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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I do not entirely agree with the views put forward by Senator Stewart. With some of them I do most cordially agree, and more particularly with the latter portion of his remarks in which he dealt with the idea that whatever naval force we possess may be taken in time of war to the other side of the world. I have read what naval authorities have said on this question. I am aware that it is generally recognised' to be of vital importance not to split a navy up into different squadrons, but to hold it in a position to be concentrated if it is to be effective in time of war. But even so it seems to me that the only valid reason for establishing a navy al all in Australia - I do not at all share Senator Stewart's idea that we should have none - is this : It would doubtless take an enormous time to convey troops considerable distances across this continent by land ; and, consequently, if we were faced by an Asiatic invasion we might require to convey troops by water. We should then want war-ships to convoy the troop-ships, and under such circumstances a navy would be of considerable use. It would enable us to convey troops to the point of danger, where they might be able to repel an attack or to drive off those who had effected a landing. I dissent altogether from the idea that the fate of this country is going to be decided by some great battle in the northern seas. I do not for a moment believe that the defeat of Great Britain could be averted by any naval assistance which we could render to her. Inall probability any such defeat would be brought about before our ships had time to reach the point of danger.

Senator Millen - That is not the question. The existence of an Australian Navy enables Great Britain to concentrate her Fleet at home.

Senator Pearce - Hear, hear.

Senator RAE - So far as concerns that point - which the Minister of Defence cheers - I would ask whether Great Britain has not now practically concentrated ail her ships that would be of any use in a great naval engagement in her own waters?

Senator Millen - That is because of an alliance which terminates shortly.

Senator RAE - What would be the use of the Australian Squadron for warlike purposes in a really big battle? It would be so hopelessly out-classed that it would be a nuisance to have it anywhere near.

Senator Pearce - No; the armoured cruiser is fit to go into the line of battle.

Senator RAE - I am not referring to the armoured cruiser which is in course of construction, but to the ships of the Australian Squadron which are now in our waters.

Senator Millen - They are counted out.

Senator RAE - Just so. I say, then, that this naval squadron which we are about to place in our own waters is not for the purpose of relieving Great Britain from placing her own ships in our waters, because she has already taken all the ships that are of any use away from this part of the world.

Senator Millen - Because there is an alliance which relieves Great Britain of the necessity for policing our waters.

Senator RAE - The honorable senator refers to the alliance with Japan?

Senator Millen - Yes.

Senator RAE - One may be mistaken, but it is not unreasonable to assume that our chief source of danger lies to the north of us, and that it is from that direction that our trouble will probably come. It would be practically impossible for us, for many years to come, to build a navy sufficiently large to defend our huge coast-line against serious aggression from that direction.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Our Navy will only be a unit, consisting of one-third of the Imperial Navy in the Pacific.

Senator RAE - I know that; but still, while our Fleet will be one of the units making up the Pacific Squadron, each of those units will have its own piece of coast-line to defend. But the point that I wish to make is this: 1 do not think that Great Britain can permanently defend Australia. I have not a hope of her continuing to do so, and my honest opinion is that she will not.

Senator Pearce - She ought not to be asked to do so.

Senator RAE - I agree that she ought not to be asked; and that is why I welcome the taking of the initial steps to establish a fleet- of our own, as well as an army, which will grow as we grow in numbers, and increase in power as we develop in wealth. For that reason I think that this is a sound policy. But I fall foul of my honorable friends opposite in another aspect of the matter. Senator St. Ledger construed a remark which I made by way of interjection as being spoken in derision of his sentiments.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator was merely speaking jocularly.

Senator RAE - Not entirely. I was expressing my honest disgust at the honorable senator's Jingoistic sentiments.

Senator St Ledger - I am for the Empire all the time!

Senator RAE - Well, I have no use for this " Empire-all-the-time " business. lt is to me the rankest and most repugnant bunkum. I was at one time asked why I refused to allow my children to take part in some Empire Day celebrations. I wrote to their school-teacher, stating that my reason was because I believe that every Empire had been founded on force and fraud, and maintained by the same methods, and that the British Empire was no exception to that rule.

Senator St Ledger - A nice, patriotic sentiment '

Senator RAE - I have no time at all for the hog-wash that does duty for "patriotic sentiment" with the honorable senator and his like. I believe that the first patriotic duty of Australians is to look after their own country. As far as concerns the talk about what we owe to the Mother Country, I say that it was our forefathers in Great Britain who fought for and won the liberties which we enjoy, and that we no more owe them to the present generation of Englishmen than we owe to them the liberties, of the land that we occupy. Whatever privileges and rights and liberties were wrung from the ruling class generations ago were extorted equally by our ancestors as by the ancestors of those who are at present residing in Great Britain. The rights which we possess were secured by those who came to this country years ago, and we owe nobody in Great Britain anything for them. Therefore, as far as Imperialism is concerned, I believe that it is the duty of every sane individual to fight strongly against any attempt to forge any other Imperial bonds than those which already exist. As far as relates to the Imperial Conferences, which are shared in by the representatives of various parts of the British Empire, I have no doubt that they do a great deal of good.

Senator St Ledger - The Prime Minister is on an Imperial mission now.

Senator RAE - The Prime Minister is on a journey for the purpose of conveying good-will to a kindred people across the seas.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - And he is going to the Coronation.

Senator RAE - I have nothing to do with the Prime Minister's contemplated visit to Great Britain. That is his concern. But I do contend, with Senator Stewart, that this Navy of ours should be our own entirely, and I resent altogether the idea that if a war-scare is raised in Europe our Fleet is to steam away to do duty where it will probably arrive too late, and, in any case, where it would be too small to be of any real service. We ought to prepare for the time that is coming if we are to judge by the events that are taking place in the world now. Great Britain was at one time a part of the Roman Empire, and, as when the heart of that Empire was menaced Imperial Rome withdrew her troops from her outposts for her own protection, so the same process is now going on in the British Empire to-day, and Great Britain has begun to draw her ships nearer to the heart of this Empire. I consider that we have been given a practical and plain intimation by Great Britain that we must be prepared to look after ourselves. I cannot understand the talk about establishing a naval unit which, in time of danger, is to be sent to the other side of the world, when, as Senator Stewart has said, we should most need it here. Our danger is from Japan, or an awakened China, and not from any of the great European nations.

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator permit me to ask this question: Pending the time when Australia is prepared to defend herself, is the honorable senator willing to accept assistance and protection from Great Britain?

Senator RAE - I am prepared to let existing conditions continue until we can replace them with better. I do not advocate any wild proposal for separation from Great Britain.

Senator Millen - Not so long as she is in a position to help us.

Senator Millen - Well, I should be prepared to trust even the present Government with such a power.

Senator RAE - I say that I would not trust any Government with such a power. We are not such asses over here as to claim that the members of the present Government are above the ordinary frailties of humanity. I say that our laws should be passed in such a. manner that they might be safely administered by any Government. For this reason, while I believe we should have a navy, I do not agree with those who believe that Australia is doomed to destruction if it should happen, as the fortune of war, that Germany or some other great Power should temporarily secure a victory over Great Britain.

Senator St Ledger - -Which side is the honorable senator on?

Senator RAE - - I am on this side. I believe that an enormous amount of absolute nonsense has been written by people who ought to know better about the effects which would follow from a disaster to Great Britain. I think that Ge, many has quite enough to do to manage her own country, and would never attempt a conquest of Australia, or the annexation of any of our territory. I believe that no other European Power would have any better reason for doing so. The trade of a country is only of value so long as something can be got in return for it. I do not believe that the most powerful Government in America could prevent the people of that country sending foodstuffs into England in time of Avar. While it pays Great Britain to import foodstuffs, we know that it pays America equally to

Senator Stewart - Suppose they were both at war?

Senator RAE - Even if they were, it seems to me to be the greatest moonshine to suggest that an absolutely effective blockade of English ports could be set up.

Senator Millen - A blockade of America would not starve Great Britain.

Senator RAE - It might make the food supplies of Great Britain very dear.

Senator Millen - There would be the rest of the world to draw upon.

Senator RAE - Just so. There could be no question of the American nation attempting such a thing as to prevent the export of their own foodstuffs. An attempt might be made to blockade the ports of Great Britain to prevent the entry of foodstuffs into that country, but I do not believe such a blockade could be successfully maintained. If it were, it would recoil upon the nation that effected it, and would do it almost as much harm as it would do Great Britain.

Senator Pearce - Surely these- high international problems can wait?

Senator RAE - Just so. According to. the Minister, everything should wait the convenience of the Government, but I have yet to learn that because honorable senators were elected to follow the Government they are merely to be registers of the decrees of Ministers.

Senator Millen - That is all they have been for some time, and they might be allowed to break out now and again.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - That is what they have been generally.

Senator RAE - Whatever I may have been generally, when I feel strongly upon any matter, I claim the right to speak my mind upon it. I have not delivered very many lengthy speeches on the measures brought before the Senate.

Senator St Ledger - Fortunately for us.

Senator RAE - It is bad enough, perhaps, that the Senate should have to endure the honorable senator, and it might break down hopelessly if it had to submit to two such inflictions. In the circumstances, I hope that some amendments will be made in this Bill to secure an absolute Australian control of our Navy, so that we may be able to exercise some check upon what I consider to be the absolutely idiotic policy of allowing our Fleet, in time of danger, to be taken away to the other side of the world, where it can be of very little use, whilst we might suffer great injury from its absence from our waters.

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