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Thursday, 14 April 1921

Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) .- For the first time upon record I find myself in complete accord with Senator Gardiner.

Senator Gardiner - We are both Australians.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - And good Australians, I hope. Senator Gardiner's objection to this Bill is that we should cut our coat according to our cloth. I am afraid, however, that we have not any cloth.

Senator de Largie - Oh, yes, and we have cut it, too.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - We have had the cloth. It is possible that we might borrow cloth, but I think we have borrowed as much as we could possibly get. I recognise that the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) occupies a very difficult position. It is true that some time ago, when the financial stringency was not what it is to-day - because the slump wliich has come upon us has been like a bolt from the blue - we indorsed tbe air defence proposals of tbe Government. Consequently, tbe Minister cannot be blamed for expending the money which he was authorized to spend. But, under this Bill, we do not wish him to enter into agreements, perhaps with certain officers - agreements which may tie the hands of Parliament in the future. I propose to submit arguments with a view to showing that we ought 'to curtail our expenditure for the present. Personally, I would like to see Senator J'. D. Millen's amendment carried. I recognise that the Minister has undertaken certain works with the authority of Parliament - works which must be completed. For that he is blameless. The Bill which is now before us seeks to give effect to a part of our great defence policy. I quite agree with Senator Duncan that we must have an efficient defence policy, and I am of opinion that the maintenance of an Air Force is one of the most important parts of that policy. But we must remember that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is about to leave for England to attend an Imperial Conference upon defence matters. At that gathering this question will be threshed out by the leaders of the different parts of the Empire. Let us suppose that they arrive at the conclusion that an Air Force for the Empire is not required, all this expenditure will be as useless as has been the expenditure upon our Naval Bases. The latter were thought to be right up to date at the time they were undertaken.

Senator Keating - They were located in the wrong places.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes, and, as a result, millions of good Australian money have been squandered. How do we know that we have not the wrong type of air ship ? The Prime Minister, we recognise, is an absolute genius; and, I think, we ought to ask him to advocate at the Imperial Conference the abolition of war through the League of Nations, or if America will have it so, through a conjunction of nations. Apparently, the Americans do not favour the creation of a super-national authority. Instead of the League of Nations, which is going to cost Australia £52,000 per year, America desires a combination of nations to prevent war. Suppose it should happen that some means' are devised to prevent war after we have made arrangements for the maintenance of a large Air Force. The money which we have spent will then have been uselessly expended.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Itis far better to spend money and have no war than not to spend money and have war.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I desire to avoid both the expenditure and wax. Senator J.D. Millen has mentioned the conditions which obtained in the past, but the conditions which exist to-day are entirely different. To-day we have rapid communication by means of fast steamships. The people of the various nations are thus linked together more closely than they ever were before. An event which happens in one country to-day is known all oyer the world to-morrow, but what happened at the time of which Senator J .D. Millen has spoken, was nor. known for months afterwards. I am very anxious to see the Government proposals treated in a rational way, but I would like the Minister for Defence to give an assurance that he will incur no more expenditure than is unavoidable until we have a concrete scheme of defence before us, if that should prove to be necessary. I have great hopes . that Mr. Hughes, with his tremendous abilities, will be successful in bringing more closely together the powerful nations of the world. We all know what a maris he made for himselfat the PeaceConference. It would not take very much to bring together America, Japan, and Great Britain, and if that were done we should not require any armaments atall. I therefore urge the Minister to spend as little money as possible in that direction. If he gave an assurance to that effect I think Senator J. D. Millen would withdraw his amendment. We know that the Minister hadthe authority of Parliament to spend certain money, andit has been hia duty to dp it, but every one of us here has in the last six weeks taken an altogether different view about the financial condition of Australia.

Senator Pearce - I can give the honorable senator the assurance that of the £500.000 voted by Parliament I shall save in this financial year - that is, I shall not expend - at least £100,000.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - The bulk of the money must be already spent, because we have only until the 30th June of the financial year to run.

Senator Pearce - We have -wo and a half months to go, and that is on a year's expenditure.,

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I am sorry Senator J. D. Millen is not now in the chamber, because I think the Minister's assurance would satisfy him. Of course, the Minister has been only doing his duty in spending the money put on the Estimates. All he has to do is to see that it is spent properly and efficiently. Apart from the financial question, I have no objection whatever to the Bill, but the Minister must see that financially we are in a parlous condition. What has happened recently, as Senator Guthrie pointed out in great detail, it: spite of your intervention, Mr. President, has no doubt come upon us so suddenly and unexpectedly that things have completely changed since the Estimates were passed. Senator J. D. Millen cannot object to the Minister doing what he has done, or to necessary steps being taken, but I want to see that the power of the purse remains with this Parliament. That must be assured. We" hope, therefore, that no regulations will be passed which will carry this expenditure over the 30th June next, because in the first place we are in a financial condition that admits of no trifling. I have also great hope that the Prime Minister may by his efforts bring about something that will make this enormous expenditure on aeroplanes and seaplanes unnecessary. These are 'points that I commend to the attention of the Minister. If the Minister gives us a clear and .explicit statement, I hope Senator J. D. Millen will fall in with our views and withdraw his opposition. We seem, to be always hearing of great .amounts of money being required, and one day we shall find ourselves in a very uncomfortable and deplorable condition. We heard of an expenditure of £52,000 for the Geneva Con.ference yesterday, and mightily little we are getting out of it so far. To-day it is £500,000 for an Air Force, and i suppose to-morrow it will be something else. We ought to ask the Prime Minister, instead of trying to heap up more expenditure on making the Navy efficient, and spending a tremendous amount on armaments, every shilling of which will be wanted for civil employment, to endeavour from Australia's "point of view to bring the great Powers together in peaceful agreement. We are on the verge of an agreement now. England has laid her cards 6n the table, and Japan has signified her willingness to do the same, but the astounding thing to me is that the only opponent appears to be the great peace-loving United States of America. What their reasons are I cannot conceive, but it is possible that they may be shamed into joining the other Powers if prominence is again given to the question at the great Conference which the Prime Minister is going to attend. I hope the Minister will give us his absolute assurance that no more money wil' be spent than has already been spent or contracted for, so that Parliament may retain the power to curtail expenditure if that is thought to be absolutely necessary.

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