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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1523

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Sturt is interjecting while out of his seat and the Minister for the Navy has already spoken in the debate. 1 suggest that interjections cease.

Mr SCHOLES - I am interested to learn from the Minister's interjection that he considers that the former government led by Sukarno was a Communist government. That is a surprise to me. I am also interested to hear from him that now the Government of Indonesia is all right. Presumably, if the Government of Indonesia were to change, Australia would change her defence policy and, if the Government of Singapore were to change, we would change our defence policy. I suggest that that is little more than rubbish. I suggest that if we are to talk about defence we have to talk about defence in the total situation. If this Government is not prepared to ensure that adequate defence industries are available in Australia in any emergency, then we might as well dismiss the whole of our armed forces because we would only be sending men to suicide by sending them into battle without the necessary back-up services.

The morale of the employees in the defence aircraft industry is so poor that they do not know today whether they will have a job tomorrow. These are men who cannot be trained within 6 months as a conscript soldier can. lt takes years to train these men in the specialisation which is needed to manufacture, service and maintain aircraft. These men are vital to Australia's defence needs. Yet notices are handed out willy-nilly. There is currently no work for these men. That is the story. A measure of the defence preparedness of this country is the fact that the number of persons working at the Government Aircraft Factory at Avalon has dropped by 45 per cent in 5 years. Experienced men who built the Mirage, who built the Sabre and who had a lot to do with building the Canberra are being thrown out willy-nilly by the Government.

The Government Aircraft Factories were given the job of developing an aircraft which would be suitable for both civil and military use. What has happened to that aircraft? It has been flying since last September. It is a commercial proposition. Despite that no order has come from the Government to go on with any sort of production. It would cost $5m to put that aircraft into production at this stage. That could well make the difference between this aircraft being a commercial proposition or a complete failure, which would be the position if it were brought on to the market too late. But the Government will not make a decision about this aircraft. As in everything else it procrastinates and procrastinates. Last night it came forward with a mini Budget because it said that it was necessary to stimulate the economy. Something like 3 million or 4 million man days have been lost in our community because of mistakes made months ago. The Government is now planning what it will do in 1971. Next year it will get on to 1970. God knows when it will get on to 1980. Probably that will be about 2010.

It would be nice to know that the Government is serious about Australia's defence and that it does not think that it is just a political gimmick to be wheeled out at election time. If the Government is serious about defence it will have to get down to planning to ensure that in any defence emergency we shall have trained professional soldiers to enable our armed forces to be expanded quickly. Sweden is able to do that. Other countries with similar standards of living to Australia and a similar gross national product are far better prepared than Australia for the rapid expansion of their armed forces. The Australian Government has done nothing for 22 years but talk and talk about defence. We have a lower defence capacity now with reference to modern technology than we had in 1941 when this Government was thrown out of office. We had troops stationed in Singapore then, too and every one of them was sacrificed. But the Minister for the Navy would not know about that because, after all, he has not got up to 1941 yet; he is still studying 1939. In fact, I think he lives in Queen Victoria's time.

The main subject about which I wish to talk tonight is the critical situation of the Australian aircraft industry in the defence field. Unless the Government is prepared to show far more leadership than it has the skilled personnel who manufactured thousands of aircraft for the Australian Air Force during the Second World War and who have provided Australia with aircraft for its defence forces since the Second World War will be lost to the aircraft industry forever and the industry itself will collapse. It is no good talking of rationalisation and of mergers if the skilled personnel are to be got rid of before that happens. I think the Government has repudiated undertakings it gave to these men when it said that the manpower position would be looked at after a merger took place. By procrastinating on the matter of Project N I think the Government is seriously jeopardising the future of the industry. I suggest that it is all very well to have a lot of high-falutin talk about moral fibre and other things but the Government is destroying by its lack of decision and lack of action a vital component in Australia's defence forces. A few months ago one of the Ministers of the Government was running around this House accusing Australian workmen of being guilty or potentially guilty of treason; but at no stage was any charge made against any of those men because that Minister knew that such charges would not be substantiated. The Minister said that the Government was going to build ships overseas because the security of Australian shipyards was not good enough. The security of overseas shipyards is no better than that of our own. Spending money overseas in order to make its American friends happy is the type of policy one can expect from this Government.

Dr Klugman - What about its South African friends?

Mr SCHOLES - I do not know whether we will be getting any ships from South Africa. We have not so far. The fact of the matter is that the basic planning of Australia's defence is as important, if not more important, than the number of people stationed somewhere else to defend someone else. The Government will have to think about whether Australia is capable of defending itself and, if so, about making sure that Australia's defence industry is capable of backing up any defence forces we may develop.

Dr MACKAY(Evans- Minister for the Navy) - Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER -Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?

Dr MACKAY - Yes, I do, Mr Speaker. Before I came into the House the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) made a statement to the effect that the Minister for the Navy had said that it was the Australian presence in Indonesia that had saved that country at the time of the coup. He went on to say that there were no Australian troops there, that I was ignorant on the subject and so forth. The actual remarks I made, and I have them word for word, were:

By the time the coup was attempted in 1965 - less than 7 years ago - the Air Force and the Navy had been infiltrated and much of their leadership was unreliable. In the Army things were different. We in this land had special relations with the Army, and we exchanged officers for staff college training. When the revolt occurred, the communists set out to eliminate the top Army leadership.

And so I went on. I never at any time said that there were Australian troops in Indonesia. I have been totally misrepresented.

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