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Thursday, 12 May 1921


The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - The clause under discussion is so wide that the honorable senator will be able to enunciate all his opinions on it without any reference to the definition clause, which has been postponed.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. But this clause refers to the Imperial Air Force Act, which also incorporates the British Army Act. The first intention of the Bill was to apply the Imperial Air Force Act, which, as I have stated, incorporates the British Army Act, in time of peace as well as in time of war, but the Minister has now submitted an amendment which removes the Imperial Air Force Act from the ambit of this Bill in. time of peace. I should like him to go just a little further. I see no reason why our Defence legislation should incorporate legislation of the Imperial Parliament for the Air Forces in the United Kingdom. The air defence of Australia, so far as I can see, has very little relation to Air Force legislation suitable for the United Kingdom. The Mother Countries comprise an area of, say, 125,000 square miles, and so air defence must necessarily be based on strategy relating to a circle with a radius of about 500 miles. I do not believe British air authorities think it necessary to provide aeroplanes with a greater circle of destructiveness than is measured by the distance from London to Berlin, which, I believe, is about 500 miles. To the west there are the illimitable waters of the Atlantic. We also know that the United Kingdom is very densely populated, so a good many regulations would be required in an Imperial Air Force Act. On that account alone they would not be necessary in Australia. In contradistinction "to the position of the United Kingdom, we in the Antipodes are setting out to build up an air defence scheme under conditions that are totally different. This is a continent of magnificent distances, and I, as a layman, assume that any air defence proposal to be effective must aim at meeting the enemy before he reaches our big cities. We also have an area of 3,000,000 square miles, sparsely populated, to cover. Therefore, I do not want to see a wrong start made in connexion with our air defence scheme. The clauses of the Bill that have brought in the Imperial Air Defence Act - I am saying nothing about the Army Act - give me the impression that it is the intention of the military, authorities, who will administer this Act, to, as far as possible, build up an Air Force that will enable them to work in double harness with the British authorities, irrespective of its suitability to the air defence of Australia. I make these observations because I regard this branch of Australia's defence as being, pro ratâ. to the money that is going to be spent upon it, of more practical importance than the Navy.


Senator Foster - Is there a copy of the Imperial Air Force Act in Australia f


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have a copy; here.


Senator Pearce - To all intents and purposes it is the British Army Act.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) -I do not altogether share that view. The British Air Force Act establishes an Air Council, and has provisions relating to the Territorial and Naval Forces, but at this hour of the morning I shall not weary the Committee by going into details in. regard to it. I wish to impress upon the Minister the point that it would be better for us to have nothing to do with the Imperial Air Force Act. I should like to see an untrammelled and unrestricted field for the development of our aerial defence. In that event, the excuse could not be made' by the responsible authorities that they had to do this, that, or the other thing, because in time of war they would have to" conform to the British Air Force Act. After all that has been said, I do not think any of us will object tq the application of the British Army Act in certain circumstances when we are at war. The Minister's explanation is satisfactory, so far as it goes. My one fear, however, is that if there is the slightest linking-up of our Air Defence, development with the Imperial Air Force Act, excuses, sooner or later, will be made, if the system does not develop satisfactorily, that this or that has been done because in time of war we have to conform to. the Imperial Act. That would hamstring and leg-rope to some extent the development of our own air defence, which must follow absolutely independent lines, since our geographical and topographical conditions are altogether different from those of the United Kingdom. It would be a mistake if we had anything to do with the air legislation of any other country.







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