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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Sir JOHN GELLIBRAND (Denison) (10:52 AM) . - In the discussion of the defence vote, it is desirable, I think, that we should keep in mind the fact that for the effective defence of Australia, we must rely upon co-operation with the Imperial Forces. The InspectorGeneral's report stresses the shortage of numbers, of equipment, and of leaders. If, however, a possible enemy wished to study the condition of our defences, he would read the InspectorGeneral's report in conjunction with the* Hansard debates in this House,. he would supplement his knowledge by a. visit to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, or Brisbane on Anzac Day, where lie would find men Still in the prime of life taking part in the parade arranged for that occasion. He would there see a very considerable number of men with vast military experience and whose value as fighting troops is second to none in the world. It 8.undoubtedly true, however, that in the course of time, the value of this reserve "will disappear. And it must be our concern to see what can be done to build it up. For the time being I am quite content with the arrangements made by the Government, but I realize that the present state of affairs cannot with safety be allowed to continue indefinitely. The InspectorGeneral's reference to the shortage of leaders touches a very vital matter in connexion with the defence of Australia, To illustrate my meaning I wish to draw attention to the very great difference that existed between the first and second divisions of the Australian Imperial Forces. The formation of the first division practically robbed Australia of . every officer and non-commissioned officer with training, military education and experience; so that the succeeding divisions had to do the best they could with the material that was left over.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And they did very well, too.

Sir JOHN GELLIBRAND - Yes, but *it what expense! To send troops into the -field under the command of untrained officers is, to my mind, little short of a capital offence. It is to emphasize the danger that I now direct attention to this weakness in our scheme of defence. The InspectorGeneral has pointed to the shortage of leaders and the lack of opportunity for their training. To remedy this position we must be prepared to spend more money. At present, thanks to the patriotism of the officers, non-commissioned officers and specialists generally of the existing formations, good worts is being (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) to the -; loss sustained by the Commonwealth through the death of Colonel Foster, who was undoubtedly a brilliant soldier and, had he been spared, would undoubtedly have been of inestimable value to the Commonwealth. The number of such men who have disappeared during the last few years has been altogether too great. Although their services remain available, their value is not infrequently impaired once they have left the army. That emphasizes the need for the expenditure of an increased amount on the education of potential leaders and specialists. One of the most effective forms of instruction is that of army exercises.

On the material side of our defence preparations, the Government has done a considerable amount, towards making Australia independent in the matter of an ammunition supply. But our factories and means of supply are entirely governmental, and when emergency arises, it will be extremely difficult to extend instrumentalities of that nature to the extent required for the service of the troops in the field. That has been the experience of every nation. The subject of available ammunition stocks is one which no soldier would deal with in public, nor would the Minister consent to discuss it publicly. This Government is to be congratulated upon having the soldier element well represented in its ranks, this very important matter is not likely to be overlooked or forgotten. The re-armament of our coastal defence was the subject of comment by the Leader of the Opposition at the last elections, and more recently. With all respect, to the opinions of the honorable member, I confess that I am not a very strong advocate of heavy expenditure on re-armament, as I consider there are more pressing items on which money should be spent. While tanks, mechanical transport, and similar items may be most urgent in Europe, a similar state of affairs does not apply in Australia. During the. war one of the most efficient portions of the A.L.F. was its medical service. Our medical officers are excellently placed for peace training. They are practically all men of means, and there is scarcely one 'who does not own at. least one motor car. They are able to get away from their practices occsionally, and the result is that the medical staff tours conducted in Australia, in five military districts, have been well attended and have proved most, valuable. Without doubt our remount depots, notably the one in Melbourne, have been more economically managed than those in any other part of the world, but, while the plant and equipment may be in excellent order, I should like to see a better provision of first-class riding horses. At present the same horse has to serve every conceivable purpose, as a mount, as an artillery horse for transport and for any other service. It is very desirable that we should have available a sufficient number of first-class steeds for service when we are favoured with the presence of distinguished visitors. Australia has the reputation of breeding remarkably good horses, but that fact is not advertised by the riding horse which we now provide fo.r the use of our most distinguished visitors. It is a notorious fact that a large proportion of our mounted troops come from the cities. The majority of the men have hardly ever seen a horse until they go into camp, and they are entrusted with the care of one of these four-legged animals. Those lads have to bridle, saddle and put horses into a gun team without knowing anything about their habits. When one of those youngsters is placed on a well-fed horse, the result is' not one that commends itself either to the recruit or tO' his people. I know of an instance in the artillery, in which such youngsters, without any prior training, had to drive six horses in a gun team, with a gun behind. They were extremely lucky to escape a serious accident.

The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers has been mentioned as a valuable adjunct to our naval defence, either in the capacity of auxiliary cruisers or transports it has been urged that the disposal of the ships will weaken our naval defence. I believe that I am correct in saying that those ships have a speed of about 14£ knots, which means that they are too slow to catch any steamer that has a reasonable pace, and too slow to escape if running away. The defensive power of those ships is such that it would be little short of murder to expose them, even to submarine gunfire. They are of practically negligible value as units in our naval defence, unless in the capacity of oil tankers or provision ships.

Mr Yates - What about their use as transports?

Sir JOHN GELLIBRAND - Even if the vessels possess a naval value even greater than I have suggested, the cost of maintaining them, estimated at £600,000 a year, could be used to infinitely better purpose on some other phase of our defence activities.

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