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Thursday, 15 May 1924

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- It is true that the question of undertaking this work has been submitted to the Public Works Committee, which has submitted a favorable report, but I do not know if this House is justified in agreeing to the motion without giving it very careful consideration. The proposed building is to provide additional accommodation at the Flinders Naval Depot, and the question naturally arises why should we duplicate our training depots. If this were the only training centre in the Commonwealth, the proposal is one which we could probably support; but we have at least four such establishments in the Commonwealth. We could in all probability do with fewer, and if the number were induced the efficiency would possibly be greater. At present, we have the Military College at Duntroon, the Naval College at Jervis Bay, a training depot at Flinders, and an aviation school at Point Cook. It is well known that considerable economy could be effected if the work done at Duntroon and the Naval College were conducted at the one establishment. At the moment, I am unable to say to what extent the work at the Flinders Naval Base and Point Cook could be amalgamated, but there should be some inquiry as to why it is necessary to have four different training depots, as pointed out in the Committee's report. The Minister, in submitting the motion, should have explained whether the trainees to be accommodated in the proposed building could be trained at any of the other bases, as there may be more than sufficient accommodation at one centre and overcrowding at another. Whatever may be said as to the necessity for providing adequate defence for Australia, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that we are authorizing the expenditure of a large sum of money without being told if there is sufficient accommodation elsewhere.

Mr Stewart - It is only fair to say that a different form of training is given at each establishment.

Mr CHARLTON - That may be so, but surely it is possible for different kinds of training to be given in the one building. If we have a structure capable of accommodating the whole of the trainees, although they may be in different branches of the service, could not each particular section be trained under expert officers in a separate portion of the building? The head of every branch of the Defence Department thinks that his particular section is the most important, and that is causing unnecessary expenditure. We should insist that whatever has to be done in regard to defence is carried out in the most economical manner possible.

Mr Stewart - Hear, hear !

Mr CHARLTON - The Minister agrees with me.

Mr Maxwell - Every one does.

Mk-. CHARLTON. - I am glad that that is the case. If we have more than sufficient accommodation in any of the other three depots, is it fair to say that merely because each particular branch wants separate training quarters, we should erect additional buildings. The report of the Public Works Committee, which I received this afternoon, deals only with the particular question submitted to it by this House. It was not within the province of the Committee to go into any other aspect of the question, but it is the duty of this House to ascertain whether there is not accommodation available at Jervis Bay, where heavy expenditure is incurred in training students.

Mr West - It costs £1,300 per annum for each student.

Mr CHARLTON - That is a staggering statement. I do not think any honorable member will regard it as economical to construct additional buildings when the accommodation at Jervis Bay is not used to its fullest extent.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Although the building can accommodate 160, there are only 40 trainees there.

Mr CHARLTON - If -that is the case, there is accommodation for 120 which is not utilized. Parliament should realize that it is necessary to concentrate all those engaged in different branches, whether in the Defence Department or another, in order to reduce expenditure. It is useless to urge in support of additional buildings that another structure is necessary, because those to be accommodated are in a different branch of the Defence Department. Why should they not all be instructed and trained in the one building ? The honorable member for. Martin (Mr. Pratten) showed us very clearly this afternoon the direction in which we are drifting, and notwithstanding this, we are still authorizing expenditure which in very many instances could be avoided. It is possible that before very long some of the buildings which have recently b]een 'erected will not be fully occupied, and we should make some inquiries in order to ascertain where savings can be effected. Instead of that we are following the old practice, and leaving it to the heads of various departments of 'Defence to do practically what they wish. It is only natural that each departmental head wishes his branch to be regarded as the leading arm of defence, but we should decide such matters, instead of being guided entirely by the .representations made from time to time by what ons might term interested persons. They are not purposely misleading us, but they think that the particular department of which they are the heal should be supreme. We should decide which is to be the first arm of defence, lay down the basis upon which co work, and thus reduce expenditure. The Minister has given the House very little information, but he is fortified by the recommendation of the Public Works Committee. That Committee, however, investigates and reports upon only the particular project that is referred to it. It does not bother to investigate other aspects of the question.

Mr Jackson - That is not so. The printed evidence clearly disproves that statement.

Mr CHARLTON - I have not had an opportunity to peruse the evidence; it has been tabled only within the last few minutes.

Mr Jackson - It is a pity that the Leader of the Opposition was not supplied with a copy of the report yesterday.

Mr CHARLTON - I agree with the honorable member. I have on several occasions complained of being asked to deal at short notice with business brought before the House without having had an opportunity of seeing the reports relating to it. These reports should be made available to all honorable members several days in advance of any motion upon the subjects with which they deal, so that we might peruse the evidence and ascertain the facts. It is unfair that business should be rushed through the Chamber before honorable members have had an opportunity of studying the information upon which recommendations of Committees and subsequent motions in the House are based. I am glad to have the assurance of the honorable member for Bass that the Public Works Committee did consider the aspect that I have mentioned. Nevertheless, I am opposed to the proposed expenditure. The present Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), before he entered the Ministry, and other members on the Government side of the House, urged the concentration of defence training by the amalgamation of the various establishments. The suggestion was made that Duntroon Military College should be closed, that the houses connected therewith should be utilized for the workmen at Canberra., and that the cadets should be transferred to Jervis Bay.

Mr Paterson - That is absolutely impracticable.

Mr CHARLTON - Others differ from the honorable member upon that point. It is our duty to conserve the taxpayers' money, but I am afraid that on too many occasions unwarrantable expenditure is incurred by vote of this House. I must know more about the position of the Naval College at Jervis Bay before I can support the motion.

Mr Makin - The Public Accounts Committee is investigating that matter now.

Mr CHARLTON - If that is so, tlie Minister would be wise to postpone this motion until the House is in possession of the report of that Committee.

Mr Marks - I do not think the report will affect the subject of this motion.

The proposed accommodation at Flinders is for naval ratings to the number of about 300. The Jervis Bay College is for the training of naval cadets.

Mr CHARLTON - The investigation by the Public Accounts Committee might prove that the Jervis Bay establishment is not utilized to its fullest extent, and that it might be practicable to use it for other forms of training. The Public Accounts Committee has a roving commission; its investigations are not limited by any specific reference from the House, and it is in a good position to make recommendations upon any subject for the guidance of the House. I therefore move -

That all the words after " That " be struck out with a view to inserting the following : - " the motion before the House remain in abeyance until such time as the Public Accounts Committee reports on the Jervis Bay Naval College."

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