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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The honorable gentleman said that we have not the men, the equipment, the plant, or anything else.

Mr Francis - For building this vessel.

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - It is not a question of this vessel only; it would not save Australia from invasion.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr HOLLOWAY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - There is no need immediately to approve of the first payment of £500,000 towards the £2,225,000 which this vessel is to cost, though it is perhapsnotunfairtoassumethatthe Governmenthasalreadyinvolveditselfto some extent without consulting this Parliament. I do not question the view that adequate defence is necessary for Australia - that is a matter upon which there may be a difference of opinion - but we should not be asked, in the dying hours of this Parliament, to approve of an expenditure of this magnitude without having had submitted to us a fully considered defence policy. The majority of the people of Australia would, doubtless, wish adequate steps to be taken to provide for the proper defence of this country, but they would not wish money to be expended in a way that might be interpreted as being aggressive rather than defensive. The purchase of a ship of the class now under consideration might be interpreted in that way. It is difficult, of course, for laymen to discuss these subjects. We are more or less dependent upon the opinions expressed day by day by the naval and military experts, but I do not think that any expert would deny the statement that a warship which is up-to-date this month is partially obsolete next month.

I suggest that the Government would act decently if it postponed consideration of this subject and left the way clear for the new Government, which necessarily will have to meet Parliament within a few months, to submit a really comprehensive defence scheme. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the electors should be allowed to express their view on this proposed expenditure. My view is that the surest, best and most permanent foundation on which to build the defence of Australia is the improvement of the mental, technical and physical condition of the people. In the last four or five years our standards have undoubtedly been reduced, though I do not say that this reduction has been brought about deliberately. I suppose no one would deny that the mentality of our people has been impaired because of the depression; that their technical knowledge has suffered because of the existence of so many unemployed people for such long periods, and that their general physical standards have deteriorated because of the maintenance of thousands of people upon the dole.

Mr Maxwell - How would it be possible to obtain an expression of opinion from the people during an election campaign on the proposal to obtain this ship?

Mr HOLLOWAY - I have no doubt that one of the outstanding issues at the election will be the defence of Australia. The people will determine whether our defence policy should be developed principally within the Commonwealth, rather than linked as closely as some honorable gentlemen opposite desire it to be with the defence policies of other parts of the Empire. As far as practicable our defence equipment of every description should be 100 per cent. Australian.

The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has frequently asked us to specify public works upon which our people could be employed. If we assume that a warship of the type now under consideration is necessary - personally I do not think that it is - our people could be employed upon the construction of it. It would be better for the Government to spend this money in Australia, if it has to be spent, than to send it overseas. We have the tradesmen here who could turn out this job. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis) may not have intended to reflect adversely upon the technical knowledge of our people, but he certainly did so. During the Great War, many artisans were sent from all parts of Australia to Great Britain to work in the munition factories of the Old Country. Our university professors were also drawn upon to join forces with the scientists of Great Britain to try to evolve defence against methods of defying the gases used by the Germans during the war, and Professor Osborne, of the Melbourne University, actually evolved a method of using charcoal to afford a certain measure of immunity from poison gas. I resent the suggestion that we have insufficient technical knowledge in Australia.

Mr Francis - All that was said was that we had not sufficient technical knowledge of this type of work.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Warships have been built, manned and launched in Australia before now, and I have no doubt that we could do better work now than we did then.

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - Were those ships built or only assembled here ?

Mr HOLLOWAY - They were built here.

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - Were the plates rolled here?

Mr HOLLOWAY - Yes ; except for certain of the heaviest plates. We had not the plant to roll them.

Mr Francis - And we are still without it.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I contend that we should get it. If we are properly to defend this country, we must take care to provide adequate plant and machinery to enable us to supply all our needs. We should not be dependent upon outside agencies for shipbuilding or any other essential defence requirements. Years ago we established ship-building yards and other national workshops here which were intended as the foundation for an adequate scheme of defence; but the political party which was the forerunner of that to which honorable members opposite belong gave away or sold that plant, or in other ways alienated it from the service of the nation. We should remember that the majority of the men who go to make up the 20 per cent. of unemployment which the Commonwealth Statistician has recently reported to exist, are of the class that would be employed on the building of warships. Mechanics, engineers, blacksmiths, electricians, and, in fact, persons engaged in every section of the metal trade, form a considerable proportion of the unemployed recorded by the Commonwealth Statistician, and the Government should have regard to the interests of these men. If it must have this cruiser it should build it in Australia.

I againask, however, that the whole matter be left for consideration by the incoming government. The present Government has no right, in its dying hours, to saddle a debt of £1,750,000 on the incoming government, for I repeat that this bill provides for the payment of only. £500,000 of the £2,250.000 that the vessel is to cost.

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