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Thursday, 7 December 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - Although the subject of naval defence is opened up by this Bill, and is necessarily a very tempting one, I do not propose to yield to the temptation further than to make a very few observations upon two of the proposals in this Bill. With regard to one of them, the more important to which the Minister has referred, I welcome it as evidence of the fact that once again the various sections of the British people are showing their capacity for solving a problem which apparently no othersection of the human race has so far been able to solve successfully. I refer to the problem which arises from the desire for local control working side by- side with Imperial unity. This has been ohe of the difficulties always confronting us when we have considered the creation of a local navy. I do not mean to say that the arrangement now proposed represents the lastword which can be said on the subject ; but it does seem to me that, so far as we have gone; the difficulty is being met very satisfactorily by the arrangement arrived at at the Imperial ' Conference, the- working' details s of which "this Bil'; intended to give effect to. I say this, because the proposal still leaves the Australian people the control of their local affairs, and at the same time provides a working hypothesis by which our section of the Navy may be worked satisfactorily with the main branch of the Naval Force. For this reason, I welcome this Bill. I ask the Minister when he replies to the debate to deal with another point. We all recognise the necessity of placing the standards of our service on an equality with those of the Imperial Navy, as otherwise an interchange of officers and men would be impossible. It is admitted that our standards must be as high, and our tests as severe, as are those of the British Adniirally. I understand the Minister to say that the term of apprenticeship proposed for our Fleet is shorter than that of the Imperial service. I wish to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that there is no danger that that may be regarded by the Admiralty as submitting our officers to a less severe training and examination than those which Imperial officers will have to undergo. It will be admitted, I think, that if there is any danger of the kind steps should be taken as early as possible to remedy the defect. On more than one occasion, the Minister of Defence has himself stressed the point that we must have our officers trained as well as are those of the Imperial service. The. question I put to him specifically is whether this can be secured under the proposals made, so as to prevent the possibility of any question being raised at Home that our officers will be called upon to serve a shorter period of training, and will itmay be, possess less practical experience.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [3.10].-I should like to add a word or two to what has been said. This is a matter in which a great many of us have taken a very considerable interest, and in connexion with which we have had to endure a certain amount of misconstruction on the part of many of the. public. It has been suggested that in establishing a fleet unit ofour own in addition to units established by other of the over-sea Dominions and the Imperial Fleet, we are doing so at the expense of discipline and effectiveness. There has been another objection raised on. the ground that it would be better to 'have one Imperial ' Naval Force for the protection of the whole of the British Empire. I join with Senator Mil len in congratulating, not only the Minister of Defence, but all who have had to deal with this great subject, upon the ingenuity of the means proposed by which the different Fleet units may be worked together under one Imperial control. There can be no question that, if the Navy is to be effective in time of trouble, the Fleets must be worked together as a unified force, and there must be no such thing as divided control. In order that the people of the country may realize the value of a Navy, it is necessary that they should have the power of control such as is proposed to be exercised by the Government under ordinary circumstances. It should also be recognised that the establishment of a Navy in our own waters is calculated to inspire our people with a feeling of patriotism which could not be engendered in other circumstances, or by the adoption of another course such as a contribution to the upkeep of the Imperial Navy, without any measure of local control or management. I know that when the first Naval Agreement was entered into many years ago, one of the stipulations made by the State. Governments was that the Australian Squadron should not be taken out of Australian waters without the direct consent of the State Governments. We know, however, that efficiency must depend in naval matters on the power of concentration in the event of war. I think that the people of Australia should realize to the fullest that the establishment of our Navy is not only a marked evidence of the National spirit of the country, but also of the feeling of unity with' the Imperial Service. However much some persons may have been in favour of a contribution to the Imperial Navy, that could never have been as effective and valuable as a means of Imperial defence as the system which has now been adopted. Senator Pearce is to be congratulated upon holding the position of Minister of Defence during such an important period in the naval history of this country. It is an opportunity given to very few men to be enabled to assist in consolidating and creating what is really an Imperial Defence, based upon such a system that other over-sea Dominions that have not yet determined to establish a naval unit may be in a position to see how, bythe adoption of the same course, |they may more effectively assist Great Britain than they have hitherto done. We know that our cousins in New Zealand have agreed to pay for a great ship to form part of the Imperial Navy. The value of that gift is not so great as the impetus that will be given to the cause of Imperial defence by the course now adopted. For some years past, relying upon the alliance with the Japanese nation, the Imperial Navy has been materially reduced in strength in these waters. I am not speaking merely of Australian, waters, but of the Pacific generally. We have been led to believe that it was necessary, through existing political circumstances, and the possibility - which I hope will never be realized - of serious European complications, to concentrate the Navy in Home waters. Therefore, we have, to a great extent, been compelled to rely upon that alliance for the protection of this country. Under certain circumstances that might be unsatisfactory. But we shall, under the new system, have ships of a first-class character in our waters. We shall have not merely a unit, but a complete squadron - that is to say, a Naval Force of such a character that it will be most effective in. the event of a necessity for its employment in war. We all understand that one of the great principles of defence is not only that a country should be ready to protect its rights and interests, but that it should at the same time be able to make such a show of its power as will prevent the possibility of complications arising. Without going' into these questions at length, I may point out that we have been made to realize lately the great power which Great Britain exercises in international affairs. That power is due to her strong navy, and her means of defence and offence. We, as a portion of the Empire, realize that we are now doing our share of that great work, which should devolve upon all members of the Empire. The question raised by Sena'tor Millen as to the efficiency of the training to be given to cadets must come under the serious consideration of the Defence Department and of the Minister. I assume that the expert advice that will always be available, and can be obtained at any time by the Minister, will enable him to make certain that the amount of training it is intended to give to the cadets sufficient to qualify them to take their position alongside those who have been trained in the Imperial Navy, so that there will be no fear on the grounds of efficiency at times when command is placed in the hands of Australian officers. .

Senator Stewart - That will be all right.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - 1 dare say the honorable senator thinks so. I feel that this is a most important question, and one that must be dealt with on absolutely the best lines, iri order to create an effective body of seamen and officers. One matter that may call for explanation from the Minister relates to the result of courts martial. There is a proviso in this Bill to the effect that a sentence of death passed by any court martial on any member of the Naval Force shall not be carried into effect until it has been confirmed by the GovernorGeneral. One can realize that that is a proper provision under ordinary circumstances. But in the event- of war breaking out, and it being necessary to pass sentence of death by a court martial, it would be quite impossible for every case of the kind to be reviewed by the GovernorGeneral - that is to say, by the Executive - before it was carried into effect. I presume that this provision is meant to apply rather to times of peace than to times of war. We know that justice has to be administered, probably rather roughly at times, during warfare. It is often necessary to take strong measures. In the event of it being found necessary to condemn a man to death in time of war, such a sentence should not have to be referred to the Government of the day. I do not desire, however, to say more about that now, except to commend to the best consideration of the Minister the point that there may be a necessity for introducing other legislation at a future time. I congratulate the Minister upon the introduction of the Bill. I congratulate him upon the success so far achieved since our entry into what was, a little time ago, re*garded as almost unknown waters. I hope the result may be not only to strengthen the forces of Australia, but to strengthen the efficiency and power of the Imperial Navy - the Navy of that great nation of which we all are, as we ought to be, proud to be members.

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