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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1241


Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I support the most lucid exposition which has been given to the Senate in the course of this debate by my colleagues, Senator Bishop and Senator Poyser. They dealt in depth with the inner problems of the industry. But, in the final analysis, the aircraft industry is one segment only of our defence effort. A consideration of history of this aspect is significant. I am prompted by Senator Maunsell to recall that, whether we like it or not, a famous Commonwealth election was held in 1938 during which a future Labor Prime Minister argued about the supremacy of the air arm. He was scoffed at by the government of the day.

If honourable senators read some of the books dealing with the role of Air Marshal Brooke-Popham as exercised from his base in Singapore, they will find a peculiar resemblance between what happened at that period and the situation today. A sort of resistance to embarking upon aicraft production in Australia existed because such action might have affected British industry. That resistance continued in the post-war period and the middle 1950s. The situation that we face now is one in which we seem to be quite content to lease aircraft from or to enter into all sorts of agreements with the United States of America to meet our needs. In effect, the role into which we have placed our own aircraft industry is an inferior one.

I take the point tonight that aircraft production is only one segment of our overall defence policy. Whatever may have been said up to the early 1950s, with the rundown following World War II, the plain fact of the matter is that after that period when the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies as he now is, beat the big drum about defence the poor relation was the aircraft industry. In New South Wales, we have never been able to get the full story as to why the Victa Aircraft Company was not stabilised to the degree that it should have been. I do not base my argument completely on the private sector of the industry at all. My argument is that the Government could have achieved a consolidation of forces with regard to administration. One of the war time administrators was Sir John Story, and at the top of the administration was Senator Donald Cameron who was the Minister responsible for aircraft production. The point I make is that the nucleus of administration and skill was available.

Whatever may have been said about the mistakes of the mid-1950s, many people have argued that Australia's role in defence production could have been comparable not merely with that of France but with that of countries in the Scandinavian orbit. I heard Senator McManus refer to the attitude of the Swedish Government with respect to certain anti-tank guns. This is true. I can recall in 1966 visiting Puckapunyal with a defence committee of the Australian Labor Party. We were told that we were living on tenderhooks with respect to an aspect of Australia's foreign policy and that if this aspect did not dovetail with Swedish views the boom would be lowered on us. I do not dispute the role of the Swedish Government one bit, but I do believe that in relation to industry the parity between Australia and Scandinavian countries was such that if a reasonable expansion had occurred in our aircraft industry or generally in relation to ordinance components Australia could have emulated the development in Scandinavian countries in Budget terms. What was said by Senator Maunsell does not matter. Each year in our consideration of the defence estimates we have argued that we should get a dollar's value for each dollar spent. All that has happened is that far too often to obtain our defence requirements we have put ourselves into pawn with the countries whose industries have supplied our needs, namely, England and the United States.

Having said that, I need do no more than quote one of our leading aeronautical correspondents. I refer to Jack Percival who, writing recently, referred to the millions of dollars that went down the drain in the purchase of the Fill aircraft. He stated that had this money been spent on other forms of expansion in the aeronautical field our aircraft industry would continue for a decade. I accept that point. In proof of it I refer to the interjection that Senator McManus made confirming the point which had been laid down already by Senator Poyser and Senator Bishop. Man does not live by bread alone. Ample expansion was available to the aircraft industry in many other fields. To prove that point, I recall attending a forestry conference 4 years ago. A plague of locusts, so to speak, in the form of overseas agents for various helicopter producing firms descended on us. They all told us of the role of the helicopter in this area. We agreed with them. The tragedy was that we were prepared to do a deal with these firms and to give them a franchise to commence operations in this country. However, if at a given time Britain or the United States established priorities which had to be met, they would get in first. One of the enigmas of the defence situation has always been that if one of the Latin American countries wants the current bomber or fighter that is on the production line in industrial America that country has no difficulty in obtaining 20 or 30 of those aircraft if its dictatorship is on side with the American White House. The acquisition of such aircraft might not matter in Latin America but I think that it has been made abundantly clear that with aircraft providing the front line of defence for

Australia we cannot live on handouts. We must be in the position of having an industry to meet our needs in this respect. Senator Maunsell argued about priorities in the allocation of expenditure between development and defence. We have argued time and time again that the industrial capacity of a country is a vital factor. As a matter of fact, whatever may have been said about the sins and omissions of this Government, the plain fact of the matter is that a lesson should have been learnt last year when the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) led a delegation to the Council of Europe. That delegation visited the south of France and saw the magnitude of the French aircraft industry there. If we compare the development in France with Australia's requirements in relation to helicopters and its needs in respect of so many different types of light aircraft, quite apart from possible profitable contracts that could have been entered into with Asian countries, what was seen by that delegation in France was an eye opener, I think, to all of its members.

We can talk until we are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that France was a vanquished nation after World War II. It lost all of its colonies with one notable exception. The loss of that colony was delayed and I will not canvass that matter now. Despite its situation, France was able to establish an aircraft industry. It is beyond the comprehension of most people that in establishing our priorities we could not lift Australia's aircraft industry higher on our lists. If we take the situation in reverse, the ironical thing is that some perfectionist probably would argue that if aircraft are not obtained from the United States or Britain what are acquired are second grade articles. Whatever the pros and cons of the Middle East crisis, the fact is that some of the French products that Israel had meant the difference between defeat and victory in several of the Middle East conflicts. I suppose one can take that a little further and argue that all the procrastination that has been associated with our negotiations with the United States on the FI 1 1 aircraft, quite apart from the cost factor, meant that we are beholden now to another nation. But this has been the history of Australia.

It seems to me that during the period between the 2 world wars we had an inferiority complex about shipbuilding. Now we have reached the stage where we seem to be reluctant to develop our aircraft industry. As an afterthought, we throw it out a few crumbs by way of small projects, but we have a strange reluctance to rev up the industry so that it can become viable. My criticism is not of Senator Drake-Brockman, who is speaking for the Government. Our commercial and trade policy has meant that we have been beholden to many major powers, and the result has flowed down through our defence line of command. To see this one can go to any of our Air Force bases and then, to go to the other extreme, talk to crop dusting pilots and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots. We talk of people like Kingsford-Smith and Ulm, but it seems that the top echelon of policy makers is bedazzled by the achievments of other countries.

It was not so long ago, during the controversy over the F111, that we had some Ministers simply quoting as Government policy something out of the high pressure publicity journals produced by some firms. In France, through all her upheavals and changes of constitution, the aircraft industry has survived. If Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson were in the chamber he would agree with me that our visit to the south of France 12 months ago this month was an eye-opener to us. Despite all the vicissitudes that that nation has suffered, it realised what it meant to it to have a viable aircraft industry. That is the situation with which we are confronted today. It is not a question of prestige. I know that we can take it a little further and argue about the prestige of having an international airline; but, as earlier speakers tonight have pointed out, much more than that is involved. This is a question concerning a vital component of our defence forces. The matter which has been raised by Senator Bishop and which has received only token opposition from the Government is a timely reminder that when people beat the big drum of defence it does not mean very much if they drain off so much of our expenditure as to make us beholden to other nations. Whilst we deal today with the super powers, many of the African and Asian nations are delighted to deal on a contract basis with countries that are not super powers. I believe that this issue has been well and truly canvassed. Previous speakers from the Opposition side have laid the foundation and have convinced many honourable senators of the value of the matter we have been discussing. For that reason I move:

That the question be now put.

Question put.







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