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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) . - I was surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) this afternoon go so far counter to the policy which, hitherto, has been the proud boast of the Labour party. I understood the right honorable gentleman to say that the addition of this warship was not necessary to the floating defences of Australia. No one in the world can point a finger of scorn at Great Britain for the part she has taken, particularly during the last few years, in the effort to achieve the fullest possible measure of disarmament. The chairman of the Disarmament Conference, Mr. Arthur Henderson, has been a shining light in the world of unrest, and it is a matter of very great regret to all right-thinking people that, in spite of his valiant efforts, he 'has not been able to bring to fruition through the Disarmament Conference some of the suggestions he has made. Although the conference has failed for the time being, we all hope that the failure is only temporary, and that before long it will renew its endeavours to bring some reasonable measure of peace and security out of the insanity that is at present shaking the world. So long as, there was a possibility that the Disarmament Conference would achieve some beneficial results, Great Britain purposely took no part in the armaments race. Consequently her armaments reached such a serious state of disrepair as to imperil both her own existence and that of the outlying parts of the Empire. I wish to quote briefly some remarks made at the Navy dinner at the Press Club, London, on the 28th April last by AdmiralSir Reginald Tyrwhitt, Commander-in-Chief at theNore, who is a renowned authority on his subject. He is reported as follows : -

We are short of men and ships, and there is not a bob in the locker. The navy is as efficient as possible, though I wish that there were much more of it. We want cruisers. A third of the present number is obsolete. The total is less than Lord Jellicoe had in the North Sea, apart from the CO which were hunting -German ships in the South Sea3. The next war will not last four years, and probably there will bc no time to build ships. We shall be done if we cannot protect the trade routes through which we breathe. - *

That puts in the concise words of a sailor the position of the British Navy throughout the world. A Labour government in 1911 determined that Australia should take its share in providing for local defence, and it was decided to build one battle-cruiser, four cruisers and six destroyers. What the battle-cruiser did for the protection of Australia during the early part of the war in 1914 cannot be estimated in money. There is no doubt whatever that had it not been in the vicinity of Australia, the capital city of Sydney, certainly, and the industrial city of Newcastle, probably, would have been very considerably altered in shape. They would have been blown to bits, many of their citizens would have been killed, the coastal shipping trade on which our seamen depend for a livelihood, and which is so important to interstate trade, would have ceased to move, and stagnation would have overtaken industry throughout the country.

No one who has watched world events during recent months can- feel content with the trend of affairs. In fact, during the last fortnight, there was every possibility of further trouble in Europe, and I was much impressed, when reading cablegrams from Paris, Berlin and other capital cities of Europe, to observe that the governments of continental nations were waiting to see what attitude Great Britain would take up with regard to the affair. I believe that we must thank the steadiness and stability and love of peace of Great Britain for saving the world from what might have been another European cataclysm.

The progress of the disarmament policy begun by Britain five years ago is best illustrated by quoting figures in relation to her air force. At the end of the war Britain led the world in air armaments; now she occupies not better than fifth T,l:ice. while some say that hers is only seventh among the air forces of the world. Practically the same retrogression has taken place in her army and navy as in her air force. While Great Britain has been disarming, and reducing not only her floating armaments but her air and land forces as well, other nations have refused to follow the lead, and have been actually increasing their armaments. According to the British Navy estimates, Britain's expenditure on her navy in 1925 was £60,000,000, whereas in 1932 it had dropped to £50,200,000. Now, because of the failure of the Disarmament Conference, the estimate for 1934 has been increased to £56,500,000. The personnel for manning -the ships upon which she and we rely for our safety dropped from 100,000 in 1925, to an estimated 92,000 for 1934. Other nations, however - and I refer especially to the United States of America, France and Japan - have increased the number of their fighting ships, and of the men who man them. Thus the British Empire, alone among the nations of the world, has been doing its best to disarm, and has practically disarmed, while other nations have been increasing their armaments, and the international situation has become increasingly touchy.

Mr Maxwell - The other nations would not follow our example.

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - That is so. When our Attorney-General attended the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, he said that Australia had disarmed, but that did not influence the other nations of the world to follow our example, or that of Britain, which was also reducing its armaments.

Some honorable members seem to think that it will be the duty of our cruisers to lie off Sydney Harbour or at Newcastle, and perhaps make occasional cruises between Botany Bay and the Nobbies, the idea being to protect our cities from raids. That is an erroneous impression. The primary role of cruisers is police work; to protect the floating trade of the Empire, and to look after those goods and commodities which we, for our existence, need to import or export. It is useless to say that we as a nation can be self-contained. Most of us even in this House are tea drinkers, and most of us use soap. Tea is not produced in Australia, and neither are the ingredients used in the making of soap. Those are two extreme examples, but they serve to show that we must import some goods. We must also export in order to do our share towards feeding Britain during times of stress. Otherwise we shall be left a very lonely continent without adequate protection at sea.

The battle-cruiser we had in 1911 was scrapped in accordance with the terms of an agreement entered into between the four great maritime nations of the world to reduce excessive armaments. When the vessel was practically at the end of her useful life she was sunk outside Sydney Heads. In accordance with that same agreement we have kept the remaining cruisers in commission for longer periods than would otherwise have been the case, but we are permitted to replace them up to a permissible limit at the expiration of their allegedly useful lives. Therefore, the replacement now contemplated is in accordance with international agreement, and we propose to replace a cruiser which has the unenviable distinction of being the oldest in toe British Navy, and the sole remaining coal burner. It would be inhuman to send men into action in that ship, because she has not the armour, nor the speed, nor the gun power to render her a match for the enemy vessels she would be likely to encounter. The Labour party, which initiated the defence policy of this country, should find no difficulty in supporting the Government's present proposal. Members of the Labour party should be able to say, "We quite agree with what you are doing. We have a plank in our platform to the effect that we believe in the adequate defence of Australia, and we wholeheartedly join with you in supporting the proposal that a new cruiser should be added to our floating defence forces ".

Mr White - They have slipped back a long way since 1911.

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