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Wednesday, 14 October 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I think that I can congratulate my honorable friend opposite on having made a- record as regards speeches delivered on the AddressinReply. I believe that it is the shortest, the most concise, and, may I say without any offence, the most agreeable speech to which we on this side have ever listened from him when he has been in Opposition. I could not help but admire the dexterous and nimble way in which the honorable member skated on the thin ice of the double dissolution. I was expecting to find that he had a few valuable hints to give us for the future constitutional guidance of the Senate, because it did seem to me that to any student of the Constitution, and especially one who, likemy honorable friend, has been associated with this Parliament from its inception, the events which have taken place here during the past twelve months leading up to the double dissolution, the necessity for an election, and the ultimate result, would have suggested some useful lesson, which, with the freedom that comes to a Leader of the Opposition, he would consider it his duty to communicate for the benefit of the Senate and the country. Certainly the question of the double dissolution does bring to my mind this, fact: that not only is it fortunate for those of us who happen to occupy seats upon this side of the Senate, but it is fortunate for the country that the recent elections resulted as they did. We might have witnessed, for example, the spectacle of' the party represented by my honorable friends opposite being again returned with a majority in the other House, but with a. minority in this Chamber. What would have happened then ? We should have had a joint sitting of the two Houses. Upon what? Upon the Bill abolishing preference to unionists in Government employment. After that sitting had been held, the position would have been one of " as you were," and then, I suppose, my honorable friends would have started again to deliberately bring about another double dissolution.

Senator McDougall - No. They would have had. enough.

Senator PEARCE - They would have had to do that or else abandon their programme. I wonder that they do not admit that they made a mistake in tendering the advice which they did to His Excellency the Governor-General - that they put an unjustifiable and strained interpretation upon that section of the Constitution which provides for the solution of deadlocks. But all these things my honorable friend, the Leader of the Opposition, left severely alone, so that we are entirely ignorant of the lessons which he may have drawn from the elections or, at. any rate, we have not had the benefit of them this afternoon.

Senator Millen - Because I thought it was advisable, as far as possible, to refrain from dealing with party matters.

Senator PEARCE - But the Constitution is not a party matter.

Senator Millen - It was a party matter..

Senator PEARCE - It was madea party matter, I agree. But now that we. have gone through this experience, both parties in the interests of the Constitution, and particularly of the Senate, might very well consider what should be done in the future.

Senator Bakhap - The Minister of Defence is deducing that the Senate should not be subject to a dissolution in any circumstances.

Senator PEARCE - And, judging by my honorable friend's experience, I do not know that he will not be found to be a strong advocate of that position in the future. As to the more urgent matter of the greatwar in which the Empire is engaged, I am sure that we all listened with great interest to the remarks of Senator Millen. Coming from him, those remarks possess a greater force because he* had to bear the brunt of the work which fell upon the Commonwealth Government during the initial stages of this war. He had to make the preliminary preparations, and to bear all the initial anxiety thrust upon the Government on account' of that: war.

Senator Keating - He came throughit well, too.

Senator PEARCE - He did. The Leader of the Opposition knows - probably nobody .in this Parliament better - that our offers of assistance must be governed by a consideration of our ability to equip troops, so that it is not merely a question of raising men. I do not doubt that Australia could easily raise double the number of troops we have raised up to now. But I ask my honorable friends if we could equip them. It must be remembered that the mere raising of men and the sending of them forward unequipped must be contingent on the ability of the War Office to equip them. These are matters which, of course, cannot be discussed on the floor of Parliament for obvious reasons. But they have to be borne in mind by any Government responsible for making offers of assistance. The Leader of the Opposition knows very well the difficulties that he encountered. No doubt they occasioned him considerable anxiety, and- he knows just how rauch can be done in the immediate future in that regard. I approve of his affirmation that Australia should make the greatest sacrifices of which she is capable, and in any way that we can initiate proposals to render assistance to the Mother Country that will be done. I am sure that the Government and the Senate are heartily in sympathy with the affirmation that Australia should make the greatest sacrifices possible. We are glad that in this regard we have in both Houses the assurance of the utmost support from members of the Opposition.

X wish now to say a few words regarding Senator Millen's suggestion that our defence scheme makes no provision for service abroad. That has always struck me as a weakness, for the reason that in the very expeditions that were recently organized by the late Government for service in the Pacific - in our sphere of influence, and in islands practically in our own seas - we could not send a single soldier unless he were a volunteer. There was no organization in existence for dealing with those islands. That does seem to me to be a weakness, and it is one which, when the present ' trouble is over, any Government which may be in power must set themselves seriously to think over and to deal with. It will be all the more necessary to deal with it in the future, because, if the war turns out as we- all hope it will, our sphere of influence will be widened by the fact that what wore formerly German possessions are possessions under the British flag, and, with the consent of the Allies,, may, after the war, remain under that flag. In that case this matter will become more insistent of settlement. The setting of a certain quantity of equipment aside, Senator Millen knows, is impossible. He knows perfectly well that it has taxed the whole of our resources to provide the equipment necessary for our troops without making any provision in excess of that. In regard to the pension scheme, Senator Millen did not make' his details public.

Senator Millen - So far as privates were concerned, " Yes."

Senator PEARCE - So far as any details of the scheme are concerned, he did not make them public. He will,' therefore, excuse me if I do exactly what he did. I cannot make them public, because at the present time those details are before the Cabinet, and I am not in the position to make them public until the Cabinet has approved them. But, so far as the minimum rates are concerned, they are not less, but rather more, favorable than were those which my predecessor himself proposed. That is as much as I am at liberty to say at present. Concerning the position occupied by Mr. Jensen on the Naval Board, I am rather glad that the Leader of the Opposition has raised this question, because it had never occurred to me that we were endeavouring to find a job for Mr. Jensen after he ceases to be a Minister. Now that it has been raised, I shall certainly see that the item of salary is struck off the Estimates.

Senator Mullan - That will be £800 saved.

Senator PEARCE - Mr. Jensen has been appointed to his position on the Naval Board for just so long a period as he remains a Minister. Certainly he has not been appointed as an ordinary civil servant, nor is it intended that, should he cease to be a Minister, the position which he fills will be held by any other than one of the Assistant Ministers. T. was very interested to hear the minute which Senator Millen read this afternoon. The honorable senator did not leave a copy of that document in the Defence Department.

Senator Millen - Ministers do not leave in public Departments the minutes which they submit to Cabinet.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. That makes it all the more surprising that immediately on assuming office I should have penned a minute to the Cabinet on almost similar lines. I am glad that he approves of .the action that has been taken so far as it has gone. As he remarked, Admiral Henderson, upon page 29 of his report, recommended that there should be appointed to the Naval Board a -

Finance and Civil Member (to be a member of Parliament, of the Senate when the Minister is in the House of Representatives, and mcc versa, or as an alternative this member might be a Senior Naval Accountant Officer or a Civilian Accountant).

In setting out the members of the Naval Board, Admiral Henderson affirms that the Finance and Civil Member of that body should deal with finance, contracts, and legal questions. That is the position which is to be filled by Mr. Jensen during the time that he remains Assistant Minister. The question of the creation of additional portfolios has been rendered insistent consequent on the progress of the Commonwealth during the last four years. Admittedly we have met it only in a temporary way. But I put it that at present the temporary arrangement which has been made is the best possible one. It is not wise at the present juncture to make any drastic changes in the distribution of portfolios. Perhaps that applies to the portfolio of Defence more than to any other portfolio. Senator Millen will, I am sure, be the first to recognise that there are some Departments in which responsibility may be divided with advantage, whilst there are other Departments in which it cannot be divided with so much advantage, even though the work in them is sufficient to occupy more than one Minister. There is one advantage in dividing responsibility in the. Defence Department which does not arise from dividing responsibility in any other Department, in that there are two branches of Defence, namely, the military and the naval branch. If we have two Ministers, one controlling the naval, and the other the military side of the Defence Department, that branch of the Department which is presided over by the stronger Minister will secure a greater vote of money and more prominence than will the other branch, not because it may be the soundest from a strategical point of view, but merely from the circum stance that one Minister possesses a stronger personality than the other.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - One Minister may give greater attention to the naval work of the Department, and vice versa, and the same disadvantage will arise then.

Senator PEARCE - Both branches are essential to the defence of the country, and yet, as Senator Gould has pointed out, because a more active Minister presides over one branch than presides over another, more work may be accomplished in that branch than is necessary, and the other branch may suffer. By making one Minister responsible for both sides of this Department, he is in a position to equalize matters, and, by having the assistance of a junior Minister, he is able to accept responsibility for both branches, while at the same time being relieved of a great amount of the routine work of the Department/ Practically that is what is being done under the present arrangement. Mr. Jensen is not only to act as Finance Member of the Naval Board, but I am glad to say that he is relieving me of a large quantity of the routine work of the two branches of the Department, and is thus enabling me to devote more time to the bigger questions which must engage one's attention. Just here may I say that, in my opinion, we have inherited a legacy of an almost vicious character from State Administrations. Prior to Federation, the Minister of Defence of the different Colonies had comparatively an easy time. He had only a small naval force and a small military force to deal with. The consequence was that he was able to give his attention to the minutest details of administration, and members of Parliament were able to bring under his personal notice minute questions of administration. At Federation all these six administrations were formed into one Department, but, unfortunately, we inherited the system of administration that was previously carried out in the various Colonies. Under that system the Minister had to approve of the minutest details of administration, and we have followed the same system. It is impossible for the Minister under Federation to deal with all the matters of routine that are now left to him as a consequence of the system we have inherited.

Senator Millen - Compensation to the extent - of £2 for a wounded horseman cannot be made without the matter coming before the Minister of Defence.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. A vast amount of detail comes to the Minister which it was, perhaps, possible for him to deal with in the separate Colonies prior to Federation, but which it. is quite impossible for the Minister of Defence to deal with to-day, even though he worked 24 hours in every day. If the Minister of War or the First Lord of the Admiralty in the Old Country were required by the system of administration there to do the tilings which the Minister of Defence is required to do here, what sort of progress would be made in naval or military affairs in the Old Country?

Senator Keating - The British Expeditionary Force- would not be away yet.

Senator PEARCE - It would not, and the British Navy would never have been built. This brings home to us the fact that we need not only to rearrange portfolios, but to rearrange methods of administration. We need to unload upon responsible officers a vast amount of the work of dealing- with details which now rests upon the Minister of Defence. Unless we do so the death-roll of Ministers must be added to.

Senator Bakhap - We do not want the honorable senator to die.

Senator PEARCE - I do not wish to die yet, but Senator Millen will I know heartily approve of what I am saying, because he has been through the mill. The. honorable senator realizes, I am sure,, that a large number of things come to the Minister that ought never to come to him at all. Taking their cue from the system of administration, members of Parliament write to the Minister upon matters of detail which no Minister can find- the time to give his personal attention to. The Minister has to send, the requests made to him to some officer to deal with, and if responsibility for manmatters of the kind to which I refer were placed upon reliable officers,, members of Parliament would be able to approach those officers, and have the matters which they wished inquired into dealt with at once. As we have inherited the system which was in force prior to Federation, members of the Federal Parliament have been compelled to follow the procedure which was followed in the past by members of the State Parliaments. The consequence is that they aTe unable to give their con stituents satisfaction. There is a lot of circumlocution before matters can be attended to, and the Minister is submerged in an ocean of details which leaves him no time to devote to bigger matters to which he should be devoting himself, especially at such a juncture as the present.

Senator Mullan - The Government have three years in which to make alterations.

Senator PEARCE - That is so, but at the present time it is impossible to remodel anything. I am glad that Senator Millen has passed the Governor-General's Speech with practically little or no criticism. He recognises that most of the matters put forward are inevitable,, either because of the conditions brought about by the war, or from the fact that the party now represented by* the Government have made certain pledges to> the electors-, and intend to do their best to carry them out. I trust that the friendly way in which the honorablesenator has spoken on the- AddressinReply is indicative of what we hope will prove to be a fact, that we- have a veryworkable and pleasant session before us.

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