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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3645

Mr HAMER (Isaacs) - From what the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) says, if ever we get involved in a war we will certainly have lots of paper studies to throw at the enemy. But what we really want is an effective fighting force, which is what this Goverment is busily destroying. The Government obviously is frightened of a debate on this subject of defence. When we raised a matter of urgency some weeks ago, the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) was item No. 34 on the notice paper, and since then it has sunk to No. 45. It is quite clear that the Government does not wish to have that statement debated. All that the Government will allow us is a very brief time - I think that the debate will soon be gagged - to discuss the defence estimates.

This Government has achieved a remarkable anatomical feat of making itself a cross between a hen and an ostrich. Whenever danger threatens or' a problem arises, the Government runs around like a headless hen, although at the same time it wants to bury its head in the sand like an ostrich. A few weeks ago in Perth the Minister for Defence quoted partially and misleadingly from a paper on the strategic basis. We must consider the strategic needs of this country. It is always the tactic of Treasuries and people opposed to effective defence preparations to ask: 'What is the threat? Where does it come from? Itemise the threat. Then we can provide the defence.' The trouble is that with the lead time of effective defence forces, threats arise much faster than the equipment, troops and trained manpower can be provided.

The Minister for Defence claims that he is able to look ahead 10 or 15 years. Let us look at what happened in 1931. Who then could possibly have foreseen that within 10 years Australia would have been at war with Germany, Italy and Japan? Certainly not the Australian Labor Party. As late as 1938 it was saying that references to preparation for war were hysterical propaganda. Now the Government is talking about the defence of the mainland. What a defeatist policy. If we have an effective defence policy the question of the defence of the Australian mainland will not arise. Surely the establishment of an effective defence policy should be the object of the Government. The Government talks about a period of strategic peace. I find it difficult to imagine any era which is likely to be more turbulent than the next 10 years or so. One thinks of the energy crisis and the problems which it will create. America is reliant on the Middle East for about 8 per cent of its oil. Japan and Western Europe are almost totally dependent on the Middle East for their oil. Australia produces about 60 per cent of our oil requirements, and for most of our other oil requirements we rely also on the Middle East.

The Arab countries - the countries in the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries - are quite clearly prepared and determined to use their bargaining power ruthlessly. What will happen? Two or more" things seem obvious. Firstly, Japan is likely to be thrown into the arms of Russia through its likely dependence on Siberian oil. America, probably through the development of Alaskan oil, will be self sufficient for oil in a few years. Britain may well be a net oil exporter through North Sea oil by the early 1980s. What is likely to happen is that the OPEC countries - the Arab countries - will realise that there is a terminal date in relation to their effective ability to exploit the situation, and therefore the next 10 years are likely to be extremely turbulent.

If we had any sense we would be not only making extra defence preparations, but also encouraging in this country exploration for oil which the extraordinary policies and the economic primitivism of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) have virtually stopped in Australia. Also, it is quite possible that the Suez Canal will be opened within the next few years, and this will provide an opportunity for the Russian Black Sea fleet to operate in the Indian Ocean. This is a factor that we cannot or should not ignore, but the Government has effectively ignored it by delaying the development of the Cockburn Sound base in Western Australia which surely common sense dictates should not be delayed; it should, if possible, be speeded up.

In regard to equipment, in its notorious document entitled 'Its Time' which was pub:lished before the last election, the present Government promised that the defence forces would have excellent equipment. On 12 February this year - 2 months later - the Minister for Defence, at an industrial mobilisation course, said:

The Services may have to accept weapons systems they regard as less than satisfactory.

By Budget time in August, virtually all orders for new equipment were cancelled, and now we find from the admissions that have been very grudgingly dragged out of the Minister that not only has he cancelled all the long term orders for equipment, but also he is trying to delay purchasing equipment for which we are already committed. He is talking about trying to cut down on the purchase of light observation helicopters for the Army and on the orders for anti-submarine helicopters for the Navy. If the Government can cut down on our defence equipment it will do so. It will defer everything and cancel everything. This is equipment which our defence forces will need not immediately but which will make them effective forces in the 1980s. I repeat that that is a period into which neither this Minister nor any Minister can possibly foresee.

Then there is the question of our operational readiness and the efficiency of our forces on which our training depends. We have seen a cutback in the fuel allowance for the Navy and in the flying hours of aircraft. In regard to the Navy, the Minister for Defence in his recent statement said that the equipment in the Navy would not be below a level which seriously - I repeat, seriously - impaired the capability of the Navy. Apparently he expects that it will significantly impair the capability of the Navy. In fact, in an earlier statement the Minister gave a very good summing up of the sort of Navy that this Government is producing. In his ministerial statement in August he said:

The naval forces can assist in coping with any intrusions into territorial waters and fishing and resource zones.

That is a limited role for a proud and effective Navy if ever I have heard one. In regard to defence infrastructure, there is the question of our ability to be self reliant. Again, before and just after the last election the present Government was making brave words about our self reliance. What is it doing? It is cutting back on our dockyard labour and dockyard efficiency. It is also cutting back on armament production and is creating chaos in our aviation industry. The Government is seriously impairing our ability to look after ourselves and is making us more and more reliant on our overseas sources of supply. All this cannot but have an effect on the morale of the Services. It is a great tribute to their devotion to duty and their loyalty that they have not been more affected than they have been by the efforts of this Government.

I should like to turn very briefly to one other matter. The Minister for Defence is making a study of the integration of the defence group of departments. I support this concept but it has not yet been achieved. In the meantime the Service Boards retain their statutory responsibility for the running of their Services. But the Minister, who is their political head, is taking no part in this statutory responsibility. Until the change is made he should ensure that the existing system runs. When this change is made I hope it will be to convert the Department of Defence into a proper professional department. While the 3 Service Departments had statutory responsibility for the running of their own Services it was acceptable that the Department of Defence should merely be a co-ordinating body. If we transfer, as I believe we should, the statutory responsibility to that Department it must become a proper professional body. If we try just to graft onto a basically civil department small Service accretions it will do a great deal more damage to the morale of the Services than anything that this Government has yet achieved. I should like to give the Minister that warning, because it is a very serious matter.

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