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Tuesday, 6 December 1927

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - I am always interested in the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham). We all have our troubles, but when I listen to the dolorous tones of the honorable senator I realize that my troubles are, after all, only minor ones, and I face them with greater resignation.

Senator Findley - Oh, dear me!

Senator DUNCAN - The Leader of the Opposition, in common with Senator Findley, pitches his tale in a minor key, and is always afraid that the Government is running the country to perdition. Unfortunately for the honorable senator, however, the great majority of the Australian people are quite satisfied that the Leader of the Opposition, and those associated with him, should remain on the benches they now occupy. When the Leader of the Opposition warns us of the dangers to be encountered on the course we are pursuing, I feel that after all he may be wrong, because he does not speak for the majority of the people of Australia. We know also that they have very little sympathy with the jeremiads which he utters in this chamber. In my usual cheerful manner, which is in sharp contrast to the sad demeanour of Senator Needham, I wish to contribute to this debate, more particularly upon the subject of the defence of Australia. I cannot entirely commend the Government for its attitude towards this problem. I realize, of course, that it is confronted with many grave difficulties, and is obliged to incur expenditure in various directions. Granting that, however, I still differ from it in that, whilst it regards expenditure along certain lines as of paramount importance, to me the defence of Australia itself is the greatest of all questions, and occupies the foremost position. The time has arrived when we must realize that, although it may have been possible for us in the years that have gone to rely almost entirely upon the Mother Country for the defence of Australia, that condition of affairs is fast disappearing, if it has not already departed. Great Britain herself is faced with so many problems that she has been compelled, mainly because of financial considerations, to reduce her defence force to a minimum.

We have been informed by highest authorities, and even by representatives of the British Government, that Great Britain has almost disarmed herself because of the force of circumstances, and also because of her intense desire to show to the world generally that she is desirous of adopting a policy of disarmament. From an altruistic point of view it may be a good thing to parade our belief in disarmament; but if such a policy is carried to extremes it may prove fatal to many of the high ideals to which we cling. In the past we have been able to rely on the might of the British fleet. Militarily, Great Britain was not always a factor to be reckoned with in world affairs, because she did not devote herself whole heartedly to the development of her military organization ; but she has been, and perhaps still is, the greatest naval power in the world. It would appear, however, that that period of our Empire's history is passing. If it is, it will be incumbent upon us to rely upon our own strong right arm, so far as that is possible, and not to lean any longer upon the Mother Country, overburdened as she is with ber own great problems and weighted down with enormous war debts and other obligations.

I wish now to quote certain figures to illustrate the fact that we are not standing up to our obligations. I refer to the obligations which we owe to the people of Australia, and to Australia herself, if not to the British Empire. In 1913-14, when the total revenue of the Commonwealth, excluding receipts from business undertakings, amounted to £17,207,000, we spent on defence the sum of £4,752,000, or, roughly, one-fourth of the whole. I point out that that was the year which immediately preceded the outbreak of war. Because we then, spent such, a considerable proportion of our revenue in building up at least the nucleus of a defence scheme, we were able to face the problems that arose out of the war much better than we should have been able to face them had the circumstances been different. Let us now contrast the policy of that period with the tendency of to-day. Last year, although the total revenues of the Commonwealth amounted to £51,300,000- nearly three times as great as they were in 1913-14 - our defence expenditure was only £5,836,000. In the interim our population increased enormously. Ii> eluded in that defence expenditure are a number of items which cannot be regarded as . a contribution towards the effective defence of this country. They are as follow : -


Senator Foll - If other countries have decreased their defence expenditure, should we increase ours?

Senator DUNCAN - I shall deal with that point in a moment. We spent on the military forces, as distinct from everything else, the sum of £2,356,000 in 1913-14, and the sum of only £1,526,000 - a decrease of £830,000 - in 1926-27.

Senator Guthrie - The department is starved.

Senator DUNCAN - The amount of £1,526,000, which was expended last year, is less by £474,000 than the total amount that was made available to' the various States under the federal aid grants. I submit that those figures indicate that we are taking a greater risk with this country than our circumstances and . our degree of prosperity warrant.

I have referred more particularly to the military arm, because the Navy and the Air Force are being more fairly treated; although, in one respect at any rate, the problem of the defence of Australia by air is not receiving the consideration that I feel it should receive. I am aware that the Government has been spending, and that it proposes to spend, fairly large sums on our naval defence. I point out, however, that Australia cannot defend herself against attack from the sea by fleets that a"re superior to her own, unless she has the protection of a predominant British Navy. It is a wrong policy to incur a large expenditure on the .naval defence of Australia, and at the same time to neglect the military arm. We have a very valuable asset in the male members of our community, who have, proved their worth in the past, and who, I feel sure, would at all times rise to the occasion provided they were given the proper training and equipment and were properly led. It is in this direction that we are failing to take full advantage of our opportunities. I am fortified in that opinion by the rather remarkable report which was presented on the 31st May last by LieutenantGeneral SirH. G. Chauvel, Chief of the General Staff. In it he said -

The defence of Australia must be considered, in thefirst instance, to be a naval problem, but Australia by her own efforts is unable to maintain naval forces of sufficient strength to guarantee her own security and that of her sea communications unaided. It follows, therefore, that the naval defence and economic life of this country are dependent upon the strength, disposition, and mobility of the whole of the Naval Forces of the Empire.

The Naval Forces of the Empire, however, do not exist for the defence of Australia and her trade alone, and it must be recognized that circumstances may well arise which may prevent these forces from being utilized, at a critical period for Australia, in adequate strength in waters bordering on Australia, and oil the routes followed by Australian trade, more especially as the defence of the British Isles, and of the sea routes leading thereto is, and rightly so, the first object of Imperial naval strategy.

I quote that because it so admirably sums up the, position. The distinguished general goes on to say -

Therefore, notwithstanding the protection which the Naval Forces of the Empire, of which our own squadron forms only a small part, may, if circumstances be favorable, be expected to afford, it is incumbent upon Australia to provide effectively for her own local security. Indeed, it is an accepted principle of Imperial defence policy that each dominion is primarily responsible for its own local defence.

Under the conditions referred to above the principal instruments of the local security of Australia must necessarily be the Army and the Air Force.

I shall quote from his report two other paragraphs, which, I fear, furnish proof that we are not acting up to the fullest extent of our obligations. I remind the Government and the Senate that this was not the first occasion upon which Lieutenant-General Chauvel called attention to this very important point.

Senator Reid - And it will not be the last.

Senator DUNCAN - It probably will not be the last. It is a reflection upon this Parliament that the man who is primarily responsible for organizing the effective defence of Australia should be compelled, year after year, to call atten tion in his reports to facts that should be obvious to anybody who has a knowledge of the circumstances, and to point out that while we may delude ourselves that everything is all right, on the contrary we are living more or less in a fool's paradise.

Senator Foll - Does the honorable member think that it would be possible for any chief of staff to get the amount of money he wants for his defence scheme?

Senator DUNCAN - We can at least give General Chauvel or the Minister for Defence enough to provide a reasonable nucleus from which, when the time of trouble comes, an effectve defence force can be built up at very short notice. But we are not doing so. General Chauvel goes on to say -

The Great War has taught us two lessons which are apt to be forgotten, i.e., that much time is required to effect war precautions, and that, when a state of international tension occurs, any attempt to accelerate preparation for war is certain to increase the tension.

We know from the teachings of history that that is true-

It must also be made quite clear that the lower the scale as regards numbers, training, and equipment, on which nucleus forces are maintained in peace time, the less the degree of expansion that can be effected on mobolization. The dilution of trained with untrained personnel is only practicable to a definitely limited extent.

I do not think that we can quarrel with that statement. I have already said, in reply to an interjection by Senator Foll, that we should at least provide an efficient and sufficient nucleus from which it would be possible for us to build up a great organization in time of war, if necessary. This is what General Chauvel has to say upon the subject -

Nucleus Organization. - Owing to circumstances beyond the control of the Military Board, the organization is at present in nucleus form only. This nucleus does not yet possess the equipment nor receive the training which are essential to the effective performance of its functions. I feel it necessary to reiterate this point, which has been referred to so frequently in ray previous reports, because it must be made clear that the present restricted policy in regard to the development of the Army, however well it may be executed in detail, cannot be expected to achieve, in adequate measure, the only logical end in view, viz., the effectiveness of the Army as a modern instrument of defence.

Under present conditions a high degree of absorption of new personnel by the present nucleus would be unavoidable and expansion to a war footing would be a difficult business. Citizen Forces, trained for a few days a year for three years, and not equipped on a 100 per cent. basis, cannot be expanded to the same degree as can a full-time fully equipped nucleus.

The present nucleus has been found to be insufficient for the accomplishment of the approved policy of the Army, and I am convinced that an increase in the numbers is essential.

That is a very important and equally damaging statement to make; it is a reflection not only on the Minister, but also on the Parliament that does not provide adequate funds to permit of an adequate organization being built up to provide for the defence of this country. General Chauvel goes on. to say -

Despite the fact that the population of Australia is6,122,700, the number under training in the Citizen Forces of Australia is only 42,000; training takes place in three years only of a citizen's fife, and for only twelve days in each year. Moreover, the supplyof certain vital equipment is negligible when compared with the ultimate requirements for war and for the replacement of wastage. lt is for the above reasons that I am com pelled year after year to draw attention to the need for natural and reasonable development in our land defence policy.

Senator Foll - A few days ago the honorable senator was advocating a reduction in taxation; he cannot have reduced taxation and increased expenditure.

Senator DUNCAN - There are some directions in which we cannot afford to reduce our expenditure. I am not one of those who agree that the first thing to tackle when expenditure has to be reduced is the defence system of a country. That is the generally accepted idea of what should be done, and it has been done time after time. It may be all right to pursue that policy toan extent, providing always that we do not interfere with the effectiveness of defence forces ; butin the opinion of General Chauvel we have already carried it to such an extent that we are in danger of committing nacional suicide, should any one attempt to call our bluff.

As a representative of the people, charged with a certain measure of responsibility for seeing that Australia is adequately and effectively defended, I cannot help saying that I quite agree with

General Chauvel. I know that my pleadings for more consideration in defence matters will fall on deaf ears on one side of this chamber. It is unfortunate, because defence should not be looked at from a party standpoint. Honorable members opposite belong to a party which in the years that are gone stood splendidly for the effective defence of this country. It was responsible for the inauguration of compulsory military training, and for the building of the Australian navy; but where does that party stand to-day on those matters? Is it in a position to contribute effectively to any debate upon a question of this sort, or to give assistance in the solving of defence problems? It is not, because practically the whole of its defence programme has gone by the board, and the people of Australia are forced to look to honorable members supporting the present Government, to evolve an adequate system. That is another reason why it becomes so necessay for honorable senators supporting the Government tosee if something cannot be done to bring about a better and truer realization of this great problem, and of our responsibilities in regard to it. General Chauvel goes on to say that the supply and training of leaders and staffs are inadequate, and that signs are not lacking that the defence organization may fail in its object - that of producing its own leaders. I suggest to the Minister for Defence, who perhaps knows more about military matters than almost any other honorable senator, that when our defence force, on the showing of its own chief of staff, is unable, owing to its inadequacy, to produce its own leaders of the future, we are getting into a very serious position. Prior to the war the old defence force produced splendid leaders. In those days it was the custom of certain gentlemen who styled Themselves " regulars " to sneer at men who were leaders of the Citizen Forces; but when those Citizen Force officers, who had received a magnificent training under the old Citizen Force system, received that additional training that war alone can give, they made the finest leaders it was possible for any country to produce. But General Chauvel points out that we are not producing that kind of leader to-day, and that when the time' of trouble comes it will be impossible for us, because of the inadequacy and inefficiency of our defence system, to produce leaders of that kind. That is another serious indictment of our military defence system.

Now let me pass on to another phase of the great problems referred to by General Chauvel. If there is anything necessary after the training of officers and men, it is that they should be provided with munitions and the other things that are requisite if they are to take their place in the field. We know that the great problem that confronted the Empire in the early years of the -war was that of maintaining an adequate supply of munitions for the forces in the field. It was a problem so hard to overcome that Germany nearly overcame us before we solved it. Upon this subject, General Chauvel says : -

The Munition Developmental Programme. - With reference to paragraph 76, the position with regard to the progress of the limited munition developmental programme is far from satisfactory. The annual amounts which have been available for it have been far short of the sums that were intended when the programme was initiated.

There is another strong and very striking condemnation of our defence policy. I do not blame the Government alone for this. It is something for which we in this Parliament must accept the fullest responsibility. The Government can get from Parliament only what Parliament is prepared to give it for expenditure on defence, and in recent years there has never been any marked willingness to give the Defence Department sufficient to enable it to do its work in a proper way. It must be obvious to every one that because of the decreased purchasing power of money compared with 1914, the last year prior to the war, if we are to get even the same results that we got then, we should have a considerable increase instead of a decrease in the vote, and that even without paying any regard whatsoever to necessary developmental schemes or to the increased cost of implements of warfare. We all know these implements of warfare have developed, and that the whole business of warfare is much more costly to-day than it was before the last war. On this point, General Chauvel says: - °

The military organization is confronted with constantly increasing costs which are entirely outside the control of the Military Board. This factor necessarily demands a correspondingly automatic increase in the annual amount voted by Parliament in order to obtain the same relative efficiency. No such requisite increase, however, has

That is another serious indictment. I refer to these criticisms as indictments, because the position is really serious from the standpoint of the men who know our requirements, and who desire to see a proper defence force built up in Australia so that in time of trouble we can stand four-square against an enemy and say, "We are going to see this thing through for ourselves."

General Chauvel states -

Another factor tending to bring about increased expenditure is the need for developing the army to a reasonable extent, on modern lines, in regard to tanks, anti-aircraft artillery, mechanized transport, survey, ordnance services, &c.

The activities of the army are now restricted to less than the bare essentials of maintenance and training. The time has passed when expenditure can be cut in one direction to permit of progress in another.

The lack of provision for tlie increasing costs of our existing organization and the consistent reduction in the annual vote render it impossible to carry out the approved programme.

This programme, I remind honorable senators, has been approved by the Ministry and endorsed by Parliament, and yet because of these constantly decreasing annual votes it is impossible for it to be carried out. To me this is a very serious matter, as indeed it must be to all who love this country and wish to see it remain in our hands to be developed along lines which we approve. If, by reason of our default in the matter of adequate defence expenditure, it should fall into other hands, it may be developed along entirely different lines.

Senator Verran - Has the honorable senator any particular nation in mind?

Senator DUNCAN - I do not like the present outlook. There is to-day throughout the world a feeling of great unrest, ' which I believe would be translated into warlike activities but for the fact that nearly all the nations that took part in the last Avar are suffering from financial depression.

Senator Verran - Does the honorable senator believe that England would allow any interference with this country ?

Senator DUNCAN - I remind the honorable senator that there have been other great Empires in the world, and they have passed away. A few years ago Britain, by reason of her wealth and majesty, was able to stand alone. Unfortunately that day has gone, perhaps for ever.

Senator Verran - Not at all.

Senator DUNCAN - There is to-day another country - I refer to the United States of America - that, from the financial point of view, is infinitely more powerful probably than any other nation.

Senator Verran - The moral power of Britain is greater than any financial power.

Senator DUNCAN - It may be true, as the honorable senator suggests, that the moral power of Britain is greater than the financial power; but we know from experience that morals do not win Avars. The determining factor in war is the capacity of one nation to throw into the conflict a greater weight in men and resources than its antagonist. Unfortunately to a considerable extent Great Britain has lost the advantage which once she enjoyed. She has not now a bottomless purse at her disposal.

Senator Verran - The nation that puts God first is the nation that wins.

Senator DUNCAN - But the trouble is to determine on which side God is fighting. Is it not true that during the last great war the motto of the Germans was"Gott mituns " ? As a matter of fact all the nations engaged in that terrible conflict fully believed that God was on their side.

Senator Verran - But no nation has stood the test like old England has.

Senator DUNCAN - I agree with the honorable senator, and I wish it to be clearly understood that I am making no reflection upon Great Britain. All I am saying is that Great Britain has been compelled by force of circumstances to cut to the bone all expenditure on navy, army and air services, and that other powerful nations are contesting with her for supremacy in world affairs. All are arming to the teeth in order that, when the time comes, they may be able to play that part which they believe they are destined to play.

Senator Reid - Great Britain reduced her defence expenditure as an example to all the other nations.

Senator DUNCAN - I am afraid that Great Britain did not reduce h,er expenditure solely as a peace gesture to other nations, but because the force of financial circumstances compelled her to do so. When we realize what is going on in the world and ponder on the insecurity of our present condition, we should be exceedingly thankful for the reassuring statement made, by the right honorable the Leader of the Senate, who acted as our delegate at the recent Assembly of the League of Nations.

Senator Reid - It was a very good report.

Senator DUNCAN - Like the curate's egg, it was good in parts ; but it also contained statements that gave considerable cause for thought. However much we may desire peace, we should not forget that there is a very definite feeling of unrest for many countries, and that, although the nations may be coming together in a spirit of confidence, untoward events may at any time rudely thrust them apart. We cannot, therefore, afford to take any risks, because, in connexion with our White Australia policy, we have issued to the world a challenge that reeks with an assertion of our superiority. While I commend the Government for doing certain things, and the Minister for his interest in this subject, I impress upon honorable senators that, as a nation, we are neglecting essentials in our scheme of defence. One argument in favour of federation was that it would make possible co-ordination in the matter of defence. Unfortunately, we appear to be losing sight of that, and are disposed to fritter away our energies over matters of minor importance. I repeat that we cannot afford to run these risks; that if we are to be true to our ideals, and true to the trust reposed in us by the people of this country, we must make more adequate provision for the defence of Australia, along the lines suggested by General Chauvel and other authorities. There are one or two other matters to which I intend to refer in committee. I felt that it was incumbent upon me to bring these facts about the defence of Australia before the Senate, and to urge upon the .Government the desirability and the advisability of doing more in this matter than has been done in recent years.

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