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Friday, 9 July 1915

Senator PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Defence) - In some States he did.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - In which States?

Senator PEARCE - In Victoria there was a Minister of Defence, who performed no other duties than those relating to the Defence Department. When exSenator Sir Frederick Sargood held the portfolio, he performed no other duties. Where the Minister of Defence in any State held some other portfolio it was generally of an unimportant character.

Senator Lt Colonel O'LOGHLIN - The Defence Department was a minor Department in South Australia.

Senator PEARCE - -Probably. But there were States in which there were Ministers of Defence, whose primary duties related to defence matters.

Senator O'Keefe - But they had really nothing to do with defence then in Australia.

Senator PEARCE - Whether they had nothing to do with defence or not, the fact remains that the portfolio and the Department existed.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - There was something to do when the South African war was in progress.

Senator PEARCE - Even then there were six Ministers of Defence in the different States, notwithstanding that the total contribution of Australia towards that war did not equal the first division of troops which was despatched from the Commonwealth to the front during the present struggle. What I am coming to is that under the conditions which then existed, the Treasury regulations which lay down the duties of Ministers were so framed that the Minister of Defence was able to give personal attention, and bis personal signature and assent, to all sorts of details. The Treasury regulations and the departmental rales were so drafted that papers on the minutes of the Department found their way to the Minister for his personal assent. When Federation was accomplished, all these Departments of Defence were grouped into one. In pre-Federation days, all sorts of petty details used to be referred to members of Parliament by their constituents, and those members in turn brought them under the notice of the Minister'. This practice imposed a responsibility for detail on the Minister, which was only possible under the circumstances which then existed. With the advent of Federation, I repeat, all these Defence Departments were grouped into one. But still the Defence Department remained comparatively insignificant. Honorable senators will appreciate that .fact when they recall the circumstance that in the early years of Federation, our total expenditure on defence, both Naval and Military, was less than £1,000,000. Our defence system of to-day was not then in operation. We had a defence system of the most casual character. Under that system, it was possible for the Minister to give attention to details on comparatively minor matters -

Senator de LARGIE - But although our expenditure was less than £1,000,000 annually, we even then talked of economy.

Senator PEARCE - Exactly. The necessity for systematized defence had not then become so apparent. It was only after world-wide events of great significance that the truth was brought home to Australia that our defence system must become a very real one. I confess, without any compunction, that the event which first awakened me to its true significance was the Russo-Japanese war. Prior to that struggle I had regarded the question of defence as an extremely minor one for Australia. But that war forced upon me the conviction that we had been drawn into .the maelstrom of world politics, and from that time onwards defence to me became a matter of absorbing interest and of vital importance to the Commonwealth.

Senator Bakhap - We shall- never get out of that maelstrom again.

Senator PEARCE - The point I want to make is that we have continued from »that time forward on the same lines as regards Ministerial responsibility for detail as existed in the Colonies before Federation. We have endeavoured to continue that cumbrous system with an ever-growing Department and increasing responsibility.

Senator de LARGIE - Can we get out of it?

Senator PEARCE - I think that we can, and ought to get out of that system. If I am permitted to remain in my present office I shall endeavour to devisesome scheme to get out of it. I say, advisedly, that there is a tremendous amount of detail to-day thrust upon the Ministerof Defence which the permanent officers of his Department should deal with. If they are not competent to carry out such duties they are not fit to occupy the positions they hold. When the Minister iscalled upon to devote his time and attention to small details he is not left free,, as he ought to be, to give his mind to the bigger questions which should be his' special concern, and the settlement of which, in the long run, affects the decision of all the minor questions whicharise. I make these remarks in no complaining spirit, because I dare say I have, in the matter of adherence to the old system, been as great a sinner as any oneelse. Members of Parliament who havebeen accustomed to that system have themselves perpetuated it by taking up questions of detail and pressing them upon the notice of the .Minister. I have said that we inherited . the system, and have continued it because the Department is still established on the same lines as the Defence Departments of the States in pre-Federation days. Even if the system were changed, as I suggest, there would still be sufficient responsibility and work to occupy the attention of two Ministers in the Defence Department. The most natural division of the work of the Department seems to the Government to be to separate the Navy from the Military. It is not to be understood that the separate Departments proposed will work in watertight compartments. I wish it to be clearly understood that nothing of that kind is intended. It is intended that the two Departments and the two Ministers in charge of them shall be closely associated, that there shall be a complete interchange of views between them on all important questions, and cohesion for all purposes of national defence. The relations between them must be of the most intimate character. That can be secured by the arrangements which will be laid down by the Cabinet. The new Minister will take direct responsibility for naval defence in all its ramifications - citizen training, Navy office, dockyards, building and repairing of ships, upkeep of -Fleet, provision of new ships, and manning and victualling. It has to be remembered that the Navy Department will he charged with the responsibility of the transport of our- troops oversea. No more striking instance could be suggested to show the necessity for the closest relation . between, the two Departments. The Defence Department, on the military side, will be responsible for the raising, training, and equipment of troops, and the Navy Department will be responsible for taking; them oversea. There clearly must be cohesion between the two Departments if serious mistakes and confusion are to be avoided. The titles to be given to the respective Ministers have yet to be determined; but, after all, that does not matter very much. In the direction of- the war, and in the administration of the military side of the Department, owing largely to our system, there will still be too much work and responsibility for any one man to undertake. What is proposed in the circumstances is to call in the assistance of one of the Honorary Ministers. The Prime Minister has informed me that he has allotted to the Vice-President of the Executive Council the duty of Assistant Minister to the Minister of Defence. He will be able to relieve the Minister of a great mass of detail work, leaving the Minister free to deal with the bigger questions which need close and vigorous attention at the present time. I venture to say, for instance, that the question of the supply of munitions demands such attention. Ifc needs the exercise of all one's ability and the use of all ones's time to see that something effective is and how we can assist them in supplying their requirements in the way of munitions of war. We are pressing them almost daily on the question, and 1 hope that we shall shortly have some satisfactory reply-

Senator de LARGIE - If not, Ave shall have to go on our own.

Senator PEARCE - It is not a question of going on our own. We want to do something more than merely provide munitions of war for our troops. We want to make a contribution to the common pool of the Empire.

Senator de Largie - How can we do that if we are not supplied with the necessary information?

Senator PEARCE - Our suggestion to the War Office authorities is that apart from providing munitions of war for our own troops we should assist by contributing something to the common pool. We have pointed out our extensive resources for the manufacture of munitions of war in Australia, and we have offered to utilize them in any way possible. We have asked for information to enable us to get to work in this direction. We have communicated directly through the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and also through the High Commissioner, and have been pressing the matter for a considerable time without, so far, any satisfactory result.

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