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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) (11:37 AM) . - lt is unfortunate that so many honorable members on this, and, apparently, the other side y.f the chamber, desire to contribute to the debate on the votes proposed for the department now under consideration. In the limited time at our disposal, we can only record our views on the various subjects in which we are interested in a kind of telegraphic despatch. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell), whose voice is not frequently heard in the chamber, discussed the proposed vote for defence. He complained that Australia lacked qualified military leaders. It appears to me that there is quite a sufficient number of military gentlemen of high rank among honorable members opposite to supply our needs in that direction. One of the minor tragedies that has arisen out of the war is that our civil and political life has become greatly influenced by the militaristic ideals of such gentlemen. I have no quarrel with, but rather an admiration for, the honorable member for Darwin personally; but £ distinctly disagree with his defence outlook. He addressed himself to the subject of compulsory military service, with which he connected, in some way, that of volunteer service. In my opinion, the compulsory military training of infants can in no sense whatever be part of a voluntary system of defence. I stood firmly, if not strongly, against the introduction into this country of conscription for military and naval service, either inside or outside of Australia. We were able, decisively, and historically, to defeat the proposal of the Government of the day, to conscript our manhood for military service overseas; but unfortunately the conscription of infants for military training in Australia is still a part of our national policy. I, with other members of the Labour party, stand for the total abolition of such service. It is un-' fortunate that child conscription for overseas naval service is not unknown in Australia. Many infants have been beguiled into joining the Navy, by the supposed romance of the life of a sailor or by the economic pressure to which their parents are subjected. The result is that our boys ha,ve been sent to malariainfected regions in the Pacific to discipline the natives of a certain territory which I need not at the moment more particularly name. A few days ago I quoted certain remarks which had been made by Mr. Lloyd-George, to the effect, that the forces of the nations which were allies in the great war now "number 10,000,000 men who are infinitely more formidably equipped, than in 1914." It would appear, therefore, that militarism is rampant and is expanding. I read with great interest some little time since the following cablegram, which was published in a section of the press : -

Grave charges against the British Admiralty and the Tory Government were levelled by Lord Cecil, when he explained in the House of Lords yesterday why he had resigned from the Baldwin Cabinet.

Lord Cecil, in relating how his efforts for disarmament had been hampered and opposed by colleagues and admirers, laid the blame for the failure of the Geneva Naval Conference directly on the Baldwin Government.

To show that Australia is not guiltless in hindering the progress of the movement for disarmament, let me make one or two comparisons. It has been said that our Government is in conformity with the alleged desire of the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and other countries, for disarmament; but in 1923-24 the following amounts were provided on our Estimates for defence purposes : - Navy, £2,216,000 ; Military Forces, £1,112,000; Air Force, £207,000; and Civil Aviation, £93,000, making a grand total of £3,631,000; whereas in 1925-26 the total had risen to £5,796,000; and in 1926-27, to £7,379,000. The increased figure in the lastmentioned year was due to some extent, of course, to the wasteful expenditure of money upon certain engines of war known as cruisers. I .hope that we shall live to see the day when these will he scrapped with what I have, on other occasions, called " naval honours." T should like to ask the distinguished military and naval strategists sitting on the other side of the chamber, who regard with contempt any suggestion that we* make for a reduction in the defence vote, but who speak of peace as though they desire it, whether it would not be wise for us to spend more money on judicious propaganda in the interest of peace, and less on the provision of armaments which invariably lead to war. Let them think for a moment of the disastrous wreckage that the last Avar caused to every civilized white nation if the world. What greater failure could the pacifists possibly make of the situation than these distinguished peace-by-force advocates have made ? They have strewn the world with glorious dead; they have cumbered civilization with mountains of debt ; they have created new hair:ds. they have caused a degeneracy of morals through the standards that are always applied by militarists in war time. Their disastrous and shameful record may now be seen in clear perspective. Instead of talking academically in this 20th century of the value of the different arms of defence with that special and minute knowledge that characterizes the military strategists, I ask them to raise their eyes and look abroad, and then put to themselves these questions - Has r.\ot militarism proved a monstrous and diastrous failure ? Have they not been proceeding on wrong lines? Happily even some of the military and naval experts support our case, against armaments. On 30th July, 1924. the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) quoted in this chamber the following remarks by Rear-Admiral W. F. Fullam on the passing of sea. power : -

The wings of " sea power '' have been clipped New naval weapons have vastly strengthened*, the defence and greatly weakened the offence in overseas warfare. Groat armadas and. armies cannot again cross the seas. Force cannot, as in the past, be carried over the ocean.

With the sea. as a buffer, weak nations can defy the strong. A puny power, without a navy, can challenge the strongest battle fleet. It can, with intelligent energy, make its coast impregnable" against 100 Dreadnoughts. With an impenetrable barrage of mines, air forces, torpedoes, and submarines, it can easily hold a maritime enemy 100 miles from its shores.

The freedom of the seas is in many respect: near realization. Aggression, expressed in ships, is chained to the beach.

I do not for a moment endorse the scheme of defence outlined by this distinguished naval officer, but I place value on his statement, because it shows that a nation such as Australia, minding its own business, and not becoming entangled in foreign affairs with which it has no real concern, is in no danger of attack within any future period that the human mind can visualize.

I ask, in conclusion, why all the civic operations of this Commonwealth are attended by military displays. It is not my business to discuss the Governor-General's position in a personal way, but I should like to know why it is always associated with heel-clicking, posturing militarism -the marching of troops, the beating of drums, and the clanking of swords and sabres. Why should this kind of thing be associated with perfectly peaceful operations? I suggest to this Government, as I shall strongly advocate to any Labour Government, that in future the opening of this Parliament should not be attended by any sort of military or naval display. The trippings of the soldier' are properly associated with fighting, killing, and outrage of nation upon nation and man upon man. They are not appropriate to the opening of a deliberative assembly and the orderly progress of a nation's daily work. Let us drop the heel-clicking militarism that I have seen outside this building - the posturing, saluting, and all those other empty formalities that have come to us from time immemorial, and which we should be able to scrap when scrapping our cruisers.

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