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Wednesday, 13 April 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am sure that the fact that many distinguished military officers are members of the Senate will excite considerable interest in the discussion df this measure. I do not intend to trench to any extent on the 6trictlv military side of the question; but I wish, as a layman, to say that the Bill is not very satisfactory to me That is not because it makes provision for the development, of an Air Force for Australia, but because of its inpompleteness. It is merely a skeleton Bill, and as such assists to perpetuate the government of Australia by regulation rather than by enactment. We all know how numerous our regulations are now, and I should very much prefer to debate and consider the clauses of a Bill before the event, to having, after the event, to read regulations with some of which I may not agree. My conception of our position in this Parliament, consisting of two Houses, is that we are directors of the government of this continent, which I would describe as " Australia Unlimited." We are in the responsible position here of directing the government of this unlimited continent. I am aware that there are, so to speak, super-directors in the persons of the members of the Cabinet, but in connexion with every measure that comes before us, and which necessarily involves the expenditure of money, we should have some sort of a prospectus as to what it is all about, as we have the responsibility on our shoulders of practically compelling the people of Australia to put up the necessary capital. Senator Wilson. - A very happy position for a company to be in.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - A very happy position; but on that account the responsibility of the directors is all the greater. The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), in introducing the Bill, was as usual very lucid indeed in his explanations so far as they went. But I do not think that his speech can be considered as in any shape or form a prospectus of what this proposed development of an Air Force for Australia really means. So far as my consideration of the measure is concerned, I 6ay most respectfully that it is practically a Bill to give the Defence Department, the Minister for Defence, and the Government, a blank cheque to spend £500,000 on. the development of an Australian Air Force.

Senator Pearce - How can the honorable senator describe a cheque for £500,000 as a " blank" cheque.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister's objection is well taken; but what is proposed is really a blank cheque for expenditure up to £500,000. I understand that provision has been made on the Estimates, and has been approved by Parliament, for the establishment of an Air Force in connexion with the Military and Naval Forces of the Commonwealth.

Referring to the speech of the Minister for Defence, I find that he proposes to make provision for an Air Council; that we are also going to have an Air Board, and following upon that we are going to co-operate the Citizen Forces of the Commonwealth in connexion with the Air Force. 'We have been informed that the retiring age of aviators or the active members of the proposed new arm is to be forty years. We are not going to make aeroplane enginesat present, which I very much regret, and the Minister has further explained that cadets from Duntroon may choose the Air Force as their profession if they are fitted therefor. The honorable senator gave us a little information on' the subject of the development of air routes, and he told us that aviators of the Australian Flying Corps would be given preference in the proposed new Force. With further technical information, so far as it went, the Minister explained the Bill, but he said nothing as to the number of aeror planes we are to get for the expenditure of our money ; he did not tell us where the hangers are to be established, and he did not even indicate where the branches of the Air Force are to be organized, and what States are to have the honour that within their area there is to be the first development of an Australian Air Force.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Victoria and New South Wales, of course.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister for Defence said nothing on these points. He told us that he was going to create a new administration. In passing this Bill we are going to give the Minister for Defence the power to create a new Department with all the staff and expensive paraphernalia which that involves.

Senator Wilson - The Minister for Defence said that much of the work was to be done by the. Defence Department.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that he said anything of the sort. I am following his statements in the order in which they were made, and he certainly gave us to understand that there is to be a large administrative staff, because he told *us t/h'at (the ground personnel was going to be as four is to one as compared with the air personnel. There is nothing -in the Bill to prevent officers who have never flown being appointed to this Air Force

I do not complain of the Ministry bringing down a Bill for the creation of an Air Force in connexion with the development of the defence of Australia, because, in my view, the future of our defence must tend more and more in the direction of defence in the air and defence under the sea. I fail to understand how 5,000,000 of people can possibly be expected to stand 'the financial strain involved in the huge expenditures on military and naval armaments on the lines of those in use during the war.

The Minister may reply to some of these criticisms that the government of the Commonwealth is responsible government, that the Ministry are responsible to Parliament for the manner in which it expends the public funds, and 'that Parliament, in its turn, is responsible .to the people; but, if I understand h'm rightly, he said that this Bill is to create an Air Force moulded on the lines and basis of the British Air Force. If that be so, the honorable senator should be in a positionto give the Senate the information, which I suggest is lacking. at present, in connexion with definite matters on which most of the money will have to be spent.

Senator Pearce - I think .that the honorable senator misunderstood me. What I said was that our method of control is going to be somewhat the same as the British method. That is to say, our Naval and Military Services are to be under one control. That is all that I said about the British Air Force.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then I did misunderstand the honorable senator. I should like, however, to say practically the same thing in another way. If the Minister has an estimate from a responsible officer of his Department that when the proposed Air Force gets going the normal annual expenditure will be £500,000 a year, he must be in possession of detailed estimates showing how the money is to be spent.

Senator Pearce - I gave some of that information. If the honorable senator will look at my speech 'he will see that I mentioned the number of squadrons we are going to establish.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - As well as I can remember^ an interjection was made by« Senator Foster during the Minister's speech asking the number of planes that would actually be in the air.

Senator Pearce - I promised to supply that information.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so. But I think that information of the kind and information as to where the hangers are going to be, the number of them, and other items of the paraphernalia in connexion with the .proposed Air Force should be in the possession of honorable senators when they are called upon to consider this Bill.

I, for one, very much regret the dispersal of the Australian Flying Force. It occurs to me that very much earlier than has been the case a decision might have been come

This is a Bill which can be dealt with more advantageously in Committee, where it should be very carefully considered by honorable senators. The fullest possible information should be, and, I believe, will be, given by the Minister in connexion with the expenditure of money. I ap-. prove of the principle of the development of our defence by the establishment of an Australian Air Force. T approve also of the suggestion to map out the country. There will be plenty to do, but I do not want to see a new Department imposed and inflicted upon this community at this time without our getting value for our money.

Debate (on motion by Senator Duncan) adjourned.

Senate adjourned at 6.27 pan.

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