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Wednesday, 11 August 1926

Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW (Queensland) (Minister for Home and Territories) [8.30]. - In following this debate on the budget-papers, I have noted with pleasure the great interest displayed by honorable senators in the important question of defence, and am pleased that they agree that it is essential that the Government should provide the funds necessary for this purpose. In considering the provision that is made, however, honorable senators should have regard to our somewhat meagre population, to the commit- mentswhichhavealreadybeenentered into in connexion with the opening up and development of the Commonwealth, and also to the fact that we are already spending a considerable amount in the various branches of Commonwealth defence. A statement was made by the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse) in another place, setting out what had been done during the last two or three years. In the course of this statement, he pointed out that -

It will be remembered that the Government, after careful consideration of the question generally, and with the object of establishing a definite defence policy upon a sound basis, approved, in July, 1924, of a developmental programme extending over five years (commencing with 1924-25) at an annual cost of £1,000,000, exclusive of the capital cost of two 10,000-ton cruisers, two submarines, and a seaplane carrier.

The developmental programme, for which £1,000,000 is provided for 1926-27 (i.e., third year), will be applied mainly to the following:

Navy. - The enlistment of personnel to provide for the manning of two submarines which will be commissioned towards the close of 1926-27, and the subsequent commissioning of the two new cruisers and one seaplane carrier.

Training an additional quota of R.A.N.R. trainees.

Filling one 8,000-ton oil tank at Port Darwin.

Approved increase in pay for Auxiliary Naval Forces.

Military. - Purchase of munitions (equipment, ammunition, &c).

Provision of storage and magazine facilities.

Training an additional quota of Citizen Forces, and extra training for Citizen Forces generally. Approved increase in pay of Permanent Military Forces.

Air Force. - Buildings and works generally at Laverton (Aircraft Depot), Richmond (N.S.W.), and Point Cook (No. 1 Flying Training School).

Increased personnel due to development of the Aircraft Depot at Laverton, and towards establishment of an additional squadron to be formed in 1927-28.

Civil Aviation. - Air route subsidies.

Establishment of lightplane clubs.

Munitions Supply Branch. - Machinery and plant for manufacture of munitions.

Maintenance of Munitions Factories at Maribyrnong and Footscray, which came into operation during 1925-26.

In addition to £1,000,000 provided for developmental purposes, Defence Estimates for 1926-27 (excluding War Services) total £4,069,089 from revenue, and £587,500 from Loan Fund,whilethe following special appropriations made available since the 1st July, 1924 (i.e., date of commencement of developmental programme), will be operated upon as occasion demands: -

(a)   Defence Equipment Act 1924 - £2,500,000 (£2,000,000 to be devoted to naval construction, and £500,000 for purchase of arms, armament, &c, survey of Great Barrier Reef, and other urgent defence services) .

(b)   Naval Construction Act 1925 - £1,500,000 for naval construction.

(c)   Defence Equipment Act 1926 - £1,250,000 (£1,000,000 for naval construction, £250,000 for purchase of aircraft equipment, provision of accommodation, &c. ).

From these figures, it will be seen that the Government is spending a large sum in the effort to provide an effective defence system, and that it has gone as far as its resources will at present permit, having regard to our somewhat limited population. One of the best means of providing for the defence of Australia is by making available the necessary funds to enable the country to be developed so that more people will be induced to settle here. I remind the Senate that the Government is devoting large sums to the attainment of that object. Then, too, it must not be forgotten that we already have the nucleus of naval and military organizations which, in time, will be able to operate in either defensive or offensive engagements. Our land forces are at present based on an. organization similar to that which was in operation during the great war. We have five infantry divisions and two light horse divisions. The department is making provision for the training of a nucleus staff of officers- and non-commissioned officers to command the various units, and also to provide the necessary arms and equipment for use by men Under training. We cannot expect trainees in the brief period allowed for training to be ready at short notice to engage in either offensive or defensive operations. Although during the war period we had the services of a large number of experienced and enthusiastic citizen force officers and men, it took approximately six months to train them to a sufficient standard to enable them to take part in military operations. Speaking from personal experience, I may say that, although we established our organization in 1914, and started training in Egypt at the beginning of 1915, the force did not reach the zenith of its efficiency until the autumn of 1917. The training that is at present being undertaken is all that can be done with the resources at our disposal.

Senator Payne - Will the Minister reply to the protests made concerning the training of recruits in certain areas under the Universal training scheme If

Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW - When the trainees available in a particular centre are below a specified number, it is too expensive to train them. Some of the units have "been disbanded because the numbers are below what is considered a reasonable standard

In connexion with our naval expenditure, I may say that the. provision of cruisers, submarines, and a seaplanecarrier, in addition to other craft, will give us a self-contained unit capable of operating either independently or in conjunction with the British Navy.

Senator Duncan - When is the seaplanecarrier expected to be completed?

Senator Sir WILLIAMGLASGOW.That depends upon the activity of certain persons in the State which the honorable senator represents. Honorable senators opposite have referred in a light and airy way to the defence policy of the Labour party. They believe in defending Australia with aeroplanes and- subma rines. Submarines, I would point out, would be attacked by fast and comparatively cheap craft, which would drop depth charges upon them. That would be the enemy's answer to such a system of defence. In turn, these small craft could be attacked by destroyers, which would -blow them out of the water. The answer to the provision of destroyers would be fast cruisers, and they in turn would be met by battleships. The ideal naval force is one which can assist the various units.

Senator Needham - It is better to build friendships than battleships.

Senator Sir WILLIAMGLASGOW.Yes; but when one's friends are armed to the teeth, one may very well say to them, " We will lay down our arms, if you. will do so first." If there were any guarantee of international peace, I am sure Australia, in common with other nations, would be very willing to scrap its defence system.

During the course of the debate, Senator Guthrie, who has always taken a keen interest in naval trainees, and also returned soldiers, referred to the naval trainees, who, during their training, are not only learning the value of comradeship and discipline, but are rendering a service to their country. Senator Guthrie said -

By its recent decision to alter the system of naval training, the Government is undermining the personnel of the Australian Fleet tu such an extent that I fear we shall not bie training a sufficient number of Australian youths to man the new cruisers when they are placed in commission.

The system of naval training has not been altered. It remains the same as before, except that the entry of boys between the ages of fourteen and a half years and sixteen years has been suspended temporarily.

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