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Wednesday, 10 September 1958

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Adermann -

Order! Both sides of the committee must come to order. Neither side is helping the honorable gentleman who has the floor. I think that we should have less noise.

Mr RIORDAN - I turn now to the subject of aircraft carriers, to which reference has been made. During the Korean War and World War II. it was seaborne aircraft which paved the way for the operations of land-based aircraft. In World War II. seaborne aircraft gave the necessary cover to the fleets and military forces operating to the north of Australia.

Aircraft carriers having proved how vital they were in a Pacific war the Chifley Government decided to accept an offer made by Great Britain for the sale of two aircraft carriers the keels of which had been laid down during World War II., but on which work had ceased with the cessation of hostilities. This class of carrier was the " Glory " class. The last report on that class of carrier that I had seen in " Jane's Fighting Ships " for 1956-57, said that the Royal Navy had eight " Glory " type carriers in operation and that the reason that the Australian Government had decided on these carriers was that a " Glory " class carrier requires in peace-time a complement of 1,076, which compares with the complement of about 1,350 required for a " Hercules " type of carrier. It was quite obvious that in time of peace we would run up against the problem that this Government is running up against now - the problem of man-power for the services. So the two " Glory " type carriers were ordered. " Sydney " was the first to arrive, and at the time of her arrival in Australia in 1949 she was the most efficient carrier of her class afloat. " Melbourne " was not delivered until well into the life of the present Government, the reason being that no priority was given in Great Britain to the construction of those carriers, and apparently the Government did not bother to do anything about getting the work on the carriers expedited. It just let things drift. When " Melbourne " arrived here she was the best equipped ship of her kind afloat. She had the angled landing deck and other modern features. But in 1950 " Sydney " was sent back to Great Britain to be further modernized, to have installed in her certain equipment which had been developed since her commissioning and her arrival in Australia in 1949.

I have read since that even to-day aircraft carriers are still vital for our defence because although we have land-based aircraft the sea lanes to Australia from Aden and Africa, as well as from America, are so long that only seaborne aircraft could patrol them and keep them open in time of war.

The plans that were inherited by this Government from the Chifley Government provided for the commissioning of those two carriers. From what I can remember, those plans also provided for the purchase of a third carrier so that in the event of hostilities two carriers would be operational and one would be in reserve. But to-day we have only one carrier - " Melbourne ". The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked what was to happen to " Sydney ". That vessel should have been sent abroad to be modernized. Despite the fact that this Government is faced with a man-power problem, it has not bothered to keep " Sydney " up to scratch or up to the standard of aircraft carriers of her type in other parts of the world.

The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) said earlier that five frigates had been commissioned. During the last war Australia had Q class destroyers in operation. The Chifley Government was of the opinion that, if this country became involved in another conflict, because of our geographical situation modern submarines would constitute the greatest menace. Therefore, it was decided that the Q class destroyers should be modernized and equipped for anti-submarine warfare.

The plans inherited by this Government also envisaged the construction at Cockatoo Island dockyard and at Williamstown certain Daring class destroyers. Great Britain has eight of those vessels. I do not wish to refer to the number that it was intended to build here, but I wish to make the point that the Government has fallen down on the construction side of our defence programme. What has happened in the shipbuilding industry generally? Walkers Limited at Maryborough has closed down its shipyard and 300 men are going off. Other dockyards are idle because they have no orders. The Chifley Government decided that the retention of our shipbuilding yards was vital to the defence of our country, but in that respect this Government has been negligent. It has allowed the shipbuilding industry to die. What is the future for Evens Deakin and Company Limited, which has one of the biggest shipbuilding yards in Australia? lt can see about twelve months' work ahead. I repeat that this Government has fallen down on the construction of ships.

If, during World War II., Japan had not been defeated at Midway Island, the story would have been quite different from what it was. The advice that had been tendered to governments up to the outbreak of World War II. was based upon the Kitchener report of 1913, which pointed out that any attack on Australia would come from the north and would be directed against our eastern seaboard. It is quite obvious that the existence of the base at Singapore would not have interfered with any Japanese movement in this direction, particularly in the light of what happened at that unfortunate place.

Because we have a small population but a long sea coast, it follows that, comparatively speaking, our Navy must be small; but it behoves any government that is aware of its defence responsibilities to keep the Navy as efficient as possible. But this Government has allowed the Navy to slip back. It is a disgrace, Mr. Chairman, for the Minister for Defence to rise in his place and say that we have only twelve ships manned. During the nine years that it has been in office, this Government has spent £331,000,000 on the Navy. Even then, one of the aircraft carriers was already operational.

I refer now to the position of the Air Force and to the basic plank of Labour's defence policy. When it was in office, the Australian Labour party believed - and it still believes - that the first line of Australia's defence was in the air. During World War II., even when Labour was in opposition, Jack Curtin stressed the fact that our first line of defence was in the air. Despite the expenditure of £392,000,000 on the Air Force, this Government's plans are still in the air, too. Let me refer to the Prime Minister's speech of 19th September last. Dealing with the purchase of aircraft he said -

The Lockheed FI 04 had been recommended on the strength of investigations made some time before. These investigations had indicated that it would be the last word in speed, height, and manoeuvreability. Having regard to the almost alarming rate at which military aircraft became obsolescent and finally obsolete, it was thought that the last word would be best.

But we found that the last word was not the best. When the Minister for Defence went to America, he decided that they would not be purchased.

I now turn to the Army. The best I can do is to direct the attention of the committee to a copy of the Sydney " Sun " which' features right across the page the caption " Australia Unarmed. Where is the Army? " That is what we want to know. We know that the north of Australia is not defended. We know, too, that we will not be attacked by the penguins and that, if any attack is directed against our shores, it will come, as in the time of Kitchener, from the north. What defence preparations have been made in the north? None! There is a Dakota there, and possibly a Lincoln bomber. It is true that the Government has spent £1,000,000 on a runway at Townsville and that there are a handful of Lincoln bombers there. Even the Canberra jet bombers have been superseded. They are based on Amberley, but Djakarta is closer to Darwin than Amberley is. These matters are agitating the minds of the people in the north of Australia. They want to know whether this Government is aware of what could have happened during the last war if it had not been for the Allies' victory at Midway Island. Are the people in the north to be thrown to the wolves? Are they to be left as they were left in 1939?

Recently the Prime Minister visited the Mary Kathleen area, and blazoned across the Townsville press were the words " The Prime Minister Discovers North Queensland ". He went to Weipa also, and then returned south and wept about the great potentialities of north Queensland. Reference was made, too, to expenditure at Mount Isa. But what is this Government doing about protecting that vital part of this continent? At Weipa there is one of the greatest deposits of bauxite in the world, and at least £45,000,000 worth of uranium oxide will be won at Mary Kathleen.

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