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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - If I have any regret, it is that upon this important matter of naval defence there has been too little interest taken by honorable senators.

Senator de Largie - Cheer up !

Senator CHATAWAY - A little while ago I cheered up Senator de Largie by calling attention to the absence of a quorum, and by attracting him to the chamber. Whilst I regret the small amount of interest which appears to be centred in the question of naval defence, I must say that attention is now being focussed upon it in this Parliament as it was never focussed before. The late Deakin Government initiated a certain system of naval defence, and introduced into that system certain new principles. The present Government now come forward with a practical indorsement of those principles.

Senator de Largie - The Government kicked out the other proposals.

Senator CHATAWAY - I venture to say that the Minister of Defence will not deny that the principles laid down by the previous Government are being indorsed. The only difference between the Government and the Opposition now is in regard to how this defence policy is to be paid for; and that question does not arise in connexion with this measure. The issue that we have before us is one on which all parties agree - the Labour party, the Liberals, and the Conservatives.

Senator McGregor - And the People's party; do not leave them out.

Senator St Ledger - For Heaven's sake be serious sometimes.

Senator CHATAWAY - I do not expect the Vice-President of the Executive Council to be serious at -any time. All parties are now agreed that we have to provide for the defence, not only of our shores, but of what Lord Charles Beresford described as the " commerce routes " of the Empire. It is recognised that naval defence implies, not merely the defence of this part of the Empire, but that we have to take our share in the defence of the whole Empire. It is obvious that we do not fly the Australian flag for war purposes. As was rightly interjected this afternoon, if a foreign nation attacked Great Britain to-morrow Australia also would be attacked. If Australia " bumped up against " German New Guinea by means of a war-ship, Germany would not hesitate to attack Great Britain. The consequence is that for war purposes there is but one flag for which we can fight, and under which we can be attacked. In the Imperial naval manoeuvres of 1907 an extraordinary experiment was tried in order to determine what would be the effect of detaching a portion of an attacking fleet to make inroads on the commerce of -the defending rower. The Admiralty report upon those manoeuvres points out that the great advantage that a belligerent would secure by attacking some outside portion of an enemy's interests would not be that such tactics would determine the issue of the War, but that by "bluff" the country attacked, would be prevailed upon to make peace on unfavorable terms, owing to the local prejudices and local interests that would be affected. We can have no better illustration of that thesis than was afforded at the beginning of the South African war. Owing to the pressure exerted by the Natal Government, General Sir George White was compelled, against f lis better judgment, to allow Major-General Penn-Sy'mons to go up to Dundee and face the enemy in a situation which it was hardly possible properly to defend. Any one who reads the history of the South African war will realize that it was to placate local prejudices - because it was thought in Natal that the coal-fields of Dundee might fall into the hands of 'he Boers - that British troops were placed in a position which it was exceedingly difficult to maintain. Eventually, Sir George White, with his Whole force, was tied up in Ladysmith, and the whole of the earlier phases of the war were dominated by that strategical mistake. It is undesirable to allow any portion of an Empire to remain undefended, because, in time of war, an enemy may strike at the undefended portion ; but, at the same time, the greatest care must be taken to defend the vital parts. When our ancestors put on their armour, which part of the body did they take most care to defend ? Their armour was most effectual over the skull and the heart. They did not take so much care to arm the legs and the arms, because they knew that an injury to those limbs would not necessarily kill the man. In exactly the same way, in providing for our naval defence, we have to take particular care to protect the heart and the brain. Only a few years ago, the idea was prevalent that all that Australia need do was to protect her own coasts. Indeed, for a considerable time we .paid what has been termed by some people - and I am not prepared to dispute the term - " tribute ' ' to the Imperial Government for the defence of our coasts. But, at length, we have come to a clearer understanding of what is required. It is now understood that, not only Australia, but Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand, and even the Crown Colonies, are to contribute a certain naval force towards the defence of the Empire, realizing that the heart and the brain of the Empire must, in the first instance, be made secure. Incidentally, I may mention that I am not one of those who have been particularly keen for military training. I have always felt that we should do more good by providing for naval training. Probably I entertained that idea because I have been living for so manyyears in a part of Australia where we never saw a war-ship, or even a gun-boat. In the north of Queensland, we see very little evidence of naval defence. Possibly that is the reason why I had the idea that too little attention was being directed to that aspect of the problem, and too much to military defence. A much saner idea is spreading amongst Australians to-day. 1 do not know whether my honorable friends will agree with me, but I venture to claim that a great deal - or nearly the whole - of the alteration in the opinion of the .people of Australia on this subject has been brought about, not by the speeches of politicians, nor by statements made by experts in the Old Country, but by the reports issued from time to time by the present Naval Director of the Commonwealth, Captain Creswell.

Senator Pearce - He has certainly done a very great deal in that direction.

Senator CHATAWAY - I have heard many things said against Captain Creswell, but I have been looking, through his reports furnished to the Minister from timeto time, and I find that throughout he has held firmly to one ideal. When he found that circumstances were against him, he did not allow himself to be discouraged, nor did he accept the ordinary Civil Service view of his duties. He stuck to his point; and he has stuck to it until he has become successful. Indeed, he has come to see his ideal accepted riot only in Australia ; for whereas formerly he was practically snubbed in the Old Country, he has at length seen his views adopted by the Imperial Naval authorities. Let us see what the genesis of this new idea of defence is. I find that the Naval Director, in his report for the year 1906, wrote as follows -

Already there has been some progress towards a mutual understanding - a realization of the fact that there are two distinct points of view, each entitled to the consideration of its claims. This is notably evident in the leading organs of the British press, and particularly in the " Service " section. It is to be hoped that this question will be settled on a basis mutually satisfactory to the central power and its oversea dependencies at the forthcoming Conference.

The solution is surely not a difficult one. The Imperial fleet can give much, but not complete, protection. To do so would weaken its strategy and effectiveness. Why should not Australia add that which the fleet cannot give? The interests threatened are of vital concern to our daily life and business. They affect us immediately, and cannot bc left open to attack. The solution is, therefore, an Australian Force, supplementary to the Imperial fleet, supplied by Australia for specially Australian duty, and to act in intimate co-operation with the Imperial fleet.

That was the policy laid down in 1906. It was difficult for Captain Creswell to stand to his guns at that time, particularly in view of the changes that were going forward in this country. But, nevertheless, he did so. Again, in his report for 1907, the Naval Director laid it down - quoting, I believe, from Professor Biles -

One condition must always dominate designs for Australian service - ocean sea conditions are met with immediately outside all Australian ports. Sea-keeping, and that in strong seas and weather, is the sine qua non qualification for vessels for Australian service.

I wish to make a particular reference to justify Mr. Joseph Cook, the late Minister of Defence, who was attacked rather severely at the last election for certain statements he made. In the original reports, as issued to members of this Parliament, the figures of Professor Biles were quoted as, for instance, " depth ii ft. 8 in.," instead of " draught 11 ft. 8 in." I expected to find them stated in that way in the bound volume of the Parliamentary Papers, but honorable senators will take my word for it that they appeared, as I have said, in the reports, as originally issued. It was on the strength of that statement, to which I directed the attention of Mr. Cook, that he made the statement to which exception has been taken. I felt that a vessel that was only 11 feet deep could not reasonably be considered to De sea-keeping or sea-going in the waters on the Australian coast. So far as the late Minister of Defence is concerned, if he made any mistake in the matter, I am responsible for it. I have mentioned that our theory of defence has largely changed during the last few years, and the effort which now must be made is not only to protect our shores from sudden landings, of which I have no great fear, but to protect our trade routes. It is not necessary that we should merely protect goods coming into Australia. We must realize that for a certain distance, and until the work can be taken up by vessels of the Imperial Navy, it will be necessary for u> to protect our export trade, not for the sake of what it means to us, but in order to enable our wheat, meat, and other foodstuffs to be safely transported for the benefit of other parts of the Empire. As honorable senators are aware, certain naval stations have been established in various parts of the world, with the object of protecting the trade routes of the Empire. This really means the trade routes which are followed by vessels supplying the United Kingdom with foodstuffs. I believe it is true that if for forty-eight hours, or, at any rate, for a week, it were possible to cut off food supplies from the United Kingdom, any nation could bring her to her knees, and so bring the rest of the Empire to its knees. We, therefore, need a type of vessels which will enable us to protect our trade routes, not merely within the 3-miles limit of our shores, but to take our part in the general protection of the trade routes to the United Kingdom, so that when they have done their share of the work it may be taken up by the China Squadron and other squadrons of the Imperial Navy. It has been suggested that we might be liable to invasion by a Japanese Fleet, but I should like to say that I think Germany is the country from which we have the greatest need to fear an invasion. It should not be forgotten that Germany has a fine establishment inNew Guinea already, and a good chance of a reversionary interest in all of the Malay Archipelago, which at present belongs to Holland. If Germany secures possession of Holland, as appears to be likely, even within the life-time of some of us, the Malay Archipelago, Sumatra, Java, Timor, and other islands will become hers, and we shall then have a German ring around the northern and north-eastern portion of Australia. I do not say that we have anything to fear from any country, but if we have, I should have a greater fear of the great military Power of Europe, which is fast becoming a great naval Power, than I should have of Japan. I really apprehend no danger from these raids. .1 believe that our danger lies in the fact that the United Kingdom may be found to be the Achilles' heel of the Empire. My honorable friends will understand the allusion. Achilles was vulnerable only in the heel. He did desperate and valorous things until a chance arrow struck him in the heel and brought about his death. I am inclined to think that the United Kingdom will be found to be the Achilles' heel of the Empire, not because Great Britain could not defend herself in the ordinary sense of the word, but because she cannot supply herself with a sufficiency of foodstuffs, and it might be found possible to cut off her supplies from outside. I do not wish to continue the discussion further, except to say that I am entirely with the Government in the matter of naval defence. I do not know that I should not be prepared to support, in almost every defail, the present or any other Government that proposes to give us what I consider to be the naval force we require for the defence of Australia. I am exceedingly pleased to note that this is the first Government that !has ever brought down a Bill entitled a Naval Defence Bill. We have had submitted in this Parliament a Bill to make a Naval Defence Agreement with the Old Country, and a Bill to raise money for the building of ships of war, but we have before us to-day a Bill bearing the dignified title of "The Naval Defence Bill." We !have had a Naval and Military Defence Bill submitted, but at last we have a Bill placing our naval defence on a separate footing. On this I consider that the present Government are very much to be congratulated. There are one or two matters to which I should like to refer very briefly. I notice that a Naval Board is to be appointed, and 1 hope it will be something more than the Military Board has been. I (hope is will not be a body behind "Which the Minister of Defence may find shelter. I hope it will do some work and will meet, not once in every three or four years, but frequently, and will be practically a Naval Defence Board. There is mention in the Bill of the appointment of officers "by promotion, and I hope it will be made quite clear, as a principle of this measure, that there will be no promotion by seniority in our Naval Force. I speak after inquiries made when the American Fleet visited Australia when I say that its administration was cursed by the adoption of a system of promotion by seniority. Under that system, when a man becomes sixty or sixty-five years of age, he steps ashore when his vessel reaches port, and another man steps into his place, because he happens to have reached the age of, it may be, sixty-four years and nine months. That is not the way in which men are promoted in the Imperial Navy. The famous work done by Percy Scott did not leave him still in the ruck, able merely to keep himself alive, until all the officers who were senior to him died. Where there is promotion by seniority, a man need not trouble himself about what he does. So long as he "keeps within reasonable bounds, he has only to keep himself alive, and if those above him will only die, he will, in time, become an Admiral. I hope that such a principle will not be allowed to creep into the administration of the Naval Defence Force of Australia. I think it was Senator Gould who said that he would not only be glad to see the ships of the proposed unit built, but hoped that they would be added to from time to time. One thing I should like to say in this connexion is that we must clearly understand that if we are going to establish a naval force that will be worth anything, we must have a force which will open to a man a career. It will not be sufficient if we have merely a force in which a man enters the lower ranks without any hope of attaining a position worth working for. Honorable senators will admit that men could not be persuaded to join our Military Forces, if they believed that they could only hope to reach the rank of a corporal, a sergeant, or, at best, a sergeant-major. Some of the best officers of the Imperial Army, such as General Macdonald and General. Finn, who was in charge of our Military Forces in Australia for a time, were men who rose from the ranks. There is a great inducement to men to join the Military Forces when they know that they may rise not only through the noncommissioned ranks, but through the commissioned ranks, until they hold the highest positions in the Army. If we are to have only a number of tin-pot torpedo boat destroyers, we cannot expect to attract good men to our Naval Forces. We have already on the stocks a vessel of the type which is called a Dreadnought cruiser, and I hope that that will not be the best ship we shall obtain in the not far distant future. We cannot do everything at once, but I hope that in future we shall have better ships than the best that are proposed now. We need to be able to offer smart young fellows, and it is only the smart men about whom we need be concerned, an opportunity to make a career for themselves in our Naval Force, and they should be given to understand that if they work well, and are sufficiently clever, they may expect to rise to the dignity of an Admiral's cocked hat. If we do not offer young Australians a career in our Naval Forces, we can hope to do very little good. We need to be able to assure smart young fellows that if they decide to join our Naval Forces they will not have to retire at forty-five, but may attain a desirable position after they have reached that age. Though our Navy will form a part of the Imperial Navy, it will be self-contained, and if it is not of such a character as to afford clever men a career, we shall not be able to induce our best men to join it. On the whole, I must congratulate the Government upon bringing down a Naval Defence Bill, and not mixing up naval defence with land defence. Re-echoing the words of Senator Vardon, I hope that this continuation of the departure made by the late Government may be thoroughly successful.

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