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Tuesday, 16 October 1973
Page: 2153

Mr HAMER (Isaacs) - The matter of public importance proposed for discussion by the House is one of great significance because it goes to the central role, of the Government and its responsibility for the security of the community. The remarks that we have heard from the 2 Government speakers, the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) and the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross), have been of mind-bending superficiality. It is worth noting that the matter of public importance proposed for discussion is:

The failure of the Government to provide more adequately for the defence of the Australian nation.

The Minister for Defence described this proposal as frivolous. I would think that he was frivolous were his attitude not so tragic.

The Minister made a statement on defence to this House on 22 August last. Since then, the Government has buried this item at the bottom of the notice paper.

Mr Cooke - It is No. 43 under 'Government Business' on the notice paper.

Mr HAMER - As my friend from Petrie tells me, this ministerial statement is listed as No. 43 on the notice paper. It is buried because the Government is frightened to have the subject of defence discussed.

What charges are there against the Government for lack of defence preparations and what answers if any has the Government made? The first charge is that the Government was guilty of a clear deception of the community in its promise as to what proportion of our resources it would allocate to defence. On 28 November 1973, 4 days before the election for the House of Representatives, the present Minister for Defence said:

Mr Whitlamand I have stressed repeatedly that a Labor Government would maintain defence spending at the levels of the past few years- that is, about 3.3 to 3.5 per cent of the GNP.

The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has doubts about the reliability of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). So, it is fortunate that we do not need to rely on that statement alone.

I refer next to the 'It's Time' pamphlet which, on the subject of defence, states:

An Australian Labor Government would allocate not less than 3.5 per cent of Australia's gross national product for defence in each annual Budget.

This year it has allocated 2.9 per cent of the gross national product to defence. This is a clear breach of a clear election promise. The Minister for Defence seemed faintly surprised that anyone should believe Labor Party policy. It is quite clear that they will not again.

The second criticism of the Australian Labor Party's defence policy is that its whole strategic basis is fallacious. It is based on an assumption that there will be no threat for 15 years. This has often been said in the past, and it has nearly always been wrong. I take one example. In Australia, in 1931, in the depths of the depression who could possibly have foreseen that in 10 years time Australia would be at war with Germany, Italy and Japan? Certainly not the Leader of the Opposition just before the Second World War. Mr Curtin had this to say in a speech on 2 November 1938:

The threatened danger is no longer as great as it was for it must be apparent to everyone that the Munich Pact has lessened the probability of a European war.

That was said 9 months before the outbreak of the Second World War. The important thing about this aspect is that Mr Curtin was a quite perceptive defence critic, certainly much more perceptive than the present Minister for Defence. If Mr Curtin could not predict a war 9 months before it broke out, how can the present Minister for Defence say that there will be no war for 15 years. This is the whole rotten basis of our present defence strategy. It is unsound in its foundations.

Let us turn to equipment. The 'It's Time' document states:

A Labor Government will equip these forces with the most effective and modern weapons.

That promise did not last long. Two months after that promise was made, the present Minister for Defence had this to say at the Industrial Mobilisation Course in February of this year: the Services may have to accept weapons systems they regard as less than satisfactory, this shortcoming can be accepted now because of the low probability of major hostilities.

By August, he had gone even further; the Services will get no new equipment at all. The only equipment that is still coming is that which the Government could not cancel. All the new equipment - the equipment to arm our Services in the 1980s - has been postponed or cancelled. This I believe is a gross dereliction of duty by the Government.

If in fact the threat were low, surely this is the time we should be thinking of buying our capital equipment - at a time when our overseas reserves are so buoyant that the Government says they are embarrassing. Instead of that, for doctrinaire reasons, the Government cuts back on defence.

I agree with some of the remarks made by the Minister for Defence, though his actions never match his words. At the same industrial mobilisation course, the Minister for Defence said: . . it is the ability of a nation's industry to provide, or modify equipment as it is needed to meet new threats, which is the only satisfactory test of increased 'self-reliance' in defence.

But all the measures the Minister for Defence has taken have been to decrease our selfreliance. He is dismantling all our defence industries, cutting back on our dockyard effort and destroying our aviation industry. Honourable members will remember that last May the present Minister for Defence said he would very shortly announce a plan for the rationalisation of our aircraft industry. Where is that rationalisation? Our munitions have been cut back. Our whole capacity to defend ourselves, to create our own weapons systems is being eroded by this Government and we are more and more dependent on overseas support for this vital function.

Now I must turn to training. The ability of our forces to train realistically in peacetime is central to their efficiency. Our forces, unit for unit, ship for ship and aircraft for aircraft are second to none in the world. But the reason for this is that in the past they have been properly provided with the training equipment, resources and fuel they need to maintain a high degree of efficiency. This the Government is destroying. The flying hours of aircraft are being cut back; the ships are going less frequently to sea; and ammunition resources are being reduced. The Minister says that all this is under review. I suppose everything in this Government is under review - under review by a 27-man Cabinet and by a 93-man supervising Cabinet, the Caucus. The point is that nothing useful ever comes out of this system of review.

Finally I turn to the question of morale. There is an enormous reservoir of devotion to duty in the armed Services and it is very alarming, remembering this devotion to duty, how many evidences of a sharp drop in morale are becoming obvious. Senior officers are resigning. These are the people who would have been the key figures in our forces in the 1980s but they, because of the policies of the present Government, are leaving the Services.

In Townsville 2 weeks ago the Minister for Defence, in a rather embarrassing parody of Winston Churchill, said that he had not accepted his portfolio in order to oversee the dismantling of Australia's defences. If he means that, and in view of what this Government has done to the defence forces, he should resign his portfolio now.

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