisfied that such money as is provided is being spent effectively. Any ohe who doubts this fact need only look at our performance in various theatres of war during the last decade. We have always fought beside the more powerful nations of Great Britain and the United States of America and not once have we failed to win renown. Our training and equipment have always proved equal to the best, and our servicemen have been better than most. Those are facts which have emerged from the test of battle. Our weapons are comparable with those of any other country. Many people have suddenly decided that the (.303 rifle is out of date; that our weapons are not modern. In Korea, Malaya, and now in the Formosan Strait, weapons similar to our own have been used, or are being used. An honorable member described our Air Force as being out of date, but I remind him that the Australian Sabre jet is regarded as being superior to the American model which, in the hands of the Nationalist Chinese, has successfully combated the MIG15 and -the MIG17. Doubts as to the efficiency of our equipment are not supported by facts. Indeed, if would be much1 easier for honorable members opposite if they kept to the facts.

I particularly dislike the party political approach to defence. The honorable member for East Sydney said, in effect, " Look, the Government has spent £1,500,000,000 on defence but has nothing to show for it ". The figure he gives includes, of course, £190,000,000 which has not yet been spent; but he is, after all, only saying these things for effect. He knows that the proceedings are being broadcast, arid he hopes that he can frighten people into believing that Australia has no defences. It is interesting to note that £1,000,000,000 has been spent on defence pay and maintenance alone. Would any honorable member opposite change that? One would expect the Estimates to be challenged by precise assertions that the Government has spent too much on, say, pay of maintenance, but Labour approaches defence in a purely party political way. Apparently, Opposition members do not care very much whether the country is safe or not so long as they create a doubt as to the efficacy of the Budget proposals. If Labour succeeded in proving that the Government's policy was unsound we should be willing to vacate office, but the tactics of honorable members opposite are merely to lay political smokescreens and refuse to discuss the defence vote in detail. Such tactics may be appropriate on any other subject, but surely they are not appropriate when we are discussing defence. If we want greater man-power in our services we must, if anything, increase the expenditure on pay. Another £190,000,000 will not go very far in that direction.

A sum of £400,000,000 has been spent on meeting the material requirements of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, including not only weapons and armaments but also machinery and plant. Magnificent research establishments have been set up at Woomera and Maralinga. When I heard the late Mr. Chifley describing the potentialities of Woomera I thought that he was exaggerating, but I now recognize that he was right. Woomera has. played an enormous part in advancing Australian research.

I remind 'honorable members opposite that works and housing associated "with the defence forces are also paid for from the defence vote. I invite the next Opposition speaker to criticize the Estimates on the basis of the figures which the Minister has produced for the greater understanding of all. Within our resources we have successfully provided for the defence of this country over the last eight years, and have met the expense of pay, maintenance and material replacement connected therewith.

I should like to see more trained personnel in the defence forces, but we must not forget that we have a very large pool of partly-trained national servicemen. The national service training scheme is one of the finest things that the government has produced. The basic training provided by it has been excellent and the scheme has not only produced efficient servicemen but has improved the morale, character and physique of our young men. This pool of partly-trained men is of immense value to this country. I know that to be true because I had to fight with men who had not fired a rifle before they were sent into battle. I invite honorable members opposite to show me how we can obtain more manpower at lower cost. If they can do that, they will have succeeded in finding a weak spot in the Government's policy.

I repeat, Labour's attitude to Australia's defence is frightening. As members of a democracy, we have the right to criticize the Government and see how every shilling of our money is spent. That does not happen in Communist China or Soviet Russia. Australia's defence system is exposed to the vulgar gaze of the world, and if Her Majesty's Opposition treats it in a frivolous fashion, it may make a most unfortunate impression on people in the Middle East and in the Far East. Australia ;is recognized as one of the bastions of defence in the Western world. I feel that Labour is approaching this defence vote in a completely unreal and, in fact, a dangerous and somewhat unpatriotic way. If honorable members opposite have doubts : about the policy of this Government, let them show us where we are wrong, so that we may rectify matters. I believe that, for the money that is available for defence, we have achieved considerable efficiency. I think that the Government has done more, in time of peace, to secure the defence of the country than has ever been the case in our history.







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