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Wednesday, 8 May 1968

Mr STEWART (Lang) - My distrust of the attitude of the Liberal and Country Parties towards defence goes back to 1939-40 when I found how inadequate were our defences at the commencement of the 1939-45 war, even though the Government had had years of warning that Germany was on the march and Japan was also ready to attack when the time was right. When the Japanese moved down to the doorstep of Port Moresby I saw young lads under 20 years of age, who bad had only 6 weeks in the Citizen Military Forces and who were still in field service uniform, sent to New Guinea to take part in the battle for the Kokoda Trail and the defence of Port Moresby. They were sent to recapture the island of New Guinea. Prior to their enlistment they had been clerks, shop assistants, labourers and factory workers. Many of them had never handled a rifle in their lives prior to being sent to New Guinea. They had perhaps fired 50 rounds of ammunition in their 6 weeks initial training. It took a Labor Government, with the help of the United States of America, to pull Australia out of the mess into which it had been allowed to fall by the United Australia Party Government prior to 1939.

After the War the Australian Labor Party undertook reconstruction. Thousands of young men and women were discharged from the Army and had to be re-established in industry. There are honourable members on both sides of the House who were able to learn trades and professions and improve their education through the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. An Australian Labor Party Government was responsible for that scheme. There was full employment in Australia for the first time and years of plenty were ahead. Then came the 1949 elections and the Liberal-Country Party Government was elected to office. My distrust of the defence policies of the Liberal-Country Party Government heightened when 1 read and heard the policy speech for the 1951 election delivered by the then Prime Minister, Mr Menzies.

He said :

There is a very grim danger of another Great War. ... We solemnly believe that the state of the world is such that we cannot give ourselves more than three years in which to get ready to defend ourselves.

Similar statements have been made time and time again since 1951 by Ministers for Defence, Ministers for Supply and by Prime Ministers. In a statement on defence made in the House on 10th November 1964, Sir Robert Menzies as reported at page 2715 of Hansard said: lt is very much to be feared that if Indonesia provoked a war, the only people in Indonesia who would get advantage from it would be the Communists, ever-ready to thrive on disorder and defeat.

So in 1951 the Prime Minister warned about war; in 1964 he warned about war. We frequently hear such warnings from members on the Government side.

I understand the honourable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) is to follow me in this debate. Lf he does not rattle his sabre and talk about the downward thrust of Communism then I am a bad judge. There has always been a need to improve Australia's defence requirements and to modernise our arms and equipment. We are a small nation of 12 million people with a large coastline to protect. We need to look continuously at our defence requirements. We always seem to be unprepared. In 1964, at the time of the confrontation of Malaysia by Indonesia, a defence statement was made by the then Prime Minister, to the effect that Indonesia was the country to beware of. We were not ready to defend ourselves at that time. The defence statement made in 1964 by Sir Robert Menzies suggested the purchase of new equipment for the Army, Navy and Air Force. We were not ready at that time, just as we are not ready now for the British withdrawal from our near north. We have never been ready for the replacement of the Canberra bomber. On 29th September 1955 Sir Philip McBride, the then Minister for Defence, said, as reported at page 1138 of Hansard:

In this connection, to establish the replacement types of aircraft required, a mission representative of the Department of Air, the Department of Defence Production, and the aircraft industry, recently visited the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and the recommendations of this mission are now under consideration.

The Canberra bomber came into operation in 1953. in 1960 the then Minister for Air, now, 1 understand, the- President of the Liberal Party of New South Wales, made a statement about what was the most important problem the Air Force faced, the replacement of the Canberra bomber. He was honest enough to say that the task would be difficult as no suitable aircraft appeared to be available at that time. In 1961 the disastrous election for Sir Robert Menzies and the Liberal Party took place. The Labor Party came within one seat of gaining office. One reason for the closeness of that election was that the people were dissatisfied with our defence preparedness. Another reason was that 200,000 people were unemployed throughout Australia. In 1963, a matter of 18 months or so after the 1961 election, an announcement of an early election was made. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, came into the House on 24th October, about 6 weeks before the election, and made a defence statement. That statement dealt mostly with the replacement of the Canberra bombers. I propose to quote rather extensively from what Sir Robert Menzies said at that time because I do not want to misrepresent him, nor do I want to misrepresent our present Minister for Defence who made his statement on this subject last Thursday night. There are blatant contradictions between the speech made by Sir Robert Menzies in 1963 and the one made by our present Minister for Defence last Thursday which 1 propose to point out. On 24th October 1963, as reported at page 2249 of Hansard, Sir Robert Menzies said:

We sent the evaluation team overseas and in due course received its reports. It was clear that, subject to problems of the time-table and of payment and of interim provision to supplement if necessary the Canberra force, the evaluation team regarded what was then called the TFX in the United States as the most modern and complete answer to our requirements.

I then decided to ask the Minister for Defence (Mr Townley) to undertake the very onerous task of going to the United States to examine these problems more closely on a government level.

A little later Sir Robert said:

I am happy to tell the House that his mission has been most remarkably successful; so successful that I have found it necessary to advise the United Kingdom Government that we propose to go ahead with the arrangement he has negotiated.

Later he said:

As a result of these negotiations, the following most favourable arrangements have been made with the United Slates: The Government of Australia has agreed to purchase from the United States two squadrons of FI IIA aircraft. which used to be called the TFX. By special arrangements with the United Slates of America, the aircraft will be available to Australia at the same time as deliveries are made to the United States armed forces, which will be from 1967 onwards. 1 emphasise that date because of rumours that made it a couple of years later. Financial arrangements are entirely satisfactory to Australia.

In a most favourable package deal, if I may use that phrase, the United States has agreed to supply the aircraft on the basis of a purchase price that includes I year's initial spare parts including engines, ground handling equipment, training aids, and the initial and operational training of crews, which would be carried out in the United States.

A further important and valuable consideration is that the United States has agreed to integration of the Royal Australian Air Force and the United States armed forces logistic pattern so that Australia will be able to draw future requirements of spare parts and equipment from American stocks and therefore secure the advantage of much lower prices than would be the case if Australia itself had to procure independently the full range of stores.

Further on he said:

The F11IA programme embarked upon by the United States is the largest programme, both in numbers and in cost, of any aircraft since World War II. It is, in other words, the last word. Twenty-two prototype and development aircraft are scheduled for delivery to the United Slates in 1965 and we are told that we will secure our first deliveries in 1967.

In 1964, as will be seen from a speech from which 1 quoted earlier, Sir Robert Menzies apparently had some doubts about the delivery date of the Fill and whether the late Mr Townley had been misled in his mission to the United States in 1963. Sir Robert said:

The twenty-four FI IIA aircraft which have been ordered from the United States will add powerfully to the deterrent and strike capability of the RAAF. The Government is confident that the Ft IIA aircraft, which Ls expected to fly before the end of this year, will amply fulfil its promise as an outstanding military aircraft.

The present Minister for Defence has said exactly the same thing. The document that we received from the General Dynamics Corporation has said this, but the performance of the aircraft in Vietnam so far has certainly not been to our satisfaction. Recently when I asked the Minister for Defence whether he had reason to believe that the Fill was not the greatest thing with wings since angels he said that I was laughing at the fact that the American Fill had failed in Vietnam. I was doing no such thing; I was worried because Australia was prepared to pay and was about to pay $US300m for twenty-four aircraft which the Minister had described as the greatest things with wings since angels but of which, in the time they had flown, three. had been lost by the Americans within days of entering service. The fly away price of these aircraft is now $5.9m each. If the Minister says that I was laughing at that sort of thing he has a peculiar sense of humour.

I was shocked and dismayed that in 1963, and from 1963 onwards, we should have put so much reliance on an aircraft which, under stress at a time of war, when it was most urgently required and had an opportunity to prove its capabilities was not able to do so. I wish that I had more time to speak because I wanted to make a comparison between what Sir Robert Menzies said in 1963 and again in 1964 and the speech that was made by the Minister for Defence in this place a few nights ago in presenting his defence statement. I should like to quote from the defence statement to show one thing. Sir Robert- Menzies said in 1963 that the RAAF mission had said that the TFX aircraft, as it was then known, was the most suitable aircraft for Australian requirements, but on Thursday evening the Minister for Defence said:

In June 1963 a RAAF mission was sent overseas. In August 1963 the mission reported a detailed evaluation of five aircraft, including the British TSR2 and the TFX- now the Fill- and concluded that of all the aircraft evaluated, it was clear that the TFX should meet the Air Staff requirement in almost every respect and, if considered in isolation, should be the logical choice of aircraft with which to replace the Canberra. However, in view of the production time scale for the Fill aircraft, then known to the RAAF mission, and a deteriorating strategic situation, it turned to the purchase of another type, the RA5C.

The Minister went on to say:

The Government of the day took the view that the urgency for trie replacement of the Canberra was not such as to deny procurement of the aircraft best suited to our needs.

In 1955 Sir Philip McBride said that it was the most important and most urgent task confronting the Air Force. In 1960 the then Minister for Air said that it was the most important task confronting the Air Force. The RAAF mission in 1963, taking notice of a deteriorating strategic situation, recommended certain aircraft. Fortunately we have not required the B47 bombers that we could have had in the intervening years since 1964 when Sir Robert Menzies said that Indonesia was about to attack us. The present Minister for Defence said that we will get them between July and December of this year. I should like to know from the Minister whether he is prepared to accept the twenty-four Fill bombers from America before the bugs have been ironed out, or whatever might be required, in view of the loss of the three aircraft which crashed in Vietnam. I should like to know how much has so far been paid to the United States of America for these aircraft in accordance with the agreement announced by Sir Robert Menzies in 1963. How much interest has been received by the Government on the amount that has been paid so far? Why is it that the price was so vague in 1963 when the late Athol Townley went over on a special mission? Why is it that then we thought we would get the bombers for $US125m and now they will cost $US300m or more? Even now the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) cannot give a precise statement, except to say that the fly away price of the aircraft has a ceiling of $5.95m and even that ceiling is likely to rise.

I would like the Minister for Defence or the Minister for the Army or anyone on the other side to tell us whether Australian auditors have ever had an opportunity to see where any of the costs being charged against us are going in the General Dynamics factory. I would also like to know whether the United States Government has auditors in the General Dynamics factory to see where the money is being spent and whether it is being spent in the correct direction. I would like someone on the other side to answer the query that was raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) about auditing and about the willy-nilly price. These are only a few of the questions I would like answered. These are only a few of the defence matters T would like to raise, but in 20 minutes I cannot cover all the ground.

I conclude by saying to the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), who is regarded as a back bench rebel and an expert on defence, that if he cares to study the Government's defence statements since 1951 he will see that they contain a series of contradictions, of mis-statements, of changes of attitude, of a complete disregard for the advice of the military advisers and a deliberate withholding of information from the Parliament and the people.

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