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Wednesday, 11 August 1926


Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- I desire to make some remarks concerning the defence forces of the Commonwealth. Senator Needham and others have challenged the Government to show, that good results have been obtained from the expenditure on defence during the past few years, and stress has been laid on the comments by Sir Harry Chauvel and Sir J ohn Monash. While criticism from such eminent authorities is valuable in showing that the forces are by no means adequate for our complete defence, we should not allow ourselves to be stampeded into a panic by thinking that we have no effective forces at all at the present time. Sir John Monash, who is now engaged in bringing to fruition a great industrial scheme, complains bitterly of the way in which he has been treated by the press in regard to that enterprise. He pleads for patience on the part of critics Until the scheme has reached the stage when its full effect will be perceived, and its full benefit felt. It is strange, then, that he should have offended in precisely the same manner as the critics of his industrial enterprise have done in regard to the defence system under which an army established on a small scale is being developed into an effective force. That sound progress is being made is apparent from the memorandum that has been circulated by the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse). If we turn to the Estimates of 1912-13, the year before the war began, we find that the expenditure then, although a Labour Government was in office, was almost as great as it has been since the war, notwithstanding the fact that the cost of wages and materials has enormously increased. If due allowance were made for that increase, the cost of the force to-day would be actually less than in pre-war times, although it is now established on a far sounder foundation than formerly. Take the Royal Australian Air Force. In 1912-13 we had an aviation school costing £5,600. One nf the planks in the platform of the Labour party is that the development of the Air Force should be vigorously proceeded with. Yet that is all it provided for the purpose in that year. To-day the Government is spending no less than £322,329 on this force.


Senator Needham - What have we to show for it?


Senator ELLIOTT - A visit to Point Cook will convince the honorable senator that we have a very efficient Air Force. For civil aviation, to' which the budget of 1912-13 contains no reference, £73,965 is provided, and I think that even Senator Needham will, agree that good progress has been made in that direction. I do not think that any country has better air services than those in Australia, and no State is catered for in that respect better than Western Australia.


Senator Needham - And without the assistance of the Government.


Senator Pearce - No. It is the result of heavy Government subsidies.


Senator ELLIOTT - The private companies admit that the services could not have been provided without the financial backing of the Government.


Senator Pearce - They would not have been started without that assistance.


Senator ELLIOTT - That is so. I notice that a service is proposed for Canberra, and a subsidy is required to enable it to be established. Again, it is obviously useless to build up a large personnel and train troops unless we have munitions. One looks in vain for an adequate vote for this purpose in the budget of 1912-13. T notice £23,000 set down for the Small Arms Factory, £21,000 for the Cordite Factory, and other sums for the clothing and harness factories, but no provision was made for a supply of munitions. It is well known that throughout the war Australia was never in a position to manufacture a single round of shell.


Senator Needham - Was there not an amount on the 1912-13 Estimates for the Munitions Department?


Senator ELLIOTT - I can find nothing. The Government has now set down £231,220 for that purpose, and the memorandum issued by the Minister for Defence (Sir- Neville Howse) shows that good progress has been made. Supplies of munitions, of course, cannot spring up in a night like mushrooms. The memorandum states : -

The Munitions Supply Board is charged with provision of munitions of war for the Defence. Force, control of the Research Laboratories, inspection of supplies, and administration of the Government factories.

The board is at present working on a six years programme, which provides for maintenance of the existing factories on a nucleus basis, and the erection of new factories for the production of the more common types of munition's which have been imported in the past.

Factories for the production of rifles (Small Arms Factory at Lithgow) and rifle ammunition (Small Arms Ammunition Factory at Footscray, and the Cordite Factory at Maribyrnong) are already in existence, and are being continued on a nucleus scale, but they are organized to permit of their being rapidly brought to' full capacity should occasion require it.

It is most expensive to maintain those factories on a nucleus basis. It means that a rifle that can be bought at Birmingham for £3 or £4 costs £15 in Australia, but Senator Needham, I apprehend, would not criticize the policy of manufacturing them in this country, since it is necessary that we should have the means of rapidly extending munition works in the event of supplies from overseas being withheld.


Senator Needham - In the event of aggression, certainly.


Senator ELLIOTT - Nothing has been said to the effect thatthese factories should be closed, and that we should depend on supplies from overseas. It is idle, therefore, to complain of the excessive cost of rifles and other equipment. The memorandum continues -

The Research Laboratories, Maribyrnong, which are now fully equipped, play an important part in the scheme, as upon them devolves the duty of determining, by experiment, methods of utilizing Australian materials in production of munitions, studying processes of manufacture, particularly in regard to products used in connexion with high explosives and chemical warfare, assisting manufacturers to meet the high standards required by the Department, and conducting chemical and physical examination of goods required by the Department and other branches of the Commonwealth service.

I am unaware whether the subject of using light trench mortars has come under the notice of the department. There seems to be no provision for training men in their use, although they were found of great value both in trench fighting and in the open warfare that followed. The memorandum further states -

A competent inspection staff has been organized for ensuring that a high quality of stores is purchased or manufactured, and that they are in conformity with latest approved patterns.

The erection of new factories, for which funds have been provided in preceding years, is proceeding satisfactorily.

At the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, a building (costing £61,600) in connexion with the manufacture of machine guns has been completed and is being equipped. Tools and gauges for production of machine guns are being manufactured at this factory,some components of machine guns having been manufactured and issued to the services.

The cartridge case section of the Gun Ammunition Factory at Footscray has been completed, and manufacturing operations have been commenced. The buildings for fuse manufacture are completed, and installation of plant is being undertaken. A rolling mill and foundry will be required in connexion with this factory group, and provision for the necessary buildings has been made in the Estimates for 1926-27.

In none of these directions was progress made when the Labour party was in office. The memorandum goes on -

At the Ordnance Factory, Maribyrnong, the main machine workshops have been completed and plant is being installed. The manufacture of gun components is expected to be commenced during the year, and the manufacture of carriage components will follow. The construction of the large forge shop associated with gun and carriage manufacture is proceeding, and a wood-working shop is to be erected during 1926-27.

The shell production unit has been tried out, and it has been proved that 18-pdr. shell of the latest design can be manufactured in quantity.

Production of tools and gauges for various types of munitions is proceeding in the toolrooms at Maribyrnong and Lithgow.

The High Explosive Factory at Maribyrnong is ready for production, and construction of the associated factories for filling shell is being continued.

At Wakefield, South Australia, a commencement has been made with construction of a range for test and proof of artillery ammunition.

The bulk of expenditure during 1926-27 will be for new buildings and installation of plant and equipment, but it is also expected that some of the new factories will come into production of components. Plant and materials must be tested, and employees must be trained, however, so that full production is not expected until 1927-28.

As the result of representations by the New South Wales Government and representatives of colliery-owners and workers in that State, the Commonwealth Government has approved of the establishment of a station for the testing of commercial explosives at Maribyrnong, in conjunction with the Munitions Supply Laboratories, the estimated cost being £10,000 for buildings and equipment, and an annual expenditure of £2,500 for maintenance, the Commonwealth bearing one-half of such charges, the State Governments to shoulder the other half in proportion to their respective consumption of explosives. Certain of the necessary equipment is already available at Maribyrnong establishments, while the existing buildings meet immediate requirements in that connexion. One thousand five hundred pounds is provided on Estimates 1926-27 for purchase of other apparatus, installation, &c.

If we turn to the Navy, we find that there is a marked difference between what is . being done to-day and -what was proposed in 1912-13. At that time the naval expenditure amounted to £678,378, but to-day it totals £2,097,780: Australia's first line of defence as undoubtedly her navy, and the second in order is her land force. Good progress is being made with the training pf the troops. The increase in the number of trainees caused by the addition of another year's quota has made the units of a size which can be handled properly. Previously, the platoons were so small that no really effective work could be done in the field. To-day the regiments are almost up to fighting strength; they are, in fact, stronger than were many of the weaker regiments towards the end of the war. The larger number of trainees will have a great effect upon the training of the officers. I should like the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Glasgow), who has had a close association with military affairs, to impress upon the other members of the Cabinet the necessity for a larger appropriation of money for training schools for officers and non-commissioned officers. When I was at Broadmeadows at the outbreak of hostilities, I had a conversation with General McCay as to the men who had enlisted. At the time instructions had been issued by the Government that only those men who had formed part of the militia should be enlisted in the first contingent. I pointed out that in the area allotted to me it was impossible to comply with that condition; but General McCay said that he could not depart from the instructions. I asked him to suspend judgment for three weeks, and that if, at the end of that period, he could distinguish between the men ' who had received previous training and those who had not, I should consent to the discharge of the men who had not received previous training. At the expiration of the three weeks he could not tell which men had, or had not, received training previously. In the circumstances, General McCay asked whether the expenditure incurred in training soldiers was justified. I replied that, so long as there was a nucleus of properly-instructed officers and noncommissioned officers, it would not be difficult to turn out, at short notice, men who, though not fully trained, would be very good soldiers. The point that I wish to emphasize is that we must have efficient officers and non-commissioned officers to train the men. In this connexion, I regard the rank and file merely as material upon which the officers and noncommissioned officers can get the necessary training. Bricks cannot be made without straw; nor can efficient officers and noncommissioned officers be made without material on which to train. In order that they may get the fullest value from their camp training, greater provision should be made for these schools. For every school advertised there is an excess of applicants. ' That there are far more applicants than can be properly accommodated shows the eagerness of the young men of Australia to fit themselves for the defence of their country. It is a pity that the Government does not take advantage of that splendid voluntary spirit by providing for these schools a sum much greater than that now voted for the purpose. If the appropriation for this purpose were doubled, the advantages would far outweigh the cost. Senator Guthrie has drawn attention to the practice which obtains in the Navy of Australian officers being discharged without proper provision being made for them and of pensioners from the Royal Navy being appointed in their place. It would appear that there is a prejudice against Australians. The Government would be wise toinstitute a reserve of officers on half-pay, similar to that in operation in the Royal Navy, so that Australians will not be retired from the service of the Navy at an early age without any provision being made for their future. I understand that at the age of 45 years naval officers are compulsorily retired on a very small allowance. In the event of another war, a reserve such as I have mentioned would be a very valuable asset.

I desire now to refer to some unsatisfactory features connected with the administration of the territories of the Commonwealth. When the present Minister for Home and Territories joined the

Ministry I had great hopes of an improvement in certain respects. I hoped that the new Minister would not, as so frequently happens, allow himself to become a mere rubber stamp to the department. Recently, a royal commission was appointed to inquire into the administration of Norfolk Island. That inquiry appears to have been conducted in a most extraordinary manner. In the first place, the appointment itself is said to have been illegal. I have here a letter signed by Mr. G. S. Knowles, the acting secretary of the AttorneyGeneral's Department, which reads as follows: -

I am in receipt of your memorandum of the 7th April,. 1926, requesting advice as to the right of the Administrator of Norfolk Island to cross-examine witnesses giving evidence before the royal commission on Norfolk Island affairs.

The Administrator has not the right of cross-examining witnesses appearing before the royal commission. The. commission may conduct its inquiry in whatever way it thinks fit, and the Administrator can only put questions to witnesses if the commission requests or permits him to do so.

As the Royal Commission Act 1902-12 does not apply to Norfolk Island, witnesses cannot be compelled to attend, be sworn or give evidence, and the penal sections of the act cannot be enforced in the Territory.

That is an amazing position. It is evident that witnesses were free to perjure themselves at this extraordinary inquiry without the risk of incurring any penalty. Seeing that the Royal Commissions Act does not apply to Norfolk Island, it is remarkable that the Government, before appointing that commission, did not introduce an amending measure to enable the inquiry to be conducted properly. Extraordinary as was the conduct of the inquiry, the action proposed to be taken by the Government is still more extraordinary. I understand that, notwithstanding the manner in which the inquiry was conducted, and that witnesses were practically free to commit perjury, the Government intends to act on the report of the royal commissioner. That, attitude is the more strange in view of the fact that the Administrator has protested. He has, in fact, expressed his desire to lay a charge of perjury against two of the principal witnesses who gave evidence against him. Obviously, no prosecution could be proceeded with, because no charge would lie; but in view of all the circumstances, it is amazing that the Government proposes to act upon the evidence taken and the findings of the commission. Any action taken in that direction would be nothing more or less than a prostitution of justice. I have not the terms of reference to the commissioner before me, nor have I his finding; but I have been informed that some extraordinary matters were brought up at the inquiry. It is stated that a justice of the peace from Tasmania, who was present, was so disgusted with the proceedings that he expressed his opinion in the following definite terms : - _ This is the most remarkable royal commission I have ever heard of. There never has been one like it, and there never will be another. It is not a royal commission; it is a school for scandal.

I am not personally acquainted with the gentleman who was appointed as Administrator of Norfolk Island, although I understand that he and other members of his family were distinguished officers of the Australian Imperial Force. One of his associates in a large financial institution in Melbourne told me that he considered that Colonel Leane was one of the ablest of men, and one of the institution's most trustworthy officers. It seems extraordinary that, on being translated to the South Pacific, he should have suddenly degenerated in the way alleged at the inquiry. I understand that one of the charges which was laid against him was that he was exclusive, and would not mix with the residents of the island. The charge was ventilated before the commission, and his version was that certain people were far from having a moral character, and naturally he did not desire his wife and daughter to mingle with them. In justification of his attitude, he proposed to call the vicar of the island, who held the same opinion, but the commissioner point blank refused to allow that to be done. Is that the action of a man who is anxious to do justice ? I am also informed that, before taking up his duties, the administrator was told that the administration of law in Norfolk Island was decidedly lax; that, though it was a prohibition area, the liquor trade was exceedingly rife, and that, whilst the law provided that no person should be supplied with liquor except on a doctor's certificate, a member of the Government service had in three months issued to the inhabitants 1,500 bottles of whisky without any certificate from a medical man. Very soon after his arrival on the island, he ascertained that the shop of the principal storekeeper was nothing more than a slygrog shop for a certain period after the arrival of each ship. If a person tendered 12s. 6d. for a bottle of vinegar he was given " a very satisfactory article," but if he tendered only 2s. 6d. he received pure malt vinegar. Naturally, when those sources of revenue were suppressed there was a considerable outcry. There were other matters which this very able gentleman found on investigation required considerable amendment. I am informed that he learned of the existence of an old, discarded conveyancing system in relation to the transfer of land, although every State in Australia had adopted the Torrens system. The unfortunate islanders were under the further handicap of not being able to consult a solicitor. Some persons may say that they ought to congratulate themselves on that fact, but in the conveyance of land it is useful to have the advice of a solicitor, even under the Torrens system, let alone under the old cumbrous system which was in vogue on the island. The Administrator had had considerable experience in legal matters in South Australia. He discovered that hardly a title would hold good if it were contested. It may be said that that is the fault of the people themselves. These simple, ignorant folk are told that the clerk of courts will fix up all their legal matters. I believe that ithas been the custom to appoint' to that position men who have but the merest smattering of legal knowledge.


Senator Needham - Who was the commissioner ?


Senator ELLIOTT - One would think that, in a matter which affected the honour and capacity of an officer like the administrator, a well-known man would have been appointed. I understand that the commissioner's name is Whysall, but I have not been able to discover who he is, whence he came, or where he has gone. Apparently he was picked out to write a condemnatory report against Colonel Leane, so that he could be discharged.


Senator Needham - Does the honorable senator suggest that the commissioner conducted a " hole and corner " inquiry?


Senator ELLIOTT - I am blankly ignorant at present. I hope that the Minister will explain what appears to me to be a very strong suggestion that the matter was engineered by the depart ment with the object of getting an uncomfortable man off their hands, in case he should make further disclosures reflecting upon it.







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