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Monday, 19 October 1970

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Mr Deputy Chairman, this evening, we have heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) indicate, on one of the rare occasions on which they do indicate it, some concern for defence. If I may, I would like to say something first about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The odd thing about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was that he rose to answer a question which I answered last week. His response was based on a complete fallacy which I corrected during the course of his remarks. The whole tenor of his argument was based on the fact that he believed that I had said last week that servicemen in the United States of America are paid more as recruits when they first enter the United States Army than are Australian servicemen when they are recruited first into the Australian Army.

The fact is that for many years, and still at the present time, the Australian Army has paid several hundreds of dollars a year more to recruits entering the Australian Army than has been the case in the United States. That factor compared with our standards and compared with the much higher levels of unemployment in the United States and with the much higher still regional unemployment in the United States does create a different circumstance for the recruitment policies of the United States Armed Forces. It gives some greater possibility of attracting the numbers by higher pay because the United States Armed Forces must establish a good deal higher pay to get to the attractions on a recruit basis in the United States Army than we have already with our Australian Army. Also, of course, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought to confuse what I had been putting in answer to that question. He tried to confuse the situation concerning other ranks, senior non-commissioned officers, warrant officers and officers and tried to suggest that the position of all members of the armed forces is precisely the same. Every armed Service depends upon those long-term skilled members in the Service who are dedicated to the Service for a career. To make sure not only that they are equitably and properly treated but that there is no room for doubt on this score, the Government has announced an inquiry into these matters.

When you come to conscription or national service you are not talking about long-term non-commissioned officers and warrant officers. You are not talking about the officers who must be in the Service for a long-term career. You are talking about filling out the numbers in the Army; this has been the practice in the United States and putting into the armed Services people for 2 years to do jobs they can do with 2 years training and still be appointed to a field force. There is a limit to the amount of training a person can be given in that time and still be posted to a field force to strengthen the front line fighting teeth of a Service. This is also what we have done. It has been the purpose of national service and nobody has pretended or suggested that it is anything else. If you are talking then of trying to replace the system we have with a purely voluntary system you are talking about trying to attract to these positions for example the riflemen in the battalions - volunteers. You have 2 ways of doing this. You can appeal to a person's sense of patriotism lo try to attract those people into the armed forces so that all those with a less highly developed sense of patriotism can go with a clear conscience about their daily business with no obligation or concern for Australia's defence. Firstly, I say it is unfair to appeal specifically to those with a particularly highly developed sense of patriotism and let others go untouched without any concern or obligation for the defence of this country.

If you put that argument aside you are trying to attract people to the armed forces by higher pay. I am not saying, and do not let anybody twist my words to say that they should not be properly paid. Of course they should. The whole tenor of the announcement of the inquiry and the terms of reference of that inquiry indicates that the Government is determined that all servicemen will be properly paid in our armed forces. So do not let that argument be twisted as so many arguments are twisted by the Opposition. When you are talking about trying to fill out the number of riflemen in a battalion specifically and solely by higher pay you will still not appeal to the wealthy or privileged, to those who have a much better education than most - people who have been to universities and colleges of advanced education. They will not be attracted. Nothing can deny the fact that that approach to defence, as Senator Kennedy indicated in the United States Senate a short while ago, will make the privileged immune from the obligations which arise as a result of defence policy and place the full burden of defence on the under-privileged in the community - people who are working with their hands, people who have been less fortunate in relation to their education and people who are less well off. These are the people, therefore, you are appealing to by higher pay to fill out the positions such as that of riflemen who are the fighting teeth or guts, if you like, of any Army.

If it is thought to be a just and honourable course to make other people in the community - the better-off, the privileged, the wealthy, the better-educated - immune from the obligations of defence in that area, that is not a philosophy which I can embrace. This is not in any sense a new view of mine because precisely the same views were expressed when I first became Minister for the Army. The Leader of the Opposition did not really say a great deal when the sarcasm and wit that he thinks is so clever are put aside. He gave a series of statistics concerning officers and resignations in the forces. Clearly the Government is concerned about these things. Why else have an inquiry? Why else have special inquiries within the Departments concerned to examine the number, location and standards of service housing throughout Australia? Why else have a parliamentary inquiry into the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund? Of course, what the Leader of the Opposition did not say and what he quite deliberately suppressed, it being information he would never seek, concerns the growth and the strength of our armed forces and the growth in the officer corps of our armed forces over the last several years. The number of officers in the Navy has grown since 196S from 1,372 to 1,827 - a very substantia] increase in the officer strength of the Royal Australian Navy. The number of officers in the Army has grown from 3,078 to 4,054 - a growth of almost 1,000 in the officer strength of the Army since 1965. In the Air Force the officer strength has grown in the same period from 2,416 to 3,631 - a growth of about 1,200 in the officer strength of the Royal Australian Air Force.

Certainly we are concerned about resignation rates of people who have been trained. Certainly we are concerned whether they be officers or skilled and trained personnel in the other ranks area, and we are acting upon that concern. This does not mean to say there has not been a steady and continuous growth in the strength of the Australian armed forces over the last 5 years because that growth and accretion of strength has been there and this Government is determined to maintain it. When he speaks on these matters the Leader of the Opposition occasionally likes to mention the great military area which he represents. Representing a great military area, one would have thought that perhaps there would have been a little more consistency in his advocacy on matters that concern the Australian armed forces. One of the things this Leader of the Opposition has done has been to make statements concerning Australia's armed forces which will be with him while he remains in public life. They will be cursed by members of the Returned Services League and those who have come back from fighting for Australia while he remains in public life. He knows very well that no matter what smokescreen he may raise in defence, no matter what devious ways he may use to. change the direction of thought and to try to block attention from what he has done, this charge will remain over him. He is the only allegedly responsible political leader in the history of

Australia who has suggested that servicemen should mutiny. When he ended his first Press statement on this matter, he said:

Never have I said that a man should not obey orders in Vietnam.

A few days later the issue of that Press statement on 23rd September - less than a week according to Press reports of the time - he extended his injunction to servicemen in Vietnam, making a falsehood of his initial Press statement. That is a charge which will remain over the Leader of the Opposition while he remains in this Parliament and-

Mr McLeay - While he draws breath.

Air MALCOLM FRASER- And while he draws breath. If Australia ever has the misfortune to have him on this side of the House it might be interesting for him to know what servicemen think of him when he has to negotiate with them concerning defence policies and the activities and dispositions of Australia's armed forces, in Australia or overseas if the necessity were to arise. They would know he had suggested mutiny to members of our armed forces in and out of Vietnam.

There is another matter which reveals very clearly the attitude of the Opposition on. defence. The honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison) as we all know is a chosen protege of the Leader of the Opposition. He had some odd things to say about defence when he spoke on these estimates last week. In the first instance he tried to suggest that we hide the true cost of maintaining our forces overseas. That, of course, is quite a ridiculous charge because on a number of occasions questions have been asked - and I will look up the record if the honourable member wants the information - as to the cost of maintaining our forces overseas as against the cost of maintaining those same forces in Australia. The extra cost, for the 3 Services, is about 54.9m in 1 year. Questions have been asked on notice 'What were these costs in past periods?' Those questions have been answered. The figure mentioned by the honourable member for St George was $10Om. That figure of $100m could perhaps be right if he were suggesting that those forces should not exist anywhere, not overseas or in Australia. If he were planning to disband them and reduce and diminish Australia's armed strength, then of course the saving would be very much greater than the S54m that I mentioned. But if he was suggesting that he did not say so and it may not be what he meant.

There are two other aspects of the honourable member's speech 1 would like to mention. Ever since he came into this House he has sought to discredit the defence arrangements that this Government has sought to make with Malaysia and Singapore. His statements have attracted unfavourable comment and criticism in both those countries, in spite of the long time he was in that area and the friendships and acquaintances that he made at the time. The charge has been made that he has dragged these defence arrangements into the internal politics of this country and of course this is precisely what he has done. As much as one might prefer to have a bi-partisan defence policy, while the Opposition persists in the attitude that it has adopted that is quite a remote possibility on the Australian scene. But the honourable member for St George has sought to discredit these arrangements. He has sought to suggest that we have hidden the costs, which we have not; I. have given them. He suggested also that the money we spend on defence in those areas should be spent on other matters not related to defence. I would like honourable members to recall the remarks he made earlier in this debate when in speaking about the defence efforts in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam he said:

We on this side of the House regard this expenditure as a waste.

Of course they do because they regard any expenditure on defence as a waste because its members are completely and utterly isolationist in their approach to defence. The honourable member said:

It distorts not only our defence expenditure but also the whole Budget expenditure. We would prefer to channel this money to meet more urgent needs in the defence vote and in the general Budget. For instance, with these funds we could -

This was the only instance of alternative spending that he gave - without raising taxation, increase the standard and married rales of pension by 82 a week instead of the piffling 50c that has been made available by this Government in this Budget.

That was the only example of increased expenditure that he gave. The only implication that can be drawn is that he would like to reduce the defence vote by$l00m and divert those funds to social services. This, of course, has been the traditional attitude of the Opposition and the Australian Labor Party since the end of the last world war in 1945. During the 1950s and now in these times we have the Opposition coming out in true colours and suggesting that the defence vote should be cut and that defence moneys be spent on other internal domestic matters. There is not a person on this side of the House-

Mr Morrison -I wish to make a personal explanation.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - The honourable member may make his personal explanation when the Minister has finished speaking.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - There is not a person on this side of the House who would not prefer, if we lived in the kind of a world in which it would be practicable, to spend all our resources on national development, welfare, health and education which are matters of great concern to all honourable members in this Parliament. But if honourable members think that we live in the sort of world in which we can dramatically reduce the Australian defence vote and at the same time maintain the sort of posture that we need, maintain the self-respect that we must have, and maintain an ability for our own defence which is essential for survival, then that is a nonsense proposition which I am sure will attract no support. I would like to know whether the Leader of the Opposition will have the honesty in the next campaign or the one after that to get up and say: 'It is our purpose to reduce the defence vote' because if that were clearly stated in an election campaign - and it has been very clearly stated by the honourable member for St George - I suggest that it would very quickly lead to further defeat of the Labor Party at the polls.

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