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Friday, 22 April 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - There seems to be confusion in the minds of some honorable senators as to the use of an. Air Forde for the defence of a country in time of war. Some have suggested that a properly equipped Air Force might take the place of modern battleships in defending the Commonwealth. The records of thu war, however, show no case where a battleship suffered material damage from an air ship. Senator Cox can bear out my statement that, particularly in the desert warfare in Palestine, troops suffered very severely in open spaces from attacks launched from aeroplanes either with bombs or machine gun fire, but it is utterly ridiculous to suppose, as one honorable senator suggested, that air craft might be useful in stopping the advance of warships upon these shores. No one would suggest that aeroplanes caused any material damage in the trenches in France either by bombs or machine gun fire. When it comes to using them as an arm of the Service, either for offensive or defensive measures, their usefulness may be summed up in the phrase " the Air Force is the eyes of the Defence Scheme." Their great usefulness is in finding the disposition of enemy troops or enemy positions. With my. limited knowledge I shall not criticise the attitude of the Government in establishing an Air Defence Force for Australia, whether it costs £500,000 or more, nor do I think the time is opportune for postponing the. measure, seeing that Parliament has already voted the money to be expended for this purpose, that a certain amount of preliminary work has already been done, that negotiations have been entered into for the purchase of certain seaplanes, and that applications have been called for from officers for this Force. Numbers of our returned airmen have been waiting for a year or more for finality to be reached regarding their possible applications for positions. It is, therefore, necessary for the Government to go on with this scheme. We recently passed a skeleton Act dealing with Civil Aviation, which is being administered by regulations, of which a couple of hundred have been "gazetted. The Controller of Civil Aviation is to have a seat on the Air Council. I much regret that the Government have not gone beyond the stage of expressing hope, and have not given actual assistance to civil aviation.

Senator Pearce - Oh, yes, we have. What we have done has not been made public, but we have done one or two things that are helpful.

Senator FOSTER - I was about to point out that it was found necessary recently in England to subsidize the Handley -Page Co., who were 'running the London-Paris aerial service. The company were able to show the .British Government that they could not compete successfully with the French companies who were running an aerial passenger service, because the French Government were subsidizing the latter fairly heavily. There is in Australia a number of companies, established principally for the purpose of carrying passengers, although one or two attempts have been made to carry freight, and for some time the Postmaster-General (Mr. "Wise) has been talking about seeing whether an aerial mail delivery could be established for certain isolated districts. I have no knowledge of what the Minister for Defence refers to when' he says the Government have done certain things to assist civil aviation, but .as the hope has been expressed that civil aviation may become more useful and extensive in Australia, it would be a good thing if the Government were to subsidize in some measure either pilots engaged in civil aviation or machines which, being used for civil purposes in times of peace, might automatically pass under the control of the Air Defence Department at a time of war.

Senator Senior - Would it not be better to form aerodromes where we should have something that was permanent, whereas machines are not?

Senator FOSTER - The Minister gave us some useful and valuable information the other day, when he told us that certain work was being done in that direction, and that municipalities lying on the possible routes of aeroplane services, particularly on certain North-South and East-West journeys, had been asked to supply information about landing grounds, and the possibilities of establishing hangars and aerodromes. But when one knows, as I know, that the Australian companies which have been endeavouring to establish civil aviation on a commercial basis are having a very hard go, and have had ta put up a very hard fight to make their enterprise successful, one cannot help thinking that something more needs to be done from the Government stand-point. I was inclined to agree with the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Gardiner) that it would be a fine thing for Australia if the Government subsidized or undertook on their own behalf the manufacture of aeroplane engines in Australia. A great deal has been made in some quarters of the fact that Great Britain presented us with a number of aeroplanes, but it is alleged by some officers, who are supposed to know, that some of those. machines are years old, and will very shortly become absolutely out of date, if they are not so at present. I want it to be distinctly understood that in saying this I am not decrying in any way the wonderful gift made to us by the Mother Country. I am merely endeavouring to look at the facts squarely.

Senator Pearce - They may be out of date for fighting purposes and yet quite good for training.

Senator FOSTER - I was going to say that they may be useful for the purpose of instructing pilots and mechanics, but it is wrong to assume, as apparently some honorable senators have assumed, that these machines are of any great value, even at the present time, for defensive purposes. I agree that the idea of establishing, in times of peace, the nucleus of an Air Defence Force is a wise one. But supposing that the aeroplanes which have been presented to us are efficient for modern requirements, and supposing that if not actually at war we were, at all events, in the war zone, we might be in a very awkward position indeed, if we had to depend upon sea transport over thousands of miles for the replacement of our aeroplanes which might be lost by accident or through war. The suggestion made by Senator Gardiner, .that more consideration should be given to the question of manufacturing aeroplane engines in Australia is an excellent one. I realize also that it is advisable for the Government to have available a certain force for policing the air, just as to-day we employ policemen and other officials to look after and deal with law breakers. In urging the wisdom of subsidizing civil aviators and the manufacture of aeroplanes in Australia, I remind honorable senators that Germany's success in so quickly assembling all its forces for war purposes was due to the fact that the men engaged in occupations which might be extremely useful in war time, were properly looked after in time of peace, as for example, all those men employed in chemical research in connexion with the dye industry. Their services were of immense commercial value to Germany prior to the war, and during the war they were very quickly organized for the manufacture of chemicals for high explosives and other purposes. I hope, therefore that the Government will give this matter their attention at a very early date.

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