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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4171

Mr HEWSON (McMillan) - It would appear to be a true saying that 2 great minds think alike. I assure the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who is at the table, that it is purely coincidental that 2 concerned Australians - the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) and myself - should select the same subject on which to speak on the same night during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. Because of a series of events which are taking place or which have taken place, Australia today faces one of its blackest periods for its armed forces in peace time. It is one of the blackest periods because our Minister for Defence has decreed more and more defence cutbacks which sap our military strength and imperil the security of every Australian. In answer to a question today he added his name to the ever-increasing list of those who say: T am the greatest'. Never before in Australia's history has a Minister taken action which openly invites a potential aggressor to attack this country. Our defence effort has been cut back savagely. This indicates that the Minister cannot win an argument in Cabinet against his socialist mates, let alone one with his own conscience.

In the election campaign last year the Minister promised, as did all other Australian Labor Party candidates, that a Labor government would spend 3.4 per cent of the gross national product on defence. In its first Budget, this Labor Government has reduced that figure to 2.9 per cent and has proved conclusively that this Labor Government and this super whiz kid ALP Minister cannot keep their promises when it comes to defence, let alone keep their principles regarding Australia having an effective defence force. Just recently the Minister announced another round of defence cut-backs. All these cut-backs in general will reduce the operational effectiveness of the armed forces. Let me remind the people of Australia of some of these cut-backs.

First of all, there has been a 35 per cent reduction in the Army strength and a 10 per cent reduction in the defence civilian staff. The Government has disbanded one Mirage squadron and has cannibalised 15 other Mirage aircraft for spare parts. The Government has reduced flying hours for Army, Navy and Air Force aircraft. It has put the Fill crews into mothballs. It has cancelled the Cockburn Sound, the DDL and the aircraft procurement programs at a time when the number of Russian vessels patrolling the Indian Ocean has increased. What about our oil and gas wells on the north west shelf? This Minister and this socialist Government apparently do not take into account the vulnerability of our vital fuel resources. We must not forget the Bass Strait oil wells and the pipelines that come from them. Surely it should be obvious that instead of reducing our defences, we should be strengthening them to protect our vital resources. The Government has ordered a reduction of 20 per cent in the steaming time for the Navy. It will probably be more like 50 per cent when we have taken into account the fuel oil costs and other problems. The Government has abolished vital armed Services units, such as the air field construction squadron, and has reduced numbers of other vital units, such as Army surveys and medical units together with the intake of trainees. Let us face it: Who would want to go into training with the future operations so uncertain? This paints a pretty deplorable picture, particularly for those of us who place the protection of our Australian society on a very high priority.

These cut-backs are shameful. In fact, they could be more aptly described as disgraceful. They should not have occurred. The cut-backs will further destroy Service morale and will strip this country - this nation which we all hold so dear - of its military strength. It belittles us in the eyes of the world. But, of course this Government could not care less. In fact it is probably part of the Governments plan to submit quietly to the outside philosophies often enunciated in this chamber. Everything possible has been done by this Government to estrange us from our former allies - from friends in time of need. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) refers to 'open government'. I say: 'Open season on Australians'.

How could the Defence Minister boast that he identifies himself with the Australian fighting man when he has proved himself to be the greatest .sham fighter of all time? At times I have believed that this Minister is sincere. If he is, can he tell me why he has allowed these cuts to take place when one considers what he promised and what he said even shortly after he became the Deputy Prime Minister? If he has a streak of sincerity left in him, there is no alternative for him but to resign his portfolio, and in doing so, draw the attention of all Australians to what has happened to defence. If he made his promises to the electorate in any sincerity, he has no option. It is a coward's excuse to justify these cutbacks on the ground that a strategic study shows that Australia faces no defence threat. That study was not even prepared by his own Department. It was foisted on him by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister.

Talk of no possibility of aggression in the foreseeable future reminds me of Mr Chamberlain and his umbrella when, in 1939, he visited Hitler in Germany and was assured that there was no threat to the defences of Britain. His own strategists within his Department do not agree with this study. Recent international events have proved its fallibility. This Minister has no choice. He has allowed the country to retreat into the field of defence isolationism and combat sterility, let alone operational impotence. The cutbacks do not take into account many important issues. For instance, how does our expected fighting force learn weapon technology? In the recent Middle East outbreak of hostilities we saw a completely incompetent comprehension of the development of the surface to air missile. We saw an enormous amount of weaponry and mobile armament battered into submission because of a lack of understanding. This is what happens when men are not trained to use the weapons.

Training in these fields is more necessary than this Government believes. The energy crisis resulting from the Middle East activities could spark off a world involvement. Anybody who stops to take a look at the situation would see that. Australia faces unforeseen or hidden potential dangers within the Indian and Pacific Oceans that surround us. It is true to say that Australia is one of the largest islands in the world and is vulnerable along a great area of her coastline. We have oil wells on the northwest shelf. I heard someone mention the morale of our defence personnel? It is stated in the Canberra Times' today that during the 3 months ended 31 October 85 commissioned officers left or applied to leave the armed forces. In the same period last year, 27 officers resigned. Is this showing confidence and complete faith in the future of those in charge of our military forces? Mr Speaker, I ask you that question.

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