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Friday, 16 July 1926

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I realize that there should be no delay in the passage of this measure, the purpose of which is to appropriate certain sums of money from the Consolidated Revenue for new works and buildings; but I desire to take advantage of this opportunity to speak about one or two subjects that are provided for in the measure. Recently we passed a bill setting aside the sum of £250,000 for our air services. Within the past few months

6.   series of regrettable accidents have occurred at Point Cook. Valuable lives have been lost. Whilst we all admit that, in the development of our air forces, there is always the risk of fatalities, I am wondering if all the precautions that should have been taken have been taken to prevent them. I trustthat the Defence Department will look into this matter with a view to preventing further fatalities. Bearing in mind the number of men engaged in our Air Forces, the proportion of accidents of late has been too great. I am not blaming any one. All I wish to emphasize is that the position should be carefully considered. Can the Minister offer any explanation for the numerous fatal accidents that have happened of late? Is it because the aeroplanes used at Point Cook are obsolete? If they are, why should men be compelled to use them? I should also like the Minister to say if our air equipment is up to date, and if the instructors in the Air Force are the best obtainable ? I am not casting any reflection whatever upon our officers, but there is a feeling of anxiety concerning the exact position at Point Cook, which is the centre of our aerial activities. Speaking as a layman I am under the impression that the equipment necessary for such an important arm of our Defence Forces is not of the most modern type, and notwithstanding all this Government has said concerning its defence policy, it has achieved very little considering the money it has spent. In discussing this measure I cannot, of course, deal at length with the defence policy of the Commonwealth, or refer in detail to the expenditure incurred during the last ten years. The people of Australia have been led to believe that our Air Force is efficient, but we have never been told what equipment is necessary in order to have an uptodate air service for defence purposes. Lieut. -General Sir John Monash, a very eminent authority on the subject of defence, referred to our Air Force as a sham. Such a statement from one so experienced in the arts of war should not be disregarded. Although the Government has expended considerable sums of money for defence purposes, it has actually wasted a good deal, and has done very little in the direction of adequately equipping the Air Force. I remind the Minister representing the Minister for Defence in this Chamber that one of the world's greatest naval experts, the late Sir Percy Scott, once said that if Australia and New Zealand were properly defended by aeroplanes, submarines, and destroyers, they- would have nothing to fear. The members of the Labour party have always stressed the importance of these forms of defence, and in doing so we are supported by the eminent authority I have just quoted. We also favour the establishment of aerial depots and services throughout Australia by extending civil aviation, and thus providing a means whereby men may be suitably trained so that their services will be available for defence purposes. An exMinister for Defence (Mr. Bowden) in the Age, of the 12th August, 1924, said : "At present there is only one unit of the Air Force in Australia, and that is at Point Cook." That admission was made five years after the Great War had terminated, and when every one realized the important part played by the air service in the Great War.

Mr. Bowdenwent on to 'say that a tremendous quantity of gift equipment had been obtained from Great Britain, but a good deal of it was still stored away in the packages in which it came to Australia. That statement may have an important bearing upon the fatalities which have occurred at Point Cook to which I have referred, and in which the lives of some of our brilliant young aviators were sacrificed. The Minister said that some of the gift aeroplanes, were not even unpacked, and possibly some are still lying untouched. The Government and its supporters have endeavoured to ridicule the 'defence policy of the Labour party enunciated from every platform in Australia,, but notwithstanding all its. boasts concerning its defence policy, the Government cannot prove that it has a modern air service, although years have elasped since the importance of such a service was clearly demonstrated. The following statement appeared in the Melbourne Herald on the 6th January, 1926: - " The weakness of the Air Force in machines, equipment, and trained airmen presents the accumulated result of neglect and starvation which is causing serious concern."

Senator Pearce - Who, said that?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am quoting from the Melbourne Herald.

Senator PEARCE - Who is the author of the statement?

Senator NEEDHAM - After reading the article I am convinced that the writer has a more intimate knowledge of the subject than even the right honorable gentleman who, for many years, was Minister for Defence.

Senator Pearce - Without knowing the qualifications of the writer?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am quite prepared to accept the statement made by the expert writer in the Herald.

Senator Findley - The Herald employs experts to write such articles.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes. A few days ago honorable senators representing Western Australia, and Western Australian members of the House of Representatives, asked the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse) if the Government would grant financial assistance to the Western Australian Civil Aviation Service. Although the Minister gave the deputation a sympathetic hear- ing he did not give us much encourage ment. The Western Australian Air Service, which is doing excellent work in carrying passengers and mails, is also of great benefit to those resident in the more remote parts of that State. If a few thousand pounds were granted, as was suggested, to extend the service, the expenditure would be more than justified. Apart from the Western Australian service so ably conducted by Major Brearley for many years, there are other civil aviation services.

Senator Thompson - There is a wonderful air service in Queensland which has been conducted up to the present without a single accident.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes, and there are other services performing excellent work. I want to emphasize this point, and I appeal for the assistance of Senator Thompson. I think the Government should do more than it is doing to encourage those air services which are trying to assist people in the back-blocks by carrying their mails and materials.

Senator Thompson - I have also been to the Minister to ask lor that assistance.

Senator NEEDHAM - The encouragement of civil and commercial aviation would be of vast benefit to the Commonwealth in the event of an- enemy attack. In order to show the progress made in the north-we3t of Western Australia, I quote the following from the Airways Bulletin: -


Aerial Mails and Freight.

Letters carried during the month of May totalled 22,465. Advice has been received:, supported by the actual covers, of what is believed to be a record for delivery of English mail in Broome, when letters posted in London were delivered by air at Broome thirty days later.

The weight of freight carried for the month was 6.041 lbs. and included several boxes of day-old chickens, which were carried to ports as far north as Broome.

We know how far Broome is from London. We should do well to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to encourage civil and commercial aviation in Australia for the purpose of helping those people who are blazing the track in remote districts. The Airways Bulletin further says - passenger Traffic.

Striking testimony of the increasing popularity of air travel is afforded by the following record of passengers carried since 1923 : -


The figuresfor the first half of the current year show a still further improvement over 1925.

Vice-Regal Tour. " A most comfortable and enjoyable journey. Am intensely pleased with great efficiency and kind attention of all pilots."

In the above words His Excellency Sir William Campion telegraphed to Airways Limited on the completion of his trip from Perth to Broome by aeroplane.

Knowing the need for the passage of this bill I should not have delayed it by speaking but for my anxiety to emphasize the importance of developing the air branch of our defence system, and at the same time call attention to the regrettable accidents at Point Cook. I hope that the Government, through its responsible Minister, will take every precaution to prevent a recurrence of such accidents by making use of the very best aeroplanes it is possible to obtain, and providing the most competent instruction for those who are being trained. Again I emphasize the need for the encouragement of civil aviation in its commercial aspect, so that in cases of emergency we shall have at cur service a considerable number of welltrained aviators.

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