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Friday, 23 July 1926

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator may make his observations through me. I point out to him that interjections are disorderly, and he must discontinue making them.

Senator Graham - I am sorry if I have offended:

Senator GUTHRIE - If the Government had decided that the cruisers should be built in Australia, it would have been necessary to install a plate-laying plant; and, in the opinion of Sir John Monash, that would have cost £1,000,000, and it would have been in commission for only about six weeks, whilst the plates for the cruisers were being rolled.It has also been pointed out that in no circum- stances could more than the hull be built in Australia..

Senator Graham Senator Graham interjecting,

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I ask the honorable senator to observe my ruling that he must refrain from interjecting. If he does not obey my ruling, I shall be obliged to take other steps to see that the Chair is not defied.

Senator Graham - I am sorry if I have again transgressed. I shall bow to your ruling, sir. But when an honorable senator makes statements that call for a reply, I feel that I must make that reply.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator has no right to interject.

Senator GUTHRIE - I was pointing out that only half of the total amount could have been expended in Australia, because the other half has to be devoted to the purchase of guns, instruments, and equipment that cannot be manufactured in Australia. As a matter of fact, there are only three firms in the British Empire which are capable of manufacturing them. The Government did the wise thing when it decided to have the cruisers constructed on the Clyde. Some of our friends opposite waxed very wrath, evidently caring very little about the taxpayers, whose money would have been squandered. Have not we in Australia been depending upon the British Navy for a sufficiently long time ? I applaud the action of the Government in having set aside £7,000,000 for naval construction during the next three years. I am very proud of the fact that Australia is doing more than all the other dominions combined. But it is deplorable that the Treasurer, or the Minister for Defence, has acted in a niggardly fashion towards some of the branches of the department. The other day I was astounded at the admission that the Government had decided to depart from its previous intention, and to ignore the unanimous recommendation of the Public Works Committee to equip a naval training school at Osborne House, near Geelong. The old Tingira, which, according to the Sydney press, is now obsolete, damp, and unhealthy, has done good work in her time. She has turned out something like 2,800 bluejackets and other naval ratings for the Australian Navy. During the period of the war she trained 1,000 ratings for the fleet.

Senator Graham - How many of these were chief officers ?

Senator GUTHRIE - I have not those details. The Tingira is now in a deplorable condition.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.

Senator GUTHRIE - Honorable senators will recall that, prior to the Washington Conference, the British Navy was maintained on a two-power standard; in other words, it was equal to the navies of any two powers that might be hostile to it. Since the Washington Conference, it has been on a fifty-fifty basis as regards the navy of the United States of America, and the navies of Japan and other nations are relatively stronger. In pursuance of the resolutions of the Washington Conference, the British Government scrapped a considerable number of its Avar vessels. My complaint in connexion with the defence policy of the present Government is that, whilst it is spending £7,000,000 on new construction, by its recent decision to alter the system of naval training it is undermining the personnel of tho Australian Fleet to such an extent that I fear we shall not be training a sufficient number of Australian youths to man' the new cruisers when they are placed in commission. In this respect I consider that the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse) has broken faith with the naval authorities, and, indeed, with the Australian public. The Tingira having been unanimously condemned as unsuitable for the training of Australian boys, arrangements were made for the training to be undertaken at Osborne House, Geelong. I may state that, many years ago, the naval authorities of all countries agreed that boys intended for a naval career could be trained better on land than on any war vessel, because, in addition to having more up-to-date scholastic facilities, they may also take a more prominent part in those organized games which are so essential to the true development of youths. Australia was practically the last country to fall into line. When the Tingira was condemned, steps were taken to acquire a suitable training establishment, and Osborne House, Geelong, was fixed upon as the ideal site, provided an additional area of land adjacent to it could be obtained. Admiral Hall Thompson, and all the members of the Navy Board, were unanimous as to its suitability. The Public Works Committee, to which the proposal was submitted for investigation, visited the site and took evidence in connexion with the proposal. In its report, dated 3rd September, 1925, it states -

George's Head does not lend itself to the construction of the buildings such as are proposed. With regard to the Flinders Naval Base, it was reported that the creation of a boys' naval training establishment there would entail just as much cost for buildings as would Geelong, and, in addition, a considerable amount of clearing. Moreover, it offered the vital objection of mixing the boys with grown men.

All naval authorities are agreed that it is important that boys intended for a naval career should not be trained with grown men. The committee went on to state -

With this reservation as to the title, the committee is satisfied, from its investigations, that an establishment of the class contemplated is necessary, and that Geelong oilers an ideal site for its location; and recommends that when the land becomes Commonwealth property, the necessary construction work be put in hand as early as possible.

The Minister went down to have a look at Osborne House, which, together with 20 acres of land, had already been handed over as a gift to the Defence Department. He agreed that if extra land could be obtained, it would be an ideal site. Accordingly, those interested in the proposal, set to work to obtain the necessary additional area. The Geelong Harbour Trust, which owned the adjacent land, realizing the importance to Australia of an up-to-date naval training school, and being not unmindful of the enormous advantage to their own district that would result from the establishment of such a school in Geelong, made a gift to the Commonwealth Government of the extra 18 acres required. The Victorian Government endorsed the proposed transfer. In addition, the Geelong Sewerage and Water Trust undertook to provide free water to the Naval School for five years, and the Melbourne General Electric Supply Company offered to supply electricity at a reduced cost. Everything was done to ensure the success of the scheme ; but, unfortunately, at the eleventh hour the Minister decided to alter the system of training. The boys, so we are told, are to be trained at the Flinders Naval Base. It is important that the training of all lads intended for a naval career should begin as soon as possible. In England, training starts when boys are thirteen years of age. In Australia, up to the present, boys have been taken between the age of fourteen and a half years and fifteen and a half years. Under the new proposal, training will start at seventeen years, when the lads are approaching manhood. The excuse for the Minister's decision is that no money is available. This, in a time like the present, of record prosperity and bounding revenues! The Government, as I have said, is spending £7,000,000 on new construction, and can afford an additional £500,000 for the construction of the seaplane carrier. All that is required to make Osborne House an ideal training school is a total expenditure of about £120,000. An immediate expenditure of between £20,000 and £30,000 would provide sufficient accommodation for the nucleus- of a splendid naval training school. I am amazed at the attitude of the Minister for Defence. It will cost just as much to train Australian youths at the Flinders Naval Base as it would cost at Osborne House, and there is the added objection that at Flinders they will be in contact with grown men. The decision to start the training of the boys when they reach the age of about seventeen years is also a grave mistake. Under this system, our lads will be at a disadvantage compared with youths who enter upon naval training in other countries. This eleventh-hour decision of the Minister is embarrassing, and unfair to the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) and myself, as well as to many other gentlemen who have been interested in the movement to establish Osborne House as the training school. We were told definitely that the Government intended to go on with that proposal. As a matter of fact, £35,000 was placed on the Estimates last year for this purpose. During the election campaign, the electors were told that the lads undergoing naval training on the Tingira were to be transferred to Osborne House, Geelong. It would now appear that, unwittingly, we were misleading our supporters, and possibly we may be made to look foolish if we have to explain that the scheme has been altered. But that is not the worst feature of the business. We could stand that. I am thinking of the future of our Navy, and of the effect upon our boys if they do not commence their naval training until they are seventeen years of ago; and if it has to be done at Flinders Base, where they will be in contact with grown men. My time is limited, or I should like to quote further from the report of the Public Works Committee, and from the recommendations of the Naval Board; but I can assure honorable senators that what I am saying is correct. The Sydney newspapers, and members representating that State in both Houses, were unanimous as to the unsuitability of the Tingira, and generally they were agreed that Osborne House, Geelong, being adjacent to the railway, to good transport facilities, and close to good hospitals, would be an ideal naval training school. After the land has been secured, and money for the purpose of establishing a training school at Osborne House voted, a change of policy takes place. The money voted for the purpose was probably devoted to more pressing needs ; but this eleventh-hour change of attitude on the part of the Minister, without, any explanation, is beyond my comprehension. In fairness to the members of the Naval Board, those responsible for the training of boys; as well as to the public generally, some explanation of the Government's intention to depart from the plans approved by Parliament on the unanimous recommendation of the Public Works Committee should be given. The Prime Minister said recently that in defence matters the requirements of the Navy should be considered before those of the land forces. With that I entirely agree. An island continent like Australia must have a navy as its first line of defence. Notwithstanding that the revenue of the Commonwealth is on the increase, we should not be extravagant; but I do not approve of a paltry saving of £50,000 this year, and probably a similar amount next year, when the expenditure of that money would enable provision to be made for the training of those who will constitute the personnel of our Navy in the future. The expenditure is infinitesimal when we consider how serious will be the effect of the change of policy. It is true that we cannot ' maintain an army as big as the Inspector-General of the Military Forces desires, but that is no justification for being parsimonious in a matter of such importance as the training of men for our Navy. I should like the Minister, when replying, to answer the following questions: - Does the Government intend to scrap the Tingira, and, if so, why ? Does it intend to discontinue training Australian boys for the Australian Navy, and, if so, why? Is it a fact that the training of the boys will not be commenced until they have reached the age of seventeen years, and, if so, why? Is it intended no longer to entertain the proposal to establish a training school at Osborne House, but to train the boys at the Flinders Naval Base, which is not nearly so suitable, and, which, moreover, is adjacent to the quarters of the men of the Navy, a policy which all naval authorities have reported against? The Public Works Committee, after a thorough investigation, reported that, with certain additions. Osborne House would be an ideal training school for the Navy. The Government will make a fatal mistake if it continues with this new policy. All is not well with our Navy. Approximately £500,000 has already been wasted in connexion with the seaplane carrier. While I admit that that is not the fault of the Commonwealth Government, but of the Government of New South Wales, it is nevertheless a serious matter. ' What will be the position when the two new cruisers, the seaplane carrier, and the ocean-going submarines are placed in commission shortly ? Should this policy be persisted in, there will not be sufficient Australian boys properly trained to man them. Perhaps it is the intention of the Ministry to man those vessels with boys from the British Navy. If so, I desire to say now that that is a policy to which I strongly object. I have no desire to say anything in disparagement of the British Navy. It is the most efficient navy in the world, and we owe our present security to it ; but I' maintain that Australian sentiment should be encouraged. The personnel of t«he Australian Navy is now about 90 per cent. Australian. I should also like the Minister when replying to say whether it is the intention of the Government to man those vessels by British boys.

Senator Graham - And also where their officers will come from.

Senator GUTHRIE - I hope that Australians will be appointed as officers of those vessels. There appears to be a tendency on the part of the naval authorities to disregard the claims of Australians. Senator Graham has ' asked what the policy of the Government is regarding officers for the vessels of the Australian Navy. The present system provides that boys who have passed through the training schools may be advanced to positions as officers. That is as it should be ; but if the training does not commence until the boys are seventeen years of age, they will have no hope of ever attaining to high rank in the Navy. This brings me to the case of the brothers Creer - two

Australians, with unblemished records in our Navy, who, after having rendered fifteen years splendid service, have now, on attaining the age of 45 years, been compulsorily retired without compensation. That is very unfair, especially as no reason has been given for their retirement, except that it has been done in accordance with regulations. That may be so, but could they not have been absorbed by some other branch of the Navy? The regulations under which they are being retired have been adapted from the Admiralty regulations in relation to the retirement of officers. The Admiralty, however, realizes that 45 years is an early age at which to retire officers, and it has accordingly made provision, in the form of liberal pensions, for such officers, so that when they retire they may be in a position to uphold the dignity which is rightly associated with retired officers of the Navy. These two Australian officers, in the flower of their manhood, and with unblemished records, are discharged and expected to live on an income of £90 per annum. Had they joined the Royal Navy they would, on retirement, have been entitled to a pension of £300 per annum, but because they entered the Australian Navy, and not the British Navy, their retiring allowance is only £90 per annum. I ask honorable senators if they consider that to be fair, and the right way to encourage Australians to enter our Navy. I believe that, so far as possible, Australians should be given preference when appointments are being made to our Navy.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Have the two officers mentioned by the honorable senator applied for transfer to the auxiliary service ?

Senator GUTHRIE - Yes, but transfer has been denied them.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Why; is there no vacancy?

Senator GUTHRIE - A deaf ear has been turned to them. They have been " scrapped " at 45 pears of age, and after fifteen years of faithful service they are expected to keep their wives and families on £90 per annum. Honorable senators will realize that it will be difficult for them to learn another profession.

Senator Sir Henry BARWELL - The trouble is that the authorities cannot get behind the regulations.

Senator GUTHRIE - Sorely, in the auxiliary forces there is room for two good Australians who have proved competent, and have no black marks against them 1

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - They should be transferred to some other department, if possible.

Senator GUTHRIE - That is what I ask the Minister to do. I hold no special brief for these two men, although I know them personally. I know that they are good men, and that their record is good. Why should they be compulsorily retired and their places taken by pensioners from the Royal Navy?

Senator Duncan - In that case we are throwing good Australians out to take in men who have been thrown out by the British Navy.

Senator GUTHRIE - Can such a state of affairs be justified ? Honorable senators will see that something is wrong with our Navy. The decision to train the boys at Flinders Naval Base, instead of at Osborne House, is a crime. Land and buildings which, by the expenditure of £120,000 would give Australia the best naval training school in the southern hemisphere, are being set aside in favour of another place not nearly so suitable. In fact, Flinders Naval Base as a training school for boys for the Navy has been strongly condemned by those who ought to know. Further, by making seventeen years the age at which the training of the boys shall commence, it will be impossible for the boys to advance to the higher positions in the Navy. This change of policy is not fair to Australians. As time goes on, we must have a vastly enlarged Navy. We cannot, and should not, always expect to rely on the British Navy, as we have done in the past, and, therefore, 1 ask the Ministry to encourage Australian boys to join our Navy.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - There is no inducement for them to do so if they are to be ' ' scrapped " at 45 years of age.

Senator GUTHRIE - That is so; and by making seventeen years the commencing age they will be unable to get sufficient training and education to fit them, for the. higher offices. The British Navy, on which -hitherto we have relied, is wonderfully efficient, but it is 12,000 miles away. In the event of war we must have a navy here, working in co-operation with the land forces, if necessary, strong enough to keep back an enemy until the British Fleet can get here. The Government is spending enormous sums on defence, but it should not overlook the claim of Australian boys. Every encouragement should be given to them to enter the Australian Navy. That encouragement has not been given by the Government; on the contrary, every possible discouragement has been given. I should like to know why the Government is flying in the face of the naval authorities, from the Admiral downwards, and of the Public Works Committee.

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