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Friday, 22 April 1921

Senator SENIOR (South Australia) . - Several arguments against the Bill have been brought forward during the discussion on the second reading, and one that has been given some prominence is that of economy. That has been submitted as a strong reason why we should not go on with the Bill; but, after placing £500,000 on the Estimates for this particular Service, it became absolutely necessary to establish an Air Branch to give effect to the vote which was carried. Not only in our Australian newspapers, but in those published in other parts of the world, information is given to the effect that, as a nation, we are standing in an exceedingly precarious position. If we look back to the period before the great war, which has happily been brought to a satisfactory termination, we must realize that the position then was not as serious as it is to-day. We cannot say, and we dare not even attempt to prophesy, what will take place. In these circumstances it is unreasonable to suggest that one of the most useful and necessary adjuncts to our defence, scheme should be held over until a more convenient time, because to postpone it would endanger that which is primal in connexion with the nation's safety. If a nation's safety is endangered, its wealth, happiness, and prosperity are of little value. If we look at this proposition from the stand-point of the danger which surrounds us,and the condition of affairs in the world generally, we must admit that, if there is one arm of defence that should be more active than another, it is the eyes of the Army and Navy. As the aeroplane was so useful in assisting in scouting during the great war, an efficient Air Defence Force should be created before anything else; and in connexion with the arguments adduced on the question of economy; it must be admitted that aeroplanes would be much more economical than Dreadnoughts. Scattered as the Australian people are over a very wide area, and difficult as it may be to move our naval vessels around our lengthy coastline, there is always the possibility of being assailed at any point, and the establishment of a well-organized and equipped Air Force should have first consideration. Even the keenest pacifist could not object to the proposal, because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If we neglect to use the opportunities we possess of acquiring knowledge that is absolutely necessary, and if we endanger our security, we are leaving ourselves absolutely at the mercy of a marauding nation which may desire to attack us. Apart altogether from the question that we may or may not be attacked, the international conditions are such that, although we may not actually be involved in a struggle with any nation, we may easily be swept into the vortex of conflict. In whatever direction we may stay our hands, this ' important problem should have immediate consideration. A little while ago we passed a skeleton measure to create such a Force as this, and it is only within the last few months that statutory rules and regulations, ten times more voluminous than the Bill itself, were adopted. For the first time we are creating what we consider necessary for effective defence, and, before we have commenced, the cry of economy is raised. But all true economy depends on whether the organization is efficient. If it is inefficient, it is not true economy.

Senator Wilson - This is not the occasion on which to discuss economy; that should be done when the Estimates are under consideration.

Senator SENIOR - I admit that; but, seeing that the arguments advanced may have some weight with honorable senators, and that inadequate defence may jeopardize the well-being- of Australia, we have to discuss it now. Of what use would be our prosperity, the wealth we accumulate, or the happiness we so much seek, if, after all, any nation, however small, could deprive ns of the privileges we now enjoy? As a nation, we should at least provide the means to enable ns ,to be apprised at the earliest possible moment of the approach of enemy forces. It is for this reason, and not because I desire to see £500,000 expended, that I shall sup port the Bill, rather than the expenditure involved in constructing another vessel such as the Australia.

Senator Gardiner - Was the expenditure on the Australia justified?

Senator SENIOR - I thank the honorable senator for the interjection, as his suggestion helps to justify expenditure on a branch of the Service that is admittedly weak. To the eternal honor of Australia we have demonstrated how rapidly our troops can be made from what is, from -a military point of view, the rawest of material. The Australian has given evidence of splendid valour, and has shown how loyal he is at heart not only to his own country, but to the Empire of which Australia is a. part. It would', therefore, ill become Australia, at. such a juncture as the present, to neglect to provide against one means by which an enemy might cloud our vision and approach so rapidly that we should not know of his coming. ' I do not wish in any sense to be an alarmist, but I do say that there is need for careful consideration of every arm of defence that will serve to make Australia safe. The argument is advanced by some that we should pass this measure because the money required to give it effect has already been voted by Parliament. That argument is not sound, but it is still safe to say that the contingency upon which the money was voted six months ago is more imminent to-day. I am so impressed b'y the present condition of international affairs that I should be prepared to-day to vote for an expenditure of £500,000 for this purpose, and, indeed, double that sum, more readily than I did six months ago. The arguments which justified the voting of the money six months ago have been immeasurably strengthened by the present condition of international affairs. We should not close our eyes and consider that we are safe because the wide ocean sweeps around Austraia. We should keep in touch with what is passing around us,' and, if we do so, we shall feel that, in the matter of defence, the' essential thing is to be ready, and, not necessarily to be aggressive.

I have carefully gone through the provisions of the Bill. It may appear simple to the Minister for Defence; who understands the position, and merely the ABC to military members of the Senate who have had practical experience of the operations of an Air Force. The Bill, however, is not a very simple measure when we take into consideration the fact that it is related to many other measures, and that, in its consideration, some regard should be had for the Imperial Air Force. Its provisions will require careful study in Committee. I see no justification for the postponement of the' measure. I think, on the contrary, that we should accelerate its passage, whilst we should not fail to make it as perfect as we can.

The wealth and possibilities of Australia and all we enjoy of peace and freedom rest upon our safety. If we are unable to defend ourselves, our tenure of this country depends merely upon how soon some other nation may decide to take it from us.

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