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Tuesday, 11 October 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - I listened to the remarks of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) in moving the motion that is now before the Senate with a great deal of interest and attention. I realize that at this stage of our national life we are face to face with a very grave necessity which is being forced upon our notice by the public of Australia, by the ratepayers, and by the public press, perhaps to an even greater extent than the facts warrant. It is being forced not only upon this Parliament, but upon all the Parliaments of Australia. We find that, in spite of the fact that we have come through a very serious financial period as a result of the war; in spite of the fact that we are face to face with the necessity for conserving our resources, for fostering our industries and promoting our future welfare, so far as lies in our power; in spite of the fact that the conditions of the world are forcing upon the attention of Parliaments and statesmen the necessity for scrutinizing carefully every shilling and every penny that is spent, so that good value may be obtained, the Government, perhaps rightly, have not applied the pruning knife, as some people might desire, almost without discrimination ; but have, nevertheless, shown some care in their revision of the Estimates. Taking it by and large, there is in this Budget statement ample evidence of that real economy that the public of Australia are demanding to-day. I feel sure that there is no need for me to dilate upon our financial position. All honorable senators know that this- is not the time to do so; but I desire to say, and I say it with emphasis, that expenditure of money on the unproductive services of this great Commonwealth, to the extent of hampering the productive services, some of which are not within the direct purview of the Government, is not warranted in the present circumstances. So far as the Budget is concerned, and so far as the statement of the honorable the Minister discloses, there has been a very poor case made out to warrant any additional expenditure in certain directions where additional expenditure is contemplated.

Senator Drake-Brockman - At Canberra, for instance?

Senator DUNCAN - That is not an additional expenditure; but I will come to a matter which the honorable senator for Western Australia will know more about than Canberra - I refer to the proposals for military expenditure. I am one of those who hoped that when the great war from which we have just emerged ended we would have been able to limit to a very large extent our expenditure on armaments and military preparations. I find that the Government, instead of restricting the expenditure upon defence matters, propose to increase it very largely in directions which, to my mind, are unwarranted. I ask honorable senators to look at the. position. We have in Australia hundreds of thousands of men who were highly trained in the best of schools - that of actual warfare. Their services will remain available to us for a number of years - let us say ten years. They may deteriorate as soldiers in that period, but to a certain extent every man who has been through training under actual warservice conditions, although he may be out of training in ten years' time, can be brought back to efficiency quickly. The majority of our soldiers, after all, were youths, and their knowledge of warfare and military tactics could be quickly restored to them. I speak more particularly of the private and non-commissioned officers, who would require very little additional training if, at any time in the future, they were again called on to give their services to their country. I had hoped, in view of the circumstances, that it would have been possible for us, knowing that we have behind us this mag nificent fighting force, which could be called to arms should we want it during the next few years, to carry on our defence programme at this stage with merely the nucleus of an administration sufficient to staff the larger and more effective force.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Would you dissipate the staff we have collected?

Senator DUNCAN - It may not be necessary to do that. In these Estimates it is proposed not merely to retain the staff that we have at present, but to increase it very largely. The vote for the Permanent Forces has been increased by £292,893 in comparison with that of last year. I would remind the honorable senator that he and other members of the Senate who served with distinction during the war were not permanent officers at its outbreak.

Senator Drake-Brockman - We had occasion to deplore the absence of a better permanent staff.

Senator DUNCAN - My distinguished friends, Senator Drake-Brockman, Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow, Senator Cox, and others, rendered signal services to their country during the war, and it must be remembered that they were not permanent" officers. Seeing that we still retain the services of these honorable gentlemen, and of tens of thousands of qualified officers who received their training under better conditions than could obtain in peace time, there is no need to-day for any extension of the personnel of the Defence Department. Whilst it is proposed to increase the expenditure on the Permanent Forces by nearly £300,000 a year, it is also proposed to decrease the cost of the administrative and instructional staffs by £249,257.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What increase in the numbers of permanent men is proposed?

Senator DUNCAN - I have not those figures before me.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator should bear in mind that we are paying the. permanent men more highly than we did some little time ago.

Senator DUNCAN - We are not paying them so much more than we paid them last year as to account for the tremendous difference between the expenditure proposed on the Permanent Forces this year as compared with the expenditure proposed last year. The difference must be due to an increase in the numbers. A very large number of the permanent staff consists of men on the instructional staff. These are the men whom we need to retain, and the men to whom, I take it, Senator Drake-Brockman referred. They will train our Forces should the necessity arise to again ask them to gird on their armour aud go forth in the defence of Australia and the Empire. While it is proposed to decrease the vote for the administrative and instructional staffs the vote for the Permanent Forces shows a very considerable increase.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do I understand the honorable senator to say that the increase in the personnel of the Permanent Forces accounts for an increase this year of £300,000 over the vote for the same purpose last year?

Senator DUNCAN - In the vote proposed for the Permanent Forces there is an increase of £292,893 on the vote for last year.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator says that that is due to an increase in the personnel of the Forces.

Senator DUNCAN - The personnel must have been increased.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Other things are required for the maintenance of a force besides personnel.

Senator DUNCAN - That may be, but I should like the Minister to point out from the Estimates what those other things are. I fail to see any necessity for the large increase proposed in the vote for the Permanent Forces, especially in view of the fact that a reduction is proposed in the vote for the administrative and instructional staffs. I do not cavil at any proposal to increase the vote for the ordnance branch and the maintenance and equipment of existing armament.

Senator Drake-Brockman - If the honorable senator knew anything about it he would know that that is where the pruning knife might be applied.

Senator DUNCAN - It seems to me that, so far as armament and equipment are concerned, we should spend whatever may be necessary. The point I am making is that we have already in Australia a highly trained Army, dispersed it is true, but capable of being called into existence at very short notice. What we require to be quite sure of is that should we find it necessary in the near or distant future to again call into being the magnificent Force known as the Australian Imperial Force, we would have arms, accoutrements and equipment to enable the Force to take the field with confidence and with some hope of success. It appears to me that the Government are proposing increased expenditure on what might be called the non-essentials and not upon the essentials of defence.

Senator Drake-Brockman - I think the explanation of a great deal of what the honorable senator complains of is that many men who used to be classified as a portion of the instructional staff have now been transferred to the civil side.

Senator DUNCAN - I remind the honorable senator that the increase in the vote proposed for the clerical and general staffs of the Defence Department this year amounts to £68,417. No doubt it is necessary that, we should have a fully-equipped general staff, if we are to have an effective military organization, but that is provided for, and to a greater extent than on last year's Estimates. Where then is the necessity for the enormous increase proposed in the expenditure on the Permanent Forces ?

I pass from this to another very important aspect of our Defence expenditure. I refer to the expenditure on the naval arm of defence. The time -has arrived when we should seriously ask ourselves whether at this stage any very large increase in that expenditure is desirable, or whether even the maintenance of the existing high rate' of expenditure on naval defence is justified. I know just what naval defence means to any country. I am aware that without an effective Navy Great Britain would not occupy the position she does to-day. I know that but for the protecting arm of Britain's mighty Fleet Australia would not be in the position it is in to-day. But I see that the United States of America and Japan, in their contemplated naval programmes, are outdistancing the programme of Great Britain. When I see these great nations, with almost unlimited financial resources, particularly in the case of. the United States of America, proposing to build huge navies, not only for the protection of their countries, but also for the protection of their interests in every part of the world, I ask myself how can we in Australia, in view of the limitations of our financial resources . ex- pect to build anything in the nature of an effective naval weapon.

Senator Vardon - The honorable senator suggests that we should do nothing. .

Senator DUNCAN - I will tell honorable senators what I suggest. We have already built a Fleet. We spent a huge sum of money on the Australia, and by the action of our Navy Department that vessel is to-day lying a useless and obsolete weapon costing money for maintenance, whilst as a fighting unit she is perfectly useless.

Senator Crawford - It was not the Naval Department that made the Australia obsolete.

Senator DUNCAN - It was the Naval Department that laid her up. What has made her obsolete has been the progress of naval construction in other parts of the world.

Senator Bolton - Any one would think, to hear the honorable senator talk, that he was a " little Australian."

Senator DUNCAN - I am pointing out what should be obvious facts to men who keep their eyes open to current events.

Senator Crawford - Why point out the obvious ?

Senator DUNCAN - Because in the case of some honorable senators it is necessary to do so. The other units of the Fleet are also to a certain extent obsolete. The work which they will be called upon to do in the next few years will be merely police work in connexion with the mandated Territories and the Territories Belonging to the Commonwealth. I point out that instead of using these expensive, and, after all, impotent weapons for this purpose, it would be much better for us to use the smaller craft, such as destroyers and submarines. We have plenty of them, and they do not cost to maintain onehundredth part of the cost of the huge and useless naval weapons to which I have referred.

I find that the Government propose to extend our Air Service very largely in the near future. I believe that in the future this will be found to be the most effective weapon for the defence of Australia, and not mighty battleships, the construction of which we cannot finance; not men-o'-war costing from £2,000,000 to £4,000,000 before they can be established here as fighting units. We cannot hope to maintain that sort of Fleet, and without it it would be useless for us to attempt to challenge the great navies of other countries of the world.

The Government propose to extend our Air Service, and I indorse their action in that regard. Hero we have an arm that does offer some hope of effective defence, and, after all, it is only defence we require. We do not wish to attack any one, but merely to defend this country. We must see to it that the method of defence we adopt, whilst effective, shall be as inexpensive as possible. Here is a method by which we can hope to secure a means of defence more efficient than any other we could provide. I have, therefore, no quarrel with the Government for the proposed increase in the vote for air defence. So far as the other, expenditure to which I have referred is concerned, I say that, for the next- few years, at any rate, we can at least afford to mark time, even should we not be in a position to dispense with men employed in connexion with our military and naval defence schemes. But what do the Government propose to do ? They do not propose to mark time, but to join in the rush to provide "what, after all, cannot be an effective means of defence for this or any other country. I have pointed out that we cannot hope to compete with the great countries of the world in this direction, and we should be eager to put all the money we can expect to raise in the next few years into productive works, and into the extension of- our agricultural, pastoral, and manufacturing industries, to insure increased production and settlement to the limit of our capacity.

Senator Crawford - The honorable senator is suggesting that we should leave the Mother Country to bear the whole cost of the naval defence of the Empire.

Senator DUNCAN - I am not suggesting anything of the kind. I am contending that it is impossible for us, with our limited financial power, to build and maintain an effective Fleet. In my view, it would be infinitely better for us to hire the Fleet we require from the Mother Country, or, if that cannot be done, to do as I have suggested, and extend our mosquito Fleet as much as possible. We should not build the bigger ships, which are obsolete, and which cannot be maintained except at very heavy expense, and must be of very little use for the purpose for which our Fleet is required.

Senator Gardiner,referred to one or two matters that are worthy of cons derati6n. He said that the country was crying out for more efficient management, and he asked where it is to be secured. I agree with the honorable senator. I believe the Government are honestly doing the best they possibly can. When Senator Gardiner asks where the country is to obtain more efficient management than it has to-day, I remind him that it is not likely to obtain it from the Labour party, when we remember by whom the party is composed in this Parliament, and also in many of the Parliaments of the States. It is hardly likely to secure more efficient management from the Country party. I think that to the most casual observer it must be evident that there is only ohe party in this Parliament which can give the country anything like ' the efficient management it desires, and that that is the party in control of the administration to-day. I believe we can make improvements, so far as the administrators themselves are concerned, and I can say so without in any way making an attack on the party that I have the honour to represent here. We fortunately are not tied hand and foot to any man who may be appointed to administer a Department, and we have a perfect right to criticise the administration of any Minister if we feel that it is deserving of criticism. There is certainly great room for improvement in that direction, but I am not looking to the Labour party, the Country party, or any other party that may rise up in this Parliament within the very near future to bring about that improvement. I repeat that there is only one party that can give to this country at the present time the kind of administration that it wants, and it is up to us, as members of that party, to see that it gives the Commonwealth just that kind of administration for which our industries and public services are crying.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the honorable senator be good enough to refer me to the particular item in respect of which he said just now there was an increase of nearly £300,000 ?

Senator DUNCAN - It is to be found on page 124 of the Estimates. The amount voted in 1920-21 was £375,000. and the actual expenditure was £374,000, whereas the estimated expenditure for 1921-22 is £666,921.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator, before making such a sweeping remark as he did, ought to have looked at the items that go to make up that total. They are all shown in the Estimates, and he should have selected from them those which, in his opinion, are wrong.

Senator DUNCAN - I shall be glad if the honorable senator will show how that huge increase can be justified ?

There are other matters on which I could speak; but I prefer to wait until they come directly before us for discussion. I refer more particularly to the administration of New Guinea and its management, in so far as the expropriation of the Germans in that Territory is concerned. I have a very grave suspicion, from evidence that has been given, and statements that have been made to me by Australians who have recently returned from New Guinea, as to the bona fides of the administration there in certain respects. It seems to me that there is too much Burns-Philp entering into the administration, and too little regard for the real welfare and advancement of the Territory. The statement is a rather serious one, and I propose at another stage to speak more clearly and definitely, because I have at my disposal certain facts that I believe warrant me in making it. In conclusion, I believe that the Government, considering all the circumstances, are doing fairly well. I believe .that there is an honest desire on their part to meet the insistent demand for economy that has arisen outside; that they realize that unless we do have proper regard to this demand for economy on the part of the taxpayers, others will be put in charge of the finances of the Commonwealth, and I consider that they have that proper regard for it. Although the Budget does not go as far as I should like it to go, it nevertheless goes a fairly long way, and, apart from the items I have mentioned, I congratulate the Government upon their proposals. I am convinced that when the country comes to realize, in spite of the bitter pres3 campaign that is being waged in certain quarters against the Government and against our party as a whole, the difficulties with which the Ministry have to contend - when it realizes the magnificent work that it has achieved in many directions - it will say to the Government and their supporters, " Well done good and faithful servants, go on with your administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth."

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