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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 280

Mr LYNCH (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) - My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Will the honourable gentleman advise the House whether the onerous character of his duties as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply are such as enable him effectively to discharge the responsibilities which he holds in these various positions? Would the honourable gentleman agree that in the national interest these responsibilities are too heavy for even the most capable Minister in the Government? Will the honourable gentleman advise the House the extent to which he has been forced to delegate bis duties to other Ministers or to officers of his Department? Is the degree of this delegation compatible with his position as a Minister of State?

Mr BARNARD - The Government made a decision - I think a proper decision - in relation to the integration of the administration of the armed forces of Australia. That policy is being given effect. If the Minister is reflect ing upon my capacity to handle my work, or my credibility, the Minister should have the courage-

Mr Lynch - I rise to order. I am being misrepresented, Mr Speaker. I only wish that the term used by the honourable gentleman in addressing me was correct.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! No point of order arises.

Mr BARNARD - I concede that it is very difficult to be able to distinguish one from the other and to determine who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is reflecting on my credibility he should have the courage to move a motion of no confidence in or a censure motion against me. The former Minister has been on the receiving end previously and he would know all about it. Let me say what has been done in relation to defence issues in Australia to show whether I am competent to deal with all my responsibilities. Time will not enable me to deal with the policies to which this Government has given effect since I assumed responsibility for all the portfolios that I hold. There is a Minister assisting the Minister for Defence.

The Leader of the Opposition would be well aware that as far back as 1958 a very distinguished Australian general recommended that this Parliament should adopt the very course of action that I have undertaken. But there was prevarication on the part of the then Government in 1957. It could never make up its mind. I cite one example of what was done so quickly by my Government because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was involved in it. I refer to the report of the Jess Committee. Can anyone forget what happened in this Parliament in the last week of the last parliamentary session? The former Prime Minister will not forget. The Government was in complete disarray and was not able even to make up its mind on the Jess Committee report. If I had been asked whether it had been possible for me to give effect to the Jess Committee's recommendations within a fortnight of my taking office I would have answered that after consultations with officials of the Treasury and Department of Defence and my colleague, the Federal Treasurer, I had instructed that the recommendations of the Jess Committee be given effect to by way of legislation. There are many other matters in which my action can be shown to have been effective. Rationalisation of the aircraft industry is one. The former Minister for Supply will understand how difficult it was for him to consult the various Ministers in charge of the defence forces of this country.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Or even to remain on the front bench.

Mr BARNARD - Or even to remain on the front bench, as I am reminded. The former Minister will be aware of this. Bearing in mind that I had no great difficulty in reaching a decision within a very few days on the rationalisation of the aircraft industry, I am astounded when I look over the files which the previous Government dealt with to see the correspondence which passed between the Minister for Defence and other Ministers which remained unanswered and could not be dealt with.

Mr Lynch - I rise to order.

Mr BARNARD - Don't you like it?

Mr Lynch - All of this material is, I am sure, of considerable interest to the Deputy Prime Minister and if he wishes to make a statement on it that is one thing. But I ask him whether he would mind today, as distinct from his efforts yesterday, seeking as best he can to answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER - I remind the House that a Minister is entitled to answer any question as he sees fit. I ask the House to come to order. There is far too much noise. I realise that tempers are likely to become frayed when dealing with this matter, but honourable members should obey the rulings of the Chair for if those rulings are ignored they will have to suffer the consequences.

Mr BARNARD - Thank you, Mr Speaker. The question dealt broadly with the responsibilities of the Minister for Defence and the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence. I believe I was entitled to answer as I did since the subject matter of the question was whether these responsibilities could be handled by me and Senator Bishop, who is the Minister assisting me in another place. I have demonstrated that it can be done and has been done effectively. I would welcome the opportunity to enlarge upon what I have said. I have already given 2 examples of what can be done. The previous Government was not able to do what has been done by this Government despite the fact that it was in office for 23 years. If there is any need for confirma tion of this matter I suggest that in respect of the Jess Committee's report the Deputy Leader of the Opposition refer to the discussions that took place in this Parliament and the revolt by members of his own party because of his Government's ineptitude at that time.

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