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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Mr MORRISON (St George) - Mr Deputy Chairman, I have been appalled throughout this debate by the unbelievable trite contributions that honourable members on the Government side have made to this debate. The Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has set an all time low in the understanding and the comprehension of the portfolio that he administers. His limited ability is all too painfully apparent. Let me try to put this debate into perspective.

We are dealing with the astronomical sum of $1,136,988,000. This money has come from each and every Australian in the form of taxation. This Government has failed to justify the expenditure. We have been treated to the broad and generalised inconsequential generalities on which this Government thrives. But neither in this debate nor in the Minister's statement on defence, have we ever been given a systematic account of the threat to our security and a detailed and logical exposition of the sort of defence arrangements, including the type of equipment in all Services, that we require to meet this threat. lt seems to rae that the notion of the Government on defence is rather like that of the newlywed who goes shopping in a supermarket and responds to impulse buying rather hoping that the purchases that she makes will add up to a meal. But a pile of military equipment, no matter how expensive it is, does not add up to a defence policy. The Government has been incredibly naive in the defence shopping list. The classic example of impulse buying was the Fill. Back in 1963 we were told the purchase was vital to our security. Here we are in 1970 and we have not seen the Fill and we are told that we will not see it until 1972. What disturbs me about the purchase, apart from the obvious political gimmickry that was involved, was the attitude of mind that allowed such a decision. The Government suffers from a chronic disease of big noting itself. So it decided it must have the fastest, the most sophisticated and the shiniest piece of military equipment. We were, as several Ministers have told us, to have the greatest thing with wings since angels. But was the question ever asked: Do we need this sort of equipment? I would like to quote from a statement of a man who was very much involved in the Fill, the TFX. the United States Defence Secretary McNamara. He said:

We do not buy the best there is in terms of technology in any one of our weapons systems. We would be fools. No-one does. The farmer did not buy the beat truck. I did not buy the best automobile. We" would be foolish if we bought the best in technology in terms of the most advanced, in terms of speed, in terms of range, in terms of higher power, when we did not need it.

The decision on the FI 1 1 was made by the United States in terms of highly sophisticated demands by a much more highly sophisticated defence establishment. It was absurd for Australia in these circumstances to try to play in the big league when we in fact were not even a good district side.

This must be the only assembly in the world where a newly elected Government has introduced a defence statement before a foreign affairs statement. After the defence statement was made the Government proceeded to haul in a foreign affairs statement to justify it. This was a simple case of putting the cart before the horse. This Government has proclaimed time and time again that it has a policy of forward defence, but what it is in fact is a policy of backward withdrawal. For some years we maintained a Royal Australian Air Force Sabre squadron at Ubon in Thailand. In July 1968 the Government announced that the squadron would be regrouped - a glorious euphemism for withdrawal - at Butterworth. What the announcement did not reveal was that this Royal Australian Air Force squadron at Butterworth was cluttering up the tarmac and the aprons at Ubon and the Americans told them to get the hell out of there. So the squadron was withdrawn. Of course the Thais did not come into the calculation; it was a deal between the Americans and the Australians. The Government has already announced the withdrawal from Vietnam of a battalion, yet if one was to believe the Government's concept of the threats of Communism we should not be withdrawing a battalion, we should be putting in a division. The Government's military advisers are clearly concerned about the efficacy of the group we leave in Vietnam; nevertheless the Government's policy of backward withdrawal proceeds.

In Malaysia the Government has withdrawn our ground forces from Malaysia further away from the only possible threat that there could be on the Thai-Malaysian border and dropped them into 2 barracks in Singapore which are 12 miles apart. The Government has not told us what the arrangements will be. When speaking earlier in this debate I listed a series of questions, but the Minister for Defence (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and other Ministers have refused point blank to comment on them. In the hope that somewhere, sometime, the Ministry will get around to answering them I want to repeat the questions: When will our occupancy be regularised? What are the terms on which we will agree to stay in Butterworth and to stay in Singapore? What will it cost the Australian taxpayers? I also said that I wanted to know when the stationing of our forces in Singapore will be regularised. When are we going to have these satisfactory barracks which the Minister for Defence has talked about? When are we going to sign a status of forces agreement? How much money will we have to pay? The Malaysians, of course, in Butterworth have us over a barrel. Half of our RAAF fighter force is stationed there and the Malaysians know that this Government cannot station half of our fighter force back in Australia. What an indictment of our defence planning when we just do not have the facilities to accommodate all our Mirage squadrons in Australia. It is about time this Government adopted a far more responsible attitude to the men of the armed Services and the equipment that we have purchased.

It was also a point of great concern and it should be of great concern to all honourable members in this House, that as part of this backward withdrawal the Government has recalled the anti-aircraft unit from Butterworth. The British last year took away its airfield defence units, and our ' planes and personnel in Butterworth are largely unprotected from air, sea and land attack. The 1970 Defence Report points out that the experience of allied forces in South East Asia has shown that the enemy has been successful in inflicting damage to Air Force assets and bases by limited ground attack. The report pointed out that 2 airfield defence units have been sent to Vietnam but not one word has been said about Butterworth, where half our fighter force is stationed. The Air Force defence at Butterworth is virtually nil. It sits alongside the Straits of Malacca. It has a main road running through it. It is not more than a day and a half's march from the area which our defence forces have indicated could be an area of guerilla activity, and yet 1 repeat that there are no acceptable airfield defence units placed at Butterworth.

To take further the points of issue, on the backward- withdrawal the Government has pointed out that we are reducing our naval commitment to Malaysia and Singapore by one ship. And so the process of backward withdrawal has proceeded and in the meantime this Government presumes to attack the Australian Labor Party which stands very firmly on the basic premise that the basis of any defence policy is to protect our shore.

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