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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL (Warringah) .- I have always admired the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) for the way in which he can tear a passion to tatters over nothing. I have a still greater admiration for him to-night because, in the speech which he has just concluded, he was able to reach such a pitch of excitement, although he said nothing that he did not say in his first speech. Of course, his trouble was that in his first effort he said too much, while, in his second he was endeavouring to water down his previous indiscretions. The debate on these proposals up to a quite recent stage was whether we should take any defence measures at all. Now the Opposition has, upon consideration, come to the conclusion that a policy of no defence is not a very good one upon which to go to the electors, so the Leader of the Opposition has put forward his modified proposals.

Every honorable member on this side of the House who has spoken to the proposal has urged that adequate defence measures should he taken, but, as Hansard will show, the speeches of honorable members opposite have consistently opposed tlie taking of any steps to bring Australia's defence preparations up to the necessary standard. Members of the Opposition complain that they have not had an opportunity to discuss tlie Government's proposals until just 'before Parliament adjourns before the elections. Let me remind them that the proposal we are now discussing - or rather the scheme of defence upon which it is based - was announced by the Minister for Defence in a speech in Sydney as far back as September last. That was when this policy was laid down and there has never been since then any protest against it by the Opposition, either in the press or in Parliament. When the budget speech was delivered this scheme was set out in full and the Leader of the Opposition had full opportunity to discuss it.

Mr Scullin - That opportunity has not yet been presented to the chamber.

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - At any rate honorable members knew of the proposal when the budget speech was delivered, but they have left it until the last moment to object to it by moving that an item be excised from the Estimates. From the speech just delivered by the right honorable gentleman, one gathers that his sole opposition to this item is merely the question of where the cruiser shall be built. In fact he has found it necessary to make two long speeches merely to explain that point. Everybody who knows anything of naval defence knows also that the defence of Australia is indissolubly bound up in Great Britain's obligations under the Washington Treaty. Great Britain is limited by the treaty to a certain number of cruisers and other vessels, and the Australian fleet is included in the British quota. Any decisions arrived at by naval experts in Australia acting in conjunction with the British Naval authorities are necessarily based on that fact. The Australian ships form portion of the British naval unit operating in the Pacific. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis) has clearly set out the position. The Brisbane, which the proposed cruiser is to replace, should have been scrapped in 1932, but, because of financial difficulties experienced all over the world, it was decided to postpone the scrapping of that vessel for two years. It is now an urgent matter to replace it by an up-to-date cruiser. Every honorable member knows the difficulties which are manifest all over the world to-day, and particularly in European countries. No man knows what tomorrow may bring forth in international affairs. All honorable members are unanimous in their desire for adequate defence, but steps in that direction should bo taken now, not two years hence. The Government's proposal is designed merely to hasten the steps. No one on this side has said that the Australian workman is not thoroughly efficient, competent and quick to pick up any new work in which he engages. We do say, however, that there are certain difficulties in connexion with the building of cruisers that the iron and steel works in Australia are not capable of overcoming to-day. For example, it would be most uneconomical to build works merely to employ them for three weeks rolling steel plates to be used in the construction of a vessel of this kind. Warships also consist largely of armaments and guns, 'the manufacture of which involves work of an exceedingly technical character. We would have to import these armaments from Great Britain. It is true, as has been said, that we built the Brisbane here; but as the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) has pointed out, the construction of that vessel cost £750,000, whereas the Sydney, which was built in British ship-yards, cost only £300,000. For one vessel of the Brisbane class manufactured in Australia we could have purchased two from Great Britain. We have not the facilities for the building of a vessel of the Leander class in this country. Such a work presents many problems of an intricate character. This class of vessel embodies new features that would make its construction in this country a most difficult operation.

Mr Beasley - What are these new features?

Mr ARCHDALE PARKHILL - Obviously I am not in a position to detail the items. While some honorable members opposite consider that they know more about these matters than the naval experts, I am content to accept the views of exports who have- made the building of warships a lifetime study, and know all the intricate details of their construction. The Government in its decision to acquire this ship is prompted first by a desire for the adequate protection of this country, and secondly by the knowledge that the ships constructed for the protection of this country shall form part of the British Fleet, and that we as Australians should be prepared to accept our share of Empire defences. These are the principles upon which the Government has acted in arriving at its decision. It stands unanimously by them.

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