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Tuesday, 19 March 1968

Mr BENSON (Batman) - 1 was glad to learn from the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) that our new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) is Australian to the fingertips. I hope that he continues to go forward to the benefit of this country. I take this opportunity of congratulating him on his election. I would like also to congratulate the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) on his speech, although I do not go along with all that he said. I know that he put a lot of time into his speech. It is a big thing to make one's first speech in this place.

I want to make a few comments about the tragic loss of our former Prime Minister at Portsea. A suggestion has been made that the area should be known as the Harold Holt Memorial Park or Reserve. I support that suggestion. I think this would be a fitting tribute to our late Prime Minister. But I cannot agree that the area should be open to the general public. This is a very wild area. It is not an area in which people should swim. The only people who should swim in the area are exceptionally strong swimmers and people who know the right time to enter the water. When our late Prime Minister went swimming on that fateful morning everything was against him. I have spent a few years off this beach in my profession as a pilot. I have studied at length the tides and conditions in the area. I would like to make a few comments which may be of value to parents listening or later reading Hansard. After the disappearance of Mr Holt an expert was brought from New South Wales to measure the run-out at Portsea. We pilots know that at times the tide runs in and out through the heads at a velocity of 9 knots. About 1± miles from the heads where the tragedy took place the backwash was found to run at 5 knots. Let us understand what 5 knots means. A knot is a nautical term of speed. A nautical mile is approximately 2,000 yards. So if the tide, current or stream, call it what you will, is running at 5 knots it means that in 1 hour a distance of 10,000 yards is involved. In 30 minutes a floating object free to move would be swept out 5,000 yards. In 15 minutes it would be swept out 2,500 yards; in 7i minutes 1,250 yards; in 3$ minutes 625 yards; in 2 minutes about 300 yards; and in 1 minute about 150 yards. I make this observation because it is important that people who go into the water where strong currents are running know quite what they are up against. As soon as you get your feet off the bottom you are unable to swim against the current. I do not know what happened to our unfortunate and revered Prime Minister other than that he was swept out like a leaf, as one witness described it.

I make a plea to the people responsible for alerting various authorities when such incidents take place: promptness is the key at all times. A few years ago some commandos were caught in the heads when crossing Port Phillip. A general alarm was given immediately. The pilot vessel from which I used to work went to the position at once and picked up out of the water 27 of the commandos. Those men were saved because the pilot vessel was alerted promptly. The captain of the ship did such a wonderful job that in the Queen's birthday honours list he was made a Member of the British Empire. But at Portsea last December it was not until 2.50 p.m. that the pilot vessel was notified that something was amiss. That ship could have been in the area in 20 minutes, lt could have lowered four boats and patrolled the area close to the shore. I do not suggest that it could have done anything at that stage but the point is that when incidents such as this occur it is imperative that the appropriate authorities be notified immediately so that they may get on the job. I hope than when the Victorian authority concerned is considering this tragedy, as it must, it will think about the points I have raised and sec that in future everybody is notified as quickly as possible so that the best possible course of action may be taken in the least time.

I just want to say something about what is happening in Britain at present and how it affects this country. I know that at this time my speech is of insignificant importance because the British Government is about to bring in its new Budget. 1 feel that some of the measures that have been adopted in Britain recently have not been in her interest. Honourable members will recall that the British Parliament decided by a very small majority not to provide South Africa with arms. I think this was ill advised. As soon as Britain said that she would not supply arms, France, the nation next door, said that it would do so. So France obtained South African orders instead of Britain. The irony of the situation is that France is the nation that is continually keeping Britain out of the European Common Market. So when Britain said that she would not supply arms to South Africa, France took the opportunity.

Mr James - The French do not have the principles that Britain has.

Mr BENSON - A very great principle is involved. I shall discuss it later. I think what was done was wrong. The recent arms embargo and vetoes on South Africa and other countries have cost Britain dearly. Over £Stg300m has been lost in warship orders alone. On top of this, Britain has lost the opportunity to tender for the building of warships for countries that have always dealt with her. According to 'Lloyds List and Shipping Gazette', some 50 vessels are concerned - 28 destroyers and frigates and 22 submarines. These orders would be worth about £Stg300m. Portugal has always traditionally leant on Britain for the supply of warships and arms. It has recently ordered 4 frigates and 4 Daphne class submarines from France. The honourable member for Hunter (Mt James) spoke of principles. I do not like to see these ship orders going from Britain to France; I think they should go to Britain. These ships will be built no matter what happens. West Germany is having three guided missile destroyers built in the United States of America. Argentina, because of what she described as bad terms, has abandoned an order for the construction of four Leander class frigates in Britain. Pakistan has acquired a submarine from the United States and has ordered three Daphne class submarines from France. Spain wanted British Leander class frigates. Her order has been cancelled and she has now ordered 5 Daphne class submarines and 5 United States Brooke class guided missile destroyers. India could not obtain suitable terms. She wanted Oberon class submarines. She has now ordered 3 Daphne class submarines from France and 3 submarines and 15 other warships from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Indian and South African personnel have been trained in Britain to man British built ships, but as these countries have had to look elsewhere, the training has been for naught.

I am very much concerned at the turn of events in Britain, for Britain cannot afford to lose orders such as I have just described, lt is very hard to get a clear picture of which way Britain is going. Whatever Britain does in the maritime field brushes off on us in Australia. We depend a lot on British ships for the transport of our primary products and for the carriage of our goods to markets in Europe.

Mr Curtin - We should build our own ships.

Mr BENSON - Now that the Suez Canal is closed this is more important than ever. 1 was very pleased to hear the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith say that we should build our own ships. 1 go along with him on this point. But we have to be realistic about some matters. I just want to say that if a country whose commerce and trade depend on maritime activity is to prosper, those who man the ships must be non-political. They must keep politics out of their work altogether. I say to the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith and all other honourable members that when we commence our service to Japan we should consider what will happen if it is necessary to divert our new ship to Vietnam, whether or not this is done to transport' war material. Will the ship go to Vietnam? Will the seamen who man the ship take it there? It costs a lot of money to run ships. When we start our overseas shipping line, will the seamen who man the ships run them to South Africa? I do not say that they will not. Until we are prepared to trade to all parts of the world the operation of an overseas shipping line will be a very costly exercise. If ships are not run efficiently, you and 1 will pay, because no matter what government is in office, if the operation is not running profitably taxes will have to go up. I wish our overseas shipping line the greatest of success. I want to see it come about as quickly as possible. But I want to see politics kept out of its operations altogether. Come what may, no matter what the seamen think about this country or that country, the ships will be manned.

As the House knows, at present the Suez Canal is closed and it is necessary for us to send our goods to the European market via the Cape of Good Hope. The extra distance via the Cape of Good Hope is not as great as most people think. Let us take Sydney as a central point in Australia and Liverpool as a central point in Europe. The distance from Sydney to Liverpool via the Suez Canal is 11,501 miles. The distance from Sydney to Liverpool via the Cape of Good Hope is 12,595 miles - an extra 1,094 miles. A modern ship travelling at 20 knots would take two extra days to travel this additional distance. However, a ship travelling to London via the Suez Canal has two days delay. A day is taken in travelling through the Suez Canal even if she is lucky enough to get a convoy straight away, and another day taken up in bunkering in Aden. In my opinion it is essential that we in Australia have a better understanding with South Africa, because if South Africa falls out with Britain and says that British ships cannot use South African ports, this would mean that ships would have to bunker with enough oil for the entire trip to Australia. The more oil that is put into a ship the less cargo can be carried and vice versa. So when ships are in Australia loading cargo for Great Britain and are not allowed into South Africa-

Mr James - I do not think thai the British believe that will happen.

Mr BENSON - I have read in the newspapers that South Africa has said thai it will deny use of the Simonstown Dock to Britain if the present British attitude is maintained. This is a very serious development. So that Australia can send its primary produce to European markets, it is essential for South Africa to remain open to ships sailing from Australia to Great Britain. If the ships must complete the entire journey to Britain, they must take more oil and less cargo. I hope we will reach a better understanding with South Africa.

Mr James - Could the ships not refuel at Mombasa?

Mr BENSON - No, we are not going that way. We must go around the Cape of Good Hope. I hope that these factors will be understood. I was speaking to a Government official recently about the surcharge. I was informed that this has been imposed because of the two extra days that are added to the journey when ships go around the Cape of Good Hope. The current events in the Indian Ocean make it most important for us to have a good understanding of what is happening. As the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney) said, the Russian Navy has moved into the- Indian Ocean. Time' magazine of 23rd February 1968 reported that a Russian admiral, Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, who was visiting indian ports, said:

The flag of the Soviet Navy now proudly flies over the oceans of the world. Sooner or later, the United States will have to understand that it no longer has mastery of the seas. I have never known the United States to claim that it has mastery of the seas, although it has a mighty fleet. When words such as those that I have read are uttered, they show that one nation is cognisant of the activities of another nation. If the Suez Canal remains closed, we must, as the honourable member for Perth said, ensure that our sea lanes are always open. We will always need the means to take our exports to other markets. The apple season in Tasmania is commencing now. The crop will be exported from ports in the south of Australia and it is only natural that the ships must go south about and around the Cape so that the goods will reach their destination. But we must ensure that we have the ships available and, if necessary, the protection for them so that they can ply on the world's sea lanes.

The Governor-General said:

Therefore, in addition to providing economic and technical assistance and training to Singapore and Malaysia to help them build up their own forces, my Government will participate in Five Power consultations when they are called and will be prepared to discuss the size and role of an Australian contribution to combined defence arrangements which embrace a joint Singapore/ Malaysia defence effort. 1 hope that the Australian Government will work out a plan with the Singapore Government that will enable the two governments to take over the Singapore naval base when Britain vacates it. If necessary, the governments should allow merchant ships to use the base for repairs and docking. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has pointed out that 30,000 Singapore families depend upon the base for their livelihood. While we have forces in South East Asia and while our naval forces are patrolling in the area, we will need to have somewhere to dock and repair our ships. Therefore 1 make the plea that action be taken to ensure that the dock will remain open for (he use of Australian ships if we continue operating in the area, lt must also be kept open for the. use of merchant ships that need to be docked and repaired, ( hope the Government will offer to take over the dock with Singapore when Britain leaves.

I was very pleased a few weeks ago to learn of decorations that had been awarded to some members of our forces, especially to national servicemen fighting in Vietnam. ] was very pleased to see on television a young national serviceman being awarded the military medal.

Mr James - lt is a terrible war.

Mr BENSON - I am not talking about the war. This young man had been discharged from the Army and was back in civil life. Nine months after he had earned the award it was presented to him. That is not good enough. I am glad to know that the deeds of these men are being recognised and I hope they will always be recognised. A military medal is not easily won. But a delay of 9 months after the event, when the man is discharged, is much too long. I hope, that the Minister for the Army (Mr Lynch) or the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) will take this matter up with the British Government. It should recognise that we are a responsible nation and should give us the right to issue, decorations readily instead of continuing with the old-fashioned idea of getting the approval of the British Government, because they are British decorations, before they are awarded, lt is time that we made our own awards, especially decorations as significant as the military medal is. I am very glad to see that the national servicemen are receiving a full measure of these awards and are playing their full part for the benefit of Australia.

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