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Monday, 26 November 1973
Page: 3859

Mr BURY (Wentworth) - I desire to raise the subject of the effect upon the defence of Australia of the scrapping by the Government of the DDL program for the Royal Australian Navy. The Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) made a number of points about how this program has been criticised by honourable members on this side of the House and he named the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) and myself. We have, in fact, asked questions about the cost of this program in relation to our total defence commitment. I would point out that it is the Navy which, relatively speaking, has fallen furthest behind. The Navy notably is our first and most important initial arm of defence. The lead time for the Navy is longer than for all other arms of defence. It takes longer to build a ship, to train the men who man it, to construct naval dockyards and to employ the labour force involved than it does for any requirement of any other arm of the Services.

The first consequence of the abandonment of the DDL program is that the naval design team which has been built up in Australia to provide a corps of naval constructors expert in the requirements of our Navy has been disbanded. It contained a number of highly trained experts of world class in naval affairs. All this has been dissipated. Apart from that, involved in the DDL program was the expenditure of quite large sums of money on reequipping the Williamstown dockyard and other essential changes in the modernisation of our dockyards to enable the personnel to cope with the latest construction methods. It is a precious labour force. It takes longer to train a naval ship builder than it does a merchant ship builder. The Navy dockyards, in fact, work to very much finer requirements, necessities and measurements than ordinary ship builders outside. Our naval dockyards are a vital part of our defence. Their efficiency depends upon the skilled naval forces which exist at Williamstown, Garden Island and Cockatoo. It is of serious long term effect to start to disappoint these people, who need a continuous flow of work and training. They, in turn, are training younger engineers, naval architects and so forth. The delay in the construction of naval facilities at Perth also will put back the time when we will have a satisfactory base in the west from which our fleet can be deployed if necessary.

The Minister has given as part of his reason for doing this that he wanted to have a fresh look at the situation. So one has to try as far as one finds it possible, to follow how his mind is working and what he is considering. The point made by us originally was that the conception needed examination. But the Minister and the Government have already cut some of their options. For instance, they have forsaken the idea of constructing a fast combat supply ship. Such a ship would have given the means for smaller ships to be sustained over long distances in distant places with full support facilities close by. The scrapping of such a project means that any attempt to look for a really effective overall alternative has been abandoned for some years. From what has been indicated so far, the Minister is not looking for a fresh conception of naval defence but at alternative vessels. We are bound to compare the cost of the DDLs with the cost of several alternative vessels which are being examined overseas. As far as one can deduce from information supplied - of course, not much is forthcoming in this direction - the Minister is looking at 3 alternatives.

In thinking of Australian naval defence in terms of individual ships and their ability to sustain themselves over considerable distances, a number of factors are important. They include their range, their complement - the number of people they require is an expensive proposition if a large number has to be maintained over the years - their size and speed. The Minister is thought to be considering the United States naval patrol frigate; the Dutch warship 'De Ruyter'. which he went to look at in rather spectacular fashion just before the election; and the British vessel 'Sheffield'. The American frigate is a 25-knot vessel. I point out that 25 years ago the British decreed, in relation to warships of this type, that 30 knots was the minimum speed on which designers would be permitted to work. In the meantime speeds have gone up and not down. The Dutch 'De Ruyter', although of about the same tonnage as the DDL, carries a crew of 306 as against 200 for the DDL. Thus the continual annual upkeep would be very much higher than for the DDL and there has been no indication whatever that there would be any gain in efficiency. We can, to some extent, find out details about the British 'Sheffield'. Its range is certainly shorter. It has a range of about 4,000 miles at 18 knots as compared with a range of 6,000 miles at 20 knots of the DDL.

There are a number of other deficiencies. The American frigate, for instance, does not carry any guns, which is one of our requirements. None of them carries more than one helicopter. Fast combat ships can supply any deficiencies in helicopters carried on those ships. But if a ship is to operate on its own over long distances it would, as the team involved very reasonably decided, need 2 helicopters instead of one. To all outward signs, the alternatives which the Minister is looking at are, as individual ships, of less effect and are likely to be of lesser account than the DDL, which has 2 guns, carries 2 helicopters and has built into it the range we require. The other ships would, on the face of it, need considerable modification. Basically the Minister seems to be chasing around from the point of view not of working to an entirely new conception but of bargaining about a few dollars as between one warship and another, and these vessels could be regarded, in some sense, as being equivalent.

It is particularly important that the team which was got together and which has produced the initial designs for the DDL should be kept together and built up and also that the dockyard facilities should be expanded at the same time. Likewise, it is essential to develop and maintain the capacity of our electronics industry to develop and supply the radar, gun control mechanism and other features which no doubt apply to all these ships. It is important to keep this continually in being and to have it a living entity in Australia so that it is being worked on continuously and being developed, but all this appears to have gone overboard. I must apologise for raising this matter in the adjournment debate, but there has been no other opportunity. The defence statement upon which we were once promised a debate is now No. 50 on the notice paper. We were allowed about 4 speakers only during the debate on the Estimates, and the Minister for Defence took up a great deal of the time available.

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