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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Mr PAGE (Maranoa) . - In my opinion, the administration of the Defence Department should be looked into. If, as rumour has it, Colonel Hoad is to be made Inspector-General of the Forces of the Commonwealth, I shall proclaim the appointment to be nothing more nor less than a scandal. F'or a position like that, we should obtain the services of the most capable man available.

Mr Mcwilliams - Wherever he can be got.

Mr PAGE - Yes. Militarism is a progressive science. As I have mentioned before, I spent fifteen months at Shoeburyness, twenty-two or twenty-three years ago, in going through a course "of gunnery instruction, and', although, my education cost the British Government something like £1:60, I found, on visiting the forts at Queenscliff recently, that I knew as little about the manning of the guns' there as the rawest recruit. The honorable member for Wentworth pointed out to-night that the artillery arm is the scientific branch of the service, and I suggest that, in exchanging officers with other parts of the British Dominions, we should insist upon getting artillery and engineer officers. The Australian cavalryman is second to none in the British Dominions. I make that statement on the strength of some notes of a Conference of cavalry officers held in Great Britain, which were lent to me by the InspectorGeneral. Those officers declared that our cavalryman is perfect, and that they are sorry that the Imperial cavalryman is not equally effective and satisfactory. Then, with regard to the infantry, their evolutions and mode of attack are easily learned in books, or from special service officers. It is, however, useless to appropriate only £600 a year for the training of our officers abroad. However anxious an officer might be to learn, it would be impossible for him to obtain, in the course of a few months, any knowledge likely to be of service to Australia. In place of voting £600, I would vote £6,000 to secure the efficiency of our officers, because therein lies the secret of the successful organization of our forces. As regards the appointment of an InspectorGeneral, there is no one who values an Australian officer more than I do. I believe in having Australian officers for the Australian Army, because they possess the Australian sentiment; but I am not going to allow that feeling to run away with' my good sense. If we are going to have a Defence Force, we should have the best man possible as Commanding Officer, and pay him a good salary. There is no man in the Commonwealth today occupying a high position in the service who is fit to command the Australian Army. If it were to be called out, we should have to import an Imperial officer from either the old country or India. What officers in high positions here to-day have had the benefit of the experience which Imperial officers have had in India? I would point out to the Minister of Defence that it is of no use to pitch a feather-bed soldier into a position, where we want a man, to whom

Ave can look up, and of whom Ave can say, " Well, if the time ever does come, there is the man who can command our Army." We do not Avant a man who has used drawing room influence to attain his position. We do not Avant frill' and finery, but a capable soldier.

Mr Wilks - We cannot use the cry of Australia for the Australians, then, either?

Mr PAGE - No; it is too thin. When the day comes to put our Army in the field, we should have a man fit to command. Let me give an instance. In Queensland, two ot three months ago, they had the Forces out to give them general service conditions. There were about 2,000 men, and although they were only a few miles from Brisbane, they were not fit to organize the commissariat. During one-half of the time the men were without food and blankets. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs ? Our defence vote amounts to £700,000 or £800,000 a year, but in a sham affair, only a few miles from Brisbane, they not only had' to borrow the grocer's cart to bring in provisions, but to commandeer his store. And this in peace time !

Mr Crouch - Who is the State Commandant? He is responsible, surely.

Mr PAGE - I do not wish to say anything about the State Commandant. I raised a point about that man, and the Minister of Defence got a report from MajorGeneral Finn, who said that he is a competent officer. If the General Officer Commanding makes that statement, it is not for me to cavil at it. The Minister acted upon that recommendation, and I, as a good soldier, will obey the superior officer.

Mr Crouch - Was he in charge at the time of this lack in the commissariat?

Mr PAGE - Of course he was. It goes to show that we are not getting the best service. If the Forces had' to be put into the field, the first department which would break down would be the commissariat. How can we expect men to fight if we do not feed them? I earnestly hope that the Ministry will not be led into a cul-de-sac by appointing a mere figure-head as the InspectorGeneral. If he is to be a member of the Board, it means that he will go there to decide upon his own work.

Mr Wilks - What does the honorable member think of that system?

Mr PAGE - I thought that we were going to get some good out of the system when it was introduced' bv the honorable member for Corinella, but the more I see and know of it the more rotten I think it is. It casts authority from one person to another, and it is almost impossible, in some cases, to fix responsibility. If we have made a mistake what is the best means of remedying it? My advice is to abolish the Board and make the Commanding Officers responsible, getting, of course, the very best man we can possibly get.

Mr Wilks - We want less appeal to Parliament and more discipline.

Mr PAGE - I do not believe in bringing before Parliament every grievance that a man has, because I know that it interferes with discipline. In many instances I have refrained from ventilating personal grievances here, and in each case the Minister has remedied the trouble. On the other hand, if a grievance cannot be remedied in that quarter, Parliament is the proper body to appeal to as the last resort. In the interests of good order and discipline, however, we should keep these grievances out of Parliament as much as possible. I have no more to say about the Defence Force to-night- But I wish to sound this warning note to the Government - that, unless they are careful in the selection of their Inspector-General, they will find that they have raised a house of cards which will fall down, with possibly disas trous results. I wish to say a few wordswith regard to the pensioning of the gunner or driver mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth. It is the essence of meanness on the part of the Government if a man is, in the course of duty, disabled for life that they do not look after him. The British Government would not so act to the worst men or the lowest-paid men in the service. If a man gets injured iti the Imperial service, whether in peace time or active service, he gets a pension according to schedule. I believe that there should be drawn up a schedule of pensions to be paid to officers and men in the service who have been maimed or injured. Every one would then know what he was going to get if injured. The idea of turning out a young man with £272 to the mercy nf the world is preposterous. Sixteen years ago, when I was a sub-contractor, one of my men was hurt, and to-day I am keeping him, simply because he got injured in my service. Should not the Government do the same as a private employer is willing to do? I think it should. If no provision is made for this gunner to be pensioned, the regulations should be altered so that a pension may be granted to him. I wish now to speak on the question of trunk telephones, and I hope to have the support of every country member. We heard a great deal the other night about this Government, and I interjected that it was the only Government in Australia which had given the country the square deal that the towns and suburbs got. I am now going to put it to a practical test. In western Queensland many stations are connected with the telephone exchange in the town by some hundreds of miles of telephone. When the regulations were drawn out I had no idea that a line was going to cost the sum which the engineers computed, that is to say, a copper line for telephone use, with return metallic circuit. I have no doubt that the charges are all right. But what I want the Postmaster-General to do is to give the lines which are worked by the condenser system a chance of yielding a fair return. Take, for instance, the line from Gympie to Brisbane. The trunk rates were computed on the assumption that it would cost ^£4,000. Instead of the line costing £4,000, the expenditure amounted to only about £200 or £300. Yet the charges have been based upon the estimate of higher cost. I think that that is unfair. My constituents do not ask to be let off altogether, but they ask for a reduction of the rates. They do not ask that the charges should be reduced on the direct line, but that they should be relieved to an extent corresponding with the low cost of the service. I shall be satisfied if the Minister will give his consideration to this matter, and make some announcement in regard' to it when the Estimates are under consideration. Many of my constituents have written to me, and I have been in communication with the Department for several months on the subject. I should like the Prime Minister to furnish an answer to the question I asked on Friday last in regard to that memorable speech that was made by Colonel Riccardo, in December last.

Mr Wilks - What about the leader in the Argus?

Mr PAGE - If the gentleman who wrote that leader only knew it, he has done me a great service. I bought 100 copies of the Argus and sent them to various persons in mv electorate. I do not care what they say about me, so long, as it is the truth. The Age does not tell the truth, but misrepresents the facts. One has only lo read what appears in that newspaper this morning with reference to the Chairman, and the suggestion that his salary, as Chairman, will go to swell the funds of 'the Labour caucus.

Mr Wilks - Have not the party started to divide it already?

Mr PAGE - We are not going to tell the Age what we intend to do. Nothing that the Age or Argus can say will influence a single vote in my electorate.

Mr Wilks - Why did the honorable member send copies of the Argus to some of his constituents?

Mr PAGE - To let them see that theirepresentative was doing his duty.

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