Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 24 November 1921

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) . - I desire to offer a few remarks upon the subject of defence, but I do so with some diffidence because of the tendency of the public ta believe that every man who has been associated with the military has become obsessed with militarism. Even so, every Australian should be seized of the urgent necessity for adequately protecting his country against reasonable possibility of - aggression. I have listened to and read much criticism concerning Commonwealth defence matters. The critics appear to be amazingly uninformed. Their arguments have, been based principally on. ignorance and prejudice. I concede that some of the money which is being devoted to defence matters at present might be better employed. Senator Bolton has drawn attention to the training of cadets. There might be a cutting down, or out, of expense in that direction without doing Australia any great harm in the matter of effective defence. When one is giving consideration to the effective defence of a community, it should be realized that the first essential is an efficient staff. The next consideration covers stores and munitions, and factories for their production; and the next factor concerns the men themselves. Men, no matter how gallant, are not of much use unless they can be adequately equipped for defence or offence. The cuts which have been made into Defence Estimates in another place have been altogether wrongly directed. I trust .that honorable senators will be supplied with full details of the retrenchments decided upon.

Senator Russell - The actual particulars have been left for the consideration of experts. m If honorable members in another place had in their search for economy turned their attention to individual items they would have created chaos.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - That I can readily believe. And, as for certain of the* gentlemen in another place, I imagine that they would be delighted if they could succeed in creating chaos in the Defence Department. No matter how brave may be our manhood, unless there is sufficient equipment, adequately maintained, the men will be practically useless for purposes of defence. I wonder if non-military members of the Senate realize the magnitude of the inevitable waste of equipment and stores in time of war. Senator Bolton has mentioned that there are not in Australia at present sufficient rifles to arm 25 per cent, of our available manhood. If that be the case, it is deplorable; for, as a matter of actual fact and practice if the equipment which can be served out to a force represents only 25 per cent., it means that there is less than 8 per cent, of the necessary equipment for any extended operations available. When we say that we have 100,000 rifles, it is generally understood that we mean that we have sufficient rifles to arm 100,000 men for service. Such is not the case, however. The waste in time of war, with regard to rifles and every other branch of supply, is appalling. If an army is to be sufficiently equipped, there must be a tremendous reserve of all munitions, and there must be the necessary factories to keep up replacement requirements. May I quote a specific instance of unavoidable war-time waste during a very brief period? At Messines, where the 4th Australian Imperial Force Division was operating on the right of British troops, a youthful subaltern of the 27th British Division saw certain movements, so he reported, on his right. He sent back a message somewhat as follows: - " I am all right, but the Anzacs on my right are retiring." He sent up S.O.S.. signals, and one of the most terrific barrages which I have ever seen was promptly put down; quite unnecessarily, however. The Anzacs were not retiring. It is not a habit of theirs, and they were not even feeling like it on that occasion. That mistake on the part of a British subaltern who had got a bit " jumpy," cost, in ammunition alone, that night, £2,000,000. I remember seeing a regiment about 800 strong -come out of the Somme. The men had been in the mud pretty well up to their necks. When they were mustered so that the number of rifles held among the 800 might be ascertained, it was discovered that there were only about 200. The other 600 rifles had been left in the mud. The wonder was that the men had got themselves out - putting aside all consideration for their equipment. Of course, those rifles had not been long in the mud before they became useless. I could give illustration after illustration of the same kind. I want honorable senators to rid themselves of the idea that a reserve of 20,000 rifles will equip 20,000 men. If we are to have an efficiently equipped army there must bo large reserves in every department; and - which is even more essential - there must be means of replacing losses of equipment as they occur. What is happening now through this insanely-directed search after economy will mean the deprivation, so far as concerns Australia's Defence Forces, of a great deal of efficiency. If it is desired to cut into the Military Department, such retrenchment - if properly applied, and at the direction of men with the requisite knowledge - might prove of some assistance to the finances of the country while not really undermining the country's safety. If there must be a cutting-down of defence expenditure, let the pruning be applied to the least essential matters. It would be a sad thing to see training in Australia any further reduced; but even the training of our adults is of secondary importance compared with the question of staff and equipment. With adequate warning and sufficient time men can always be trained, given the necessary expert staff and the material with which to arm the force.

Senator Elliott - Does the honorable senator think it essential to maintain the staff at full war strength in time of peace?

Suggest corrections