22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Notice of motion in the name of Senator Seward for the disallowance of the regulation amending the Postal and Telegraphic Services (General) Regulations, as contained in Statutory Rule No. 84 of 1956 and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1901- 1950 - by leave - withdrawn.
– In addressing a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry I remind him that an agreement entered into between Australia and Japan allows Japanese pearlers to take a limited catch from Australian waters. 1 now ask the Minister whether he will, inform the Senate of the details of the surveillance that will be applied to the Japanese pearl fishing fleet by the use of aircraft, boats, or other means. Further, will the Minister lay on the table of the Senate reports from experts dealing with the denuding of the pearling beds?
– The matter raised by the honorable senator comes within the administration of my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry. However, in regard to the first part of the honorable senator’s question, I am able to say that the Minister has made arrangements for the operations of the Japanese pearling vessels to be closely supervised. Inspections of the areas of operation will be carried out by vessels, and by aircraft, to ensure that pearling is confined to areas approved by Australia. A vessel will be in attendance throughout the pearling season, and it will have on board an officer with an expert knowledge of the technical aspects of pearling who will be able to maintain a check on such matters as tonnage limits in particular areas. As to the second part of the honorable senator’s question, I point out that the tabling of the reports of experts is a matter for my colleague. It may not be thought desirable to table confidential documents of this kind, but I assure the honorable senator that the Government is paying special attention to this matter of conserving the pearling grounds in Australian waters.
– I address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. I preface it by pointing out that recently in Tasmania there has been a big movement, in which the honorable member for Braddon and I have been interested, to get the airline companies to provide improved intrastate air services, particularly to places on the north west coast of Tasmania. Is the Minister aware that Trans-Australia Airlines recently advertised and included in its new printed air timetable a Viscount service from Melbourne to Hobart, via Devonport, and return but was refused permission by the Department of Civil Aviation because the Devonport runway could not take either Convair or Viscount aircraft? Can the Minister state how long it would take, what would be the cost, and what is the likelihood of work being authorized to permit the Devonport aerodrome to be used by modern aircraft that are now operating to Tasmania? Does he agree that, as it is admitted that the Devonport aerodrome cannot take these aircraft, and seeing that Convairs can use the Wynyard airport, there is now more reason for the Wynyard airport to be provided with night-landing facilities, as has been advocated for the last five years?
– The question that has been asked by Senator Marriott covers a very wide field. The matter was brought to my attention early this morning, and at the moment I am endeavouring to get from the Department of Civil Aviation a full report on the incident to which he has referred. I have no knowledge of why or in what circumstances Trans-Australia Airlines advertised the service, but I have been able to ascertain within the last few minutes that the Devonport, aerodrome was constructed in 1950 with a view to making it capable of taking all the aircraft that were then in existence, including DC.3’s, DC.4’s and Convair 340’s. However, it has transpired that it cannot cope with aircraft of the Viscount type. As to the rest of the question which relates to the Wynyard aerodrome, I ask the honorable senator to give me time to get a more complete report from the department.
– I direct to the Minister for National Development, in the absence of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, a question relating to the special committee that was set up to study and recommend changes in, or a revision of, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. Can the Minister inform the Senate what progress has been made, whether it will receive a report from the committee, and when the report will be available?
– I am unable to assist the honorable senator. As he knows, the Attorney-General, who is Leader of the Government in this chamber, is the chairman of that committee. He informed me over the telephone this morning that he expected to be back at h’.s desk next week, so L suggest that the honorable senator address his question to the Attorney-General when he returns.
– Twelve months or more ago, I directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General a question relating to the very confused nature of the information pages in the front of telephone directories, and I was informed that the matter would receive attention when the next issue was being prepared for publication. I pointed out to him that those pages contained a great mass of technical and rather unnecessary information which could only be confusing. Since then, a new telephone directory has been printed and a lot of that information quite properly has been discarded. Nevertheless, the few pages that remain hardly fulfil the very desirable idea of furnishing information to the person who wants it. I now ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether he will again put before the Postmaster-General the desirability of having an expert look at the method of presentation of these introductory pages in terms of the modern methods of the presentation of information to see whether this information can be made readily and easily accessible to the public, who now approach a telephone directory with a great deal of exasperation and a considerable amount of confusion.
– I shall be very pleased to bring the further suggestions that the honorable senator has made to-day to the notice of my colleague, the PostmasterGeneral.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, ls the Minister aware that furniture imported from Italy is represented to be of the Louis XV. period and therefore antique? Because such furniture shows on examination that it is of recent manufacture, and partly made of Japanese plywood, will he take action to prevent the Australian public from being blatantly hoaxed by unscrupulous traders?
– I am reminded of the old story that reputable people sell reputable goods, and that when they do not do so they are found out. The law is the law, and there are provisions in it relating to people who make misrepresentations. It would be extraordinarily difficult to try, by legislation or regulation, to ensure that all goods are of the standard which they are reputed to be.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services aware that a life-saving drug reserpine, is not on the free list for pensioners? Is it not a fact that this drug is prescribed frequently _ by doctors for the treatment of high blood’ pressure? Will the Government give consideration to placing this drug on the free list for pensioners, a large percentage of whom suffer from high blood pressure? What is the reason for the silence of the medical profession on the nonavailability of this drug, which would give relief to a large number^ of pensioners who, because of their low incomes, are not in a position to purchase it?
– I shall refer that query to my colleague, the Minister for Health, to whom it should be addressed rather than to the Minister for Social Services, and I shall ask him to inform the honorable senator in writing of the reasons. I am sure that when the honorable senator receives the letter he will find that the reasons are good. I know that constant review is made of the drugs on the free list, and additions and eliminations are made from time to time to ensure that the list is up to date and effective.
– Through you, Mr. President, I wish to ask honorable senators on the Government benches a question without notice.
– Order! That would not be in order.
– Then I shall direct the question to the Minister for National Development in the absence of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Will he arrange for honorable senators on the Government benches to discuss at their next meeting the advisability of appointing a Senate select committee to investigate and report upon the generally unsatisfactory nature of the administration of import licensing?
– The honorable senator is out of date by a considerable time, as he has been before.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade inform the Senate who are the persons on whose advice imports subject to import licensing are placed in their various categories? If those persons represent organizations or interests, what are those organizations and interests?
– Although I have general knowledge of the matters upon which the honorable senator has asked his questions, I think, in view of the importance of the subject, that it would be wiser for me to ask the honorable senator to place his questions on the notice-paper so that the Minister for Trade may answer them himself.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation by stating that the Australian National Airlines Commission, which operates Trans-Australia Airlines, has shown its finances to be very buoyant over the past few years. In view of the profits that have been made by T.A.A., will the Minister consider providing better facilities at the Melbourne airport for passengers who travel by T.A.A.? Congestion there is so bad at times that elderly persons travelling by T.A.A. have no place to sit down. The atmosphere inside the terminal is quite oppressive because of the big crowds using it. For health reasons and in the interests of the service to the public that is generally provided by T.A.A., will the Minister investigate this matter with a view to improving the facilities at Essendon?
– Although I use the T.A.A. facilities quite frequently, I have not noticed the conditions to which the honorable senator has referred. However, I know that he uses the terminal as much as or more than I do, and I shall be pleased to discuss the matter with the Australian National Airlines Commission to ascertain whether the facilities are of such a standard that they require improvement or expansion.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade ask his colleague to enlist the assistance of the Public Service Board to regulate the affairs of the Department of Trade so that correspondence may be answered expeditiously?
– I remind the honorable senator that the Department of Trade, as it has been reconstructed, has had a tremendous task in taking over functions that were previously administered by other departments. The new department was hardly in its stride on that big task when it was called upon to re-arrange import licensing. I believe it is admitted that there were some delays in answering correspondence, but I understand that much of the arrears has been overtaken, and the service is much more satisfactory than it was a few weeks ago. Since import licensing became necessary, there has been a need on various occasions for some variation of the system. The volume of correspondence has become very large, and it cannot be answered easily because the answers frequently require expert knowledge. I know that my colleague has set up a special organization in Sydney to sift through correspondence to ensure that prompt replies are given to correspondence that can be answered quickly, and so that correspondence which contained applications could be referred to those technical officers who could handle it promptly.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services been directed to a report in a Sydney newspaper, dated 26th April, which alleged that an officer of the Department of Social Services called on a 72-years old applicant for an age pension and told him to count out his cash savings?. Will the Minister state whether this is a common practice on the part of the department? The applicant for the pension stated he had saved about £200, but the departmental investigation was of such a character as to cause the aged applicant to suffer from shock and humiliation. Will the Minister take steps to see that this form of bureaucratic inquiry is discontinued in the future?
– I had the privilege of administering the Department of Social Services for some time, and one of the main impressions left with me is the sympathetic manner in which the legislation was administered. 1 am sure that whatever is done is done only because it is necessary, and it is done in a pretty decent sort of way. I therefore ask the honorable senator to put his question on the notice-paper so as to give the department an opportunity to answer the criticisms direct. I should be very surprised indeed if the department does not give an answer satisfactory to the Senate.
– Is the Minister for Customs and Excise, or the appropriate Minister, aware that persons endeavouring to send parcels of food to distressed people in Hungary were stopped from so doing by . a regulation issued on 1st March provided that no hermetically sealed tins of food were to be sent from this country to Hungary? Will the Minister explain why that regulation was gazetted and whether there will be any opportunity for persons in this country, at a later date, to send parcels containing hermetically sealed tins of food? I might mention that it has been possible to send such parcels to other countries in which distress is widespread.
– I think it would be better if I obtained a full report on thematter from the department because of theimportance of the question. I ask the honorable senator to put the question on thenoticepaper.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
Two co-pilots one of whom has left the R.A.A.F. to join a civil airline. A third co-pilot is nowunder training.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
In view of reported statements that surplus eggs may be dumped into the sea next spring, will the Minister inform the Senate what plans are being made for the export of eggs in the coming flush season and, if there is any surplus considered not exportable, what plans will be adopted for its disposal?
– The Minister for Primary Industry has advised as follows: -
In the first place, I wish to make it clear that recent statements in the press alleging that eggs may be dumped into the sea next spring are both premature and irresponsible. It is normal to have a surplus of eggs during the flush season. This surplus, representing about 30 per cent, of controlled Australian production, is exported. Of these exports, the United Kingdom receives about 90 per cent., either in shell of in the form of egg pulp. Last season, due to abnormally high United Kingdom production, which is heavily subsidized, imported eggs in shell realized low prices. However, the egg pulp, which comprises about 70 per cent, of total shipments to the United Kingdom, was sold on contract to a group of pulp importers at a quite satisfactory price. This helped to cushion the fall of the shell egg market. If United Kingdom egg production remains high during the coming Australian export season, I anticipate that the Australian and State Egg Boards will be able to sell their surplus production, mainly in the form of pulp. Representatives of the board will be going to London in the near future to assess the position and to negotiate contracts for the sale of egg pulp. On their return, the results of their marketing survey will be made known.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answer: - 1. (a) There were 2,908 television viewers’ licences issued between 20th March and 2nd April, 1957. The total number of licences in force has increased as follows over recent months: -
I understand that the Australian Council of Children’s Films and Television did express this opinion.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has advised me in the following terms: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has advised me in the following terms: -
There are two Christmas Islands, one situate;! in the Indian Ocean and one in the Pacific Ocean. Australia and New Zealand obtain supplies of phosphate from the deposits on the Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. The nuclear tests are programmed to take place on the Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean. In these circumstances the proposed nuclear tests will n JI in any way endanger the phosphate deposits with which Australia is concerned.
Motion (by Senator Wood) agreed to -
That notice of motion standing in the name of Senator Wood be postponed until Wednesday, 22nd May, 1957.
Acknowledgment by Her Majesty The Queen.
– I have received from His Excellency the Governor-General the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply: -
I desire to acquaint you that 1<e substance of the Address-in-Reply which you presented to me on the 10th April, 1957, has been communicated to Her Majesty The Queen.
It is the Queen’s wish that I send you and Honorable Senators her sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your address gives expression.
Governor-General . 3rd May, 1957.
– I have received from Mr. W. J. M. Campbell, the former Principal Parliamentary Reporter, a letter expressing his appreciation of the statements made in the Senate on the occasion of his retirement. Mr. Campbell asks me to thank honorable senators for the goodwill and friendship which he enjoyed during his long period of office.
Debate resumed from 2nd May (vide page 568), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That this Senate approves the Trade Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia signed at Canberra on 26th February, 1957.
– I rise to support the motion proposed by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) that the trade agreement made between this country and Great Britain be endorsed. In their contributions to this debate, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and the Deputy Leader (Senator Kennelly) went to some pains to point out that the new agreement was not more favorable to Australia than the Ottawa Agreement was. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition pointed to several matters in which he said the Ottawa Agreement was probably better. That is so, but when we consider the comparatively small number of items picked out by those two speakers, and compare them with the large numbers of items to which they made no reference, we are forced to the conclusion that they were hard-pressed to find, in the new agreement, something with which to disagree. They complained that little or nothing had been accomplished. 1 believe that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), who negotiated the agreement, would himself not be entirely satisfied with it, but I venture to say that he was satisfied with a great deal of it. It must be remembered that the objective of the Minister in meeting the United Kingdom authorities was not so much to improve our preferences as to hold what we had, and to improve our trade position in other ways, particularly in relation to wheat. The objective was to replace the Ottawa Agreement, and in that respect the Minister’s efforts were successful. It required a great effort on his part to achieve that result.
I remind honorable senators that this matter was brought up by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the then Minister for Trade and Customs at a conference of Prime Ministers in 1954. On that occasion, they did not get very far. Indeed, it may be said that they made no progress at all.
The problem was again attacked by the Minister for Trade and the then Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator O’sullivan), at a meeting to discuss the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in 1956, but on that occasion also the other participants in the conference were not willing to give away the advantageous position that they held. No one expected them to do so. It, therefore, remained for the Minister for Trade to bring the subject up again with the United Kingdom Government in 1956. The negotiations took a considerable time, largely because Great Britain was in an advantageous position under the Ottawa Agreement. Like any other nation in a similar position, Great Britain was not disposed to give up any advantage. However, the Minister for Trade was successful in getting a new agreement, and he is to be congratulated on so doing. 1 go so far as to say that only his tenacity, indeed his pertinacity, enabled him to negotiate this agreement. Although the agreement might not give us all we want, we have at least obtained a new agreement. Suitable amendments may be made as time goes on.
We all realize that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke truly when he said that there is no sentiment in business. The wool-growers of Australia found that out years ago. If there is any body of businessmen who can be described . as hardheaded it is the wool-buyers of Bradford. If the Minister for Trade had to deal with men like them he must have had some strong arguments to put before them to get where he did. As I have said, he is entitled to our congratulations. We hope that, in time, the agreement will be amended and brought more into line with Australia’s desires.
The Leader of the Opposition stressed that in several articles of the agreement no conclusive result was reached, although provision was made for consultations to take place. He said that consultations did not put money into our pockets. I draw the honorable senator’s attention to Article 9, paragraph 2 of the meat agreement entered into with the United Kingdom Government, in which it is provided that, should the agreement fail in its purpose, the two governments will consult, and take action that is regarded as appropriate. That provision is in the same category as that complained of by the honorable senator in regard to this agreement; it does not get us any further ahead, nor does it put anything in our pocket. However, the meat agreement did stipulate that Australia should be able to export to foreign countries 3 per cent, of the shipments of meat to the United Kingdom. After experience of a year or more of the meat agreement, the matter was again taken up with the United Kingdom Government; with the result that the 3 per cent, was increased to 10 per cent. That is an example which shows that, once an agreement is reached and one of the parties to it is able to direct attention to its deficiencies, there is provision for alterations to be made. I feel confident that if, at some later date, Australia takes .up with the United Kingdom Government the desirability of removing some of the deficiencies in this agreement, alterations will be possible. The new agreement is an advance on the old Ottawa Agreement. Despite their criticism, the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy did not suggest anything that we ought to have obtained but did not obtain. It is easy to engage in destructive criticism, but not so easy to make constructive remarks.
I shall not deal with the various articles of the agreement in detail. Other honorable senators may do so, and, indeed, some who have spoken have already done so. I am more concerned with ensuring that we have exportable goods to send overseas than with striving to get an agreement with Great Britain. After all, it is of no use having an agreement entitling us to export goods overseas unless we have the goods to export, and markets willing to accept them. As I have said, I am more concerned with the state of our export trade.
In his second-reading speech the Minister for Shipping and Transport said that the actual volume of imports from the United Kingdom had almost doubled, while the volume of our exports to the United Kingdom had actually declined. He went on to say that the significance of that position following a period in which Australia’s population increased greatly, was serious, and would have important consequences. He might have added that its significance was increased when we recalled the favorable seasons Australia had enjoyed. That statement of the Minister caused me te look at the figures relating to our exports, to see how we were progressing. They are not comforting figures. In 1953-54, Australian exports were valued at £828,300,000; last year they fell to £781,000,000, and the previous year they were £774,000,000. Those figures show that our exports are declining in volume. As I have already stated, an agreement is useless unless we have the goods to export.
– There was a big carryover of wheat which we could have exported but did not.
– 1 shall deal with wheat in a minute. The value of unprocessed primary exports, which include wheat, fell from £502,000,000 to £455,000,000 in two years. The same thing happened to every other category of export with the sole exception of “ Miscellaneous “, which includes refined petroleum oils and other items; that was the only category in respect of which there was an increase. That fact is not very comforting.
Senator Cooke referred, by way of interjection, to wheat. I intend to refer to wheat rather extensively, because I think it is a matter that calls for very serious consideration. Before doing so, I remind the Senate that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Kennelly) said that we could sell premium wheat but that we were not producing enough of it for the millers to buy. I counter that statement by saying that the millers could buy any quantity of premium wheat they desired to buy provided they were willing to pay for it. When I refer to their willingness to pay for it, I mean their willingness to pay the grower a price that would compensate him for the loss of volume of production that he would sustain by growing premium wheat. A grower gets many bushels less per acre when he grows premium wheat than when he grows f.a.q. wheat. Consequently, he grows f.a.q. wheat which, after all is said and done, is only good business. It is interesting to note that premium wheat is grown in Queensland. In Queensland in 1955-56, 582.000 acres were sown. In the following year only 390,000 acres were sown, and it is forecast that this year 400,000 acres will be sown. Apparently, the Queensland growers are not particularly satisfied with the outlet for their premium wheat. I recall that last year Japan was not able to get as much premium wheat as it wished.
As I said, I want to deal rather extensively with the subject of wheat. I was interested to read a statement that was made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) a few days ago in reply to a question that was directed to him regarding the Government’s wheat production policy for this year. The Minister did not give any advice but left it to the wheat-grower to follow his own inclination. Approximately a week ago, Sir John Teasdale repeated an opinion that he expressed two years ago when he said that the Australian wheatgrower should reduce the quantity of wheat that he grew. I say without hesitation that Sir John Teasdale is the best authority in Australia to give such advice, and I should think that the Government would rely on his advice.
Some time ago, the Government, in reply to a query that I raised, said that it thought it was the business of the producer to determine what he would do. But it must be remembered that the producer has not at his disposal information regarding wheat supplies, marketing and everything else in the world that the Government has. Although the Government is in a position to advise the wheat-grower what to do, it has been said that it should not interfere with his work. If the producer follows the advice of Sir John Teasdale and grows less wheat next year when there is an abundance of wheat in the world, he can take up wheat production in the following year. All he needs to do is to reduce wheat production for that particular year or to reduce it permanently and to take up alternative production, as I hope to point out in the course of my remarks.
After all is said and done, wheat is not the only commodity that we can “produce in this country. Many of our wheatgrowing areas have a rainfall that will enable other forms of production to be undertaken. I wish to cite some figures relating to certain districts in Western Australia which show very clearly that, when wheat production is not profitable, other avenues of production are available. I have before me a list of eleven different districts in which producers have been carrying out voluntary experiments for a few years. These experiments have not been conducted at the instigation of the Government, but because of the desire of the farmers to ascertain the best way of using their land. In the particular district that 1 have in mind, the total area that was sown to wheat in 1946-47 was 54,005 acres; but this year it has been reduced to 46,753 acres. Despite that reduction of area, the average yield has risen from an average of 12.3 bushels to 16.9 bushels an acre. That result has been achieved by growing nitrogenous plants such as clover. By doing that, the producers have been enabled to reduce the fallowing of land and consequently have been able to carry more stock. Not only have they been able to carry more stock, but also they have been able to increase the yield of wool from each sheep, which is of considerable importance.
L think it is important that I should furnish honorable senators with some of the figures that I. have before me. In the district that 1 have in mind, the area that was top-dressed in order to promote the growth of pasture has been increased during the last nine years by 932 per cent.; it has risen from 7500 acres to 78,000 acres. The number of sheep carried has risen by 51 per cent, and the weight of fleece per animal has risen by 51 per cent. In other words, in the initial year, the weight of fleece per sheep was 7.2 lb., and last year it was 10.9 lb. That is a very considerable gain. The same thing applies to other districts.
In another district which started these experiments only in 1952 the number of sheep carried has risen by 68 per cent, and the weight of wool by 19 per cent. In yet another district, the number of sheep carried has risen by 106 per cent, and the weight of wool by 45 per cent. Those figures show very clearly that there are other and more profitable activities in c. which primary producers in assured rainfall areas may engage. When I speak of assured rainfall areas, I am talking about districts that have a rainfall of from 13 to 15 inches a year. Producers in those areas could go out of wheat production and take up the production of wool, fat lambs and baby beef, which is much more profitable than is wheat production. Of course, the ordinary farmer is not very enthusiastic about going out of the production of wheat after he has engaged in it for very many years and of engaging in another form of production unless he gets the advice and information that he requires.
Passing on from that point, it is necessary for us to look at the position of the wheat industry at the present time. From the Australian viewpoint, it is not very promising. As a matter of fact, the Australian Wheat Board, in a report that was issued a few weeks ago, expressed the opinion that the coming year would be particularly difficult for Australia from the viewpoint of selling wheat. Australia’s geographical position does not place it in as favorable a position to dispose of its wheat as are many other countries. In addition, certain countries are now adopting means of getting rid of their accumulations of wheat which we in this country do not seem to be very keen to adopt.
Wheat is being dumped in areas where we formerly sold our wheat. For example, Canada has just sold to Poland 13,000,000 bushels of wheat, to be delivered in two. years on extended terms of payment. The United States of America has just announced the sale of 5,500,000 bushels of wheat to Persia, 130,000,000 bushels over three years to India, which is a big customer of Australia, and 28,000,000 bushels to Poland, which also is one of our customers. The latest information we have reveals that this year France is sowing an extra 2,000,000 acres, which will make her a very big competitor in the markets of India, Ceylon and Indonesia. We do not seem to wish to indulge in these methods of disposal, but we must meet that competition. If we do not meet it, our commodity will remain unsold. Within the last day or two the United States has sold flour to Indonesia, which is right at our back door. That prompts me to raise the question of what our trade commissioners, dotted all over the world, are doing. I noticed that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) said the other day that we were sending a delegation overseas to find out why we are not selling our butter in England, or why we cannot get a higher price for it there. I think that about 500 people are employed in Australia House. Surely to goodness some of those people could tell us about this matter! We also have a trade commission, wandering around to boost sales. Surely its members could tell us why we cannot sell our products.
– Five hundred people are employed where?
– In Australia House. A couple of those ought to be able to take a week off and find out for us what we want to know. It does seem to me that more effort is required on the part of the Department of Trade to formulate a policy which will give us an increased production of goods so that we shall be able to fulfil our obligations under these various agreements. I think there is a clause in the trade agreement which says that we are going to adopt a developmental programme in order to step up our production. The outlet for the wheat-grower is rather bleak at present. It would be as well for the Government to advise him to go in for the production of wool, for which there is certainly a very good market at present, and also of stock.
Another aspect must be considered. It is a fact, as was pointed out by, I think, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), that the price of wheat is falling. On 1st January, Australian wheat was 20s. 9d. a bushel c.i.f. in the United Kingdom. The last advice was that on 27th April, it was only 18s. 3d. a bushel. Freight has decreased from 7s. a bushel on 1st January to about 5s. 4d. at present. As a matter of fact, 1 noticed the other day that a cargo of wheat had been booked from Western Australian to England at 5s. a bushel. Wheat freights are falling, but so is the net price, which has come down from 13s. 9d. a bushel on 1st January to 12s. lid. at present.
– What was that?
– Freight on wheat has fallen from 7s. to 5s. a bushel but the net price has fallen from 13s. 9d. Australian currency a bushel to 12s. lid. With all of these factors operating against our interests, it is time that the wheat-growers in those districts where we have sufficient rain were encouraged to get out of wheat production and to engage in the other activities that I have mentioned.
Unfortunately, much the same thing is happening in regard to our meat production. In the five years from 1937 to 1941, our average exports were 239,925 tons a year. In the last five years, the figure has fallen to 170,000 tons a year, or about 60,000 tons less. That is the annual average over five years, so the drop is not attributable to one dry year or to any factor of that description. These statistics show that our production is not being stepped up to keep pace with the demands made on it. It has been pointed out by those who are competent to advise that by 1970, I think, we shall have to build up all of our primary production by amounts varying from 30 per cent, to even 70 per cent, if we want to feed our population at that time and to keep our exports up to even their present level.
There seems to me to be something radically wrong with the way we are carrying on. We had some very big fires in Queensland. I remember reading that thousands of head of stock perished in those fires. We were told, the other day, that 10,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle on the top of Mount Kosciusko would probably perish if further snow fell. Fortunately, the snow has not fallen, and there seems to be a fair prospect that they will get away. But, even though a man may own stock, he has a duty to provide a product for consumption by the people of Australia, and he should be compelled to take measures to keep his stock safe. In Western Australia, our position will be very difficult. A lot of land is being opened up at Esperance, but there is the problem of getting sheep to put on to that land. About 20,000 sheep will be required, and I can assure honorable senators that such a number cannot be picked up easily every day of the week.
A change of policy is badly needed to ensure a supply of products sufficient to enable us to meet our liabilities under this agreement. It is all very well to say that these things should be done, but it might be desirable to examine how they can be done. If we told a producer, to-day, that he ought to increase his production, he would say immediately, “ I am not going to ° do that, because it would mean that I would have to pay a higher rate of taxation. J should put myself into a higher taxation group “. That is perfectly true. The Minister said that the great developments which have occurred have created a demand for plant, equipment and raw materials, much of which cannot be procured locally. In addition, there is a demand for superphosphate. I read, some time ago, a report that a fertilizer firm in Western Australia would fall in with the Government’s requirements regarding the use of pyrites, provided that the extra amount was restricted to not more than 10 per cent, a year. That is a serious matter for Western Australia, which is the second largest user of superphosphate among the Australian States. But for the price, we should probably use more than any other State. lt is time that the Government had another look at taxation as it bears on the producing sections of our community generally, not only on the agricultural industry. In saying that, I am mindful of the fact that the primary producer has been very well treated by the present Government in the matter of taxation. However, several years have passed since concessions were made, and I think it is time that the matter was looked at, especially as I have read that in West Germany every incentive is given to people who work and save. Tax concessions are given there to the people who work, whether they be agriculturists, industrialists or otherwise. If workers are paid overtime, the overtime payments are not taxed. Exporters, in some instances, get remissions of tax up to 100 per cent, to encourage them to manufacture and export. Those people who work and save are given tax concessions. Of course, those concessions have to be made up, and they are made up, I understand, by higher rates of tax on customs, excise and sales. As a matter of fact, the proceeds from these taxes in West Germany account for 50 per cent, of tax revenue, as against 25 per cent, in the United States and 30 per cent, in Australia. The article stated -
The most remarkable economic phenomenon of the post-war decade is the astonishing revival of Western Germany. An economy broken and devastated, apparently almost beyond hope, has in a short space of time become one of the strongest in Western Europe. Production, and more important, exports, have risen rapidly.
That is the result of the removal of controls and of giving incentives to those who are willing to work and save and invest their savings in industrial undertakings. It might interest those honorable senators who have not read the report to learn that Germany has taken Great Britain’s place as the third greatest ship-building country in the world.
A policy that produces such startling results requires very careful consideration, particularly when we find that our activities in these directions are on the decline.
Therefore, I recommend that the Government, before preparing the new budget, give consideration to taxation relief. If a man has a property, the more he produces the more heavily he is taxed. The result is that he adopts a policy of producing only enough to meet his requirements and pay his tax, and he is not inclined to exceed that production. Nobody can blame him for adopting that attitude, but it is not good for the country. We want to increase our productivity in order to feed our increased population and to send away those exports that are necessary to pay for our imports. That is our great problem at the present time. We must step up our exports to the point where they exceed imports, or import licensing will be with us for a considerable time. We all agree that we want to get rid of import licensing as rapidly as we can.
I desire to offer my congratulations to the Minister for Trade and those associated with him in bringing about this agreement It is not as good as we wanted, but it will give us a new basis for trade and. in the course of time, if necessary, we can delete items and possibly obtain some alterations. I believe that the United Kingdom will deal with us under this arrangement more sympathetically than it did under the old Ottawa Agreement. I support the motion.
– The Government is seeking approval of the trade agreement that it has entered into with the United Kingdom Government and which will replace the Ottawa Agreement. In moving for approval of the agreement, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) dealt very fully with the terms of the agreement. I do not propose to discuss the agreement in detail. I have examined its terms very carefully and have noted with some satisfaction that it is an improvement on the out-of-date Ottawa Agreement which has operated for a quarter of a century. The Ottawa Agreement is widely condemned now, but I remember very well when it was negotiated. Whatever its defects now, it was certainly of great assistance to our economy, and especially to our primary industries, at the time it was made. It secured for Australia t market at prices that were fairly reasonable compared with those obtaining throughout the world then.
A great change has taken place since. Unfortunately, our preferences and duties under the Ottawa Agreement were expressed in terms of money. The duty on a commodity valued at £20 might be, for example, £3. Over a quarter of a century, the duty has remained at £3 although the value of the commodity might be £100 now in terms of money. So the Ottawa Agreement is out-moded and cannot serve Australia to advantage any longer. In many cases, duties and preferences under the Ottawa Agreement were expressed in different terms, and values were of advantage to others but to the detriment of Australia.
This agreement is probably the best that could be obtained in the circumstances. I Will not criticize our negotiators for their efforts. I believe they did the best they could for Australia. The reductions in preference rates will be a help, particularly in the case of goods for our secondary industries. They should have the effect of reducing our overhead costs and that is all to the good.
Some articles in the new agreement do not mean very much. For example, the United Kingdom Government agrees to consult the Australian Government before it reduces margins of preferences. That is only a matter of courtesy and does not mean very much. I derive very little comfort from that provision.
Senator Seward referred to wheat. I thought that he dealt with that matter effectively, and I do not want to say much about it, but the wheat agreement, in my opinion, is not very pleasing. Article 6 states, in effect, that the United Kingdom hopes to buy 28,000,000 bushels of our wheat, but there is no binding contract and that means that our prices will have to be right; otherwise the United Kingdom millers will buy on markets that are more favorable to them. As the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has stated, our heavy freights and shipping charges will be a big factor in that connexion. Consequently, I do not think that the wheat industry will derive much benefit from this agreement.
It would have been more satisfactory if we could have secured a wheat agreement similar to the international sugar agreement. I forget exactly how much sugar is to be bought, but a definite quantity has been stipulated and will be purchased by the United Kingdom each year. The contract is binding. That is a big advantage to the sugar industry because it knows where it stands. If the wheat industry were in a similar position, it would be greatly advantaged.
I believe that the Government was handicapped from the beginning in these negotiations. On the eve of the negotiations, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) severely attacked the United Kingdom on trade relations. I thought at the time that that was not discreet of the Minister, and that the Government had practically torn up the path that had been laid down by the Chifley Government leading to better trade relations with the United Kingdom. That has been done not only by the statements of the Minister, but also through the clumsy policy of the Government in connexion with import restrictions. At various times, the Government had embarked abruptly on a policy of interfering with trade with other nations, but particularly with the United Kingdom, and that has caused considerable unrest and disturbance in our trade relations. I do not think that the Government acted very wisely from the beginning, and it was handicapped accordingly. We should face these matters fairly and squarely.
Immediately after World War II., when the United Kingdom was fighting to strengthen its economic position and was in need of our exports, certain Australian interests wanted to drag the last penny from the United Kingdom. They stated, selfishly and blindly, that they would sell to any country which paid the highest prices. That was at a time when the United Kingdom was fighting very hard for economic recovery. For two years it had fought alone in order to preserve our freedom and way of life, which we sometimes talk about so glibly. I do not think that helped us very much. Although Britain was urgently in need of our exports, they were sold to other countries if the slightest advantage could be gained thereby. I do not think that policy helped us at all.
Then again, we all remember the negotiations that took place regarding wheat. I do not blame the Government entirely because the Australian Wheat Board had something to do with it, but discussions took place regarding the disposal of 80,000,000 bushels of wheat. The Government quibbled about a few pence a bushel. What was the result? The wheat was not sold and the Government then had to spend some millions of pounds to provide storage and all that sort of thing. We all know about the high handling charges for a commodity like wheat, which is attacked by vermin and other pests. The whole thing was an act of foolishness on the part of this Government. I do not blame it for trying to get the best deal it could, but it should have been a little more careful and should have prevented a situation of that kind. The whole thing was indicative of the country’s attitude to the needs of Great Britain at that time. That attitude did not help to improve our trade relations with that country.
The Government sat idly by and made no attempt to deal with inflation which was destroying our economy, notwithstanding its solemn promise to protect our currency. Our industries to-day are greatly handicapped because of our high cost structure and the Government cannot escape a great deal of the blame for this disastrous situation. The Government’s licensing policy has been one of abrupt hit-and-miss tactics, suspending and renewing licences, and causing untold harm. This continual interference with trade and industry has created a state of great disturbance and unrest in the business world. No previous government had ever been guilty of such interference. Never before has there been such interference in our business relations, not only inside our own country, but also in relation to other countries.
I remember that at the time a great deal of dissatisfaction was expressed in Great Britain regarding the policy of this Government. Honorable senators opposite can say what they like about it, but the only substantial customer that Australia had for its exports for very many years was the United Kingdom. From my own experience in the sugar industry I know that the preference we got from Great Britain on sugar was greater ‘.than the amount other countries were receiving for their product. Had it not been for the British market, for a long period the sugar industry would have been tunable to develop. The northern part of Australia would never have developed to the extent it has, a development, of course, which is of great value to Australia. There are now a large number of people along our coastline right from the south to the north, and this is of great benefit to Australia. We receive no benefit from any other country except the United Kingdom. Canada and other countries have bought our sugar, but we have never had the same guarantee as we have received from the United Kingdom.
Our licensing policy has been most unsatisfactory and has created a lot of unrest. I realize the need to have regard to our overseas balances, but the Government has not had a planned policy. A plan was instituted by the Chifley Government. At no time were Australia and the United Kingdom so close together in relation to trade and other matters as they were during the regime of the Chifley Government. Honorable senators opposite will remember thai at that time, in order to assist people in the United Kingdom who did not have the wherewithal to purchase our goods, and in order to obtain a market for our goods, the Government made a cash contribution to the United Kingdom of over £30,000,000. We recognized die great work that the United Kingdom had done in preserving the freedom we so often talk about.
What I am about to say may come ou.side the scope of the agreement, but ! should like to pass some remarks on the administration of the customs laws and licensing. I believe a most retrograde step was made when the Government removed import licensing from the Department of Trade and Customs. The customs administration had enjoyed over the years the confidence of all sections of the industrial and business life of the country. That desirable state of affairs does not exist to-day to anything like the same extent as it did then. I understand that this unnecessary change-over is already costing the taxpayers an additional £80,000 or £90,000 per annum. I feel sure that in due course the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) will question the wisdom of his advisers in that regard. It is unfortunate , that the Government removed certain responsibilities from the Department of Trade and Customs, which lOver a long period, had enjoyed the confidence of this country. Businessmen and traders felt secure in -whatever, trade or calling they engaged. They felt that they always obtained a fair and reasonable deal. To-day, business enterprises are commenced and then for some reason - probably unknown to the businessmen because they ‘ know nothing about politics, but only about their businesses - almost overnight the ground is cut away from under them. I think that is a very unfortunate aspect of the Government’s administration.
When this Government took over in 1949 overseas balances amounted to nearly £800,000,000, but because of the orgy of expenditure which the Government allowed, in about ten months the balance was reduced by about two-thirds. In such a short period a reduction of two-thirds, as everybody realizes, was a very great amount. We were unable to purchase goods from the United Kingdom before that time because of the disorganization caused by war, but even when we allow for that factor, in nine or ten months, the increased expenditure on imports cut our overseas balance down by nearly £600,000,000. Such a dissipation of our overseas reserves was almost criminal.
I could give honorable senators a number of illustrations, but I will mention only one. In 1949 the price of newsprint, which, of course, we were importing at that time from Canada, was about £17 or £19 a ton. Within a very short period - only a few short years - the price rose from £17 to £190 a ton. We still went on buying newsprint although it was not a great necessity at that time. Heavy equipment and tractors were what we needed, but this Government spent on newsprint a tremendous amount of our hard-earned money from the sale of sugar, wheat and other exports. I remember very well that when one bought a newspaper on a Sunday morning, he could hardly stagger up the stairs with it. We increased our importation of newsprint notwithstanding that the cost had increased by nearly 1,000 per cent. The Government sat idly by and allowed that sort of thing to continue. The leading newspapers in the United Kingdom consisted of half a dozen sheets. Australia at that time should have been using the dollars it had available for important things, but it was spending this large amount of money on newsprint which, as I have said, was of doubtful advantage to the country at that time.
Although this Government does not believe in controls, it should have taken some steps to prevent our earnings from being dissipated in this way. As I have said, the policy of the Labour Government was to bring in capital goods. Of course, if it was possible to manufacture certain capital goods in Australia, we encouraged that production. But, failing that, we obtained capital goods from the United Kingdom, or, if they were unobtainable there, from hardcurrency countries. Labour’s policy was to try to assist the United Kingdom and, at the same time, to assist Australia. It was with ‘ great regret that I saw this Government abandon that policy immediately after it came to power. When Labour left office, the economic position of this country was very sound. We had enjoyed ten years of good seasons, and the prices of our primary products were high. But where are we to-day? We are on the edge, one might say, of a serious economic situation. If we have a drought and the prices of our primary products slump, our economy will be in a bad way. Since coming to office, this Government has neglected to put away reserves with which, in bad times, we could buy the things we needed.
The United Kingdom has its own trade problems. There has been a rise in the standard of living there which was long overdue. The United Kingdom has to fight for its very economic existence. Consequently, it is compelled to purchase in the best and most attractive markets. The shipping companies are holding Australia to ransom in the matter of shipping freights, and the overall costs of our export goods are increasing from day to day. What chance have we to compete successfully with other countries? I am not a merchant of gloom, but I say that our economic situation is precarious. This Government has taken no steps to preserve the economic stability that existed when it came to office, although it had an opportunity then to put us into an economic position that would have been the envy of the rest of the world.
I am sorry that the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) and another Tasmanian. Senator Wright, are not here. We have often heard them condemn, most eloquently, the pay-roll tax and the sales tax, which impose tremendous burdens on industry. I agree with Senator Seward’s contention that, if we want to sell our produce overseas, the Government will have to ease taxation. The sales tax is an iniquitous tax. 1 suppose it was born of necessity, but, like Topsy, it is growing. It is imposing on our economy and our industries a burden that is hard to bear.
The wine industry is very important to Australia, particularly South Australia, and doubtless honorable senators from that State have something to say about it. When the British Government imposed excessive rates of duty on imported wines, our exports of wine to that country ceased almost overnight. I think the duty was increased by 15s. a gallon. That made it impossible to sell wine there, because the average person could not afford to buy it. Of course, the increased duty was imposed to prevent money from being spent in that direction. The purpose of the United Kingdom Government was to protect the economy of the country.
The Government must take steps to correct the present situation. It cannot continue to blame the United Kingdom Government and the governments of other countries for our difficulties. The problem is of our own making. The racketeering and profiteering that went on after this Government came to power in 1949 was shameful. That disgraceful state of affairs cannot be allowed to. continue. Many people have become very wealthy during this Government’s term of office, whilst others have difficulty in making ends meet. I have seen week-end cottages built on the “ goldcoast “ in Queensland at a cost of £20,000. but ex-servicemen and others cannot get houses to live in. The banks are spending large sums on palatial office buildings, but the great body of the working people, particularly young folk on whom we must rely in the future, cannot obtain housing loans. This applies also to industry. When I started farming, I had no capital, but 1 leased land and, by working hard over the years, I was able eventually to have my own farm. What chance has a working man to-day to buy a farm? What chance has a working man’s son? You need about £15,000 to buy a one-man farm. In my day-
– I would not like to go back to your day.
– There is no need to go back to those days.
– People have better opportunities now than ever before, and you know it.
– Conditions are worse to-day in this respect. A working man’s son cannot get a farm, but I was able to make my way out of the rut and own my farm in time. To-day, the average working man is not in the race. We see that in every walk of life. Young married couples want homes, but what chance have they? There is talk of easing the restrictions on borrowing. It is not very wise to borrow to get anything, but as the .cost of building is so high, most people cannot save enough money to build a house, and so must try to borrow. I know of people with £1,700 or £1,800 who were unable to borrow £1,000 for building purposes. There is something wrong with an economy in which that state of affairs exists. I well remember that the late Mr. Chifley said to anybody who came to him with a project, “ If you have the men and material, you may go ahead. Money will never stop you while we are in power “. But to-day lack of money is the stumbling block right through the piece. It is hindering our development. To-day, if you are in the running, so to speak, you are all right. But what of the people who have saved a little money? What is it worth? I invested a few pounds in a war loan at one time and the interest from the investment to-day is worth little or nothing. The money was good when it was invested; it was worth something in terms of purchasing power. To-day, money is bad, and is worth little or nothing in terms of purchasing power.
– Many who invested in war loans were not concerned about interest.
– I know that some Labour Ministers invested money in war loans and refused to accept interest because they considered that they had some obligation to their country.
The whole trend of our economy has undergone a tremendous change. When Labour governed in 1 949, the price of sugar was 4d. per lb. and the industry was content. The representatives of the sugar industry came to us and said, “ Give us an increase of one halfpenny per lb. and we will be quite happy “. We granted the increase. But sugar is now 9d. per lb.
– But what are the canegrowers getting? The honorable senator must look at both sides of these matters.
– The purchasing power of our money has disappeared. What I say is true! Those who now comprise the Government promised in 1949 to put value back into the £1. They promised the people a Menzies £1 not a Chifley £1. How very apt is that description of the present £1 ! I am becoming tired of repeating that the members of the present Government promised to put value back into the £1, but it is important that I remind the people of it because in terms of purchasing power the £1 of 1949 is worth only 10s. to-day. People may have more £l’s now, if they are lucky -
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! I suggest that the honorable senator return to a discussion of the principles of the trade agreement.
– I shall do so. Everything that 1 have said is relevant to matters pertaining to the trade and industry of this country. No industry or enterprise can thrive in the present competitive world if it is handicapped by a government, a difficult administrative system, or anything else. T say that the present Government has not helped our trade relations with other countries. Earlier I referred to our trade relations with the United Kingdom. I mentioned that when Britain was on her knees fighting for her very existence, the Government adopted a policy of selling where it could get the highest price. The position now is that we are compelled to sell where we can get the highest price, and the United Kingdom Government cannot be blamed for buying from the most attractive market. The present Government is destroying the good feeling and great cooperation that existed between Australia and the United Kingdom at one time and we must suffer for that.
I admit that those who represented Australia at the negotiations in connexion with this agreement did a good job. I do not propose to mention individuals, but I regret that the Minister saw fit to name only one of them. Another name should also have been mentioned, for I feel that the negotiators would have been greatly handicapped without his valuable help. I do not suppose the man concerned is worried about the fact that his name has not been mentioned, but I was disappointed at not hearing it. Although Mr. Crawford, who is the Secretary of the Department of Trade, is a very able officer, he did have with him some very competent public servants; and one in particular deserves some mention for his work in connexion with those negotiations.
As I have said, the negotiators did their best, but I am afraid they were labouring under an extreme handicap. Our cost structure prevented them from doing better. It should have been in such a healthy state as to help our negotiators greatly, and be an example to other countries.
– I have great personal respect for Senator Courtice. I have had many private discussions with him and his arguments have always been based upon a sound foundation, but I feel that this afternoon he has out-Jeremiahed Jeremiah. If ever I have listened to a dismal dirge, it has been this afternoon. Most of us who heard him failed to appreciate some of his remarks; indeed, I do not think some of them were fair. In my view, his comparison between conditions applying in 1949 and those obtaining to-day was wrong and his interpretation of those conditions was completely wide of the mark.
I should like the people to express their opinion on the prosperity of Australians to-day as against that enjoyed by the people in 1949. I am confident that if a gallup poll were taken on that question, people would say unhesitatingly that we are now enjoying a much greater degree of prosperity than we did in 1949 and that the economy of Australia is in a far sounder condition now than ever it was under a Labour administration, particularly the Chifley Government.
I have no desire to devote the whole of the time allotted to me to commenting upon what Senator Courtice has said, but I must deal with some of his statements. He referred to what he called the magnificent achievement of the Labour government in building up our overseas credits to £800,000,000. What are the circumstances that enabled this fantastic figure to be achieved? It was made possible by the fact that imports, which were vitally needed for our development, were not available for years; we just could not buy them. Despite the fact that we enjoyed rising price levels for our exports, we could not get from overseas those things which were vital to our development, and the natural result was that our overseas balances rose to that fantastic height. When the present Government attained office, the position began to alter. Overseas countries had more confidence in the Government which was elected in 1949, and we were able, gradually, to increase the importation of things urgently needed for our development. In those circumstances, is it any wonder that our overseas reserves declined to some extent? But 1 remind honorable senators that our overseas credits were never at a dangerously low level. I admit that, at times, we found it necessary to modify our imports policy, but the fact is that we have never allowed our overseas reserves to decline to a dangerous level. Thanks to the efforts of this Government, our overseas reserves are high, with the result that, recently, we were able to modify restrictions and so secure more of the things so urgently needed for the continued development and progress of Australia.
Senator Courtice also spoke about what he called our terrible sales tax. If I remember correctly, sales tax was introduced by a Labour government. Senator Courtice has the nerve to say that we are continuing something that is untenable, something which is wrong in principle, whereas the fact is that sales tax was introduced by a Labour government! He also spoke about racketeering and profiteering that went on under this Government. Let me remind him of the racketeering and profiteering that went on under the Chifley Labour Government. Why, in those days one could not buy what he wanted unless he could afford to buy it from “ under the counter “. I know that this was so, because 1 have spoken to many people who could not buy lots of things which they required unless they were in a position to pay a premium on the regular price for them.
This Government has many valuable achievements to its credit. Let us consider for a moment what has been done to improve our position in the industrial sphere. There the Government has a record showing a magnificent achievement. That is true also in the commercial field and the agricultural field. In the light of these achievements, for Senator Courtice to give us a dissertation on the shortcomings of this Government is almost beyond belief.
– He indulged in a great deal of humbug.
– I agree with the honorable senator who has interjected. I believe that the agreement that has been drawn up between the two Governments is one of great value not only to Australia, but also to Great Britain. Honorable senators know the history of the Ottawa Agreement that this agreement supersedes. Indeed, Senator Courtice reminded us of it. I remember that, at that time, it was vitally necessary for the British Empire to close its ranks. The Ottawa Agreement provided for consultation in relation to Australian primary products in particular, and at the same time it enabled Great Britain to find a market for her exports. We agree that, with the passage of time, the Ottawa Agreement has become outmoded, but from the point of view of the United Kingdom that agreement retains much of its value. Rising prices made the Ottawa Agreement disadvantageous to Australia chiefly because the United Kingdom Government had the advantage of a percentage preference in respect of goods exported to Australia, whereas Australian primary products enjoyed a preference on a fixed money value margin basis, which was distinctly ,to our disadvantage. When the Minister for Trade and his officers went to England to negotiate a new agreement they had these facts well in mind. The result of their efforts has been beyond our expectations, despite some of the facts disclosed during the debate, which showed that some of the articles of the agreement are not so favorable to us as we should like. However, taking the agreement as a whole, we must conclude that it confers very great benefits on this country. Australia’s position under the old Ottawa Agreement deteriorated steadily, mainly for the reasons that I have already outlined. The chief factor has been the considerable rise of prices from the early war years to the present time. Because of the fixed money value margins, the old agreement meant that, as prices rose, Australia lost more and more heavily. As I have said, these points were taken into consideration in the consultations between the two Governments.
I agree with those honorable senators who have said that it is not an easy thing to negotiate a new trade agreement. We know that the businessmen of the United Kingdom are not in business for fun. They are tough negotiators. In other words, when a business agreement is being drawn up between countries represented by men who are engaged in commercial activities, and are the successors to men who have been so engaged for centuries, we do not expect something to be placed on our plate without a struggle. I am certain that many difficulties had to be overcome before the Australian negotiators achieved the results that were finally arrived at. lt is sufficient to say that the United Kingdom Government and its spokesmen realized that the terms of the old Ottawa agreement were unfair to Australia, and that, in consequence, they have made valuable concessions under the new agreement.
Naturally, Australia would have liked its preferences to be on a percentage basis, but that was not practicable, and consequent’ we are still working on the fixed money value margin basis for a considerable number of our products, whilst the preferences to Great Britain which that country previously enjoyed under the old agreement have been considerably reduced. The Minister gave us some examples in his second-reading speech, and mentioned in particular the duties on butter. He pointed out that in 1939 the margin of 15s. per cwt. on butter was equivalent to 15 per cent, ad valorem, whereas on the basis of 1956 prices, the same margin was equivalent to only 4i per cent. Similarly, he pointed out that, whereas in 1932 the preference Australia enjoyed in relation to eggs was equivalent to 12 per cent, ad valorem, on the basis of 1956 prices, Australian eggs exported to Great Britain enjoyed a margin of only 4i per cent. That is to say, a formerly valuable margin has declined by almost two-thirds because of the rise in prices. Obviously, that state of affairs could not go on indefinitely, because it reacted seriously against Australia’s trade balance, with the result that we had very great difficulty in competing with other countries in the United Kingdom market.
The trade figures relating to Australia and the United Kingdom for the five years prior to the war, when prices were not nearly so high as they are now, show that Aus tralia enjoyed a surplus of £24,000,0000 as a result of its trading with the United Kingdom. Despite the fact that Australia’s volume of production had increased in the meantime, instead of a surplus, our trade relations with the United Kingdom showed that Australia had a deficit of £67,000,000 for the five years ended 30th June, 1956. It is true that exports and imports have always been on the same value basis, and that before the war the things Australia bought could be obtained relatively cheaply, but the fact remains that, whereas in pre-war years, before prices rose so alarmingly, our trade balance showed a surplus in Australia’s favour, it was adverse on 30th June, 1956. It was to rectify that state of affairs that Australia set out to negotiate a new agreement.
Another factor which has operated seriously against the marketing of Australian products in England is that home production in the United Kingdom has been heavily subsidized during recent years. The subsidizing of primary industries in Great Britain began during the war when that country had difficulty in feeding its people. Tn order to improve the home position, the United Kingdom Government subsidized its primary industries, and so made things more difficult for Australia in the very sphere in which we had previously traded advantageously. Britain has continued that policy during the years since then. A relative of mine who recently returned from England told me he was surprised at the continuation of the heavy subsidies still paid to those engaged in primary industries in Britain. But we are not here to tell the British Government what it should do in regard to these matters. The fact remains that British primary industries are heavily subsidized, and consequently our markets are affected. We must meet that situation.
We know, too, that other countries subsidize their exports. I do not intend to mention any particular country, but I do not think it would require very much effort on the part of. honorable senators to recall that quite a number of countries are following this course. I repeat that we must meet this competition. It has had an adverse effect upon our marketing prospects in the United Kingdom, upon which we depend so much for the placing of our primary products.
I do not want to use the parish pump too vigorously, but let me cite some figures that were given to me by a no less notable person than the Treasurer of South Australia. They relate to the balances that have accrued to the various States during the last four years. I shall not weary the Senate by quoting them all. Although they relate to overseas trade, it must be remembered that they relate principally to British trade, because our British trade comprises the greater part of our overseas trade. In 1956, South Australia had a favorable trade balance of £34,914,000. Some of the other States also showed a favorable balance. Even Queensland, the State from which Senator Courtice comes, and which we look upon as being somewhat backward, had a balance of £19,407,000. Let me congratulate Queensland upon that record. Western Australia, which is another State that is considered to be a little backward, had a favorable balance of £29,661,000. Even little Tasmania had a credit balance of £7,664,000.
But the two big eastern States constitute the nigger in the woodpile in respect of our overseas balances. Because of their importation of raw materials, there might be some justification for that situation. But let us not forget that South Australia, which is a fairly well-balanced State economically, also engages in secondary industry rather extensively. In the year that I mentioned, New South Wales had a deficit of £111,326,000, and Victoria had a deficit of £89,944,000. So it will be seen that the smaller States have not contributed very largely towards this unfortunate situation which has occurred and must occur, principally in relation to the United Kingdom market, because most of our imports come from, and most of our exports go to, that country.
We must look at the overall trade position between the two countries. Most of our exports, particularly wheat and wool, enjoy duty-free entry into the United Kingdom, and under this agreement they will continue to do so. We have gained considerably under the agreement, because we have a little room in which to manoeuvre in relation to our other products. Because British preferences have been reduced to some degree, an oportunity will be afforded to place our primary and secondary products on markets other than in the United
Kingdom. That will have favorable effect on our cost structure. The fact that British preferences have been reduced means that the position will be more competitive for our imports. Raw materials comprise a large part of our imports, and we will be able to obtain those materials at more competitive prices. That concession is very valuable, and it will react very favorably on our cost structure.
Being a wheat-grower, I cannot deal with this matter without referring to wheat.
– The honorable senator is like all “ cockies “.
– I do not make any apology for being a “ cocky “. It was the “ cockies “ who made this country. The honorable senator may use the word in a sneering way, but I am proud to be a “ cocky “. I would like to pit myself against Senator Benn on the end of a pitchfork or in any other way he likes.
Although this wheat agreement may not be all that is to be desired, it has gone a very long way towards achieving what will be a regular market for the bulk of our wheat. The fact that there has been a serious decline of our exports to England has been recognized by both parties to the agreement. We were very much concerned about the possibility of not being able to place our wheat on the British market to the extent that we had previously. There is no doubt that British traders will certainly buy wheat on the cheapest market, but at least we have some guarantee that the Government will play its part in ensuring that the quantity that is mentioned in the agreement will be placed on the British market during the term of the agreement.
As far as I can see, the cost of producing our wheat still compares more than favorably with that of other wheat-growing countries. We know that the cost of production figures are arrived at by certain calculations made by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, and I repeat that they compare more than favorably with those of some of the other wheat-growing countries. I feel certain that they compare very favorably with those of the United States of America and Canada.
Australia produces wheat that is required for blending purposes. The quantity of wheat (hat we export is only a fleabite when it is compared with the enormous quantities that are shipped from other wheat-producing countries to the consuming countries. We produce a soft wheat that is essential to the bread-making and flour-making industries for blending purposes. Australia is still an important producer of wheat that is required, in particular, for the consuming countries of Europe. We talk about our f.a.q. wheat in Australia. We know that the f.a.q. system, which has been used in Australia for very many years, is not all that could be desired, but it will be a considerable time before we are able to get away from that system. It is only a matter of time before we will have grading of wheat in this country, which will facilitate the marketing of our product.
We must always remember that Australia can produce different varieties of wheat. We can produce high protein wheat and, unfortunately, we can produce some very low protein wheat. There is a very definite opportunity to expand our market for high protein wheats. I believe that the wheat that is produced in Queensland could have been profitably exported to Japan. Indeed, it is recognized that Japan would have bought all of Queensland’s wheat if it could have got it. I have a rather interesting report which appeared in the “ South Australian Wheatgrower “ on the subject of Queensland wheat. Mr. Cowlishaw, the general president of the Queensland Grain Growers Association, was reported as having said -
Due to the unsatisfactory price set-up in Queensland, the quantity of wheat marketed through the State Wheat Board had dropped from 14 million bushels in 1955 to 6 million bushels in 1956. This was not because of unfavourable seasonal conditions, but because growers were not assured of a market at a reasonable price. As a result of the action of the price-fixing authority in Queensland in keeping the products of wheat at a much lower figure than in the other States, more than one-seventh of last year’s wheat produced in Queensland had been sold inter-state, and not though the Wheat Board.
Queensland wheat growers found it hard to resist the temptation to trade openly inter-state on a cash basis, in a market made profitable by the action of Queensland price-fixing. Although this was satisfactory in a sense to the grower, it was disastrous to Queensland and its consumers.
Queensland’s high quality bread-making wheat, equal to the best in the world, was being sold inter-state for conversion into stock feed at a more profitable return than was available in the State.
At the same time, Queensland was importing inferior wheat from South Australia at a premium of 4s. a bushel for freight. Sooner or later consumers would pay.
That shows what is going on in our northern State, which is producing the very wheat that can be exported and sold most readily in the new market of Japan.
This agreement takes no consideration of premium wheats, which we can produce. In South Australia we have built up the production of high-protein wheats very considerably, and I believe that we can continue to produce them. We can grow several varieties and, by improved methods of agriculture, we can increase the proportion of high-protein wheats in this country, and so assure ourselves of a more ready market in the United Kingdom.
My time has almost expired. There are many other matters upon which I should like to touch, because I believe that this is a really important debate. This agreement will have an important effect upon the prosperity of this country for many years to come, but the mere drafting of an agreement by two parties is not the be-all and end-all. We must remember that we have to conduct a trade publicity programme and market our goods in an attractive fashion. The trade publicity and sales promotion programme that has been fostered by this Government will prove of inestimable benefit to the community, in particular in the marketing of the vital commodities that are listed in the agreement.
– I agree with Senator Hannaford that this measure is most important to the economy of Australia. It is a matter about which we have been waiting to hear something since 1954. The Government’s policy in relation to trade, both export and import, has been most vacillating. The Government opened the flood-gates of imports to such an extent that it had to impose import restrictions in a severer form than this nation had ever suffered before, even in time of war. Very early in the peace, the Government discarded governmenttogovernment agreements. It discouraged them by public statements and in negotiations overseas, and so destroyed a very good trade between Australia and England. The Government has never been able to recover the ground that it lost by preaching and practising the theory of liberalism - that in these matters governments must stand out. In this agreement, we see an attempt by Government supporters to persuade the Government to step in strongly and abandon the laisser-faire policy of liberalism. The desperate position of trade between Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as other countries, has forced the Government to realize that it has a responsibility in relation to trade and trade agreements.
This is a loose agreement. It is not a good one, and it is not what the Prime Minister. (Mr. Menzies) advocated and said he would endeavour to get. To that extent he, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), and the negotiators have failed to secure what they said were the bare essentials of an agreement. I do not blame the Minister or his negotiators for that. I blame the policy that has been pursued by the Government. By sheer neglect, it threw the trade, both export and import, of this country, into imbalance and confusion. From time to time Government supporters have said, “ Everything is well. We have a trade agreement, and now Australia is set in relation to its exports “. But trade is not just a matter of imports or exports. It is a matter of balance. In that respect, the effect of this agreement will, 3 think, be fairly negligible. What “happens will depend, very largely, upon how far we can recover the initiative which we have lost in relation to trade. This comment was contained in the Melbourne “Herald” on 27th April, 1956, under the heading “ Fair Trade Case Worries Britain “, in the featured article “Capital Talk- from E. H. Cox”-
Mr. Menzies has mentioned the possibility of Commonwealth countries withdrawing from Gatt to restore their traditional policy of mutual selfsupport.
The suggestion has been received sourly in London where the combined benefits of the Gatt and Ottawa Agreements retain for Britain her highly-protected position in the Australian market but give her complete freedom to disregard Australian reciprocal interests and buy wherever she “likes in the world.
More than ever, the big issue that lies ahead is whether the old principles of preferential Empire trade are to be brought up to date on an evenhanded basis or, whether they should be multilaterally abandoned so that each of the Dominions can follow the British policy of buying freely in what it thinks to be the best market.
That is what was published on 27th April, 1956, but where can it be shown that we have abandoned the Ottawa Agreement? That statement was made for public consumption, but Article 11 of this agreement states -
The provisions of this Agreement do not affect the Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government signed at Ottawa on 20th August, 1932, as in force between the Governments of Ceylon and Australia.
Nothing has been achieved. We are as we were. We have asked for, and probably have been promised, more sympathetic understanding, but very little has been gained in the way of positive achievements. I have heard very little from speakers on the Government side about the embarrassment Australia is suffering from everincreasing freight and insurance charges on Australian exports.
The high charges imposed by British shipping combines are putting Australia out of the British market. Until the situation is corrected, we will stay out of the United Kingdom market. We cannot put our goods on that market at prices within the economic level of prices in Great Britain until we get down to fundamentals. To do that, we must provide shipping facilities or get an agreement to ensure that our goods will not be penalized by excessive freight and incidental charges. The Government is worried about the situation, but it is not doing anything to correct it. Our trade situation in connexion with Great Britain has deteriorated as a result.
While we talk of many things and do very little about them, other nations and other governments are taking advantage of the situation, and that is to our disadvantage despite this new agreement. Before World War II., Great Britain drew 23 per cent, of the wheat it required from Australia. During the war, under government contract and with the guaranteed shipping that the Labour Government was able to get, we were able to supply a large quantity of wheat to the United Kingdom. We had no difficulty with supplies, prices or shipping. Admittedly, the position is not the same now, but the demand is not there either, and Australia is infinitely worse off. We have to pay higher freights and bigger insurance charges.
Reciprocity in trade with Australia has been abandoned so far as prices and costs are concerned. Although we allowed our exchange rate to remain in favour of Great Britain by 25 per cent., we have had excessive freight and other charges imposed on our goods, and they are crippling Australia. The Government has not mentioned that fact in this agreement, apart from the statement that these matters will be discussed from time to time. That is quite unsatisfactory. Although we can offer Great Britain a greater percentage of our trade and are, in fact, the United Kingdom’s best customer of all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the Argentine trade with Great Britain is 300 per cent, better than ours. We must face these facts at some stage.
It is vital to the continuance of the British Commonwealth of Nations that trade between its members should be freely reciprocal. . If trade is to be reciprocal, the term must be applied in practice as well as in theory. This agreement has been thoroughly explained by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), but there are other factors bearing upon it which the Government should explain to the Senate. It should tell us whether it has done anything effective to help Australia’s trade, and whether it has removed obstacles that face it, or might face any government which succeeds it, when an endeavour is made to improve our trade balance. What has been done about inflation and crippling freight and incidental charges?
The agreement was in the course of negotiation on 9th November, 1956, but on 6th February, 1957, a White Paper was issued by the United Kingdom Government on a European free trade scheme. Everybody, including the press, believes that that scheme will affect Australia adversely. Referring to this matter the London “ Evening News “ stated -
Britain’s decision to enter a European free trade scheme will have far-reaching consequences for Australia.
The plan is for Britain and six European countries - Germany, France, Italy, Belgium,’ Holland and Luxembourg - to remove tariff barriers so they can sell to each other more readily.
Free trade would be brought about through a series of tariff cuts over ten to fifteen years.
The British Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, strongly supports the plan, and the British Cabinet has now decided to speed up negotiations.
The next step is for Britain and the six European nations to work out a convention.
Although Britain has pledged herself not to touch Imperial preferences or the agricultural exports of Commonwealth countries, there is a big element of the unknown ahead in Britain’s momentous decision.
Australian trade to and from Britain and Europe could become very much involved.
The free-trade area is a compromise idea put forward by Britain and other countries in answer to the challenge of a common-market scheme.
This common-market plan aims not only at a Customs union of the six European countries, but also economic integration and central institutions such as a European Commission, a -Court of Justice and a common Assembly.
The British Government will state its views about the association of the free trade area with a common market in a White Paper it is issuing on Thursday.
That arrangement was made subsequent to the negotiation of this agreement. Where will we stand in connexion with this free trade scheme? Australia will observe the terms of this agreement honorably. We have agreed that, even in respect of our protective tariffs, we will not make tariffs any more excessive than is necessary to meet the absolute minimum of our requirements. If we are to have trade agreements within the British Commonwealth of Nations, we must have a better deal than this agreement provides. Otherwise we will find, as we have done in the past, that our markets will deteriorate seriously.
An honorable senator from South Australia stated that some improvement had been made in the trade balance affecting South Australia, but we have not improved our position generally. Huge sums of money have been mentioned, but they are calculated upon inflated currencies, and they are misleading. When we get down to terms of quantities and actual tonnages, we are very much behind scratch compared with our trade in the past. Before World War II. we sold to the United Kingdom nearly 1,000,000 gallons of wine each year more than we sell now. What has been .done about that? There is nothing definite in this agreement. I know that the difficulties of this Government might become ours, but it is the responsibility of this Government to ensure that we get a reasonable deal in any trade agreement.
Nothing has been conceded to Australia in this agreement. The Ottawa Agreement still operates. There is virtually no governmenttogovernment agreement and there is no protection for Australia against everincreasing freights and other charges. They still stand. Nothing has been said about these matters, and the Government is actually hostile to the acquisition of any form of transport that would enable us to talk back to the shipping combines. It is all very well to talk about the cost of production. This Government is responsible for the high costs because it has allowed inflation to run wild. Even if we could get a government-to-government agreement, it would be found that a huge proportion of our trade returns would still be taken up by freights, insurance and other charges. The Argentine has an extensive trade with Great Britain, and has built up a very favorable trade balance for itself. This trade has been made possible largely as a result of subsidizing of exports - something which this Government has failed to do. In actual fact, this Government is adopting a laisser-faire policy of “ government stand out “. This agreement means virtually nothing and the position will continue to deteriorate unless some contract or guarantee is obtained in relation to Australia’s trade agreement with Great Britain. A British White Paper leads us to believe that the United Kingdom is negotiating a trade bloc. It may be that Great Britain is fighting for its economic existence and has to do that, but this Government should be realistic about the matter because Australia is in the field, too, and its interests should be properly protected. I challenge any member of the Government to say what is the position in regard to the agreement. What real guarantees have we got within this agreement, which is very flexible, slow to take effect and indefinite? The Government should state its reaction to that. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to establish a Commonwealth Police Force.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to permit the integration into one service of the two law enforcement agencies of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, that is to say the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officers’ Guard. The Commonwealth Investigation Service was established by administrative action in 1917. As the name implies, it is a Commonwealth detective service, and its primary purpose is to investigate offences, or alleged offences, against the laws of the Commonwealth. Its officers are appointed under the Public Service Act, and it functions as a branch of the Attorney-General’s Department under a director, with deputy directors in each State. As the officers are subject to the Public Service Act they are recruited in the main from other branches of the Public Service. The Peace Officers’ Guard is a uniformed force established under the Peace Officers Award 1925. Its members are employed under that act, and not under the Public Service Act. The recruitment field is restricted by the limited scope of employment offered, which primarily is concerned with the physical protection of Commonwealth premises and property. A peace officer when carrying out any act in relation to the Commonwealth is invested with all the powers, privileges and immunities, and is subject to the same duties and responsibilities as a constable or other officer of police when carrying out an act in relation to the State.
Although in constitution and function the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officers’ Guard are now quite separate, an administrative link exists between them, since the Director of the Commonwealth Investigation Service is also appointed Superintending Peace Officer, and his Deputy Director in each State is appointed a deputy superintending peace officer for that State. In recent times, demand for the services of the Commonwealth Investigation Service has been far greater than can be expeditiously met by the existing establishment, which is small, and which has no readily available source of competently trained people to draw upon. Also the extension of the field of the Commonwealth activities since the establishment of the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the wide range of matters now falling to the officers of that service for investigation is making demands upon skill and ingenuity which can only be expected of officers of the highest ability and training. All these things are emphasizing the necessity of having within the Commonwealth a properly planned Commonwealth police force which by its system of recruitment and training and the avenues of employment offered will not only ensure the availability at all times of an adequate force of investigators to carry out the needs :;- this field of the Commonwealth but will also attract the best available investigators. The different authorities under which th Peace Officers’ Guard and the officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service arc employed and the different fields of recruitment have placed severe limitations in the past upon the extent to which the two services can operate towards a common end and have prevented any recruitment or training scheme being established to make the most of the potential of both services.
This bill establishes a Commonwealth Police Force and empowers the AttorneyGeneral to appoint persons to be Commonwealth police officers. The officers appointed will not be subject to the Public Service Act and their terms and conditions of service will be such as the AttorneyGeneral, with the concurrence of the Public Service Board, determines. The consequences of the establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force are that the functions now performed by the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officers’ Guard will become the functions of the Commonwealth Police Force and the personnel of those services will be merged administratively into the Commonwealth Police Force. The resources of the two existing organizations will be able to be employed more efficiently and with more flexibility than has been possible in the past and proper training facilities established to ensure a higher standard in the officers. As the officers of the Commonwealth Police Force will not be subject to the
Public Service Act the existing disadvantages in respect to recruitment to which I have drawn attention in relation to th, Commonwealth Investigation Service will beeliminated. In addition, the Commonwealth Police Force will provide a careerservice which in itself will also widen considerably the field of recruitment previouslyexisting.
The establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force will not in any way cause disadvantage to those now employed in the Peace Officers’ Guard or to those permanent public servants employed in the Commonwealth Investigation Service. The former will have a wider avenue available for their abilities in the investigational field whilst the latter by virtue of sub-clause 6 of clause 5 will retain all their existing and accruing rights.
The bill is a straightforward measure and the only clauses to which attention might specifically be directed are sub-clause (2.) of clause 4 and sub-clause (1 .) of clause 6. The former provision is intended to ensure that executive officers of the force will retain the status of public servants and as such remain under the control and direction of the Attorney-General’s Department and continue to be subject to the obligations and duties of the Public Service Act. Clause 6 puts Commonwealth police officers, as regards their powers, privileges, immunities, duties and responsibilities in the same position qua Commonwealth law as State police officers are qua State and Commonwealth law. The subclause virtually re-enacts, in more precise legal language, section 2 (2.) of the Peace Officers Act. It will be noted that the powers’ privileges and immunities so conferred are in relation to laws of the Commonwealth only. The establishment of the Commonwealth Police Force has no effect upon the responsibilities of the police forces of the several States or Territories under the laws of those respective States and Territories. Indeed, the responsibilities of the State police in relation to Commonwealth law are not taken away by this measure.
Honorable senators are assured that the autonomy of investigational agencies of other departments will not be affected in any way by the creation of the Commonwealth Police Force. However, this force; as is the case at present with the Commonwealth Investigation Service and the Peace Officers’ Guard, will be the principal investigational and law enforcement authority of the Commonwealth. In the performance of its functions it will be required to foster the co-operation and co-ordination of action of the other investigational agencies so as to bring about a more efficient and economical working in the conduct of investigations into offences against Commonwealth law. When circumstances demand, it will act as the channel for requests for the co-operation or assistance of State police departments in the conduct of investigation into offences against Commonwealth laws. In conclusion, I would point out that the activities of the new force will be the subject of an annual report to the Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henry) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill amends two sections of the Sulphuric Acid Bounty Act as further encouragement to an expansion of the use of indigenous materials in the production of sulphuric acid. In very brief terms, Australia’s present capacity to produce sulphuric acid is about 1,060,000 tons per year, and almost 95 per cent, of this capacity is currently used. Somewhat less than half of the production is from indigenous materials and the remainder is from brimstone imported mainly from America. About 80 per cent, of our acid is used to manufacture superphosphate, around 5 per cent, to mam* facture ammonium sulphate - an important fertilizer for sugar-cane growing - and the balance of 15 per cent, is used in a great number of industrial applications. The demand for acid is expected to increase with the more extensive use of superphos phate in pasture lands and the opening up of marginal country by the use of trace elements supplemented by superphosphate.
At the present time bounty is restricted to sulphuric acid produced from Australian pyrites and sold for delivery in Australia or used by the producer in the manufacture of fertilizers. The first amendment extends the field of bounty to cover all sulphuric acid produced from prescribed materials, irrespective of the use to which the acid may be put in Australia. The second amendment removes the £600,000 limitation in the amount that can be paid, as bounty, on each year’s production. This should overcome any fears on the industry’s party that increased usage of pyrites will reduce the rate of bounty payments. Bounty payments on the production of the first year of the act to June, 1955, amounted to £472,557, and on the second year to June, 1956, £446,666. Payments on the production of the half year just completed, to December, 1956, amounted to £221,222. The quantity of bountiable sulphuric acid produced from 1st July, 1954, to 31st December, 1956, was as follows: -
The rate of bounty prescribed in the regulations is related to the price of brimstone, and it rises and falls inversely with fluctuations in the landed cost of imported brimstone. The rate reached its highest peak in the December, 1954, quarter at £2 12s. 3d. a mono ton, and the lowest level in the December, 1955, quarter at £1 9s. 6d. a ton. For the December, 1956, quarter the rate ruling was £11 ls. 3d. a ton. Generally speaking, there has been a fall in the price of imported brimstone, but this has been more than offset by the rise in freight.
The Australian raw material prescribed as subject to bounty is pyrites. Early last year, however, Broken Hill Association Smelters Proprietary Limited commenced the production of sulphuric acid at Port Pirie in South Australia from the gases arising from the roasting of lead concentrates produced at Broken Hill. A reference was made to the Tariff Board as to whether such sinter gases should be brought into the bounty field. The board’s report has been received, and it is receiving consideration.
Sulphuric acid production for the year ended June, 1956, totalled 904,500 mono tons, of which almost 360,000 tons were made from Australian materials, representing less than 40 per cent, of the total. An improvement is expected in the current year, when it is expected that the total production will be 977,600 tons, including 474,000 tons from Australian materials. Thus, the percentage used should rise towards 50 per cent. This is still below the target set by the Government as the desired level of usage.
Honorable senators will, I am sure, appreciate that the bounty is achieving its purpose of removing from the sulphuric acid and complementary industries the uncertainties surrounding the supply of overseas brimstone. There is still a long way to go, however, before it can be said that full advantage is being taken of the raw materials indigenous to Australia.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.48 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 9th April (vide page 370), on motion by Senator O’Sullivan -
That the following paper be printed: -
Australian Defence - Statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives, 4th April, 1957.
.- The motion that is now before the Senate is one that givesus an opportunity to consider the statement, made to the House of Representatives by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on 4th April last. That statement was subsequently repeated in this chamber, andI now begin, on behalf of the Opposition, a consideration of it.
First, I deal with the need for defence, and say at once that in a world in which the nations have not yet learned to live at peace with each other we must protect our survival. In other words, we must concentrate many of our resources upon defence, and, in doing that, we have regard to the two factors mentioned by the Prime Minister. The first is our own efforts, and the second is the winning of allies in collective defence pacts.
Let me deal with the question of our own efforts. I say at once on that matter that Australia is in a difficult position. We have a vast area of some 3,000,000 square miles, a coastline of 12,000 miles and a very small population, relatively; and the bulk of that population is concentrated on our eastern seaboard and in very few centres. Finally, the aspect that I think conditions our safety is the fact that we are dependent upon the sea-lanes of the world being kept open to enable us to receive vital supplies and commodities, in particular, oil.
Again considering the facts, I say at once that all expenditure on defence, and any matter connected with war, while it is necessary, unfortunately, in the world, is wasteful of man-power, resources and money. Of course, even our efforts on defence cannot be allowed to absorb all of our resources. There is need to strike a balance, and the problem is to determine what proportion of our resources, physical and otherwise, can, without seriously, damaging the economy, be so diverted. The amount so diverted cannot be insignificant. It must be substantial, and, because it is wasteful, it must be subjected to the closest scrutiny in the matter of defence plans and expenditures. This motion does give us the opportunity to make that survey, and to make that scrutiny.
The other aspect mentioned by the Prime Minister was the need for collective defence pacts. I acknowledge that need very readily, and, like him, I point to Anzus and to Seato; but, unlike him, I add one other factor, and I thought that it would have been a major one. It is that our obligations there include our obligations to the United Nations which, I suggest at once, has the greatest potentiality for assuring the peace of the world. In determining the size of our defence, however, we must make some assessment of the possible threats to Australia’s security, and we consider, first, the possible sources of these threats and, next, the nature of the threats themselves, and the shape that they are likely to take. In the world of to-day, it is quite easy to determine the first matter, the source from which the threat may come. That is unquestionably international communism - using general terms - and, particularizing, the threat from Russia and her various satellites. I see no other danger poised at Australia or the democracies at the moment.
When one comes to consider the nature of the threats, one certainly cannot be as dogmatic as one can be about the source. It may take the form of nuclear weapons. If it does take that form, I say at once that Australia is peculiarly vulnerable. One high-powered bomb on each of the capital cities of Australia, each one of them being right on the seaboard, would just about wipe out the great bulk of our population and would certainly render us helpless and defenceless. It is unfortunate, but it is true that we have no defences against an enemy to do this.
The one great safeguard, of course, is the fear of massive reprisals that would follow at the instance of the United States of America and of Great Britain. Of course, that sort of thing simply terrifies one, because the indiscriminate use of nuclear weapons and explosions of that type could quite easily wipe out the human life of this planet and might well disintegrate the whole earth. For that reason, one is inclined to think that war with atomic weapons and nuclear power would be no more likely in the future than the use of bacteriological warfare and gas was in the last war. But, against that, I see Great Britain and the United States pinning their faith on nuclear weapons and diminishing the power of conventional forces and arms. They are operating with reduced man-power, and emphasis is all the time going on to nuclear weapons, whether by way of super bombs or by way of guided missiles; but the thing, I fear, is that under that policy the only effective weapons that the great democracies will have in a global war - I confine it to that at the moment - would be nuclear weapons.
Let us imagine that a wholesale global war was initiated by Russia and her friends and that they completely discarded and eschewed the use of nuclear weapons. They have massive conventional arms and it might well be, in those circumstances, that the democracies, finding nuclear weapons their only potent and effective defence, would be forced into employing them. In other words, we might find Britain and America forced to be the first to use weapons of that type, and then one might anticipate the awful spectacle of mass retaliation from Russia, the balance of propaganda, if there was any further use for propaganda, being, of course, in favour of the party that used the bomb in defence and not in attack, or. at least, the party that was. not the first one to bring it into use. For that reason, I put to the Senate that nuclear war is more likely than the Prime Minister indicated. I do not go as far as he did in expressing his opinion; I fear there is danger of it, and for that reason I have said repeatedly, as every honorable senator in this chamber will know, that I believe the war danger ot the future lies in the matter of Russia’s industrial potential.
From time to time, I have indicated that I think Russia will reach her apex, and we should reach the danger point, at the end of about fifteen years from the termination of the war, in other words,, by 1960 or thereabouts. Frankly, amongst all the reports I have seen abroad in recent weeks and months, nothing has disturbed and concerned me more than a report I read in the press on 23rd April under the heading. “ Russia’s Output Now Second “. It appears that the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist party, Mr. Khrushchev, speaking just outside Moscow at the opening of some particular factory, claimed that Russia had moved into second place in world industrial’ production. He said -
However, Russia has not yet caught up in every respect wilh the advanced Western nations. We are still behind them as regards per capita production of certain manufactured goods.
Then came a most significant statement -
Our main economic task is to overtake and outstrip them in this respect, and we shall do it.
That is what I fear. Their objective is exposed. They intend to develop their industrial potential until it matches that of the democracies. When that time comes, I think that will be the flash point of danger for the world, including Australia. That thought has been in my mind, and I am greatly disturbed by the evidence to support my fear that the men in Russia are concentrating upon outstripping the democracies in that field. They realize that enormous man-power is futile and useless unless it is backed by industrial potential. Every one in this chamber knows that the Russians have shifted their industries away from the vulnerable European border and placed them behind the Ural Mountains. In that area they have employed a lot of forced labour. There has been no delay on their part in pushing on with their programme of developing their industrial potential. Many statistics were cited by Mr. Khrushchev, and some of them are alarming. I shall mention two of them. The number of engineers and technicians in Russia in 1952 was four times the number twenty years earlier. It was 1,500,000 compared with 400,000 twenty years before 1952. Russia’s production of coal reached the amazing total of 492,000,000 tons per annum. We can get some appreciation of that figure when we realize that Australia produces about 15,000,000 tons or 16,000,000 tons of coal each year. Those figures give us some idea of the industrial power that can be mounted on that production. If steps were happily taken to outlaw atomic war altogether - I mean if ways were found effectively to prevent it - that would make more urgent the problem of disarmament in the world. I refer to conventional forces and arms. Russia unquestionably has the greatest man-power under arms to-day. If that is not achieved, and there is no disarmament of conventional forces and arms, even if nuclear weapons are discarded, I fear that the possibility of global war is more likely than it has been, in view of the factors I have mentioned, and more likely than the Prime Minister of this country thinks.
Before I turn to consider our own defence, 1 point out that the Australian
Labour party, that I have the honour to lead in this chamber, has a full appreciation of the need for adequately defending, this country. I need only point to its success in marshalling Australia’s resources for war in the critical years from 1941 to 1945 to drive that point home. A Labour government came into office in Australia; only a few weeks before Japan made its surprise entry into the war. That Government came into office almost as unexpectedly.
Consideration of the Prime Minister’s statement poses two questions. The first is: What is the present state of our defences? The second is: What is the shape of our future defences? Let us look at the present state of our defences, but, first, I shall make four observations. I want us toappreciate that for seven or eight years until recently there were seven Ministers in this country concerned with serviceportfolios. Since the resignation of Sir Eric Harrison, the position has changed a little, because the portfolios of Supply and Defence Production have now been combined under one Minister; but even to-day we have six Ministers concerned with someaspects of defence in this country. I think every one will concede that that is ample ministerial attention to defence. Practically one-third of the Cabinet is concerned: almost with nothing else. At least onethird of the Cabinet has some concern with defence, and four Ministers devote all their time to defence matters. That being so, if there is anything wrong with the defence of Australia, it cannot be said that ministerial responsibility for the defence of this country is lacking.
Secondly, I draw attention to the vast sums of money that have been expended on defence during the seven or eight years of this Government’s rule. I shall ignore that portion of the first financial year in which this Government was in office, because its budget did not determine the expenditure on defence for that year. I shall take the period from July, 1950, to June, 1956. During that period Australia expended ondefence the sum of £1,089,000,000. For the present financial year £190,000,000 has been ear-marked for defence, this making a £1,279,000,000 total for seven years, or an average of £182,000,000 per annum.
Even allowing for the inflation of our currency, those are colossal figures, and they show that defence expenditure is burdensome on the Australian community.
Thirdly, I point out that on 7th March, 1951, the Prime Minister warned the nation of the imminent danger of war. He said that we must be ready by the end of 1953 - that was in three years. There is no question about those two statements. It is true that he did not prophesy war, but he did say that there was imminent danger of war. The combined resources of the Cabinet were probably directed to prepare for war. Then, in August last, the Secretary of the Defence Department, Sir Frederick Shedden, told the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that Australia was not ready for war in 1953, and was not ready then. That was in August, 1956. Ministers of the Crown became busy in an attempt to explain Sir Frederick’s statement. He was the man responsible for the overall defence of Australia. No person of greater eminence, or with better qualifications, could have expressed an opinion, or passed judgment.
– On himself.
– That may be, but he is a public servant and is subject to direction by Ministers forming the Government. He does not formulate policy; he carries out the policy of the Government. I pay a tribute to Sir Frederick Shedden for his contribution to the defence of this country. In making that statement he rendered great service to Australia, because in that dramatic way he focussed attention on Australian defence and spurred a lethargic Government into action. From that moment things began to happen. An assessment of the position could show that that was probably Sir Frederick’s greatest contribution to his country. About the same time the defence issue was raging in this Parliament. On 2nd October last year the Prime Minister, in an attempt to defend his Government, claimed that the defences of Australia were never in better shape in peace-time. Then another dramatic thing happened. Only two days later the Prime Minister announced that over the weekend he had thought over the defence problem, and had decided upon a complete and immediate review of our defences from top to bottom. Coming after his earlier statement, that certainly amazed me, and I venture to say that it amazed everybody else in Australia, too. It was a very quick volte face when he did address his mind thoroughly over a week-end to the problem of defence. The pity is that he did not devote that thought to it a little earlier.
Having made those four comments, let me examine the factual position in Australia.
– Is the honorable senator seriously putting that forward as being his view?
– I am, indeed.
– The honorable senator is not serious?
– I am, indeed, seriously putting it forward, and am putting it forward publicly.
– Is the honorable senator seriously suggesting that the Prime Minister made up his mind over a weekend?
– That is the way the Prime Minister expressed it - that during the week-end he had considered thoughts he had picked up whilst abroad. The implication of his statement is that, until that week-end, he had not addressed his mind to the full implication of what he had picked up.
Now let me deal with the Navy. The Navy received great attention from the Labour party. When Labour went out of office in 1949, there was not merely one five-year plan but, looking a long way ahead, two five-year plans. Prior to that, we had taken over two aircraft carrier keels from the United Kingdom Government, which was good enough to make them available to Australia. The United Kingdom had laid the keels but had not gone on to build the ships. Out of that, before we went out of office, we got the aircraft carrier “ Sydney “, and after we went out of office the “ Melbourne “ came into commission. What is the present position regarding aircraft carriers? Whereas Labour was responsible for acquiring two aircraft carriers, only one is in commission as an aircraft carrier. The other is used as a training ship, not for aircraft, but for general purposes. That is not a happy position in a vital field. Great Britain to-day is concentrating the whole of its naval activities around aircraft carriers supplemented by minor vessels, and discarding other larger vessels. Whereas this Government had two carriers in commission after it assumed office, only one is now in active commission as an aircraft carrier. The Prime Minister has announced that he proposes turning over the training ship as a training ship for aircraft.
When we read the figures that have been supplied by the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), we learn that at the moment we have only two more naval vessels in commission than there were in 1949 and 1950, when Labour went out of office. That tells the story merely in numbers.
– It does not tell the story at all.
– It does tell the story. There were increases in some types of vessels and decreases in others. In the most important field - from a strategic viewpoint, in the thinking of Great Britain - of aircraft carriers actively in commission, we are one down on the 1950 position.
– Before the honorable senator leaves the Navy, would he like to expand on the Manus Island question?
– I say to the honorable senator that it is completely unfair of him, knowing that I have limited time, to seek to divert me from the thoughts that are in my mind. I assure him that he will not succeed in doing so, that I intend to say what is in my mind. If I have sufficient time after I conclude the remarks that I intend to make, I will submit myself to any question from any honorable senator; and I make it quite plain that I will not run away from the Manus Island question.
Let me continue to speak about the deficiencies in the Navy. How many more aircraft have we now? This Government has certainly increased the number of aircraft from 24. which was the number in operation when Labour went out of office. I point out that the Labour party, when it was in office, established, for the first time in Australia, a fleet air arm - a vastly important contribution to the Navy. Australia now has 40 naval aircraft.
There has been no change in substance in the Navy since 1950. Moreover, the Prime Minister indicated in his statement that no major change was contemplated; but let me suggest to him one change that ought to be made very promptly. I am talking about the waste that occurs in the Navy and in other service departments. 1 refer at once to a report by somebody whose authority cannot be questioned - the Commonwealth Auditor-General. He has directed attention to what has happened in regard to the cruiser “ Hobart “. In 1950, this Government decided to make that vessel part of the active fleet to support the light fleet carrier, and money was spent. Then there were changes in plans. Its use as a training cruiser was contemplated, then as a head-quarters ship in Sydney, and later as an engineering training ship. In 1955, with nothing completed, all work on the vessel was stopped and it was put away in mothballs. The Auditor-General concluded his comments in this way -
The position is that £1,430,637 has been spent on conversion and modernization of a vessel which, because of changes in Naval policy, is now placed, in its incompleted state, in Reserve and that additional expenditure, estimated al £1,000,000, will have to be incurred before the ship can fulfil a role in the Fleet of the Royal Australian Navy.
For nearly seven years this Government has been messing around with the vessel, the poor Navy having change after change in policy foisted upon it, and Australia now has a vessel which still requires an expenditure of £1,000,000 to bring it into active commission. Of course, all the time it is getting older and more out of date.
Now let me refer to the Prime Minister’s speech. I ask the Minister who is responsible for this motion to answer some of the questions that I propose to pose. The Prime Minister said -
Naval construction will, as I have said, be speeded up to correct-
Not my words, but his - the present shortage of ships of the appropriate kind, and as a means of reducing overhead costs.
So the Prime Minister acknowledged in that statement that we are short of ships of the right kind. I ask the responsible Minister in this chamber: What are the shortages? Of what kinds of vessels are we short? At this point, I make the following comment: Whereas when Great Britain issued its
White Paper on Defence it was supplemented immediately by each service Minister giving the fullest details of what was proposed under the overall policy, I have not read one word that has come from the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Davidson), either in or out of the Parliament, about what is happening. As far as I know, he is the one Minister who has not spoken.
At this point, I conclude what I want to say about the Navy with the comment that, when the Prime Minister of Australia, with all his service Ministers at his disposal, tells us after nearly eight years of office that there is a shortage of ships of the appropriate kind required for the Australian Navy, that is a confession of abject failure in that field. The statement was not mine, but his.
Let me now make a brief comment about the Army. The Prime Minister has told us that we have permanent forces of the order of 21,000 men. The thing that disturbs me is that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) has said that there are 23,000 personnel. It worries me when I think that there is no co-ordination and apparently no clear thinking. The Prime Minister can quote one figure and the Minister for the Army quote another and that pattern is repeated throughout in statements made by the service Ministers and the Prime Minister. It makes one feel uncertain about there being any clear thinking. Some one may ask, “ What does it matter whether there are 23,000 or 21,000? “ I think that, in setting standards of that kind, there ought to be the greatest precision and no room for doubt. Despite the fact that our regular forces are of the order of 21,000 men, we had difficulty in mounting and maintaining a battalion for Malaya.
Now I come to the other great arm of our services, the Citizen Military Forces, which are the reserve from which the nation expands its forces in war. It is the reserve from which we draw our officers, trained personnel and leaders. It has been diluted since 1 950 with only partially trained men. The whole character of the C.M.F. has been affected. It has dried up the flow of volunteers. As the Prime Minister now admits, the C.M.F. has absorbed thousands of members of our regular forces in train ing these national service trainees, taken up their time, and taken them away from their normal field job. The Prime Minister’s statement reveals that many of the units of the C.M.F. are to be re-organized and some are to be disbanded. I say that that is unfortunate. It will destroy the esprit de corps and the corporate feeling that does exist between men of units which have been established for a great period.
Let me say a word next, under the heading of the Army, about the national service training scheme. It was launched in 1951 by the Government, and is now being completely abandoned in relation to two of our arms, the Air Force and the Navy. The Prime Minister said that the Navy and the Air Force - have not been able to secure much advantage as military organizations from national service trainees.
My comment is that it took six years for the Government to find out, and in the meantime money was poured out upon the training, maintenance, equipment and housing of those trainees in both the Air Force and the Navy. I should like some senator on the Government side to stand up and justify that. Did the Government discover that only in a day? Was the Government not warned about it by Labour at the beginning, and has it not happened? The Government’s mind having been made up that national service training has to go in both those fields, what do we find is to happen in the field of the Army? It is not to be abolished there, but the numbers are to be cut down by two-thirds, from approximately 29,000 to 12,000, and the 12,000 are to be given a reduced training as compared with the trainees who preceded them.
What a futile contribution that is to the C.M.F., and how much better, in the view that I take, would it have been had the Government put the C.M.F. back where it properly belonged, on a volunteer base, and made it attractive. The thing that attracts men to the C.M.F. is, first, a patriotic desire to serve and defend their country, and, secondly, the opportunity that it gives for expanded and interesting work. They do not want to be on the same work all the time. They want to be moving intothe higher fields of military activity and, of course, while the C.M.F. is diluted with young trainees - only partly trained, as the Prime Minister admits - the level of training is played down. In short, you do not have the right spirit or the right kind of activity in the C.M.F. in those circumstances.
The Prime Minister tells us that the plan for the Army is to build a regular field force of about 4,000 men. The Minister for the Army tells us that “ about 4,000 men “ will be 4,200 men. Our real fighting forces in this country, the regular forces, upon whom we will primarily and instantly rely, will number 4,200. I do not want anybody to say that I would ever propose the disposition of that force in the way that I am about to indicate. I make an imaginary disposition for the sake of proving how relatively insignificant that force is in a country with a population of 10,000,000 people. It would enable us to place one regular soldier every three miles around our coastline. It would enable us to put one of them in every 750 square miles of the Australian continent. I am not suggesting that that should be done, but that illustration enables us to assess the significance of that force, and my criticism is that it is altogether too little.
Now let me refer to the Air Force. After seven years, one would expect that we would have many more aircraft in the air than there were when Labour went out of office in 1949. Aircraft production in this country was commenced by Labour. But there are only 28 more aircraft in commission. There were 360, on the say-so of the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) when we went out of office in 1950, and there are 388 to-day.
– They are better to-day.
– They are different types, I agree, but there has been no great increase. The Prime Minister himself has admitted that there has been a failure to make proper capital expenditure under the policy of this Government. After seven years, we have 28 more front-line aircraft than there were in 1950. I ask: Who on the Government side is proud of that? Who will claim that that is a great defence effort? In the course of the speech from which I am quoting, the Prime Minister told us that it is now necessary to com pletely re-equip the Royal Australian Air Force with both fighter and transport aircraft, and that to replace existing aircraft we have to start afresh.
– It takes a long time.
– I am glad the honorable senator said that. It does take a long time to do that. Some two years ago, this Government sent a mission abroad to pick out the types of aircraft that we would use in Australia. The mission went abroad and it returned, and the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) himself went. But there was no decision till the other day. when the Prime Minister announced that we were to have the equivalents of an American fighter and an American transport machine. What does that mean? It means years of delay, if we are to make them ourselves. Plans have to be prepared, and tooling-up done. I remind the Senate that the Government was warned about this at about the same time as Sir Frederick Shedden spoke. It is a rather unusual spectacle to see a senior public servant, charged with a major responsibility, exasperated by delays and inability to get decisions, making public statements about the condition of Australia’s defences. Take Sir Lawrence Wackett, who is in charge of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation for the Commonwealth. Speaking in August, at about the same time as Sir Frederick Shedden spoke, he said -
The Commonwealth Government’s deadline for making an Australian-made successor to the Sabre jet fighter was gone. A delay in production of a new jet aircraft when the Sabre order ended was now unavoidable.
Why did the Government take so long to make up its mind? I doubt whether it has yet made up its mind.
The Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale) - one Minister who did make a statement - the other day indicated, in a brief statement, that Australia was to build a new fighter aircraft. Here are his words -
The Government has decided to build a new fighter aircraft in Australia for the Royal Australian Air Force.
That is a very brief statement, of three lines only. The Minister for Air had this to say in reply to a question last night about types of aircraft. He was asked where the Air Force was going to get them from. His reply was -
If the honorable member is patient, he will find out. They are made by the Lockheed Company at Marietta, in Georgia, so presumably, if the Air Force is to get C.130 aircraft, they will come from Marietta, in Georgia.
I found difficulty in reconciling that statement with the statement of the Minister for Defence Production, and I am more confused, or perhaps my confusion is resolved a little, when, turning over the page in “ Hansard “, I read -
As the House knows from the statement of the Minister for Defence Production, the aircraft that will be used will be substantially manufactured in Australia.
Will some Minister tell me just what we are going to do about our aircraft? Are we buying some? Are we to make, partially or wholly, the aircraft we are to have in this country? This is the aspect that disturbs me. Even on a point like that, the Government does not appear to have made up its mind.
– You mean that you do not understand clear statements that have been made.
– I defy anybody of intelligence to reconcile them. I do pose the question: What is to happen about them? Are we to build the whole of them here?
– Read the statements. Statements have been made.
– I invite the Minister to say which statement I “should take.
– They have the same purport. They all mean the same thing.
– They have the same purpose, but they are not to the same effect. We shall have to wait for years to see the new aircraft if we make them here. Perhaps it would be a good thing if we bought some of them. But if we did, how would we obtain the dollars with which to pay for them? Would that mean that we would have to embark on more overseas loans.
Let me pass to another aspect which affects the R.A.A.F. in particular - that is, guided missiles. According to the Prime Minister, the first guided weapons project is to be set up in Sydney under the R.A.A.F.
The Minister for Air has told us that, from 1949, large numbers of the R.A.A.F. officers and men have been abroad studying guided missiles. They have been studying them at Woomera since 1949. Classes are being held in connexion with guided missiles. As a matter of fact, research was being done in that matter before the Labour Government went out of office in 1949. The Woomera range was established, and guided missiles were being tested then, yet, nearly eight years afterwards, the Government has to send more persons abroad before it can make up its mind on the types of guided missiles it will have. If it gives any force to this new programme of standardizing with the United States of America, why should we not standardize with America on that matter? Where else could we standardize if there is any efficacy or virtue in that new piece of defence strategy?
Incidentally, it is acknowledged that Great Britain is lagging behind the United States in the matter of guided missiles. The press of 24th April reported an announcement by the United States Air Force in which it stated that it would soon begin flight testing mass produced guided missiles. Mass produced! Availability! What has the Minister been doing down the years? Surely a government which has had atomic explosions and atomic power before it from 1945 onwards; has been tackling the problem of guided missiles in its own country since 1949, and has been in the closest touch with United Kingdom developments in that matter, would have at least made up its mind what types of guided missiles it wanted! Now, in 1957, we are still trying to make that decision. More troops are being sent abroad and, as the Minister has said, it will take at least three years - until 1960 - to get the first guided missile into production. That shows the complete unpreparedness of Australia at all points, and I shall document that statement presently.
As a matter of interest, to get away from criticism, it is interesting to study the story that is told in the report I have in my hand. The various guided missiles have names - Thor, Atlas and Titan. It is estimated that to obtain a full 5,000-mile range, the intercontinent missiles would have to travel between 15,000 and 16,000 miles an hour or 5,000 miles in 20 minutes. That rather renders defence against nuclear weapons a matter of extreme difficulty, ‘if I might understate the position, if not impossible.
While we have not made up our minds about the types of guided missiles we shall have, apparently somebody has made up our minds for us. The Sunday press of 5th April carries this headline, “ Australia to make its guided missiles “. That does not come from anybody in Australia and it might not be true, but the writer in London, who rejoices in the name of Harold Dvoretsky, made this statement -
Australia is now almost certain to build the guided missiles with which it will equip its proposed ground-to-air radar defence stations.
The decision to build guided missiles in Australia has been taken because of their relative simplicity in manufacture, and so that Australia can be self reliant in the event of war, when supply lines, even from the U.S. could be severely curtailed.
As a responsible member of the Opposition and a citizen of Australia, I ask the Minister what is happening in that connexion? Have we decided to make these missiles in Australia or not? Is it not desirable that the nation should know, and that industries should be forewarned, so that the necessary industrial preparations might he put in train? All those questions remain to be answered. No replies have been given to them by the Prime Minister or the appropriate service Minister.
Let me turn now to the Belgian FN .30 rifle and relate the sad story in connexion with that important piece of armament. Back in September, 1954, after pressure, the then Minister for Defence Production said that arrangements had been placed for the manufacture of that rifle. Two years later, he announced again in the Parliament that two more years would elapse before the Government got the plans for the rifle. He announced, further, that it would take two years from that time to get the rifle ready for our troops. Years were to elapse to implement a decision that had been made in 1954. And the tragic position is that,, right at the time when this Government has committed itself to standarization with the United States of America on small arms and an announcement has been made by the Prime Minister that we have adopted the FN .30 pattern rifle, the United States has come out with an announcement - within the past few days - that it has rejected the Belgian rifle.
The United States has rejected the rifle for reasons that seem to be good. The T-44 rifle is preferred by the United States because it is 1 lb. lighter. It is also considered better suited for mass-production and training. Surely that is something thai might have been considered by the Government even at this late stage. It is most interesting to find the Americans rejecting and discarding the rifle we are about to make, in the teeth of an announcement that we are going to standardize with the United States in small arms. When the Minister for Defence Production was asked about this report, he said-
I have no information on this matter.
Surely one might have thought that this Government would have been considering the proposal by America to adopt the T-44 rifle. There would be no secrecy about it. 1 ask the Minister responsible for the motion the Senate is now debating: Did the Government consider it? Did the Government reject that rifle, and why did it throw that weapon overboard in contradiction of its new policy of standardization with the United States?
– Did not the Minister for Defence Production also state that the same ammunition would fit both weapons?
– I shall give full justice to him. He added -
Even if it is so, we still have interchangeable ammunition.
The Government has announced the policy of standardization with America on small arms, and when it is pointed out that we shall not have standardization with the Belgian rifle in relation to the United States, the Minister for Defence Production has said - as the Minister at the table has said also - “ We will be able to fire the same type of bullets from the different rifles “.
– That is the important thing.
– No. It is not even what the Prime Minister said. The right honorable gentleman said, “ We will standardize on small arms “, and the most important type of small arms is the rifle that will be provided for all the armed services of Australia.
I turn my attention now to civil defence which is a vastly important matter. A
White Paper issued by the United Kingdom Government had much to say about civil defence in paragraphs 12, 18 and 19, and 1 invite honorable senators to read the document and to note the prominence that is given to civil defence in that country. 1 ask them to study the long line of steps that are being put in train. What did the Australian Prime Minister say in his statement on defence about this matter which is so vital to the survival of our people and to their future? Not one word! I invite any honorable senator on the Government side to point out one reference to it made by the right honorable gentleman. I do point out that we are in a worse position against nuclear attack than even Great Britain. It has some defences; it has developed defences against nuclear weapons. I would say that, on a comparative basis, we ought to be more concerned with civil defence even than Great Britain owing to our completely defenceless position. What do we find when we look at the Estimates for this year? The paltry sum of £70,000 to provide for the civil defence of Australia!
I want to refer rapidly to other omissions from the Prime Minister’s statement. As I have already indicated, there is not one word about the United Nations. The Prims Minister claimed credit for Australia’s accepting the challenge thrown out in Korea by the Communist bloc, but there was not one reference to the fact that it was a United. Nations call that brought Australia and other nations into the conflict. I would say that his deliberate refraining from even mentioning the United Nations in his speech is a studied insult to the United Nations organization.
Will somebody point to one word the Prime Minister uttered the other night on the vital subject of disarmament? It does appear that we are reaching a stage where some agreement can be reached in this matter. Proposals that the democracies are taking seriously are coming out of Russia. Some, including Mr. Stassen, think they open a real prospect for disarmament. I think that everybody will agree that it is infinitely more important to take steps to prevent war than to take steps to fight it, to carry it on. Yet not a word about disarmament appears in this speech of the Prime Minister.
There is not one word about the danger that threatens Australia through our dependence on foreign oil that has to come here by way of the sea lanes. There is not one word about the threat posed to us by Russian submarines. 1 find that on 1st February, 1957, there was reported some vastly important evidence given by Admiral Burke, the Chief of the United States Naval Operations. He told the Services Committee of the House of Representatives that the Soviet Navy then had 450 submarines and that it was planning for a fleet of 1200. When we remember that 100 U-boats almost wrecked the allies’ war effort, and realize that Russia has a force of 450 submarines, and is planning to expand it to 1200, we see one of the greatest threats to us and everybody else. Russia has its submarines in every area. Where is there a word in the speech of the Prime Minister showing that he recognizes that danger? Where is there a suggestion that anything is being done, or planned, to meet the submarine threat? I repeat to this Senate what I have said many times, and will say many times more until this Government is galvanized into action, that we are utterly- and absolutely dependent on oil. We are defenceless and immobilized without it. I think a proper appreciation of the safety of this country demands that the Government itself should lead the most terrific endeavour to discover oil in our territories or our own continent. That is as vital as armaments, because without oil we are utterly and absolutely defenceless. On these major matters I find not one word in a speech that purports to deal with the defences of this country.
Let me sum up the defence position as I see it. The greatest condemnation of the defence of this country falls from the lips of the Prime Minister himself, in my view. What he has said in one place after another is, I suggest an abject confession of failure on the part of his Government. Let me repeat some of his statements -
The emphasis is not any longer, so much on numbers as on mobility, equipment and fire power.
What he plans involves a complete reversal of the policy of the last seven years. I want to quote verbatim what the Prime Minister said -
We have for some time been greatly disturbed by the fact that an undue proportion of our annual expenditure has been laid out upon the maintenance of existing forces, the bulk of whom are only partially trained, while too small a proportion of our expenditure has been available Ibr equipment. We have, quite frankly, disturbing deficiencies on the equipment side.
If I wanted to criticize this Government, I doubt whether I could have found more trenchant words than those to phrase my criticism.
– Abject failure!
– It is an abject failure, on the confession of the person responsible for it - his Government and himself. He says that too much money was laid out on maintenance, and that the bulk of our forces are only partially trained, and he speaks about disturbing deficiencies in our equipment. Who is responsible for these things the Prime Minister comments upon but this Government? Who can be held accountable for these deficiencies but this Government? We of the Labour party have been drawing attention to that disbalance between maintenance and physical things for the defence of this country ever since 1953 when the National Security Resources Board appointed by this Government drew attention to the same things, in words, in percentages and in graph form. I think everybody in the Senate remembers it. Despite that report, we find those deficiencies carried on from 1953 until now. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say that we are spending too much on maintenance. He is the man who has done it, he and his Government. They are the ones who are responsible.
I have already referred to his statement that he has now got to correct the deficiencies in the appropriate kind of ships for the Navy. I have referred to delays in the production of the FN rifle; I have referred to delays in determining the new fighter, in deciding upon the type of guided missile and whether we are to make it or not; the paltry field force in our regular army of 4,000; the reduction of national service training on the basis I have already criticized; the destruction of the voluntary basis of our Citizen Military Forces; the absence of any mention in his speech of civil defence; nothing done in appreciation of the danger because of the fact that we are dependent on overseas oil; and no appreciation of the submarine menace. What does all that add up to? It is a record of delay, dithering, incompetence, waste and muddle, and above all of unpreparedness in this year 1957.
– The same as 1939.
– It is the same pattern of incompetence that has run through the economic field in this country.
– Talk, but no action.
– The honorable senator is right. If fair words were weapons, this country would be the best defended country in the world. If we look for words from the Prime Minister and his Ministers, we find any number of fair words and fair speeches to cover their incompetence and the tragic result of Australia’s unpreparedness.
– We are probably better prepared than at any time in the history of Australia.
– The Prime Minister said that on 2nd October last and countermanded it two days later. The Minister for National Development continues to interject. I will not allow him to take up my last minute. I say that every member of this Government should hang his head in shame at the state of our defences and the waste of the people’s money. In this vital matter of defence this Government has been a tragic failure not for the first time, but for the second time in Australia’s history.
.- I suppose that any one speaking on this debate on defence at this time has two main duties. The first one, I think, is to counter any criticism levelled against the Government’s action or against the results of the Government’s action such as we have heard to-night from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). The second main duty is to make any suggestions one may think fit for improving what is now, I believe, already a good position. But I propose first, with your permission, sir, to deal with the criticisms that we have heard from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), which, I believe, are not well based and, in many cases, are not factual. As the Leader of the Opposition spoke, 1 made notes of the points he made, and 1 shall attempt to take them in order and reply to them in order. If I attribute to him words which he did not use, I trust that he will correct me at the time.
– I shall not; I shall do it at the proper time.
– I will leave it to the Leader of the Opposition to decide the proper time. I know he is always a stickler for propriety. The first point I would like to take up is the general criticism that whereas Mr. Menzies said some years ago that this country was well prepared for war, Sir Frederick Shedden - at that time a public servant - said before the Public Accounts Committee that the country was not prepared for war. That is not a true account of the situation. Sir Frederick Shedden was asked before the Public Accounts Committee whether this country was, at the moment of speaking, mobilized and ready to repel any attack to the fullest extent, and he replied that no democratic country was mobilized and ready in that way, that only a dictatorship could have all its forces under arms all the time, ready at a minute’s notice. He said that this country, like the other democracies, was not in that position. But to read into an answer of that kind a statement that the country was not prepared, and did not have the basis of its defence preparations in good condition, is, I think, bordering on the verge of dishonest argument.
The next point made by the Leader of the Opposition, sir, was in reference to the Navy. He told us that Labour had provided two aircraft carriers at the time it went out of office. To some extent, that is true. Just before Labour went out of office, there was delivered to this country - I think in May, 1949 - one aircraft carrier, the “ Sydney “. I would like at this point to emphasize that that aircraft carrier had not been paid for in full by the previous Labour government, and that much of the cost of it has been debited to this Government and has had to be met from the defence funds of this Government. The second aircraft carrier, the “ Melbourne “, which is at present in commission with the Royal Australian Navy, was not handed over to this country until 1955.
We were told that the Navy’s aircraft now totalled only 40, whereas in previous days, under a Labour administration, it had 24 aircraft. That was the impression, I think, that was sought to be given. In fact, the figures refer to fighters, not to aircraft generally. It is perfectly true that in Labour’s day there were 24 fighters in the naval air arm, and that we have now only 40. But it is also perfectly true that the 40 fighters we have are modern jet fighters, and that the 24 which were in operation when this Government came to office were already obsolescent and would now be worse than useless. I am sure that there is no need for me to emphasize to this chamber the immense difference in cost between equipping the naval air arm with jet aircraft of a modern kind and with the old propeller-driven kind, with which the comparison was sought to be made by the Leader of the Opposition.
But that is not the whole story of naval aircraft, it is only a partial story. In addition to the fighters with which we have been dealing, the naval air arm has also in commission 21 Gannet aircraft - modern turbo-prop aircraft concerned almost wholly with hunting and fighting submarines, with anti-submarine work. That is the very work which the Leader of the Opposition, in his ‘concluding remarks, said this Government was not at all concerned with. Those aircraft for that purpose have to be added to the total of modern fighter aircraft which we now have. The ships of the Navy have been brought up to date; they are new types. They are ready to go in, with the most modern equipment, the most modern anti-submarine and antiaircraft devices and all that is necessary. I do not think that the criticism put to this chamber of the state of the Navy and what has been done for the Navy by this Government will for one moment bear an examination of the facts.
I would like to move on now to the Air Force - another service where it was sought to be proved that no improvement, or little improvement, had been made during the term of office of this Government. It is now equipped - I will put this first because it follows on from my story of the Navy - with a squadron of Neptune anti-submarine patrol aircraft. I emphasize that those aircraft are concerned with the protection of the shores of this country, with the protection of tankers bringing oil to Australia and with all those other matters which the Leader of the Opposition sought to show that this Government was not concerned with and in respect of which it had not provided proper equipment. The Air Force has in operation 52 Sabre fighters - not propellerdriven aircraft of the old kind, Mustangs and that kind of thing, but fighter aircraft costing in the vicinity of £500,000 each, and costing a great deal more than any of the old types of aircraft to maintain, service and keep in operation. Anybody who has had any connexion with the Air Force at any time must know how fantastic it is for an allegedly responsible member of this Parliament to complain’ about money spent on the maintenance of services of this kind. The whole strength of an air force depends, not so much on the aircraft on the ground as on the aircraft which are operationally serviceable at any time, and the number of aircraft which are serviceable at any given time depends entirely on the maintenance squadrons which keep them in operation and repair the myriad things which can go wrong in aircraft, such as the electric motors and electrical circuits on which they depend for their proper operation. I hope the day will never come - I am sure it will never come with this Government in office - when maintenance of that kind is put in the background for, perhaps, some more flashy figures - perhaps two or three more aircraft ready for service.
As well as the Sabre fighters of which I speak, we are equipped with Canberra bombers. They are still good light bombers, aircraft which cost in the vicinity of £400,000 each and which cost proportionately more for their maintenance and preparation for operations. If we compare them with the obsolete aircraft which were available before, we see that the attack launched on the ground that little has been done to improve the efficiency and strength of the Air Force will, again, not stand up to an examination of the facts.
Of course, this is not all that has been done. Ground control stations have been put in; proper weather stations have been put in; and all the ancillary services of the Air Force have been brought to a state of readiness. As I have said before, they are all at a greater state of readiness than ever before. Ground control of aircraft in operations, and ground assistance to aircraft to take off and land in difficult conditions, are of the essence of the operations of an air force, not only to protect aircraft against bad weather or faulty installations, but to direct them to the targets which radar will pick out for them, and which they would not find without the expensive and complicated ground control apparatus that has been put in. But beside the plain straightout services of this kind, let us consider some of the other matters which have used up part of the defence vote and which have come in for criticism from Senator McKenna. Let us talk of the Woomera project, because one of the headings of his criticism was guided missiles. 1 admit that this project was installed initially under the previous government, but it has, in fact, been improved and built up, except for the blue-prints, by the present Government, at the request of Great Britain, and the expenditure by this Government, so far, on that project has been £55,000,000.
Woomera is of great significance to the free world because it is the only place in the free world where there is a 1,200-mile range on which experimental missiles can be recovered and on which, because of those recoveries, savings can be effected. Testing of missiles of various kinds has been going on there. I emphasize the words “ missiles of various kinds “, because it seemed to me that, in his speech, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) sought to entangle the minds of those who listened to him by lumping together missiles of various kinds and talking about them as if they were all of the one kind. They are not. There are the inter-continental missiles, which he mentioned, there are air-to-ground missiles, ground-to-air missiles and air-to-air missiles, all of them different, all of them requiring their own testing and designing.
Despite this terrific difference between inter-continental missiles and the other guided missiles of which I spoke, we find ourselves criticized by the Leader of the Opposition on the grounds that the United States of America has mass-produced some small type of missile while we have not yet decided what type of inter-continental missile we intend to use. I think it is proper and apposite to remind the Senate, on this question of where we are to get guided missiles and whether we should make our own, that the inter-continental guided missile, if we had it - and I hope we do get it - is of little use without a hydrogen or atomic warhead, and that, at this moment, we are precluded entirely from getting such guided missiles from the United States because Congress has passed a law prohibiting any other country from being supplied by the United States with such warheads, in the face of that well-known fact, it is just complete and utter nonsense to attempt to attack this Government because it has not obtained such guided missiles from the United States.
Another head of his criticism related to a statement made in September, 1954, that it would take two years to buy and install all the requisite machinery to produce the FN rifle. It has taken two years. The forecast was correct. FN rifles are now coming off the production line, and coming off in increasing numbers. I can see nothing wrong about fulfilling the prophecy that was made at that time. The attempt to suggest that, because we are using the FN rifle and the Americans are using a different type, standardization has been infringed again, is laughable. It is the calibre of the ammunition that counts. It is that which counts right from the factories which make it, through the ships lorries and the logistic supply lines which carry it right to the front. If one has a rifle which takes the same ammunition as that of the man fighting alongside one, standardization problems are, to all intents and purposes, completely overcome.
Those are the particular and specific criticisms which were offered by the Leader of the Opposition when he sought to attack the achievements of the defence programme of this country so far. I ignore his concluding remarks that in . a speech to a House of this Parliament concerning defence the Prime Minister should have spoken on a number of other matters which have nothing directly to do with defence at all. Whatever justification the Leader of the Opposition may have for his adherence to the United Nations and for his belief that nice things should be said about it, in my opinion, neither that nor the production of oil has any proper place in a speech dealing with what has been done in connexion with defence.
I said at the beginning that two main duties devolve on a speaker in this debate. The first is to endeavour to answer the criticism made of the policy so far, and the second is to put forward any proposals one might have in connexion with the statement made by the Prime Minister. Before dealing with the second matter, I wish to point out that time and time again I have heard it suggested either directly or by implication that £1,000,000,000 has been spent on defence since this Government attained office.
– The figure is £1,200,000,000.
– If the honorable senator wants it that way, then let us say £1,200,000,000. Time and time again I have heard people ask where the money has gone and what there is to show for that expenditure.
– That is the 64- dollar question. Where has it gone?
– If the honorable senator will keep quiet, I hope to tell him. This Government has been in office for six years. During that time, it has kept going a big Army, Navy and Air Force; it has kept defence production services in operation; and it has kept a construction corps building such things as St. Mary’s ammunition-filling factory and the Woomera project. All these men have to be paid each year. About half of our total defence expenditure is absorbed by wages, salaries and rations of servicemen and other men connected with construction and other defence work; in fact, the total amount expended in this way is £583,000,000.
In addition to that, there is the cost of maintenance to which the Leader of the Opposition took exception, and which is undoubtedly necessary and right. That took another £100,000,000. Then .there are the aircraft carriers for which we have paid. We have also purchased aircraft for the naval air arm, about which I have spoken. Again, we have bought additional equipment for the Woomera rocket range and provided ancillary services for the Air Force. We have also established the St. Mary’s ammunition-filling factory. We had to do that because the previous government had discarded two filling factories which were in operation during the war. The money has gone in capital expenditures of that type. I am reminded, too, by way of interjection that for two years during this period this country was engaged in active warfare in Korea with two battalions of troops, a squadron of aircraft and naval ships; and that at the request of the Malayan Government, it has also in Malaya a squadron of aircraft, a battalion of troops and naval ships, all of which are using men, supplies, munitions, indeed all the sinews of war which have necessarily to be supplied.
In his recent statement on this matter, the Prime Minister has indicated that to some extent this country will follow the lead of Great Britain in reducing total forces and increasing the capacity of smaller striking forces, that is, increasing their mobility and their readiness to go into action at a moment’s notice. Up to a point I think that is the proper course for this country to take as regards its fighting services, lt is beyond the capacity of Australia to maintain large forces ready for action at a moment’s notice. If we have to choose, as we must, between small forces ready for action at a moment’s notice and large partly trained masses of men who can be called up, if there is time, in large formations, it is a proper choice to decide on small formations ready at once for action. I regret that the National Service Training Scheme has to be pared to reach this conclusion. That scheme had immense national value, although not immense defence value, and I believe that the proper decision has been taken in that matter.
What pleases me more than anything else in the Prime Minister’s proposal is the indication of standardization with the United States in respect of small arms, aircraft, gun howitzers and the ammunition they will use. I have advocated such steps in the Senate for two or three years, because it seems to be plain that our commitments under the Anzus pact, and under the Seato pact, if we are called upon to fulfil them, will find us side by side either with Americans or with the troops of other nations who are equipped entirely with American equipment. Our experience in Korea made it clear that the logistical difficulties in supplying the Commonwealth division we had there with ammunition of different calibre, and other differences between them and the American and Koreans, may detract from the effectiveness of any force by up to 50 per cent. It is reasonably certain that, should we be called upon to fulfil our commitments to hold war from this country, the supply lines from England would either be cut or become most dangerous, and that the supply line across the Pacific would be endangered. That being so, the common-sense thing to do is to take the course that gives the greatest advantage, and that I believe has been done.
I trust that in the Air Force not only will there be standardization of aeroplanes, but also that runways, equipment, refuelling supplies and other ancillary equipment will be such that types of bombers and fighters used by the United States can use them notwithstanding that we ourselves may not have such machines. The fighters and bombers used by the United States may be of types in advance of those that we can hope to maintain; nevertheless I trust that we shall have in this country all those things, including stocks of spare parts, ready to be used should we need them, or ready to be used by our allies, if necessary. I should hope that we would use our defence funds and endeavour to secure for this country some measure of atomic or hydrogen defence. I realize that a potential attacker of this country might be deterred by the possession of hydrogen bombs by the United States of America or Great Britain, but I think that we should be trusting very much indeed to the help that those great countries could give if we put our faith solely in a deterrent held by them. After all, should there be an attack on this country, the government in office at the time in either Great Britain or the United States of America would have to come to a grim decision on whether it would retaliate, and thereby lay its own country completely open to devastation and, in the case of Great Britain, to almost certain destruction. To relieve them of that dilemma, if for no other reason, I should like to see us have inter-continent missiles of our own and have our own bomber aircraft, capable of delivering our own bombs should we find that necessary.
I do not believe, as evidently the Leader of the Opposition believes, that the danger of a nuclear war has come closer to this country, or to the world in general. Nor do I believe that there is great danger of a large-scale global war with conventional weapons. But I do believe that if our main functions are to help to protect the people of South-East Asia and keep war from our shores, we may have a war of the kind we had in Korea, and that therefore it is essential to have troops available at a moment’s notice. We must remember that if American troops had not been in Japan they would not have been capable of reaching Korea in time to hold the small area around Pusan, in which event Korea would have been subjugated. Speed is of the essence in small local wars, and we must play our full part with our allies in providing mobile defence of that kind. Having done that, should things go from worse to worse, our second responsibility, for the defence of the homeland of Australia, requires the atomic deterrent of which I have spoken, and the other forces which can be brought into being more slowly as the danger develops. I believe we have a great deal to show for the time the present Government has been in office. Our defences are better than they have been before, and they will continue to get better year by year.
– Senator Gorton said at the commencement of his speech that he considered it was the duty of Government senators, first of all to rebut the criticism of the Government levelled at it by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), and then to devote some of their time to dealing with the Prime Minister’s statement on defence. The fact that he took twenty minues to deal with the criticism by the Leader of the Opposition and devoted only ten minutes to the Prime Minister’s speech is to me clear evidence that there was far more substance in the criticism of the Leader of the Opposition than there was merit in the Prime Minister’s statement. The honorable senator’s allotment of time to the two aspects of the question emphasized that point. If it is to be the order of the day for Government senators to spend the major part of their time rebutting criticism from this side of the chamber, I predict that the supporter of the Government who follows me in this debate will have plenty of criticism to answer. I may speak in more definite terms than my leader did, because at times he treats the Government more generously and in a more gentlemanly way than do some who sit behind him. My opinion of the Governments’ handling of the defences of this country since it has been in office is that its record is one of complete bungling.
Senator Gorton airily stated that since the Menzies-Fadden Administration assumed office it has spent approximately £1,000,000,000 on defence. Actually the amount is £200,000,000 more than that; the statisticians have stated that it is £1,200,000,000. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber believe that the greater part of that money has been wasted in a deplorable manner. 1 remind the Government that for many years the Australian Labour party has advocated a reduction of national service training or its complete abolition. We have done so because we believe, first, that it has involved a scandalous waste of public money and that the results that have accrued from it have not been worth while. Secondly, it disrupts the industrial force of this country. Thirdly - and this is most important - even if thought is not directed to the first two considerations, it has been of no use in the training of our young people.
I have repeatedly asked national service trainees for their impressions of the training that they have received, and few, if any. have indicated that they thought they had derived any benefit from it. Some of them have told me that, within a fortnight or a month of leaving camp, they had forgotten all the things they learned during their course of training. 1 believe Government supporters who have undergone some such form of training will agree that, at the age at which most young men enter military camps to participate in national service training, they are not receptive of the kind of tuition that they receive. They regard their stay in camp as being merely an interlude in their lives.
– What an absurd statement!
– It is not an absurd statement. I suggest to Senator Vincent, that, instead of reading the Prime Minister’s speech and being perfectly satisfied with it, he also should take a Gallup poll of some of the national service trainees, as I have done.
– I have trained more servicemen than has the honorable senator, and I am speaking about something of which I have some knowledge.
– All I am dealing with at the moment is national service training. I say quite definitely that the general consensus of opinion amongst the young people of Australia is that it is a waste of time. Some of them regard it as being an intrusion into their learning of a trade and others regard their stay in camp as being a holiday, but very few regard it seriously. 1 think the facts support me when 1 say that the only way to attack the question of enlisting personnel is to make their training more attractive and to encourage them to participate in it on a permanent basis. Only in that way is it reasonable to expect their interest to be held, and that they can become useful in the defence services.
– lt could not be much more attractive than it is now.
– It is not attractive, and the results that accrue from it are of no value. If a war had broken out in 1955, any young man who had undergone national service training for three months, or whatever the period was, in 1949 would have forgotten everything that he had learned, and the weapons and equipment with which he had been trained would have been out of date. I suggest, therefore, that national service training has been an absolute waste of time. Those who join the armed forces on a permanent basis are able to keep in touch with the change of weapons and to keep abreast of the other swift changes that occur from time to time. T repeat that it has been a waste of money.
The Prime Minister’s speech contains a rather extraordinary statement regarding this matter. He said -
We have been forced to consider whether devotion of the same effort to the initial training of national servicemen would cost, in time, money and man-power, a disproportionate amount as compared with what should be expended on quickly available defence forces. We have, therefore, decided most reluctantly to reduce the size of the national service intake.
I repeat that that statement is couched .in extraordinary terms. If the Prime Minister, his advisers, and the Government generally saw fit to reduce the intake drastically, they must have had very good and valid reasons for doing so. Consequently, it is very difficult to ascertain why they were reluctant to .take the step. Perhaps their reluctance stems from the fact that, as a result of the advocacy of Opposition senators and Labour party members in another place, the Prime Minister was not prepared to admit that the Opposition had become alive to the situation before the Government had. Whether that be so or not, I said earlier that for years the Labour party has advocated a drastic reduction of national service training, and now at last the Government is beginning to see the light.
The Government proposes to adopt a ballot system to determine who shall be called up in any one year. This seems to me to be a very loose approach to a very important question. What would be the position if two young men who were members of the same family had to undergo training at the same time, regardless of domestic circumstances? What would be the position if an employer were dealt with harshly, because of fortune, by having a number of apprentices or workers in his factory selected for service? I feel that the ballot system will produce a host of anomalies which in time will force the Government to devise other means to determine who shall be called up for service.
I have said before in this chamber that 1 believe that the greatest avenue of waste has been in the Army. Opposition senators believe that in many respects, the Army is completely outmoded and that, with the quickly changing methods of warfare, the kind of slow-moving army equipment that we have and the measures that are being taken in Australia at the moment would be worse than useless in the event of war. 1 agree with Senator Gorton when he says that the future of this country from the defence viewpoint is very largely wrapped up with the use of aircraft. During the last ten years, the greater part of our defence expenditure should have been directed towards the acquisition of suitable aircraft. The Opposition has consistently asked the Government to cease spending such huge amounts of money on the Army. Most of it is wasted on inflated staffs that perform no useful service whatever. Those personnel should be diverted to the Air Force.
Much has been said to-night about the Navy. Senator McKenna spoke about submarines, and Senator Gorton emphasized the importance of naval activity off the Australian coast. Even, the most casual observer would understand readily that we in this country could never defend our long coastline effectively with naval forces alone, but I do say that some naval equipment, at least, is necessary. Vessels of a type suited to our coastline should be used, but I notice that the Prime Minister made no reference to whether or not this country will have any submarines. Submarines have become a matter of contention in the Senate to-night. I am not in any way attempting to detract from what Senator Gorton had to say in respect of them, but if we are to have a navy at all, it cannot possibly be complete unless it has a submarine arm.
– You do not fight submarines with submarines. What is wrong with you? You fight submarines with aircraft and ‘chasers.
– I am not talking about fighting submarines at all. I think that Senator Kendall did not hear me. 1 said that a navy was not complete unless it had some submarines. Surely Senator Kendall would not disagree with that. It is obvious that he is not following very closely the line I am taking. In America, where atomic-powered submarines are now in production, the position is taken very seriously, and submarines are regarded as an important adjunct to the navy. I suggest that we should take the same logical steps in respect of the Australian Navy.
The Prime Minister stated, and Senator Gorton repeated, that a standardization of aircraft and other equipment between this country and the United States is proposed. I have not any objection to such a proposal, because if at any time this country becomes embroiled in war it is extremely likely that America and Australia will be on. the same side. But I do deplore that, although the Prime Minister and Senator Gorton have stressed the overwhelming importance of aircraft to the defence of Australia, in the last eighteen months almost every skilled aircraft worker has been dismissed from the various Australian factories. Senator McManus, I, and other senators on this side, and even senators on the Government side, have expressed the deepest concern about the action taken by the Government in respect of the aircraft industry.
When the standardization of aircraft takes place, Australian aircraft workers will be required again to do maintenance work, and perhaps even to fabricate some of the parts of the machines. We will then have to go through the farcical procedure of tracing in industry the men whom the Government previously threw out of aircraft factories by its own inefficiency and bungling. All sorts of excuses were advanced for the dismissal of those men, but none of the excuses had the touch of realism. Statements were made that certain changes would be under way and that, as a consequence, the workers could not be retained in employment any longer. The Government failed to recognize the inevitability of the eventual rebuilding of the aircraft industry in Australia.
It was stupid in the extreme to release skilled men to outside industry after they had been trained in aircraft production for a period of years. No man who has undergone an experience of that kind - accepting employment in aircraft production factories controlled by the Commonwealth Government, spending three or four years undergoing training in a specialized type of work, and then being calmly told that his services were no longer required - will be ready to undergo a similar experience of insecurity of employment at a time when the Government claims that there is a high level of employment in this country. So it could be said that the money that has been spent on the training of these men has been poured down the drain. It has been completely and utterly wasted. The process will have to be repeated, because of the folly of somebody, either in the defence services or in the Government, or both.
I come now to what I consider is a very important aspect of defence, particularly in this country. If we are to be involved in war, especially global war, we must expect that atomic weapons will be used. Senator Gorton said that, in his opinion, there was not any immediate danger of such a war, but that was only his opinion. I hope that he is right, but he was only guessing when, he made that statement. In wartime, this country, because of its geographical location, will be used either for producing food or as a base for air, naval, and other forces. We will thus be right in the very core of the trouble. Let us pause for a moment and reflect on the situation in this country if, in five or six weeks, the worst happened. According to newspaper columnists and others, we are living on the brink of a precipice. Suppose Australia, together with our allies, were involved in a war in which atomic weapons were used. What defence would this country have against them? 1 join with Senator McKenna in expressing the gravest concern that in this important statement relating to the defences of this country, the Prime Minister said not a word about civil defence. Civil defence has become a matter of dreadful importance to us. That somebody realizes it is borne out by the fact that not so long ago a civil defence school was established at Mount Macedon in Victoria. That was a commendable act, which indicated that, at least, some Government supporters were alert to the frightful possibility of this country being assailed with atomic weapons. Civil defence is of such major importance to our future that we should be spending on it approximately half of the total amount allocated for defence. What would the position be if an enemy decided to drop a bomb on every capital city in Australia.
– That would be that!
– We should not let him, but we may not be able to stop him. Even Senator Kendall and I collectively may not be able to stop him. I can see nothing to be amused about, because I am dealing with possibilities. If a bomb were dropped on every capital city, it would destroy 70 per cent, of our population.
– Civil defence would not be much good, then.
– The honorable senator is advocating the adoption of defeatism. Is he suggesting that we should do nothing but wait for the inevitable?
– Something like that.
– I cannot subscribe to that opinion, but it is in line with all the actions of the Menzies-Fadden Administration. It has always waited for the inevitable. It has never taken any practical steps, and that is why Australia, under its administration, was so unprepared at the beginning of World War II. A Labour government had to step in and do something about it. We did not wait for the inevitable then.
I was- speaking of what would happen in the event of a nuclear attack. I am not acquainted with the principles and activities of nuclear warfare, and the impact of the destructive power of atomic bombs. As a consequence, I have to rely on scientists for my information. A prominent scientist has said that if the latest type of bomb were dropped on Sydney at mid-day, it would kill 1,000,000 people and maim 400,000. If that holocaust were repeated throughout every city of Australia, this country would be destroyed at one blow.
I am suggesting that if such a catastrophe took place, those who survived, who were suffering from burns or injury, and those who were still able to get about, would be in a frightful position. What we need is a national civil defence commission to go into every aspect of this matter. It should be composed of scientists, administrators, leaders of all the armed services and civilians who take an interest in matters of this sort. Such a commission should be set up immediately so that it could first of all, with the knowledge the scientists could give its members, study the impact of nuclear bombs and determine what effective measures, if any, could be. taken against them for the safety of the people.
There must be some sort of shelter. There must be some trained personnel to deal with those who have been maimed in an atomic explosion. It must be possible to devise some method of countering to some degree the possible effects of an atomic attack. I remind the Senate that we are not speaking of events that have never happened because such attacks took place in Japan with bombs which, by present standards, were primitive in the extreme. This Government will be falling down in its duty if it does not regard civil defence in Australia as something just as important as any other branch of defence.
I suggest that national service trainees, instead of using rifles, which will be obsolete in three years time, and equipment which will soon be forgotten, should be trained in some of the elements of civil defence. That would be of more interest to the trainees and more valuable to Australia. If they were trained in first aid, for example, and steps that they could take in case of an atomic disaster, they could utilize that training in civilian life. It would make a far more lasting impression on their minds than the clicking of rifles and useless route marches.
– The rifle will always be handy.
– But it will not be the same kind of rifle. That is what I am emphasizing. I suggest that, if the national service trainees were trained in rescue work, first aid and fire fighting, their training would serve some practical purpose, and it would be of inestimable benefit to the people if disaster overtook us.
In the few minutes I have left at my disposal, I wish to stress that we ought to be thinking about civil defence with vigour and determination. We should be considering steps that could be taken to protect the people against the horrors of hydrogen bombs. I cannot believe that supporters of the Government endorse the defeatist attitude of Senator Kendall who has meekly accepted the fact that if we become victims of an atomic attack, it would be the end of all things and that is all that matters. 1 have said that the amount of money wasted - and I use that word advisedly - on the Government’s defence undertakings since 1949 is astronomical.
– The Australian Labour party has always believed that defence is a waste of money.
– If one-half of the money that has been poured down the drain because of this Government’s wasteful expenditure had been utilized to bring into existence a national plan for civil defence, some useful purpose would have been achieved. I remind the Senate that if an atomic attack took place, we would be in the unhappy position, with our breaks of railway gauges, of being unable to transport people quickly from one State to another. We should be considering decentralization because in that way we could prevent some of the impact of an atomic attack.
We cannot entertain the suggestion that we should sit down and do nothing about civil defence. The Government has adopted a frivolous attitude to this matter and there will come a time in the not-distant future when, because of world events and developments coming closer to Australia which now appear to be remote, the Government will have to change its attitude.
– I had hoped that the discussion on the defence statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would have been kept on a high level because it is important to Australia’s national life. Instead, what have
Ave heard from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and Senator
Toohey who supports him? We have heard nothing but criticism of this Government’s attitude to defence over the past few years. We have not heard anything constructive of value, nor has any member of the Opposition given an indication of the Australian Labour party’s polity on defence. I should have thought that that would be of prime importance. Of course we all remember the attitude of the Labour party to defence at the last general election. Its policy was to cut defence expenditure to a total of £50,000,000 and to spend the money on pensions and similar payments.
It amused me to-night to hear the Leader of the Opposition criticize this Government and its naval policy. According to him, the expenditure on naval construction has been wasted. We have only to cast our minds back to 1948 and to what happened at Manus Island. By interjection, I asked the Leader of the Opposition to enlarge on the theme of Manus Island, but of course he would not be drawn into that. What did the Labour government of the day do at that time? It brought about the greatest tragedy in the history of Australian defence. We were about to be given by the United States of America the best naval base in the world. The United States had spent the sum of £50,000,000 on this base and offered it to Australia as a gift if in any future war we would allow American forces to use that base. What did the government of that time do? It turned the offer down flat. Then the base was offered to us for the sum of £5,000,000 - everything on the island - but again the government turned down the offer. Eventually it was sold for 5,000,000 dollars to Chiang Kai-shek, who in turn sold it to other countries for about ten times that amount. Manus Island contained two floating docks, which would take the biggest ships in the world, whereas all we have is a floating dock that will take a ship of 250 tons. If that was not a blow to the defences of Australia I should like to ask what is. Yet honorable members opposite attack this Government for what it has done during the last few years.
When this Government took office, the defences of Australia had been allowed to slip since the war had finished and were at the lowest level in the history of Australia. In fact we had a far better army in Australia at the time the States controlled the defences of this country in 1900 before the establishment of the Commonwealth. To-day we are far better prepared than we have ever been before, despite what Senator Aylett, who is interjecting, may say to the contrary. I suppose he is one who knows - the Labour party’s authority on defence - and we will hear from him shortly. However, I do not intend to be led astray from what I want to talk about to-night, but I felt I should devote a few minutes to showing how futile was the attitude of the Labour party up to date on this matter of defence.
In general I approve of what the Government intends to do, as outlined in the Prime Minister’s statement. Under the present financial and man-power conditions I think the Government is doing the best it can. I would like it better if some matters were put slightly differently, and I will in a constructive way point out what they are. As I have said, in our present financial condition, we are doing our best. The Government of Great Britain has reduced its expenditure on defence and I have the feeling that the people in Australia expect their Government to do the same. That is one of the greatest problems one is up against in providing for defence. The people feel that there should be a reduction of military expenditure.
There is also the man-power position. The people of Australia do not like military service for several reasons, which I will go into later. Therefore, my main criticism of this scheme is that the effort is too small. When one compares what we are doing with the efforts of Great Britain, Canada and the United States, our effort is pitiful. At the present moment the American Government is spending £109 per head on defence; Canada is spending £54 and Australia £20. In other words, America is spending five times the amount we are spending.
– We are wasting ours.
– That is where the honorable senator is wrong. The Labour party has wasted it.
– What can the Government show for its expenditure?
– What about Manus Island? Do not talk about waste! The honorable senator does not know. As I’ said, we are spending very little on defence compared with other countries. Are we really doing our bit?
– We are not. A lot of the trouble is due to the policy of the Labour party, to what that party put to the people of Australia and to the false ideas its members have in their heads. That is one of the reasons. Will our efforts satisfy our allies? Are the other nations which are parties to Seato and the Anzus pact satisfied with what we are contributing? They are not! I draw attention to the remarks made by Admiral Stump as reported in the press only a few days ago. He said he would like to see Australia expending far more money and training far more men. I do not think for one moment we are fulfilling our obligations under these treaties.
Of course we do not know what is expected of us, despite the fact that the Seato conference was held here. Quite rightly, we were not informed of what took place in secret at that conference; it is not right that we should have been. However, I think it would help matters if we were assured by our appropriate Ministers that what I have said is true.
Before we criticize this plan too deeply, it would be a good thing to have a look at what might happen in the world in the next few years. We might consider, too, the type of war, and the theatre in which that war might eventuate. Let us first consider an atomic world-wide war, and any part we can take in it with our forces composed in accordance with the Prime Minister’s statement. The first thing that strikes one in considering a world-wide atomic war is that we in Australia have not the strategic atomic weapons suitable for a force engaged in such a war. We have not the weapons that would make our contribution effective. In these days such a war would probably be over before we could play a very effective part in it, as our forces would probably be only a very small strategic reserve. Without those weapons - and I do not see any possibility of us getting those strategic weapons–we could not play a very active military part.
In that sort of war, Australia would probably be the safest country in the world. I think that the atomic forces of our enemy, which could only be those of Russia, would be used against the United States of America, England, and the Continent of
Europe. Australia would be safe purely because it would fall as a ripe plum into the hands of the Communists, and therefore it would not be bombed. I will admit, as Senator Toohey said, that if even two bombs fell in Australia our potential would be tremendously reduced and we would probably be useless as a military force. We are, however, contributing through the Woomera and Maralinga rocket ranges during peace-time to the strengthening of the democracies and we hope that will make a war impossible. We have not the resources, money or man-power to institute research or manufacture atomic or hydrogen bombs. I do not think it is necessary for us to do so. 1 think that the United States and Britain are doing all that is required in that respect. But it is necessary that we should have the product of their efforts before they can expect us to put any great weight into a world atomic conflict. I do not see why we should not be given these weapons or provided with the secrets of them. We read every day of these weapons being supplied to other powers to equip their fighting forces. Only yesterday we read about Formosa getting them. I feel that Australia - and no mean power, a country of 10,000,000 people - should be entrusted, not only with the secrets, but with a stockpile of these weapons. That would enable us to contribute far more in a world-wide conflict.
What would happen in a world atomic war? Our Army, as at present constituted, probably would form a small general reserve and probably would remain in Australia. lt would only be used as a deterrent perhaps, to keep the countries to the north of us out of that war. The Air Force that we have would probably be used entirely in the defence of Australia, in the hope, perhaps, of stopping raiders from bombing our capital cities. Our Navy would probably be employed to keep open the lines of communication to Australia and to hunt submarines. In my humble opinion, all three services, as at present constituted, or as they will be constituted in the near future, are far too small for their job. We must have larger forces.
The next war that we have to consider is a small war in Europe or in the Middle East. It is most unlikely that we should participate in a war of that sort. We did not participate in the very small war that took place in Egypt only a short time ago. Our interests are more in the Pacific, and 1 think that that is the area to which we must devote most of our attention. The Middle East is of great importance to Great Britain and the United States of America. Their resources are so much greater than ours that 1 think they might well be left alone to settle any disputes in that area. I do not think that, in any circumstances, we would become embroiled in a war there.
The next war we have to consider is a small war in South-East Asia, and I think that that is the kind of war we might be committed to. I think it might well arise out of the effort to prevent the advance of the Communists from South-East Asia to the islands to the north of this . country. 1 think that that is the kind of war most likely to occur, and that we should concentrate on that aspect. As I said before, before we can really consider it, we should know our commitments under the Seato and Anzus pacts. Supposing that we do participate in a war in this area, are our forces and the composition of those forces correct? I think they are. We should have a mobile force, a force ready for instant action, an efficient force.
I think that this brigade group, with the air component to carry it, defend it and cooperate with it, and with the Navy to do its own job, could perform its task exceedingly well. It would be far better fitted to do so than the force that we have at present, but again I say it is woefully small. The brigade group is the smallest tactical group in the Army. When we recall that China is aiming in a few years’ time to have 200 divisions, or roughly 600 brigade groups, it becomes apparent how really small our effort is. Of course, this brigade group will be backed up by three divisions of the Citizen Military Forces. They are in existence now, but, unfortunately, they would not be ready for action for from six to nine months. Sir, your guess is just as good as mine as to whether those three divisions could be usefully employed nine months after the outbreak of a war. Could we stave off the dangers while they were being made ready? I doubt it. I think that we should have at least one regular division ready for instant action, but there are many reasons why we cannot have it.
Probably the difficulties are insurmountable. I shall enlarge on that point later, if I have time.
The reason why we must have stronger forces and more efficient and mobile forces is apparent. Undoubtedly, the position has been aggravated by the Suez Canal dispute. Britain, unfortunately, through that incident, has been weakened considerably in the South-East Asian area. It must be recognized that the Suez Canal could, and would, be blocked within the first few hours of a new war breaking out. With the Egyptian sympathies inclined towards Russia, it is ;i certainty that that would happen. Britain’s lines of communications round Africa to the South-East Asian area would be immensely lengthened, and she would be correspondingly weakened. Therefore, we must be correspondingly stronger.
The next point I want to turn to is the equipment of these forces. I think the decision to turn to the United States for our equipment is absolutely correct. Again, the Suez Canal problem has an influence. It increases Britain’s difficulty of supplying us, both in time of peace and in time of war. ls the British economy strong enough for Britain to manufacture and supply the necessary articles? I do not know that it is. It is certain that the United States is in a far better position to supply these things to us. The chances of getting them from there would be greater. In addition, the United States is already supplying countries in the Pacific with her equipment. She is supplying the Philippines, Formosa, Thailand and Viet Nam. If we are forced into taking action under the Seato pact, we will be cooperating with those countries.
In addition, I think that we must turn to America for what I might call, for want of a better term, tactical atomic weapons. These are just as necessary as the strategical atomic bombs, and I see signs that we may get them. We are equipping ourselves with the American 105 millimetre gun, which can fire an atomic shell. I think it is most necessary that we should have this type of weapon, which, apparently, Britain has not at present developed as well as America has. It fills me with dread and horror to think of fighting countless hordes of Asiatics in the jungles of South-East Asia in the old-fashioned style. That would be sheer suicide. We must have the most modern weapons that can be procured if we fight those people in those areas. Of course, there is one danger in accepting arms from, or being armed by, America. It could lead to handing over to that country control of our foreign policy and our defence policy. I can visualize certain circumstances in which we would be fighting on our own northern boundaries without America’s being engaged in the conflict. If, in those circumstances, America refused to supply us with these weapons, our defence effort would be greatly handicapped and restricted; but I am confident that if we were engaged in a war approaching world dimensions, we should most certainly have the benefit of those weapons from America. I have not the slightest doubt that she would make them available to us in those circumstances.
Summing up, it is my belief that our defence effort is too small because we lack money and men. Do Australians as a whole realize the dangers facing us these days? In my humble opinion, they have never experienced the horrors of war. The fighting men of Australia have experienced them, but the women and a large proportion of our present generation, together with our children, have not. The horrors of war have never been forced upon our people as they have been forced upon the people of Europe, and for that reason our people have no real understanding of them. Nor do they realize the danger confronting them.
We Australians are an ease-loving people. We like the fleshpots. We do not like selfdiscipline. We do not like to have to give a certain amount of our time to the defence preparations of our country. We like our pleasures. We are certainly not like many others who placed guns before butter prior to World War II. We prefer butter to guns. We are not prepared either to pay or to serve, but we cannot have it both ways. If we are not prepared to do these things, we must take the risk.
The size of the Regular Army depends upon the willingness of civilians to enlist, because every member of the Regular Army, the Navy, or the Air Force, is a volunteer. He is not a pressed man, as are the Americans and the people of Great Britain. In my opinion, the supply of men depends a great deal upon conditions. It is my belief that, if we are to have greater enlistment, the amenities and conditions of the services must be improved. At the moment, I do not think the services are keeping up with industry in this direction. Industry pays more and therefore gets the men. The services must be prepared to pay more.
– But industry is a very important part of defence.
– There is no doubt about that, but there will be no industry if our defence is not complete.
– And there will be no defence if we have no industry.
– The reverse also applies. 1 feel that one reason why the services are not getting the enlistments is perhaps the fact that the pay, the rates of pension and the housing conditions of the regular forces are not sufficiently high. They are not sufficiently high because the Government is short of money. These things are costly, as is equipment, and, because the people do not want to pay additional income tax, the Government cannot obtain the funds to provide them; in fact, because of this objection on the part of the people to paying higher income tax, the Government is now seeking means of reducing the incidence of taxation. As it is obvious that we cannot decrease taxation and at the same time increase the defence vote, we are again faced with the need to choose between the two.
Another reason why many men do not join the defence forces is their feeling of insecurity brought about by all this talk of world disarmament. Men cannot see any good reason for joining the armed services as a career when on all sides people are hoping that there will be no need for these services within a few years. Again, many of these men have seen their fathers retrenched from the services in the periods between wars without any qualifications for taking employment in civilian life. I have seen the effects of this after two world wars and know just what the position is. Because of that experience. I would not dream of putting any son of mine in any of the defence services at the moment.
A further deterrent is the belief of honorable senators opposite in more or less total disarmament and in the effectiveness of the United Nations. All these things must have some effect upon the size of our Regular Army. 1 should like to enlarge upon those points, but as I have only three minutes left, I shall devote the time to a discussion of the proposed alteration to our national service training scheme. 1 emphasize that I dislike the proposal to reduce the intake of national service trainees. I cannot understand the attitude of Senator Toohey who suggests that the money spent on national service training has been completely wasted. In my humble opinion, that expenditure has been of more advantage to Australia than any other money we have expended. If I had my way, there would be no reduction in national service training. I agree that from a military standpoint it might not have produced tremendously good results; it probably did not; but the good that training did to the youth of this nation is beyond description and assessment. Why, 99 per cent, of the mothers and fathers of Australia have thanked this Government for introducing the national service training scheme because of the good it has done their children! During the last few weeks, many parents have asked me how they can ensure that their children will be selected for national service training under the new scheme. They have expressed the fervent hope that they will be selected because of the tremendous amount of good it does. As we shall have an opportunity to discuss fully the proposed alteration of the national service training scheme when the bill to give effect to the proposal comes before the Senate, I shall reserve further comments on that matter until then.
– At long last we are given an opportunity to debate the very important question of defence. Although this Government embarked upon its present defence scheme five years ago, all efforts by the Opposition to debate it have been of no avail. At times, the way in which the front benchers on the Government side have avoided the issue has been almost disgraceful. The Government has given scant consideration to the criticism of the public as well as the criticism in this Parliament during the last five years. Tn that period about £1,000,000,000 has been expended on defence. The proposed expenditure has come before the Parliament in five budgets, but there, has been no proper analysis of that expenditure, and no balance-sheet has been placed before the Parliament showing how the money has been used. Therefore, it is only natural that I welcome this opportunity to discuss this important subject.
The Prime Minister’s review of Australia’s defence, and the alteration of policy it contained, is a belated recognition of the correctness of the criticism of its defence policy, not only by the Opposition in this Parliament, but also by many people in Australia, and sections of the press. I agree with the Prime Minister’s statement, which is a repetition of a statement in a British White Paper, that the rate of progress in the realm of science makes it difficult to lay down a precise form that the defences of any country should take, particularly when we envisage a global war. At the same time, the statement emphasizes the wide boundaries within which a defence policy can be planned. That was obvious five years ago when the Government first decided to expend about £200,000,000 a year on defence. Nothing is more costly or more upsetting than frequent starting and stopping in connexion with any policy, especially when finally the Government gets back to where it started., and shows that its opinions have not altered in five years.
Defence is a subject so wide that there is room to roam, but I shall endeavour to say something constructive. I shall deal with the Prime Minister’s statement under three headings - first, the slowness of the Government in reaching its decision; secondly, the Government’s confused thinking on defence; and, thirdly, the vital gap in our defence of the west of the Australian continent. The slowness of the Government in reaching a decision is amazing. It now talks of integrating our forces with those of the United States, and with that I agree. I do not, however, agree with Senator Wordsworth that by leaning on the United States, as he expressed it, by accepting arms, particularly atomic arms, from that country, we would be handing over our foreign policy to another country. After all, the policy of a nation must rest finally in its Parliament. Nor do I agree that by entering into pacts with another country we are handing over our control to it. I should be the last person to suggest that by signing a pact, or making an arrangement, either regional or local, a country commits itself to a policy decided on by another country. Since the end of
World War II. has any supporter of the Government had any doubt at all as to which nation would be the major nation in the Pacific area? Surely, as the war in the Pacific unfolded, it was obvious to all that Britain was heavily committed in its home waters, and could not do in the Pacific zone what we hoped it would be able to do in the event of war there.
It is interesting to hear the United States praised to-day by the very people who condemned the Curtin Government when it turned to the United States in Australia’s hour of need. From that time there has been no doubt in our minds, and in the minds of the Government, that the United States of America would be our main ally in any future disturbance in countries bordering the Pacific or Indian oceans. One would expect that that fact would have been recognized six and a half years ago and that the Government would have planned its expenditure in the light of that knowledge. Belatedly the Government now realizes that we must integrate our forces with those of the United States of America. I hope that our efforts in that direction will not be confined to copying American arms, but that there will be an interchange of personnel of the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force, so that in the event of our having to go to battle it will not again be a case of knowing too little too late. In 1945, a study of Pacific relations was undertaken by a sub-committee of the American Congress. The thesis of that committee rested on two points, the first of which was that the United States would accept responsibility for peace in the Pacific, and the second was that the United States would maintain the biggest navy in the world. That has been done. I dwell on this to point out that it is obvious that the Government, or the heads of the fighting services, have taken a long time to deal with a simple proposition. There is a bottle-neck somewhere. Let us consider for a moment what this delay has cost this country. The cost in time has been twelve years, because it is twelve years since the report to which I have referred was furnished. Of that period, this Government has been in office for six and a half years. The cost in money has been about £1,000,000,000, and now it would appear that we have reached a full stop.
I do not propose, at this stage, to discuss the national training scheme, but it is obvious that the Government has abandoned that scheme in all except name, because a force of 4,000 men is not much better than no force at all. These changes are wasteful, and must be upsetting to service heads, as well as confusing to the Australian public. It should be possible to lay down the broad lines of a defence policy, even though we may not know what technical developments will take place in the future. The developments that have taken place have not occurred overnight. We knew of the existence of the atomic bomb as far back as 1944, and all that has occurred since has been merely a logical development of what was known then. That being so, why was not something done years ago? The unexpected thing can always happen. When we think of the Pacific area we do not have to imagine what can take place, because unexpected things did in fact happen there. They are written deep, not in ink, but in the blood of Australian and American service men and women. There can be no stranger outbreak of war than that which took place in the Pacific in 1941, when Australian forces, particularly the 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion, fell into the hands of the enemy virtually without firing a shot. “Repulse” and “Prince of Wales’ were destroyed practically without firing a shot, and eight major battleships of the United States Navy were destroyed at Pearl Harbour without firing an effective shot. Because unexpected things could happen, the broad lines of our defence policy must be laid down. No one would have thought that the cream of the forces in the Pacific could have been immobilized before they were able to take any retribution from the enemy. But these things happened. Surely, if any nation should have learned the lesson that things can happen quickly, Australia is that nation.
I come now to my second point, namely, the Government’s thinking on defence. That matter was dealt with effectively by the Leader of the Opposition. The more one examines the Government’s statements on defence, the more one can detect the complete confusion that exists. Any statements that are made are separated by a long period of time, and presumably those that are made by the Prime Minister are made on behalf of the Government.
Dealing with the question of collective defence, the Prime Minister said -
I immediately challenge the right honorable gentleman on that point. For a man to make a dogmatic statement such as that when dealing with defence against what might happen alarms me exceedingly. If the Coral Sea battle had not been won by the Allies, nobody doubts that Australia would have been invaded; but Britain and the United States of America would still have been in the fight. I think it is a dangerous attitude of mind for the Prime Minister to adopt.
To suggest that we must face up to an invasion only when our coastline is invaded is to suggest that all the fighting will be done away from Australia. I think that Australia might well have to face up to an invasion. Surely nobody believes that in future there will be a declaration of war, and that both sides will sit back and look at each other as we did during World War II. for a period of eight or nine months, which was described as the phoney war. Surely it is reasonable to assume that, if another war broke out, there would be a quick thrust, and that long before our allies could come to our help we would be fighting on Australia’s shores. I think the Prime Minister has under-rated the part that we would play in a global war and the part that we played in World War II. In 1944, Australia was maintaining, proportionate to its population, probably a greater force than was any other country, and at the same time was feeding approximately 12,000,000 people. We were maintaining every person who was fighting in the Pacific area and were shipping food to such places as India. That was thrust on us when we were practically undefended. Surely no government will ever be caught in that position again!
I was rather alarmed when I heard Senator Wordsworth say that the only reason why he thought we would not be bombed was that he believed ( Australia would fall, like a ripe plum into the hands of our enemies. What kind of thinking is it when a military man like Senator Wordsworth and the Prime Minister make the statements to which I have referred and a couple more which I intend to quote in a moment or two?
– Of course, they might be right.
– Now Senator Vincent says, “ They might be right “. I am dealing with the confused thinking on the question of defence. Is there any doubt that Australia would not again be the main base in this area or probably the only base upon which our allies could rely? If the Prime Minister thinks that the only time we will be invaded will be when our allies are down and out, he is indulging in very dangerous thinking. He suggests that the only time we would have to fight on our shores would be when it was not worth while fighting.
The Prime Minister has also said -
We cannot survive a surging Communist challenge from abroad except by the co-operation of powerful friends, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Very few people would challenge that statement, but I wonder what he envisages our part would be in a plan for collective security. Surely we must do something in the early stages to prevent an invasion so that this base will not be denied to our allies. Surely the Government’s first responsibility is to protect its own people, and then see what part it can play in a scheme of collective security.
Now I come to the statement that disturbs me more than any other. The right honorable gentleman has said -
If Malaya is vital to our defence, more vital properly understood, than some point on the Australian coast, then we must make Malayan defence, in a real sense, our business.
To my mind, that smacks too much of the Maginot line kind of thinking. It suggests that we will go miles from Australia, throw down a line of defence, and that that is where the war will be fought. It has never been satisfactorily explained to me whether there is any defence to the thrust of the mighty modern war machine. I do not know of one occasion during the last war when any of the major armies was defeated when making an attack. That applies to attacks that were made in central Europe, on the African continent, and to General Eisenhower’s attack. On every occasion, the defending army had to fall back and Haunch a counter-attack later.
In making Malaya our line of defence, we are committing exactly the same mistake that we made during World War II. If my theory that an army cannot stand up to a lightning thrust is correct, we certainly cannot resist a lightning thrust on the narrow neck of land which is the Malayan Peninsula. Let us help the Malayans as much as we can by training their troops. I have said in this place on more than one occasion that positions in Asia will finally be defended by Asians themselves. I am not suggesting that they do not want to defend their own countries, but if they do not want to do so nobody else can do it for them. We should be using the time available to us, which so far has been frittered away, by training these people in modern methods of war. It will be of no help to Malaya, and certainly of no help to Australia, if our strength is dissipated in Malaya as it was on the last occasion, and if our crack troops are behind bamboo or barbed wire without firing an effective shot. Surely that is not the way in which to plan for collective defence. What is starting to worry me about these defence statements are the pretty words that constantly fall from the lips of members of the Government. Every time during the last five years that we have tried to ascertain their meaning, we have been confronted by a blank wall.
The point towards which I have hurried is this:I wish to level a charge against the Government regarding the vital gap in our defences on the west coast. Over the years, talk about the Pacific area has been popular. For as long as most of us can remember, and probably for 50 or 60 years, we have never had to worry about the Indian Ocean. That, I suppose, is not because it laps the shores of Western Australia, but because, as we all know, we have been able to hold that approach to Australia. We have been able to hold the Cape of Good Hope, the Suez Canal, Ceylon, Singapore, as well as places like the northwest frontier of India, Burma and Malaya. All those places have been held by Britain. In addition, during World War I. we had the protection of the Japanese navy.
What is the position to-day regarding all those places that I have mentioned? India and Pakistan are tied to us by the loosest of ties, butboth the government and the opposition parties in India subscribe to a policy of non-intervention. Senator Wordsworth has given us his ideas about the Suez Canal; I do not think they are worth debating. Is there one person in this chamber to-night who would place any trust in Singapore again in the event of a global war, especially after all we have been told about its stand during the last war? Singapore held for only a few hours. I certainly would not pin any great faith in it. Although it would be very valuable in a local war, it could easily be knocked out
Again in a big war.
We have seen the position in regard to Trincomalee, in Ceylon. The Ceylon Government has adopted a policy of neutrality and said that the base at Trincomalee cannot be used in any circumstances in the event of war. In fact, it demanded, and obtained, an assurance from the British that the base would not be used during the recent Suez canal dispute. In South Africa, there is a base at Simonstown. Nobody would suggest that the use of that base could be guaranteed in the next fifteen years.
– We used to have it.
– That bears out my point. What would be the position if we wanted to rely upon it? There is no area in the world, regardless of arrangements for collective security, where Australia could be more decisive than in the Indian Ocean. We could make some contribution, in association with our allies, in the Pacific and to the north, but nowhere could we bs more decisive than in the Indian Ocean. Wow, then, could we launch any counterattacks, with all of those bases gone, and not one base on the Western Australian coast? We might try the use of an air umbrella, about which we have read, based on the Maldives, Cocos, and Darwin. There has not been one development in the Middle East or Asia which has not emphasized the need for a naval base somewhere on the Western Australian coast. There has not been one development which has not suggested that this matter is other than of vital urgency. But the answer we get from the Government is that the matter is not important enough to be considered at the present time.
Returning to the question of the time lag, I disagree completely with the Prime Minister when he says that Malaya is more important than some spot on the Australian coast. Surely, if he examines strategy, he cannot go on asserting seriously that Malaya is more’ important than some spot on the Australian coast. When we link this with the other suggestion that we will be invaded only when all else is lost, we can see the dangerous line of thinking that the Government follows. Collective security would not be weakened - it would be immeasurably strengthened - if we could block that gap in the Indian Ocean. Surely it is completely obvious that that is the one gap to which we have not paid any attention at all. I do not care which place the Government selects along that long coastline, lt is not as if there is a lack of suitable places. There are plenty of natural sites for the establishment of a naval base.
The need was brought home only the other clay, when the Italian ship “ Flaminia “ came to Fremantle with Italian immigrants. It had suffered engine trouble en route and had to dump the immigrants. Where do honorable senators think that ship had to go for repairs? It had to travel 2,000 miles to Singapore. Evidently it was too dangerous to take the crippled ship across the rough Great Australian Bight. Multiply that instance and contemplate what we would do in war-time, when Singapore would probably be denied to us. I do not think there is any other answer than the establishment of a base on the Western Australian coast.
The thing that alarms me about the Prime Minister’s statement is that it is mere words and does ‘ not get down to vital defence matters. In this technological age, we can lay down only very broad lines of defence, but there are all sorts of things that can be done. It is indisputable that we can improve the defences of our own country and at the same time subscribe to the principle of collective security. Even some of our friends who are members of the SouthEast Asia Treaty Organization are situated near the Indian Ocean, so surely they would not have any great objection to our strengthening that area.
The position is that we are weaker in the Indian Ocean to-day than we have ever been before in our history, but the Government just brushes off this matter, as it does most of our defence criticisms, saying that it is too busy at the moment and cannot get round to doing anything about the position. If ever there was a time when we had an opportunity to construct a base in Western
Australia, it is now, because 6,000 people are walking around looking for work. People do not like undertaking big construction jobs if they cannot get the right type of labour. Generally, the right type of labour in the initial stages of construction is unskilled labour. I can quite understand that the Government, when considering a big project, might say that it will not compete for labour, that it might not get a good class of labour, or that it might be tied up with industrial trouble. Here is an opportunity which has not existed before. It is not as if these people have been unemployed for a few months. Some of them have been unemployed for over two years. Here is a golden opportunity, not only to do something for the defence of Australia, but also to improve our economy.
We all know that one of the problems in relation to a naval base or dockyard, apart from the construction of it, is the industries that are behind it. I know that Western Australia is not a highly industrialized State, but each week it becomes more industrialized. It is a State which is developing. We cannot escape geography, particularly in defence. It is quite unarguable that in the Indian Ocean there is a gap in Australia’s defence. It is a gap that is vital in the whole of our collective planning in the Pacific, and it is quite within the province of this Government and the Parliament to do something about it. Do not tell me that a large portion of the £1,000,000,000 which has been spent on defence in the last five years has not been wasted. If it had been expended on capital works such as I have mentioned, if it had been applied to the Australian roads system or to the standardization of railway gauges, we would have something to show, and we would be able to say that we are much better off than we were five years ago. Instead of that, we have received very doubtful benefits from the expenditure of this money.
I repeat that in the Indian Ocean area we are worse off than ever before in our history. The matter is so vital that I am amazed that the Government has made no mention of it. We are accepting more commitments in Seato and Anzus, yet we are not looking to the fundamental matter of the defence of the Indian Ocean area. This is the ocean in which we lost “ Sydney “. This is the area in which the Australian Government was under the greatest strain in bringing troops back from overseas. Surely the greatest defence contribution that Australia could make would be to establish a situation in which she could say to her allies, “ Here is a base which will not fall to a sudden, unexpected attack, where freedom-loving countries can assemble not only for their own protection but also to punish any great nation which undertakes operations against the weak “.
Senator VINCENT (Western Australia) 110.591. - After listening to the master of strategy, Senator Willesee, I have become more melancholy than ever concerning the attitude of the Opposition to the defence policies and planning of this country. So far as I can understand, Senator Willesee and other Opposition speakers have gleaned most of their ideas about defence from the very safe depths of the armchair. I emphasize the word “ safe “.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 May 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1957/19570508_senate_22_s10/>.