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Thursday, 25 June 1914

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I call the honorable senator's attention to the fact that if he addressed his remark to Senator Pearce, he should withdraw it.

Senator Millen - I said that if any man made the statement, he would be a deliberate and wicked liar.

The PRESIDENT - The Minister followed that up by saying that that was the only way to reply to Senator Pearce.

Senator Millen - That was in reply to an interjection by another honorable senator.

The PRESIDENT - The subsequent statement of the Minister seemed to indicate that he applied his first statement to Senator Pearce. According to the rules of the Senate, such a statement is disorderly, and ought to be withdrawn. I ask the honorable senator to withdraw it.

Senator MILLEN - According to the rules of the Senate, then, I withdraw. I do not know that there are any other aspects' of the matter which it is necessary that I should deal with. If I have spoken warmly, I make no apology for it, because I feel that, in this matter, Senator Pearce has sought, by partial statements, and by ignoring the simple and obvious facts of the case, to launch a mere political accusation against me in the conduct of the Defence Department. I have no particular reason to take any exception to that from Senator Pearce, but I do ask honorable senators to recollect that in connexion with all the matters to which he has referred they will find in the speech I have made to-day what I submit is a sufficient answer to his very wild statements. I do not want anybody to think, because I have spoken as I have done with regard to Cockburn Sound and with regard to Cockatoo Island, that I am not as conscious as anybody could be of the great extent of the work yet to be performed.

Senator Russell - Could the honorable senator say a few words as to the position of the Flinders Naval Base ?

Senator MILLEN - I have not done so, but I have a note on the subject here. I thought that, perhaps, I was unduly occupying the time of the Senate. With regard to Westernport, this is the position : Senator Pearce, not concerned again as to whether the works at Westernport were being proceeded with, but concerned to make out that Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, as he would suggest, brought out here to curse the Labour party, had remained' to bless them, affirmed that Sir Maurice had approved of what was done there.

Senator Pearce - He said that we chose the right site.

Senator MILLEN - Nobody ever challenged the site.

Senator Pearce - Yes, the honorable senator did. He said that we chose that site exactly as we had chosen the site at Cockburn Sound, and that we were not competent to choose the site.

Senator MILLEN - There is a very different proposition at Hanns' Inlet to that confronting us at Cockburn Sound. If a mistake were made in selecting Hanna' Inlet, it would only have meant the dredging of a channel for a few more yards than would otherwise have been necessary. No one ever challenged the selection of that site. But it was thought that as Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice was coming out to give advice on works of magnitude like Cockburn Sound, it would be a mistake not to obtain his advice also upon the projected works at Westernport and upon Cockatoo Island. What Sir Maurice did make clear to me, and what I could not get cleared up in any other way, was that the proposals at Westernport were largely in excess of the requirements as laid down by Admiral Henderson.

Senator Pearce - The proposals of whom ?

Senator MILLEN - The proposals of the Department, and what I venture to>' say would have been the proposals of my honorable friend if he had remained in charge of the Department long enough, because he developed the happy knack of putting "Yes" on to everything put before him.

Senator Pearce - No.

Senator MILLEN - I am going to make an admission for the benefit of my honorable friends opposite should they succeed to Minsterial office. It is that if they wish to be popular in a Department they must agree with everything that the officials put before them. If they do that, the officials will go round and sing their praises in such a way as possibly to lead them to believe that they are bigger men than they really are. Any man who goes down to one of the Departments, especially the Defence Department, and believes it to be his duty to look into matters, and give a decision upon them as they appeal to him, is not going to be as popular as a man who will sign anything that is put before him.

Senator O'Keefe - Is that not a rather serious reflection upon the high officials of the Defence Department?

Senator MILLEN -I do not know what it is, but it is true.

Senator Pearce - Senator Millen is, of course, the first man who ever had the courage to do that.

Senator MILLEN - I am not saying that I was the first who had the courage to do it, but I do say that my honorable friend never had the courage to do it.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator was the only one.

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friend brings up matters here, and I am putting the naked truth about them before the Senate. Coming back to Senator Russell's question, and the position at Westernport, let me say that Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice gave us a general indication of what it was necessary to do to carry out Admiral Henderson's proposals. The plans for the detail of the works have been completed, and authority to proceed with them has been given. The most serious question there is that of dredging. We could have finished a great deal of the work at Westernport during the last twelve months. I can tell the Senate of some of the work that would have been proceeded with if I had not taken charge of the Department. The proposition was made to me a good whileago to approve ofthe construction ofa wharf. Before I had been in the Department very long, an order was submitted to me for the purchase of a lot of machinery for the construction of thewharf. I marked it "Deferred," Itcame up again the other day, and I was reminded that it had been put before me about twelve months ago. I thought then that it was time to say why I had deferred it. I do not claim to be an engineer, but I could see at once that there was no need to proceed with the construction of that wharf twelve months ago, seeing that it was quite impossible to get any ship to tie up to the wharf until the channel was dredged. There have been some delays in the completion of the dredges, and in arranging for the dredges Senator Pearce apparently did not think of the necessity of a tug to pull them out.

Senator Pearce - Did it take twelve months for the honorable senator to discover that a tug was needed?

Senator MILLEN - So far as I am concerned, I only recently found it out. I assumed thatmy honorable friend, having been three years in chargeof the Department, had made all his preparations for carrying out the work.

Senator de Largie - That is an admission that the honorable senator is npt so smart after all.

Senator MILLEN - I do not make any claim to be smart. I want to say that no one could take charge of the Defence Department and pretend that he knew everything that was going on there.

Senator Russell - Does the honorable senator want one dredge one tug?

Senator MILLEN - That would depend on how they were working. It seems to me that in that comparatively narrow channel onetug should be enough if a sufficient numberof hoppers are provided.

SenatorRussell. - Would it pay to buy a tug for the purpose of shifting two dredges into the channel and out again?

Senator MILLEN - If Senator Russell will make me an offer of a tug now I shall gladly submit it to the Board. We are up against the difficulty now of getting a tug built. The difficulty of getting a tug built to-day is very considerable. That is one of the things thatwill make for a little further delay. I hope to overcome the difficulty byhiring or obtaining from some othersource atug that will enableus to start dredging as soon as thedredges areavailable, which Ithink will bewithin sixweeks' time. I do not meanto say thatdredging will proceedthen, because the necessary hopperbarges will still require to be provided. But I anticipate that it will not be very long now before a' start can be made with the most serious undertaking at Westernport - the dredging of the channel.

Senator McDougall - What power tug is required ?

Senator MILLEN - I cannot answer that technical question.

Senator McDougall - I want to get the honorable senator what he wants.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator will render a great service to the Defence. Department if he will say where we can secure a suitable tug for the purpose. I had hoped that we should be able to build the tugs we required at Cockatoo Island.

Senator Russell - I do not say this by way of a charge, but my information is that the number of hands at Westernport has been considerably reduced. Is it the intention of the Government to push on with the work of the Flinders Base?

Senator MILLEN - Undoubtedly it is, but, as I have explained, it was useless to proceed with a portion of the work which would remain idle until another portion of it had been completed. That is one of the complaints I make against the administration of Senator Pearce. The honorable senator gave no business consideration to the time and order in which works should be proceeded with. So far as I can do so, with my humble capacity, I am trying to correct that.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator has done nothing but suspend things since he has been in charge of the Department.

Senator MILLEN - I make no secret of the fact that I suspended the construction of the wharf to which I have referred. I challenge any one to say that I took a wrong action there when it would have been from eighteen months to two years before a boat could have been got up to the wharf.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator claims to have been capable of forming an independent judgment on that matter. How is it he was not capable of forming an independent judgment on the question of closing down the Cockatoo Island Dockyard?

Senator MILLEN - Because I was capable of forming an independent judgment on a simple question. as to whether a wharf could be used when it was constructed, it does not follow that I was able to form an independent judgment upon the safety of a number of boilers.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator had a report.

Senator MILLEN - The report came to me in the form I have indicated, to the Senate. It was a clear declaration from a responsible engineer officer of the Department that it was dangerous to continue using those boilers.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator has been responsible for throwing more men out of employment than any other Minister.

Senator MILLEN - As for throwing men out of employment, a few of them did, perhaps, lose a little. The blow of closing down the works, if it was a blow, was eased to them by the fact that they knocked off on Thursday, and on Friday were paid for the balance of the week. On the Monday very few of tlie men were out of work; on the Tuesday still fewer; and by Wednesday, with the exception of a few engaged in the shops, they had all been absorbed again. The alternative to that was, as I said before, risking their lives; and I was not prepared to take that risk. Perhaps I ought to apologize for taking up so much of the time of the Senate, but tlie matters with which I have dealt are not unimportant, and honorable senators will admit, in view of the 'emphatic charges and statements made by Senator Pearce, that I was entitled to the indulgence of the Senate whilst I replied to them.

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