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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) . - I have listened with interest to the reasons advanced by the Opposition against, the proposal of the Government to obtain another cruiser to take the place of the cruiser Brisbane in the Australian fleet, and it seems to me that they have missed the whole point of the argument. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis") told us quite plainly that under the naval agreement the British Empire must scrap a cruiser in 1935.

Mr Ward - But the agreement does not say that it must be replaced.

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - It must be replaced in order to maintain the naval strength of the Empire. The cruiser Brisbane is absolutely obsolete, and, in fact, the very last of that type afloat. It is decrepit in every respect. It would be ridiculous for us to allow Great Britain to scrap a vessel of a much more modern type while we retained this one, for that would merely have the result of impairing the efficiency of the British Navy. Honorable members opposite say that they do not think that another cruiser is necessary, but that if it is necessary it should be built in Australia. They entirely overlook the fact that with the plant and machinery available to us we cannot build a cruiser of the type required. Rolling machinery of the kind necessary to produce the high tensile steel plates needed for a cruiser of this class would cost between £200,000 and £300,000, and the installation of it would occupy about two years. In view of the fact that a cruiser has to be scrapped in 1935 it is clearly impossible for us to build another here in time for it to replace the vessel that is discarded.

It has been said that we have built other cruisers in Australia. The fact is, of course, that we have merely assembled them. Even if we were to attempt to build this cruiser in Australia we should have to import approximately two-thirds of the material from overseas. The amount of employment that would be given in assembling the vessel would not nearly compensate us for the additional cost that would be involved in doing the work here. Let me direct the attention of the honorable member to the experience we have had in Australia in cruiser building. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) said a great deal about the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. The figures in connexion with the building of the Brisbane are most illuminating. The estimated cost of that vessel was £600,000, but the actual cost of it was £746,000. I ask honorable members to compare our experience in building that vessel with our experience in purchasing the Sydney, which fought and so valiantly defeated the German cruiser Emden in the great war. The

Sydney,which v/as built on the Clyde, cost us approximately £340,000, or less than half the total cost of the Brisbane; and her sister ship, the Melbourne, which was built at Birkenhead, cost us approximately £405,000. In these circumstances I submit that it would not be fair to the Australian taxpayers to subsidize inefficiency by assembling the new cruiser here. Even if the work were done here employment could be given to only a limited number of mcn possessing the necessary qualifications to do the work. If firms are operating in Australia which claim to be able to do this work they should submit a tender for it and produce evidence of their ability. A necessary apprenticeship to the building of war-ships of this description would be the building of mercantile vessels. If a firm showed that it had over a period of years successfully built merchant ships in Australia, we should have some justification for placing an order with it for the building of this war-ship. [Quorum formed.'] But no such evidence is forthcoming. In the absence of definite information, we have no right to assume that there is in Australia the requisite technical knowledge and skill to produce armaments of this description.

In opposing this proposed vote honorable members opposite are merely advancing the arguments that they use, year by year, against defence expenditure when the ordinary defence estimates are under consideration. As the general defence estimates will not be considered by this Parliament, honorable members opposite are seeking to stage a full-dress defence debate on this subject. They have told us, first, that this vessel is not needed; and secondly, that, assuming that it is needed, it should be built in Australia. Yet, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) asked for further consideration of the subject !

Mr Scullin - What was wrong with that request ?

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - The right honorable gentleman followed that statement with a motion that this proposed vote be struck off the Estimates. I am surprised that honorable members who make such a big point of the White Australia principle, do not realize that we must provide an adequate defence for this country if we are to maintain it for the white race. Every time the defence estimates come before us for consideration honorable gentlemen opposite protest against such expenditure.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member has himself reminded us that the general defence estimates are not before the Chair. I therefore ask him to confine himself to the specific subject with which we are dealing.

Mr E F HARRISON (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - Honorable members opposite are opposed to expenditure on armaments for the defence of Australia, and it is for that reason that they are protesting against the proposed purchase of this cruiser.

The Leader of the Opposition also argued that if the vessel were built in Australia the saving in exchange would go a long way to offset the extra cost involved in doing the work here as against having it done overseas, but examination shows that argument to be without much foundation. It is generally admitted that two-thirds of the material and special equipment required for this vessel would have to be obtained overseas in any case; and so considerable exchange expenditure would be involved. Cruisers are necessary for the protection of our trade routes. "We know how valuable this arm of defence was in the great war. We had a practical demonstration at that time of the value of this particular type of floating armament in protecting our commerce. Australia is so far removed from the seat of the Empire that she cannot afford to discard protective equipment of this description. I commend the Government for making this provision for the replacement of one of the most obsolete cruisers at present afloat. By scrapping this vessel and replacing it by a modern ship Australia will be doing something to increase the efficiency of the British Navy.

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