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Thursday, 14 April 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - It is not without some little temerity that I rise to address myself to this very important question, because prominent members of the Senate, who have had wide experience of actual warfare, are to a certain extent opposed to the principles enunciated by the Minister for Defence' (Senator Pearce), and to the Bill itself. The arguments that have been adduced against the measure are worthy of the most serious consideration of the Senate. I refer in particular to the argument put, forward that the condition of the finances of Australia to-day is not such as to warrant us extending in any way the activities of our Defence administration, or of any other Government Department. We owe a very great sum of money, and we know that the financial position throughout the world is such that it is extremely difficult for any Government to carry on the affairs of a country.

Senator Pearce - The passing of this Bill will not add a single £1 to our liability. That has been determined already by Estimates passed by this Parliament.

Senator DUNCAN - I am coming to that point. I wish to emphasize, at the beginning, that we cannot afford to endanger our national existence for one moment, whatever the cost of preserving it may be to the people of Australia. The first thing of which we must be quite sure is the preservation of our national existence. We have had to pay very dearly for it in the past, and the very difficult financial position in which we find ourselves to-day is due to that fact. But is there any honorable senator who . will assert for a moment that we have paid too highly for the maintenance of our national existence ? Is there any member of the Senate who will say that whatever we may be called upon to pay in the future will be too high a price to give for the right to continue to govern ourselves, to develop this great Commonwealth of ours in the way in which we think it ought to be developed, and to secure to those who come after us equal, and, if possible more extended opportunities than we have ourselves enjoyed? I do not think there is a member of the Senate who would stand to any assertion of that sort. So I say that, whatever the price we are asked to pay for our national preservation, that price we ought to pay. But the question arises whether the Government propose to expend the money, which, as Senator Pearce has reminded us, has already been voted by Parliament, in a way which will insure to us such a complete measure of defence as will preserve our national existence.

I believe that the proposals ofthe Government are good. I believe that Ministers, in entering upon this more or less new undertaking, are making a very big advance upon right lines. I ask honorable senators to consider for a moment the growing importance of the Air Force so far as our defence measures or warlike operations are concerned. It is generally recognised that the Air Force is the eyes of the Army, and it ought to be known that upon the Western Front the predominant position which the Allied Armies were able to attain towards the close of the recent war was, to a large extent, due to the fact that the eyes of the Germans were blinded by the superiority of the Allied Air Forces. For a time the Germans were in the ascendant because their Air Force was superior to our own, but eventually the latter became so strong that the Allies were able to make their attacks at their own time and in their own way. That is a very important matter. Is it likely that the Air Force will continue to grow more important in the future? I say with confidence that it is. In the future, victory will rest with the side which possesses the more efficient Air Force, and which is able to handle it in such a way that the enemy will be at a distinct disadvantage.

Senator Bakhap - It will be a case of the best Air Force and the best chemists.

Senator DUNCAN - I shall come to that point presently. Within the next few years it is quite probable that there will be very great developments in the aeroplane. To-day it is very far from being a perfect machine from the standpoint of warlike operations. But in the near future it is quite possible that we shall see a noiseless aeroplane, which will be capable of being handled much more efficiently than are the machines of today. Flying at a speed of hundreds of miles per hour, an almost noiseless aeroplane would prove, perhaps,the most efficient weapon of destruction that was ever put into the hands of man. That being so, can Australia afford to lag behind so far as an efficient Air Force is concerned? Certainly not.

We cannot afford to be dependent entirely upon our Navy and our Army. What is the position so far as these branches of our Defence Forces are concerned ? In regard to naval defence, it will be absolutely impossible for us to compete with the wealthier nations of the world. To-day we can see the result of our naval expenditure. We have spent millions sterling upon the Navy, yet most of our ships, when contrasted with those of other nations, will be found to be obsolete and out of date. Whatever else the Australia did, she at least insured us a large measure of protection against Germany during the war. Yet to-day she is obsolete. Our most recently constructed cruiser, the, Adelaide, which is now lying in Sydney Harbor unfinished, and which has already cost us more than £1,000,000, is ob solete before she has been equipped with a single gun. I point to these facts, and affirm with confidence that it will be impossible for us in the future to compete in any effective way with the other nations of the world, who have so much more money than we have, who possess a greater population than we can hope to possess for many years, and who can thus replace their fighting fleets much more readily than we can. Consequently we cannot afford to depend upon the naval arm of our defence if the adoption of any other means will provide us with an equal measure of protection. Similarly, though not to the same extent as the Navy, we cannot hope by mere force of numbers, or by means of artillery or machine guns, to put up an effective defence of Australia against a powerful invader. But we do not need to wait till an enemy is here before proceeding to fight him. What we are concerned with is how to prevent him getting here. The way in which wo can accomplish our purpose most readily and in the least expensive fashion is by the establishment of an efficient Air Force.

I ask honorable senators to consider for a moment the point from which we are in most danger of attack. It has been said that from a naval standpoint we are most likely to be attacked by raiders, which would shell our c ties. To repel them weneed a certain Naval Force. But it is not likely that we shall be called upon to provide a Naval Force of sufficient strength to engage an enemy fleet. Wa could not hope to do that. We can, however, com bat raiders with light cruisers. In the future, an invading Force may possibly come from the north. I cannot conceive despite the utterances of Senator Gardiner, of Germany becoming a potential enemy for many years. I am not in the least afraid that Germany will attempt to invade this continent of ours. The great danger in that connexion lies in the north, where one nation at least possesses efficient fighting organizations, and a degree of military preparedness, which we cannot hope to rival. How shall we meet this danger if it comes? We can meet it much better by means of an efficient Air Force than by means of naval or military preparations. The Government propose to establish the nucleus of an air defence organization which, in future years, will guarantee to Australia immunity from attack. If an invading Force should come, or propose to come, to Australia from the north, they would consider very hard and for a long time before they came, if they knew that we had here an efficient Air Force of, perhaps, thousands of machines ready and eager to fight them .and disperse them, as they would be dispersed if we had sufficient aeroplanes to do it. Honorable senators who studied the conditions as they obtained on the other side know what power for mischief even one aeroplane has, and can imagine what increased power for mischief even one aeroplane may have in the future with the continued application- of science and invention to explosives. From the way explosives are being developed, it seems that in a few years they will become so perfect that one bomb may be sufficient to scatter a whole city, or devastate a whole area of territory. These considerations make me think that we must rely upon the air for at degree of defence in the future which we hope to have to keep Australia white, and to preserve those ideals that we hold so dear. The Government propose to establish an Air Force, and I be'lieve they are going on right lines in doing it. From the financial standpoint this Air Force is not going to cost anything near as much as .a Naval Force would cost, or an ordinary Military Force would cost. It may be said with confidence that the average price of the aeroplane to-day, taking the whole range of aeroplanes from the big fighting machine down to the little scouting machine, would be about £2,000. If we put 50 or 100 aeroplanes at £2,000 each against the cost of a cruiser such as the Adelaide that is lying in the Sydney Harbor today, and compare the efficiency and fighting capacity of those 100 aeroplanes with the efficiency .and fighting capacity of the Adelaide, we shall find that the balance is all in favour of the Air Force from the stand-point of effective defence. If the Adelaide were away on the north coast of Australia, what chance would she have against an invading Naval Force with a huge fleet of transports? If we placed there, however, a thousand aeroplanes, which would not cost any more, manned by Australians who, I' believe,, ought to make the best fliers in the world, they would be a Force to be reckoned with, and would have ten times more capacity for doing damage to an enemy than would a cruiser of the Adelaide type. These are facts that there is no getting away from. The Government propose to give us a powerful mobile Air Force to build up a form of defence that offers us ever so much more protection than we have had at any time in the past.

If ever such an unfortunate thing should happen as that the British Navy has to take second rank among the Navies of the world, and that seems extremely probable - ^

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - That should never be!

Senator DUNCAN - It should not be, but we know the position in Great Britain, where whole political parties, and even the leaders of the nation, .are declaring that Britain can. no longer continue to lead the world so far as Navies are concerned. They are talking about drawing the fleets back to Britain and looking after Britain only, not concerning themselves so much with the other parts of the Empire. That sort of- thing should make us extremely careful before we do anything to cripple the proposals of this or any other Government for the efficient defence of Australia.

Senator Elliott - Do you suggest an Air Force* in lieu of the Navy ?

Senator DUNCAN - I am just showing that it would be for all practical purposes a more efficient fighting Force than the Navy, and it would certainly cost us a great deal less. If it is feared,' as my honorable friend suggests, that defence ia going to .cost us too much, I think, in view of the whole of the facts, that it would be better for us to economize on the Navy and the other branches of the Defence Forces, and have a thoroughly efficient Air Force located in those areas where we are most exposed to danger.

Senator Foster - Has the efficiency of aeroplanes to sink a battleship ever been proved ?

Senator DUNCAN - It is not pro- " posed, I hope, to rely entirely upon our Air Force to do that sort of work. There is the submarine arm which has not been mentioned.I believe submarines and aeroplanes would give us almost entire protection against an invading fleet of transports.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - Has the submarine ever done that?

Senator DUNCAN - I think so. We know that the mighty North Sea Fleet of Britain had to stay within its base; almost afraid to come out on account of submarines and mines.

Senator Gardiner - Why libel our Navy by such a wild statement ?

Senator DUNCAN - I am not libelling it.

Senator Gardiner - The duty of the Navy was to protect the Empire, and they did it. What more do you want?

Senator DUNCAN - Of course, they did. It is a pleasure to find Senator Gardiner standing up for the British Navy and the Empire nowadays. I am very pleased to be able to agree with him that the Navy did protect the Empire, because they were an efficient fighting Force. The British Naval authorities and the Admiral in charge had sufficient sense to keep them at their base, instead of sending them cruising about the seas where they were exposed to danger.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - It was the German Fleet that was bottled up and afraid to come out.

Senator DUNCAN - The German Fleet did not come out either. The development of the aeroplane and the submarine has made it a vital question in Great Britain, amongst even the experts themselves, as to whether the day of the big ship has not altogether gone. We who are not experts would be presuming too much to answer that question either one way or the other. All I say is that the Air Force offers us a greater measure of protection than does any other arm that we can develop. It is certainly the only arm that we can develop according' to our financial strength. It offers us the cheapest kind of defence, and if the Government propose to go in for it in a proper way I am prepared to support them in doing it.

There is one other serious point about which I should like to be sure. In another place questions have been asked regarding the fighting ability of the seaplanes which the Government have pur chased, and with which they propose to form the nucleus of the new Air Defence scheme.

Senator Pearce - We have not purchased any seaplanes yet. We are going to purchase some.

Senator DUNCAN - It has been asserted that the Government are negotiating for certain seaplanes of the F5 type. This type was built in 1918, and to a large extent is out of date. If that is correct, as I believe it is - and if it is not I should like the Minister to say so - then this new branch of the Government's defence proposals is going to be loaded down right at the beginning with out-of-date and inefficient machines. If we are to do the thing properly we must do it with machines that are right up to date.

Senator Senior - Is it not a fact that the submarine is out of date also?

Senator DUNCAN - I do not think that that view is being put forward, even by naval experts.

I believe the proposals of the Government are worthy of acceptance. They offer us, to a large extent, the possibility of efficient defence at a reasonable cost, and the development of aeroplanes and explosives will make almost every other arm, as we know it to-day, out of date. If that is so, the Government are proceeding on right lines. I hope honorable senators will support the measure. No doubt certain amendments will be necessary, but we can deal with them at a later stage. As far as the main principles of the Bill are concerned, the Government are on safe ground, and I hope the people of Australia will be behind them.

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