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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr GREEN (Kalgoorlie) .- At the outset I propose to deal with the subject of defence, and to direct the attention of the Australian people to the fact that this year the Government proposes to expend £16,750,000 on defence works and equipment. That is interesting, particularly as we have just been advised by a representative of the Government that additional funds cannot bc made available to assist the unemployed, especially at this time of the year when useful employment made available to secure a little cash would be of great advantage to many deserving people. In view of all the circumstances, it is the responsibility of every member of this Parliament to see that the huge amount which the Government proposes to use for defence purposes is wisely expended. Up to the present no definite details have been made available to Parliament. On the 12th and 14th November two powerful articles, written by a naval expert, appeared in the Melbourne Argus, in whichthe Government's defence policy is vigorously challenged, under the title " Danger that Looms." I do not know whether the writer is a naval expert, but the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) should answer these alarming statements. This expert states -

Just exactly what our navy consisted of during the recent crisis seems almost incredible. After feverish preparation, Australia managed to get into commission five old destroyers and two cruisers. This was the force available for the .protection of the whole of our sea-girt country, for the .protection of our capital cities with their vital industries, and the trade routes upon which depends our economic existence.

To appreciate the total inadequacy of this force it must lie remembered that the five destroyers so hastily dug up out of reserves were built more than 20 years ago. Most of them saw service in the late' war, and, in consequence, their plant and machinery is well worn and anything but efficient by the standards of modern naval construction. The crows have had no experience of manoeuvring at sea, no gunnery or torpedo practice, and, in fact, no hope of functioning, as an efficient naval unit under at least six months' training.

The charges made are sufficiently important to justify the attendance in the chamber of the Minister for Defence. He goes on to state -

The guns of these destroyers were manufactured many years ago, and it would be extremely hard to ensure any sort of accuracy of fire without complete overhaul and, in most cases, relining of the guns. Handling n fast destroyer in al! sorts of weather, at night iti particular, when no lights are showing, is a very difficult and dangerous task. Our old destroyers, dug up at a few minutes' notice, would have been quite unable to carry it out efficiently.

I am glad that the Minister is now present, and, although he has only recently been appointed to the position which he now occupies, he should give the committee the benefit of his opinion on the views expressed. This expert continues -

Vor the rest, we had two cruisers which, in the event of a raid by a. powerful enemy, would lie faced with the ghastly alternative of engaging in an Action 'which could only result in their total and early destruction, or else running away and leaving our shores to the anything but tender mercies of the enemy.

Our harbours are completely unprotected cither by mines, booms, small torpedo craft, or any of the other devices so well known and so widely used by other seafaring countries. It seems very hard to understand just why Australia finds herself in this appalling position, but the reason is not far to seek.

Our whole defence policy has been quite erroneously based on the assumption that, in the hour of need, the British Fleet would come to our aid. For many years it has been patently obvious to close students . of naval affairs that in the event of trouble in Europe the people of Great Britain would never allow the main fleet to go farther east than the Mediterranean..

Actually the British Fleet as it stands to-day is merely a relic of the last war. Of 15 capital ships, 10, i.e., 5 Royal Sovereigns and 5 Queen Elizabeths, were .part of the old Grand Fleet; the battle-cruiser squadron, consisting of the Hood, Repulse, and Renown, are of the same vintage, and the Nelson and the Rodney are the only post-war capital ships in the length and breadth of the British Empire.

If they are the only two post-war vessels, all of the other vessels must have been built just before the war, as the Minister for Defence must know -

It should have been only too obvious to our Defence Department in Australia that such a force could not bc divided between the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

In spite of the repeated warnings from the press, no notice was taken by the Government. It evolved several schemes and the writer proceeds to show that there was no co-ordination in the matter of schemes. The Government had the divided duty of keeping its eye on the Mother Country to be ready to send the whole of our troops into the blood bath of a European conflict if necessary - and that very nearly happened during the recent Czechoslovak crisis - and of providing for the adequate defence of Australian shores. The Government saw no virtue in the policy adopted by the Labour party that Australians should stand firmly on Australian shores against all comers, and that they should not take part in foreign wars that did not concern Australia. The expert continues -

The problem has been studied and put into practice for many centuries. From the days when Sir Francis Drake and Lord Mount Edgecombe drove off the Spanish Armada with its infinitely superior ships to the days of 1914, effective defence from invasion has been secured by the weaker naval Power through the use of weapons designed solely for defence. Such security can be given to Australia if a realistic defence policy based on the right lines is formulated forthwith. The most suitable for the defence of Australia are mines, destroyers and torpedo-carrying aircraft-

We have not any of these in Australia -

In addition fast coastal motor-boats carrying 21 -inch torpedoes have been developed in recent years to a fine art, and although relatively inexpensive

And that is what we in Australia are keen about. We should take every possible step to ensure that we get the maximum of defence with the minimum expenditure, otherwise our social services will go to pot and the country will not be worth fighting for. We have already expended, as the Minister knows, over £700,000,000 on war and the expenses which that war entailed - they carry a sting in their tail which can be just as effective in destroying a capital ship as can any one destroyer. Torpedo aircraft-

I do not think we have one. If we have one, I have not heard of it and I presume that the Minister has not heard of itbecause he has never mentioned it -

Torpedo aircraft in large numbers operating from shore bases are completely mobile, and can travel from end to end of the Continent. Each of these planes carries a torpedo capable of inflicting severe damage on a capital ship, andtwo of these planes might easily sink any large ship.

Bombers, on the other hand, are of little use against warships.

Mr Blain -We could do with torpedo aircraft in the north.

Mr GREEN - I agree with the honorable member that they would be very useful for the defence of the northern coastline. It is true that about ten or fifteen years ago real fear was expressed more by airmen than by naval authorities, as to the efficacy of bombing planes in attacking warships. The Minister knows of the great difficulties that are experienced in attempting to keep the three arms of our defence services at peace with one another. The difficulty was just as great as that which confronted the Prime Minister recently in his endeavour to keep the Cabinet in its pristine integrity -

Bombers are suitable principally for bombing large open towns and the communication of a land army. Concentration on these presupposes that the enemy will effect a safe landing.

Major Mitchell,who, about twenty years ago, was in charge of the whole of the defences of the UnitedStates of America, wrote some very extraordinary articles to show that from his point of view the building of capital ships was a waste of money as they could be put out of action very rapidly by bombers. Many ships were sunk off the American coast by bombers to prove that what he said was true. His views were shared by the German expert Von Schere, and several English experts of his day. But times are continually changing, and modern methods of warfare change probably more rapidly than anything else. To-day there is little fear that bombers can successfully put capital ships out of action. The expert continues -

Our prime object must be to keep the enemy from ever setting foot on our shores, and this can only be effected by attacking the raiding ships, troop, and aircraft carriers. Owing to the restricted space in aircraft carriers, it is not possible for an enemy to send down any very large concentration of aircraft, and it is well within Australia's capabilities to have an air force comprised of fighters and torpedo carriers, which would rapidly achievecommand of the air and effect the total destruction of enemy aircraft carriers.

However much we might disagree with the writer, nobody could consider him to be without naval knowledge.

Mr Street - Did he sign his name to the article?

Mr GREEN - He signs himself " Naval Expert ". A large newspaper like the Melbourne Argus has to accept some responsibility for contributions to its columns. It is obvious that the Argus would not accept anything for publication unless it had some sub-stratum of sound idea behind it. I have no doubt that the Minister for Defence will be able to reply to these criticisms, and it is to set my own mind at rest in regard to them that I bring them under his notice. I heard the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) say that he believes that in the event of an invasion of this country a large number of enemy troops will actually be landed. I know that the general opinion of the Defence Department is that that must be prevented at any cost. This writer seems to share that opinion -

It must be remembered that the prime weapon of naval defence as opposed to offence is the torpedo-

We have heard nothing of that in the Government's proposals -

This deadly under-water weapon carriss sufficient high explosives in its nose to blast the propellers and steering gear from any vessel, and the cost is infinitely less than that of building a ship capable of carrying sufficient heavy guns to effect an equal amount of damage-

That is important -

Naturally, light torpedo craft cannot make long voyages overseas, but that is the function of an offensive naval Power, and in entire contradiction of the whole spirit of Australian defence.

Die trouble is that with our mosaic Australian defence we are watching with one eye the necessity for keeping the trade routes open thousands of miles away from Australia, and with the other, the necessity for adequate home defence. This expert says that it is impossible to do both. He goes on to say -

Australia must also acquire a number of vessels suitable for laying mines and a large stock of mines. At present, an enemy, once he hod silenced the batteries at the" harbour entrances, which are anything but large, would have nothing to prevent his steaming straight up our main harbours and mooring alongside the local pier.

As things arc drifting along at present, it would appear that about 1942, if we are lucky, we may have three more almost useless cruisers and a few more equally inadequate bombing planes.

In another article the same writer states -

What Australia has to realize is that a great city is a great peril under modern conditions of warfare. A venomous mixture of incendiary and high explosive bombs, augmented by a deluge of liquid gas, will reduce any undefended town to a screaming, blazing shambles that would make the Ypres eai icnt look like'- a football match -

That is strong language, but it may possibly wake up the Government. If it docs so, it will render a very good service to the community -

An essential for coast defence batteries ca.pable pf firing at .long ranges is aircraft spotting.

The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) probably knows more about this matter than any other honorable member in the House -

It is quite impossible to spot one's own fall of shot at ranges of 25,000 yards and over without the aid of aircraft. We must have not only spotting planes, but also fighters to protect them while they arc carrying out their duties. Safety cannot bc secured by hurried improvisations. Punic measures when the enemy is at our gates cannot take the place of planned forethought.

Our cruisers and five defunct destroyers in reserve arc incapable of doing more than scrape the paint off the sides of an invading battle squadron.

Our air force has neither sufficient fighters to secure command of the air nor the torpedo aircraft to threaten the existence of the invading warships. True we have a few bombers, but these are quite useless against modern battle-ships, which is a. vital point apparently entirely overlooked by the Defence Department.

This will be quite obvious when one realizes that a battle-ship is heavily armoured against attack by 10 inch guns, and, for a bomb to achieve the necessary velocity to penetrate the armour of a battle-ship, it would have to be dropped from a height of about 15,000 feet which would give it a very small chance indeed of hitting its object.

When I was a member of the Defence Council, the very estimable gentleman then in charge of the Air Force was one day descanting to some effect on the value of the particular arm of the service in which he was interested in the hope that we would persuade his colleagues who were interested in other arms of the service that more money out of the alltooscanty total vote available should be spent on equipment for the Air Force. He had previously told me a story that he related on that occasion, but the members of .the council who were hearing it for the first time listened with their mouths open. We had explained to us how effectively the bombers helped the troops in Palestine, and the officer concluded by saying " You should have seen the mess. All the troops had to do was to clean it up." The late Sir John Monash, who was present, made a remark which I have always remembered. He said " Yes ; its all right if you can hit them ! " The honorable member for Flinders may not agree with my outlook on this subject, but I know very well that it is difficult to hit ground objects from an aeroplane, just as it is difficult to hit other aircraft which may be engaged in an action. This report also states -

Even if a hit were secured from this height, which is extremely improbable, the bomb would have to have an armour-piercing nose," which would mean that it would not be carrying any great weight of explosive. In fact, it has been definitely proved that bombing attacks on battleships are not worth the time and trouble. In spite of this, our Defence Department is placing further large orders for bombing planes, and, as far as can be learnt, none for torpedo aircraft. All our industrial centres need strong anti-aircraft defence iti the shape of high-angle guns.

I understand from the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) some little time ago that attention is being given to that particular subject. The writer continues -

It is vitally necessary that a system similar to that now being adopted in England should be installed. This system is that each centre should provide its own trained men from its personnel and share the expense of the equipment. Thus, in the event of an air attack, the special men will go straight from their work to their guns, instead of, as at present, having to collect reservists from all over the country, who would arrive in time to find a blazing ruin. A policy on these lines is urgently required, and there can be "no question of the ready co-operation of the employees concerned. Here in Australia, there, is no lack of will to defend our country amongst the young men of to-day.

I believe that if the Government would agree to pay the troops a reasonable amount for their services, no difficulty would be experienced in securing 70,000 volunteers. The members of the old militia were paid £12 a year each 50 years ago if they attended all the night drills and the half-day engagements. Of course, £12 was worth a great deal more 50 years ago than it is to-day. I do not suggest that filthy lucre can adequately recompense the young men who enlist in our army, but at least we can acknowledge in this way that they are doing something for the defence of their country. It would be necessary, of course, to pass legislation to protect those who enlist against the action of unsympathetic employers who might be tempted to dismiss them from their employment because of their absence at drill. Even if 70,000 troops were paid a flat rate of £12 a year for their services - and the amount might well be increased to £18 a year - the expenditure involved would be only £840,000 annually, which is not a very large sum to set against from £12,000,000 to £14,000,000, which would be the cost of a major battleship. The writer also observes- -

To repel such a force, the greatest deterrent would be a division of battleships at Singapore, as this would lie right athwart the enemy's main lines of communication. One battleship would, in my opinion, in Australian waters, be useless. Under modern conditions of concentrated fire, it would last about twenty minutes against an enemy battle squadron. lt is not a question of one battleship, but five battleships or none, and those based with the British ships at Singapore. . . If Great Britain will provide the battleships, the dominions could supply the rest. Our defence policy must be broad and conceived on the basis, first, of repelling any sea invasion; secondly, of obtaining tho command of the air over any sea-borne aircraft; and, thirdly, of making our capital cities safe against raids by sea and air with a number of both low and high angle batteries strategically placed.

I believe our contribution would have been lauded to the skies by the imperial authorities if it had been adopted by any other dominion. In this connexion, I remind honorable members that Australia is spending far more on defence measures than any other dominion. We have had specific information supplied to us on this subject just recently.

The writer of that article makes it very clear that it would be useless for us to provide only one major battleship. Moreover, any equipment of this kind that we may possess should, in his opinion, be linked with similar equipment at Singapore. At one time it was considered that we .should establish defence bases at different points round the Australian coast and particularly at Fremantle and Sydney. This was a Defence Department secret formerly; but it is not so to-day.

I shall not pursue this subject any further except to say that the newspaper articles which I have quoted at some length appeared to me to be sufficiently striking; to justify attention by ' the Minister. I do not say that I agree with all that is said in them, but I am strongly of the opinion it would be wise for us to spend a certain amount of money on motor craft capable of carrying torpedoes. As such vessels could be competently manned by many Australians who are unequalled in the skill of handling yachts in different parts of Australia, they would be an efficient force. At any rate they would be able to render a much more effective service to the Commonwealth than would one large battleship.

I do not suggest that the officers- of the Defence Department are inefficient. I am very well aware that there are almost as many ide..s on defence subjects in Australia as there are people here;, and I know that many curious policies are submitted to the Minister for Defence from time to time in many curious places by people who have strange ideas.

I wish now to deal with what the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) called his " constructive " policy in respect of New Guinea. I do not desire to say anything to hurt the honorable gentleman's feelings, but I cannot agree with some of his submissions. He directed our attention to the deficiencies of as a new capital for New Guinea. We know very well that Salamaua was selected by tuc Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes), but that right honorable gentleman was in the territory only a very little willie, and it is obvious that his recommendation must have been based upon a recommendation made to him by persons in high positions in New Guinea who were not members of the expert committee. The committee recommended Lac, ..nd no one can read its report without being impressed by the strong case it made out in support of its view. The members of the committee were competent to consider this subject. BrigadierGeneral Griffiths has had long experience of New Guinea, and we should pay considerable attention to what he says. I do not know the other members of the committee personally. The honorable member for Adelaide objected to Salamaua for several reasons. I object to it as a site for the capital because the big swamp adjacent to it would have to be filled in before any effective work, could be done to establish the new capital there. It is estimated that it would cost between £200,000 and £300,000 to fill in the swamp. Of course Salamaua has points in its favour. The captain of the Montoro told me that, apart from Rabaul, Salamaua was easily the best port in the Mandated Territory in close proximity to the mainland. I am authoritatively informed that the harbour there is sheltered all the year round. It would need a breakwater, but that, I understand, is provided for in the scheme. Wherever the new capital may bo situated, Salamaua must be the port for the gold-fields, and for the timber that is about to bc cut from the extensive forests which are in close proximity. I have recently received a letter from a person living at Salamaua in which he sings the praises of that particular location without restraint. But no doubt other honorable members have received similar letters from persons living in other parts of New Guinea. The honorable member for Adelaide allowed himself a great deal of latitude in discussing this subject. He even suggested that he would be prepared to agree to ' the new capital being located at Port Moresby. That would be absolutely impracticable under the mandate. The honorable member also referred to the Middle Bitor Road route, which it has been suggested would be a satisfactory road to* the gold-fields. Surveyors have estimated that the construction of this road, which would link Salamaua and Wau, would cost £150,000. This is only one of four suggested routes to the goldfields. The idea is, of course, that Salamaua should be the port for the goldfields. The honorable member finds fault with the proposed route because it would have to rise 5,000 . lent .wad he would not be surprised if the cost proved to be double the amount stated. We know that public works frequently cost a lot more than the original estimate, but even if it did cost double the amount proposed, it certainly appears to be the best route of all those that have been recommended up to date. Of course, another route might be decided upon eventually. I understand that the Director of Works in New Guinea is at present engaged in walking from Salamaua to Wau along the Bitoi route in order to decide its merits for himself. Afterwards, he will traverse the other routes on foot. He is a capable man, and is not afraid of Hard work. I know him well. However, there is nothing impracticable about the Bitoi route. This is shown !by the fact that a road hae been constructed from Wau to Edie Creek, a distance of 12 miles, and it rises 1,800 feet in the first 4 miles. Thus, in 4 miles, it rises the same distance as a road following the Bitoi route would rise in 14 miles, allowing the distance to be 40 miles to the top of the divide.

This route has been spoken of favorably by the surveyor, and, in any case, we must have a road, because freight charges, oven at the reduced level of 2d. per lb., amount to £18 13s. a ton, which renders the industrialization of New Guinea impossible. I could quote figures to show that New Guinea Airways have made enormous sums of money carrying people a distance of 70 miles for £5 a head. Passengers can travel by air from Brisbane to Charters Towers, a distance of 1,000 miles, for £10. Moreover, in New Guinea, the airliners have backloading. Those who travel up country in them must come back in them also: whereas ou the Queensland coast, for instance, a passenger might travel from Brisbane to Cairns by air and return by sea. During the tourist season *in New Guinea, the air-services reap a harvest carrying twenty people at a time at £5 a head.

Mr Jennings - They are doing a good job, however.

Mr GREEN - I agree that they have made gold-raining possible in New Guinea. They have carried pieces of machinery weighing several tons, a truly remarkable thing. I am merely pointing out that they are very hungry. While they have performed a useful service in opening up one of the biggest gold-fields in the country, it must be remembered that the route was pioneered, not by the present company, but by those who went before it.

Roads similar to the proposed road have been constructed in other parts of the world. I have travelled over a road, which crosses the Andes between Chile and Argentina, at a height of 16,500 feet, and the mountain is crossed in less than 100 miles from the Pacific coastal plain. I agree that it would be impracticable to freight timber from the interior to the coast at a cost of 2d. per lb. A road must be constructed, and the sooner the better.

My idea is that Wau is the ideal site for the capital. It is 3,500 feet above sea level, and the climate is healthy, as is proved by the health of the children living there. In all tropical countries, it is necessary to have hill stations to which women and children may retire during the hottest part of the year. .There are such stations in Java, and in India there is Simla, which is used for this purpose. We must recognize that, for people to live in health in the tropics, it is necessary that they should have access to highlands of the kind with which New Guinea is blessed. Wau has electric power and electric light. It has European and native hospitals, and malaria doss not originate there. All along the coast there is malaria, including occasionally that very bad form of it known as blackwater. It is said that no one ever gets blackwater fever more than twice. Presumably, people do not contract it in heaven. This absence of malaria is a most important point in relation to the health of white' children. I have seen young white girls doing gymnastic exercises at Wau, and they were a fine advertisement for the place. Along the coast, one rarely sees a child redolent in health who has been there for any length of time. {Leave to continue given.'] At Wau, the nights are always quite cold. The soil is good, and European vegetables may be raised, while dairy cattle can be kept, an important point in regard to the rearing of children. There are swimming baths of standard international size. In short, Wau may be regarded as a sanatorium, and when the gold-fields are exhausted, the timber industry can be exploited to keep the place going. There are agricultural possibilities also, and the finest coffee can be grown successfully. The first essential, however, is to have a road, and I trust that the Minister will give serious consideration to the claims of Wau as the site of the capital.

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