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Wednesday, 30 June 1926

Senator NEEDHAM (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I have recently inspected the seaplane carrier in course of construction, and although I cannot say that it will be built for less in Australia than it would cost in Great Britain, I maintain that the men at Cockatoo Island will do the work as well as would workmen in any other part of the world.

Senator Findley - Cheapness should not be considered in defence matters.

Senator NEEDHAM - No. If we continue the policy of constructing abroad vessels required for home defence, and the occasion should arise when we have to construct cruisers here, our men would not be capable of undertaking the work. It is true that much has been made of the extra cost which would have been involved in constructing the cruisers here, and also the cost of building the seaplane carrier in Australia; but it must be remembered that Australian wages must be paid and our standard of living generally maintained. When such work is undertaken in Australia even at a higher cost, the money is circulated in the Commonwealth. L. am glad to see that provision is being: made for extending the Air Force. That is in accord with the Labour party's de- fence policy. We are told that we have no defence policy, but we have one which-' embraces the establishment of an efficientAir Force, the construction of submarines,' and convertible factories. At last this Government is viewing the defence of Australia in the same way as we on this side of the chamber view it. The expenditure of £250,000 for the improvement of the Air Force is a step in the right direction. I quote the opinion of a naval correspondent of the Herald, who, on the 5th January, 1926, said : -

After a quarter of a century of changing policies and immense capital outlay, the defences of this country are to-day in such a lamentably weak state that few people would sleep quietly in their beds if aware of the true position. Unfortunately for the nation at large, that is known only to the various staffs. The weakness of the Air Force in machines and trained airmen, the obsolescent state of the Fleet, the poverty-stricken condition of the Military Forces, together present an accumulated result of neglect and starvation which is causing serious concern to the Government's technical advisers.

I now quote the opinion of Admiral Sims, who is reported in the Sydney Sun for the 19th November, 1925, to have said: -

It is a foregone conclusion that, if an aeroplanecarrier met a battleship at sea, there would be nothing left of the battleship. " Recent tests have proved conclusively that aeroplanes can sink battleships."

That is the opinion he expressed before the Colonel Mitchell court martial, and it is positive proof that, in the matter of home defence, the Air Force is an important factor. Although we have spent approximately £32,000,000 on defence since the armistice was signed, our position in the matter of defence, according to General Sir John Monash, is worse than it was in 1914. Although this measure authorizes the expenditure of an additional sum for defence purposes, we must not be under the impression that the defence of Australia is in a satisfactory position. The policy of the Labour party is not to build battleships, but to rely on an efficient air force and submarines, together with factories which during wartime may be used for the manufacture of munitions. We contend, that it is not necessary to spend huge sums of money on warship construction abroad. The work now being done on the seaplane carrier at Cockatoo Island Dockyard is equal to anything in the world.

Senator Elliott - What is it going to cost ?

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