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Thursday, 24 November 1921

Senator BOLTON (Victoria) . - I should like to say a word or two regarding certain reductions o-f expenditure proposed in connexion with votes for the Defence Department. I recognise, with most of the critics of this Parliament,, the necessity for economy not only so far as Government expenditure is concerned, but for every individual in the community. But I wish ' to enter my most emphatic protest against certain reductions proposed in connexion with the Defence Department. I express my regret that the Government should have yielded to illinformed criticism inside and outside Parliament in regard to these matters. I find that in- 1913-14 the total vote for the Department was £3,278,000. For the current financial year the total vote is only £3,250,000. There is a substantial reduction of £28,000, . but comparing the value of the sovereign to-day with its value in 1913-14, the actual reduction, proposed amounts to" £169,000. A Conference is being held at Washington on the subject of disarmament, and, in my opinion, it represents no more than a pious hope. Is that any reason why the people of this country should be asked to depend on the good intentions of their friends, and should lay themselves open to the mercies of their enemies? I say that there are enough able-bodied men in Australia today to defend this Commonwealth against all -comers, provided - and this is where the responsibility of the Government comes in - there are put into their hands the means of defending the country. In some quarters there is a very definite movement to take out of the hands of Australians the means of defending themselves. There is a vote of £196,839 for machinery recently imported for the manufacture of guns and gun ammunition for Australia. Of that amount, £60,000 has already been expended, and yet it is proposed that the balance of the vote shall be wiped out, with the result that this valuable machinery will be practically scrapped and allowed to rust.

Senator Lynch - Is the plant about half completed!

Senator BOLTON - The plant has been imported, and is lying in Australia ready to be installed, but because the Government have yielded to the pressure of the insane cry for economy, it is now proposed to reduce the vote by £130,000, which is necessary to install the machinery, and to let it lie rusting, probably for years. The first responsibility of any Government is to enable the men of Australia to defend themselves. I feel satisfied, with the courage of our men and the devotion of our women, that properly armed and equipped the people of Australia could defend themselves to-day against all-comers. That is no vain boast. We have not a sufficient supply of rifles in Australia to-day to arm 25 per cent, of our able-bodied men, and yet it is proposed that we shall practically cease the manufacture of rifles. There are some votes which might be eliminated without serious injury to the fighting capacity of the nation. For instance, there is in the general Estimates a vote of £173,800 for Senior and Junior Cadets contingencies. If we are living in strenuous times when it is necessary to conserve all our energies to insure the freedom and liberty of the people of Australia, we should spend money in a way that will give us results. Let us wait for a more favorable period to indulge in the. somewhat theoretical idea of training children to be soldiers. In my opinion, the proposed vote of £173,800 to which I have referred might very well be cut out.

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