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Friday, 8 April 1921

Senator PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Defence) - I am aware of Senator Thomas solicitous care for overworked 'public servants, and I venture to say that if any complaints are made in this connexion we shall hear from the honorable senator. So' far, I know of no complaint on this score. I direct the attention of the honorable senator to the fact that, owing to the demobilization of the Australian Imperial Force, the work hitherto carried on by the Defence Department in connexion with that Force has ceased, or is ceasing. There is, in consequence, a surplus of staff in the Defence Department, and we have been discharging members of the staff for some time now. That meets the objection which the honorable senator has raised.

Senator Wilson - Will not the members of these Boards draw extra fees ?

Senator PEARCE - There will be no extra fees, except in the case of the finance member of the Air Board. He is the Chief Accountant in the Defence Branch of the Department, and, with the consent of the Treasurer, he is being given a special allowance, amounting, I think, to only £100 a year, because of the increased responsibility which will be placed upon him. Lest that should alarm honorable senators, I may add that, even with the allowance referred to, the salary of the officer will not, I think, exceed £600 a year.

Senator Wilson - I was thinking that the public would be alarmed if they learned that fresh appointments had been made to which no additional fees were attached.

Senator PEARCE - There will be no additional allowances, with the exception of that to which I have referred. The members of the Air Force will be liable for service for the naval or military arm as decided by the Air Board. The powers of the Air Board are, as I have stated, limited to administration, 'and it cannot in any way interfere with policy. All matters of policy arising must be referred by the Air Board to the Air Council. The Air Council consists of existing officers of the Naval and Military Boards, and they will receive no extra pay for the duties imposed upon them under this Bill.

There is a provision in the Bill which applies Part XII. of the Defence Act, which provides for universal training, to those of the Citizen Forces who are allotted tothe Air Force. It is recognised in regard to the Navy that there must be a permanent personnel and machines, because the Navy must carry out its training in peace, and must be kept efficient. We could not improvise an Air Force sufficient for naval purposes unless we had a nucleus trained with the Fleet in time of peace and definitely allotted to the Naval Forces. So there will be a permanent establishment termed the Naval Air Force, and it will be practically complete for war purposes. But as to the military ann, it is recognised that, as I said in my introduct6ry remarks, we would, in time of war, be able to add to the Air Force a large number of persons, as well as a large quantity of material, which in time of peace might be used for commercial purposes. Therefore, the military side of the Air Force will be onlypartly permanent, and in the main will consist of members of the Citizen Forces.

SenatorRowell. - I presume that they will be volunteers, and not compulsorily enlisted in that branch of the Service.

Senator PEARCE - They will be selected from the Citizen Forces. It must be remembered that the whole of the youth of Australia over eighteen years of age are liable for service under the Defence Act, and the military authorities have power to allot trainees to various branches of the Defence Force, the only departure being that in country districts volunteers allotted to the Light Horse are not liable for compulsory training. The reason is obvious. It would be useless to allot a trainee to Light Horse unless he had ahorse of his own, or unless the authorities provided him with one.

Senator Earle - Do you mean that the authorities may compel a cadet to train as an airman?

Senator PEARCE - No. The Air Force on the' military side will be partly permanent, and partly composed of the Citizen Forces. That is to say, it will be necessary to have in each military division machines that will work with that division in time of war, and be available for the personnel allotted to the division in time of peace. Therefore, it is intended to set up training establishments in the various States, not all at once, but commencing in the more populous and more distant States, and gradually extending the scheme over all. There will be a permanent trained nucleus, and then a certain number of the Citizen Forces, liable for training under Part XII. of the Defence Act, will be allotted to the Air Force, and do their training in that branch of the Service. The authorities have the power to allot a person, liable for training, to any arm they think fit, but obviously in the exercise of that power they do what is possible to meet the wishes of the trainee, having regard to his avocation. At present if a lad is follow ing a clerical occupation he is not encouraged to join an engineering unit, but if he is a tradesman and his inclinations are in that direction, he is allotted to some such unit.

So it will be in the Air. Force. I donot anticipate there will be any lack of volunteers, but, on the contrary, that there will have to be weeding out of those anxious to join it.' . Two things will be taken into consideration - a lad's fitness for the Service and his willingness to undergo the training. May I say here, as having some bearing upon the point, that when we advertised recently the conditions of entry for the limited permanent personnel now being created under the existing estimates we had received, up till a week ago, and the time fixed for the receipt of applications had still a fortnight to go, over 4,000 letters, applications, or inquiries, asking for further particulars from candidates throughout Australia. It is obvious that if a trainee is to become an efficient aviator he must be prepared to give more time to his training than would be required of him in the infantry, or the Army Service Corps, for instance. This, too, will apply more particularly to those members of the Citizen Forces who aspire to become flying officers, and so provision will be made for their extended voluntary training. In this regard the Bill makes no departure from the principles governing length or conditions of training contained in the Defence Act or the Naval Defence Act.

This new unit will be very technical in its character, and so we have provided for the admission of a certain number of boys into the permanent section, both naval and military. A boy so admitted will really become apprenticed to a technical trade. He will grow up in tha Service. I need hardly stress the point that the Air Force, particularly the flying section of it, is essentially a force for the young man. There has been some criticism of the fact that in regard to the actual flying personnel we have fixed the age for retirement at forty years, but I ask any honorable senator who has reached that age to examine his own inclinations in the matter of aviation as a means of living, and as to his readiness to accept the risks. If he does, I think he will come to the conclusion that we have not erred in fixing the retiring age at forty years for flying officers. But the retirement of a flying officer will not necessarily mean that his services are to be dispensed with altogether, because in this particular arm there will be two sections, the actual flying branch - in wartime the fighting unit - and the ground or administrative personnel controlling the machinery to enable the flying unit to take the field and keep the field. Therefore a certain number of these flying officers, as they teach the retiring age will, because of their flying experience, be retained in the ground or administration personnel.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - But what will become of the man retired at forty years of age if he has not been trained in any other trade!

Senator PEARCE - A retired flying officer, I take it, will have ample opportunities of earning his living in commercial aviation, and by virtue of his experience as an aviator, he will have become a pretty good mechanic. I have no doubt at all that by the time a young man who enters the Service at under twenty-five years, which I think is the age fixed, reaches forty years, and is retired, commercial aviation will have developed sufficiently to offer him a profitable occupation. If not, then neither military nor commercial aviation has the future we expect.

But we all realize the wonderful strides that commercial aviation is making,, and so no one has any doubt as to its future.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can the- Minister tell us the proportion the ground personnel will bear to. the flying personnel?

Senator PEARCE - I should say it would be las four is to one, but the senator has sprung this question upon me, and I am not able to say definitely. I will endeavour to get the information for him. Whatever the proportion may be it is obvious that the actual flying section of the Air Force must be young, vigorous, and in full possession of all their energies. The medical examination is, of course, stringent, as "honorable senators will understand if they visit the school at Point Cook, and make inquiries of the medical officer. The experience of the war has shown the wisdom of a severe medical examination for all those who undertake flying, and the examination will continue, because owing to physical changes an efficient flying officer may become unfitted medically to continue. In such circumstances he would have to transfer to the ground organization or be retired physically unfit.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - Do you propose to build your own machines? .

Senator PEARCE - Not at present.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) -Then, how will a man get his training in mechanics ?

Senator PEARCE - I should say in general overhaul and repair work. But I hope that at no distant date we shall commence to manufacture our own machines in Australia; though I do not wish to convey the impression that the Bill commits the Senate or involves the acceptance of this principle. It is a matter altogether apart from this measure, and raises the question whether we should encourage private firms to build aeroplanes or whether the Government should build their own. I do not intend to raise the issue on this Bill. We do not now propose to construct machines, but if Parliament so desires it can give that power to the Government.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - Does the Minister think that men can become skilled mechanics merely by attending to machines ?

Senator PEARCE - It would be useless to have men attending machine's, unless they were skilled mechanics.

Senator Crawford - There are many skilled engineers who have never built an engine.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - There are many motor drivers who have never built an engine, and who are not competent mechanics.

Senator PEARCE - That may be so. As the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) says, there are in Australia a number of splendid motor mechanics, although we do not build the motors in Australia.

Senator Payne - Clause 88 gives the Government power to construct.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, we have the power; but the question was whether we propose building, and my reply was that if is not the intention at present. There is not any necessity to commence building machines at this juncture, because, owing to the generosity of the British Government, we have a large number of uptodate machines, valued at approximately £750,000, which have been given to us free of cost. The only machines we are in need of are those which we propose immediately to order for the Naval Branch. We .are obtaining the most up-to-date machines for that purpose, but only sufficient to meet our immediate requirements.

Provision will be made for the attachment of naval and military officers to the Air Force for a limited period, these officers afterwards returning to their own Services. It is obvious that if the three branches of the Service are to operate successfully together, the officers must have a knowledge of the requirements of each branch. We have a Naval College and a Military College, at which young Australians are trained for positions in the Navy and Army, and it is proposed, with the consent of the Naval and Military Boards, that a certain number of graduates from each college shall be allotted to the Air Force. As the transfer will be at a comparatively early age, it must not be regarded as a matter of certainty that all will be successful in the Air Force, or will make good air officers. In these circumstances, only those who are proficient will be retained in the Air Force, and the others will be .returned to the Navy or Army Services. In that way we shall avoid the expense of a separate college for the Air Force, as we will take advantage of the institutions now in existence. It will also he necessary to have officers attached to the staff of the Chief of the General Staff in the Army, and to the First Naval Member of the Naval Board, in order to combine the operations of the Air Force with the other branches. It is hoped by the training of these young Australians that just as we now have in the Army the possibility of filling the positions from the Inspector-General right down with Australians trained and educated here, so we shall be able - as we are starting on the ground work - to train an air staff of young Australians who will be able to advise their respective chiefs in the Navy and Army as to the best means of cooperating.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Other things being equal, does the Bill give preference to those who have had experience in the air?

Senator PEARCE - The Bill does not do that, but it does not prevent it The Government have already laid it down that in appointments to the Air Force - it is embodied in the regulations - those who have served in the Australian Imperial Force shall have preference. The second preference will be given to those who have served with the British Air Forces, and the third preference to others.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does that mean the Australian Imperial Force Air Force?

Senator PEARCE - Yes.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And not the Australian Imperial Force generally?

Senator PEARCE - It means the Aus- - tralian. Imperial Force generally; but, of course, a man who was a member of the Australian Imperial Force, and who had had flying experience, would be chosen before one who had not.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does that include ground officers?

Senator PEARCE - Yes; all appointments to the Air Force.

Senator Foster - In regard to the prescribed examination which will be necessary in connexion with the appointment of officers to the Air Force, do I understand that the examination will be in< the nature of that which has to be passed at the staff colleges?

Senator PEARCE - No; it is more in the form of a medical examination, and if a person is applying for the position of flying officer his flying qualifications will, of course, be considered. It is not an examination into his military qualifications, as they can be obtained later. We are confident that sufficient of those who rendered such splendid service as aviators in the Australian Imperial Force will apply to enable us to select a staff,- and those air officers who had actual flying experience during the war will have preference.

The Bill gives the Governor-General power to acquire or construct and maintain aircraft or aircraft material, and it also takes power to prohibit flying over certain areas. This is an additional power to that given in the Air Navigation Act and the regulations made thereunder, which deal with civil aviation. The provision in the measure passed is to protect life and property in connexion with flying over cities, and airmen performing what are known as " stunts." The power in this measure is to be exercised for naval and military purposes, and is to prevent anything being done that would be detrimental to the safety of the country by allowing flying to be undertaken.

Senator Duncan - Do you propose to exercise any other control over civil aviation from a military point of view?

Senator PEARCE - No ; that is covered by* a separate Act, the provisions of which are administered by the Minister on ihe advice of the Controller of Civil : Aviation. I have noticed paragraphs in the newspapers that would lead the public to believe that the Air Council controls civil aviation, but neither the Air Council nor the Air Board exercise any control. The Controller of Civil Aviation has a seat on the Air Council, or he may acquaint the Council with what he is doing to enable the work to be coordinated. We have voted £100,000 on the Estimates for civil aviation, and it is proposed to expend that by carrying out the ground organization, by making surveys, marking sites for aerodromes, obtaining particulars as to meteorological conditions, and in other ways, which will be of assistance to companies or individuals who wish to carry on civil aviation o\er certain routes. That work, so far, is done by the Commonwealth Government, on the advice of the Controller of Civil Aviation, but it may be that in carrying out that work a naval or military object may be achieved. In that way the Controller keeps the Council informed of what he is doing, and work done for commercial purposes may at the same time serve some naval or military purpose. The Council can. if necessary, su'ggest that certain alterations be carried out which would be the means of avoiding duplication and unnecessary expenditure, at the same time giving assistance to commercial aviation.

Senator Duncan - A suggestion of that kind would be tantamount to an order.

Senator PEARCE - No; because the Controller of Civil Aviation is not in any way under the control of the Council. He is under the Minister, and no one else; and, therefore, it is not an order, but merely a suggestion.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - During war time it would foe tantamount to an order.

Senator PEARCE - In war time it would be, because all the resources of the nation would be made available.

Let me give an illustration of what is being done to show honorable senators the difference between these two branches of control. The Controller of Civil Aviation has recently brought to me for approval - and which I have approved - a circular he is forwarding to local governing bodies on any possible air routes throughout Australia. In these circulars he indicates that, later on, it is possible that in a particular town or district, op some part of the district, it may be necessary to map out a route that will be traversed by commercial aeroplanes. He is asking the local governing bodies, through their engineers, surveyors, or other officers, to acknowledge and fill in certain forms which he is sending to them. These forms indicate the information that is required to enable him, should that locality be selected later on, to mark out the site in that particular district for a landing place, aerodrome, or hangar. They are asked to give information as to the site of the piece of ground that could be made available, and to say if land could be leased at a nominal rental or purchased, and whether there is a good landing place available. They are also requested to mark out on a model plan what obstructions there are, if any, and also to indicate the general contour of the country. In that way he will get a mass of information, and when any proposal is brought forward he and his officers will be able to examine it and come to the Government with complete information that, if supplemented by further surveys, would be sufficient to enable a firm or individual to say whether the site would be suitable for the purpose, when some one would be despatched to make the necessary pre,parations. A lot of experimental work of that nature may be done bv obtaining information from shire engineers and others who are competent men, and at the same time save the expenditure of a large sum of money. The Government have asked the Controller, to recommend to them in what way they can best assist the development of civil aviation, especially in regard to the carriage of mails, parcels, and passengers. As a result of his recommendations a conference has been held with the Postal officials, who have recommended that a route should be selected over which an experimental service should be conducted. They put forward two routes. . One of these will link up Toowoomba or Brisbane, in Queensland, with the terminals of the railways which run from the coast into the interior of that State, and terminate at Cloncurry or Camooweal. The other route which they recommend, commences at Geraldton, in Western Australia, and extends to the north-west, as faras Darwin, having stopping places at the various towns along the north-west coast.. These two propositions are at present before the Air Board, not for its approval, but because it is the only body which is competent to adviseus how many machines, for example, would be required, what would be the expenditure upon petrol, bow many hangars would be necessary, and what would be the cost, weekly or monthly, to maintain such a service as the Postal authorities have approved. When these estimates have been prepared, the matter will be submitted to Cabinet for its decision. These are the duties which will be carried out by the Controller of Civil Aviation. In the discharge of his duties he will not be in any way affected by the Air Council or the Air Board, or by this Bill. I can assure Senator Duncan that in this way civil aviation is being developed along lines which are quite apart from naval ot military control.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the Minister go so far as to say that there will be no control whatever over civil aviation in time of peace by means of this Bill?

Senator PEARCE - I do. There will be no control beyond that provided for in the clause empowering us to prohibit flying over a certain point.

Senator Duncan - That is a very necessary provision.

Senator PEARCE - Yes. It is, of course, designed to enable us to prevent flying over the approach to a fort. Other than that there will be no control under this Bill over civil aviation by any Naval or Military authority.

As I have previously remarked, the measure contains no new principle, and involves no departure from the principles which have been laid down in our Naval Defence Act. It simply authorizes the establishment of an Air Force, and I ask honorable senators to approve it to enable us to bring into existence the Force which we have in view.

Senator Lynch - What will be the status of this new branch of the Service from the point of view of precedence?

Senator PEARCE - The Navy will come first, the Military second, and the Air. Force third. iSenator Elliott. - Will the officers of this new Force, when they become senior officers, be eligible for transfer to the other branches of our Defence Forces, as Commanders?

Senator PEARCE - Not necessarily iSenator Drake-Brockman - There are certain officers who come from Duntroon.

Senator PEARCE - Of course, if a military officer, who has been transferred to the Air Forces, possesses the necessary qualifications, he will be eligible for retransfer to the Military Forces. But the fact that he has been trained in the Air. Force will not confer upon him any right of transfer to the Naval or Military Forces. What is proposed in the way of the personnel for the first year is that in Victoria there shall be the head-quarters, of the Australian Air Force, one air craft depot, one flying training school, one recruit and non-technical training dep6t, two aeroplane squadrons - one of which is to be composed of Citizen Force personnel - and one flying boat squadron. In New South Wales there will be two aeroplane squadrons - one of which will be composed of Citizen Force personnel - and one seaplane squadron for use on ships of the Royal Australian Navy. The scheme also provides for the provision of land, &c, in Western Australia, for the establishment of a unit there in the second year, and also for aliaison office at the Air Ministry, London. These are the proposals so far as they are set down for the current year.

Senator Duncan - Is it proposed that, in addition to a medical officer, there shall be a medical staff?

Senator PEARCE - There will be a Medical Unit.

Senator Duncan - A complete unit?

Senator PEARCE - Oh, yes.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - What will be the estimated cost of the Service in normal times?

Senator PEARCE - I cannot say offhand. The expenditure is to ibe £500,000 to begin with.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - But what will it be in normal times subsequently?

Senator PEARCE - It will not be very much more than that, and we shall not spend anything like that sum this year, because, when the present estimate was framed it was assumed that the branch would have been established much earlier than this.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister thinks that the new Force will cost about £500,000 a year when it has been established ?

Senator PEARCE - That £500,000 is for the establishment which I have already enumerated.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And if that establishment is enlarged, the cost will also be enlarged?

Senator PEARCE - Of course.

Senator Foster - For how many planes does the scheme provide?

Senator PEARCE - I was proceeding to give that information.

Owing to the short length of time now remaining in the current financial year, it does not now appear possible to develop these units to the extent anticipated when framing the Estimates for this year. The actual sites at which units will be established in the various States have not yet been definitely decided, but this question and the organization of such landing grounds as are necessary for co-operation with the Citizen Forces, and all aerial routes between capital cities considered necessary from a defence point of view are in hand. The air craft depot, flying training school, and aeroplane squadrons will be formed, in the first place, with air craft equipment received from the Imperial Government as a gift. The equipment for the flying-boat and seaplane squadrons will have to be imported from England, and for this purpose it is proposed to order twelve seaplanes and nine flying boats, with their attendant spares,&c. This programme is drawn up, on the basis of air craft units necessary for cooperation with our Naval and Military Forces. It is Tecommended as the first year's programme only, the provision of further units composed mainly of Citizen Forces being proposed for other States when considered necessary in the future. The programme provides for the employment of approximately 150 officers and 1,000 other ranks as members of the permanent Air Force and 36 officers and 300 other ranks in the Citizen' Forces. This proportion of Permanent Forces to Citizen Forces will not be continued in later years, new units in the future being composed mostly of Citizen Forces. It is proposed to invite applications from persons who gained Air Force experience during the war to join an Air Force Reserve. The period of training for this reserve has not yet been decided.

I do not know that there ie anything else that I wish to deal with at this juncture, but if upon the second-reading debate honorable senators desire further information, I shall endeavour to supply it.

Senator Lynch - Does the Minister propose an exchange of officers with the Imperial authorities from time to time?

Senator PEARCE - I do not know that that is proposed just now. Later on it may be necessary, but we shall have an Air Office in London which will keep us informed of developments there. In order that our air officers may have actual flying experience with large bodies of troops, it may be necessary in the future to send them to England.

Senator Foster - How many machines have we in Australia?

Senator PEARCE - I cannot give that information off hand, but I will obtain it for the honorable senator.

Debate (on motion by Senator Gardiner) adjourned..

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