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Tuesday, 7 May 1968

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - Mr Deputy Speaker,defence, no matter how we use the word or what we mean by it, is very important to every person in this country. It is so important that I think it would be of great value if, at some stage, the Government informed this Parliament what its defence policies are. Money spent does not necessarily mean defence. If we look through the figures over recent years we see that Australia has spent a considerable amount of money on defence. A great deal of the increase that has taken place in defence spending has gone to pay for an item of defence equipment ordered in 1963 and considered by the then Government to be necessary. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) is not quite so sure now whether it is necessary. But the fact is that a lol of our increased expenditure on defence has not given us one extra piece of defence equipment but has covered merely the cost of a piece of equipment which was considered desirable prior to the 1963 general election.

The record of this Government and governments of a similar political colour concerning defence is not good when their policies have been put to the test. In the years immediately prior to World War II, Government spokesmen repeatedly made statements almost the same as those that we are hearing now. When we were put to the test it was found that our defence just did not exist. I would hope that, at the present time, we are in a better state of preparedness than we were at that time. But it is hard to assess just how effective our defence spending has been. We are buying four submarines. I take it that these are to patrol the Indian Ocean. We are purchasing twenty-four Fill aircraft. At this stage we do not really know what they are for. I think that, most likely, the best explanation that can be given for their purchase is that we bought them because they were fashionable. We have no indication from the Government of the type of armament that the Fill is to use. We have little or no indication from the Government whether or not it intends to arm these planes with nuclear weapons. If they are not to be armed with nuclear weapons, are they the most effective aircraft that can be purchased for the defence of Australia? This is a reasonable question. It is a question which, I think, if we consulted some of the people in other sections of our Services, other than the Air Force, we would most likely be given different answers.

At the present time we are buying twenty-four aircraft which are possibly the best aircraft in the world. They are aircraft which would be capable of meeting in combat the best aircraft that the United States of America can put forward and the best aircraft that the Soviet Union can put forward. They are far superior to anything that we are likely to encounter. They may well be superior to what our actual defence needs are. We have not been told what the purpose of the FI 1 1 is.

Mr Chaney - Has not the honourable member read the Defence Report 1967?

Mr SCHOLES - Yes, I have read that. There is still nothing in that statement about the purpose of this aircraft. The Government has not even decided on its armament yet. So, obviously the Government does not know what the purpose of the aircraft is. If we were involved in the defence of Australia, would twenty-four aircraft be of great value, especially if we were engaged in the type of war either inside or outside Australia where the opposition had practically no air power whatsoever?

The Canberra bomber is a very good plane in South Vietnam where it has nothing to fight against. It is sufficiently slow to give very good support' to our ground forces. The helicopter is a very good weapon where no air power to oppose it exists. What I want to know is: What is the policy of this Government on defence? Are we arming ourselves to fight wars continually outside Australia or are we arming ourselves in fact to defend Australia? If we are arming ourselves to defend Australia, I would like to see some explanation by the Government of how our defence forces are to be co-ordinated for this purpose? Also, it is reasonable to ask: Exactly who are we armed to defend ourselves against at this time? We purchased the Fill aircraft at a time when Indonesia was our potential enemy. At the moment I can only assume that the Government considers that China is our potential enemy. As far as I can see, there is no other country that could be classed as our potential enemy.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Does the honourable member recognise China as an enemy?

Mr SCHOLES - At the moment I think it is reasonable to assume that the Government considers China as our potential enemy. If there is a potential enemy in Asia then 1 think at this point of time it must be China just as it was Indonesia in 1963.

The British withdrawal from the South East Asian area apparently has started a panic in the Government. In fact, I think the Government and its defence advisers were aware that Britain would withdraw some considerable time before the decision was announced. If the Australian Government was not so aware then I believe its sources of information are very poor indeed. I believe it would be proper to ask the Government what plans were made for Australia's defence before Britain actually announced its intention to withdraw. I also believe it is proper to ask the Government what stage of preparedness we have reached if we should be suddenly involved in the defence of Australia. Prior to the Second World War Government spokesmen had the same attitude on defence as they do now. They said we had plenty of time and that we would be ready when the enemy was ready. Unfortunately the enemy was ready a long time before we were and it was more by good luck than by good management that Australians were able to defend their shores.

This leads me to another matter which I would like to emphasise in this debate and to which I think Government members should give serious consideration. For years the Australian people have been told, both directly and indirectly, that they are completely helpless. We are told we have no capacity to help ourselves and that if we are attacked we must depend on others. We are told that we must enter into agreements and honour such agreements and we must endeavour to obtain the best possible alliances that we can for our defence. Primarily Australia has a very great capacity to assist itself in this matter. To achieve this, a number of things are needed. Firstly,

Australians should believe that they have the capacity to provide much of their own defence requirements. Some honourable members might be almost surprised to learn that it was the Australians who turned the Japanese in New Guinea. I admit the Americans won the battle of the Coral Sea but in the tend fighting m New Guinea it was the Australians who participated. 1 believe that very few of our children would even know about this. To read the type of literature the Government puts out at successive elections, the type of propaganda which is used purely to generate fear in the community in order to obtain a suitable climate for election propaganda, one might believe that Australians were sort of cowering curs who had no possible hope of defending themselves.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Tripe.

Mr SCHOLES - Australia had 700,000 men serving in the field during the Second World War. These men were of the same age as the honourable member who interjects. They were not called up for service; most of them were volunteers. These men fought valiantly in the last war. If we could put 700,000 well equipped and properly armed men into the field in Australia, no country in Asia including China could mount an invasion of Australia. In any event, they are not good enough swimmers to do so.

The first necessity of defence is that the country concerned must believe it is capable of defending itself and its people must have the will to defence themselves. If we are to spend money on defence we should at least tell the Australian people that the money is being well spent and that what is being provided will be capable of providing them with a defence system. The Government should not tell the people simply that it is going to spend $ 1,000m on defence. It should not tell the people that if the Americans do not come to the assistance of Australia when we are attacked that we will be helpless. The facts are that Australians could put up a pretty good effort if they were attacked and if the Government of the day provided the ammunition and the necessary organisation for the defence of this country. However, I do not believe that the basis of defence is being adequately laid. I believe that too much of our defence expenditure is being used for showy equipment which may not necessarily be the best equipment. I do not profess to be an expert.

Mr Bosman - We do not think you are.

Mr SCHOLES - One fact from which I believe the honourable member may take heart is that before an enemy can invade this country he has to get here. At this point of time only the United States of America, Russia, Canada and possibly Norway have the necessary naval capacity to ship the number of troops required to combat the Australian forces. I am not saying that other countries could not provide the necessary naval strength in 10 or 15 years time. But at the present time only the countries I have mentioned have the capacity to bring troops to the shores of Australia. I think our defence policy should be largely based on what is possible and what will be possible. 1 do not think any nation in Asia should be dismissed from our consideration as a future possible enemy. We are not psychic; we cannot see into the future. We do not know who are going to be our friends tomorrow any more than the people of Asia or anywhere else know who are going to be their friends tomorrow.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - A bit like the Labor Party.

Mr SCHOLES - We have friends and we sleep peacefully at night. The statement on defence which we are debating tells us absolutely .nothing about Australia's defence. The former Minister for Air, the honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson), who spoke before me, said that this was the first statement on defence for almost 7 months. It is about the twenty-fourth statement this Parliament has had on defence from the present Government.

Over the years the Government has been very inconsistent on defence expenditures. Vietnam is pictured as a country which poses a serious worry for Australia's future. This has been said by Government spokesmen over a long period of time. The present stage of the conflict in Vietnam began in 1958. In the following years the proportion of Australia's Budget spent on defence declined in every year until 1966. The expenditure rose fractionally above the 1958 level as a proportion of the total budget in 1966. It is now some 4% above the 1958 proportion. If the Government has all this time felt that our interests were involved - our national interests and the security of future generations of Australians - then why has it continued to spend less on defence while this war has built up from what was almost a series of skirmishes in 1958 into a major confrontation in 1965-66? This is the confrontation which brought about conscription in 1964 and which was used very effectively in 1966 in an election campaign. But Australia spent less of its Budget on defence in those years than it had some 6 or 7 years earlier. It is strange that when the Government has said our security is most threatened it has reduced the amount we spend on defence. In actual money terms it grows. But as the value of money drops so rapidly, why would it not grow? In 1951 the then Prime Minister said that we had 3 years to prepare for a world war. The percentage of our gross national product which was spent on defence 2 years later was a fraction below one-half that which was spent in 1951. I am not sure whether Government supporters really believe in the defence of Australia. They talk about it a lot. The Government is spending a great deal of money on defence. 1 hope that Government supporters believe in the defence of Australia, and I sincerely hope that at some stage in the future a Minister will tell the Australian people exactly what our defence possibilities are and what is Australia's capacity for defence.

At the present time, when we are, spending $US300m on purchasing aircraft, we are in fact running down our own aircraft establishments. The Government Aircraft Factory at Avalon is dismissing skilled employees because the factory has no work. Defence production is the life blood of defence. If we have to defend ourselves we have to depend on our own industries and supplies, and we have to have the capacity to do this. If we run down our own defence establishments and spend large sums of money overseas then we are not providing the best possible defence. We are providing something less than that. We are, as I said spending great sums on defence. Defence spending has become a serious drain on the Australian Budget. I think it is reasonable for the Australian people to ask that we should get something for this large expenditure.

Finally, I want to deal with a matter relating to defence organisation. In his statement the Minister said it is the Government's intention to bring together the various Service colleges. But he said that at the present time the Government will not do anything about integration df the various Services. In this day it would seem that there is very little justification for having separate Service ministries and separate Services. The amount of integration which has taken place when we have been at war has been such that it would be sound for the Government very seriously to consider whether it would be practicable to copy policies which the Canadian Government and, to some extent, the British Government have adopted. These would make it possible for the best use to be made of the moneys we are spending on defence. If the Canadian example is good, it can reasonably be stated that we are spending at least $100m per year on unnecessary duplication of services.

Mr Chaney - Are you sure that the Canadian experiment has been a success?

Mr SCHOLES - -The Canadian Government claims that by integration of the Services it has saved $234m out of a defence budget of $ 1,600m. I do not know whether or not it is a success. I am not capable of assessing that. But the Canadian Government has saved a considerable sum of money and it does not consider that Canada is in any greater danger than it was when it was spending a greater amount on defence. The other country which is often quoted on this question of the integration of the Services is Sweden, which has a fairly extensive defence capacity. It is in a better position than we are to provide for defence capacity, because it is a much smaller country and does not have the problem of isolation that we have. But Sweden has been able to design military aircraft which, according to the experts, are very capable. They are designed and constructed in Sweden at far less cost than we are paying for aircraft which do not have a very much greater capacity. In Australia, on several occasions, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation has sought Government approval to proceed with the development of an aircraft. This is the basis of developing future defence potential in an industry which is vital to defence. As yet, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation has not received Government support for the development of an aircraft.

Australia is capable of constructing the most sophisticated weapons. At the Salisbury establishment and at Woomera we are constructing rockets which we are able to export. We have constructed the Mirage aircraft. If it had been necessary we could have constructed the Fill aircraft. But we do not get the opportunity very often to use our own capacity and skills. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to telling this House and the Australian people what we are getting for our money.

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