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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - The problem of defence is of great national importance. Although, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has stated, the present international armaments race may be due to fear, Australians must, to a certain extent, be actuated by such an influence, because we hold a big country with a very small population, and if we should be attacked our danger would be very great, indeed. We should have a very powerful defence. I suggest, particularly, that we should possess an exceptionally strong air force; I do not think that too much money can be spent in that direction. We should be prepared even to establish factories in this country for the production of aeroplanes, from the making of the necessary bolts to the finished aircraft.

Senator Collings - We should follow such a policy so long as the national government completely controls such production.

Senator ARKINS - I am not antagonistic to the Government's defence policy, but I emphasize that it should take immediate steps to ensure that, in times of war, our production of aircraft would be most efficient. This could he achieved by concentrating on such production in times of peace in such a way that all available aircraft at the outbreak of war could be immediately converted for war purposes. I emphasize that all of the industries concerned should be scientifically co-ordinated in order that they might be converted at short notice to supply the needs of war.

Senator Guthrie -Such a policy is very necessary.

Senator ARKINS - I suggest that it is the only means by which we can plan an effective defence, and it has the virtues' of cheapness and efficiency. I urge the Government to develop this idea in connexion with its defence policy, because I believe that Australia could effectively defend itself in the air. As we are all aware, Australians are exceptionally air-minded; we have produced some of the world's best pilots. Furthermore, I understand that, when applications are called from mechanics for appointments as pilots, thousands of responses are invariably received from our young men. This is a country of wide spaces, and we can best develop it for the needs of peace as well as of war through the air; any aircraft developed in a time of peace will prove most effective in defending this country in a time of war.

I suggest, also, that we should concentrate in peace time on developing a specially-trained mechanized force, because the next war will be fought by mechanized forces to a greater degree than was the last war. I believe, however, that this idea is being gradually developed in Australia to-day. Our artillery, for instance, is being mechanized in the highest degree, horses gradually being abolished. To-day a field gun can be brought into action more rapidly than it can be put out of action. The problem of distance has been overcome to such an extent by mechanization that the usefulness of the horse for artillery purposes has practically disappeared.

I am concerned to know whether any definite plan has been evolved to meet a gas attack. The old theory was that an enemy force which attacked Australia would attempt to land somewhere in the north, and consolidate its position before attacking our cities. In my opinion, an enemy would strike a quick blow at our cities, where the population is thickest. Honorable senators can imagine the panic that would occur if a fleet of gigantic bombers appeared over Sydney.

SenatorSir George Pearce. - I suggest that the general debate on the Government's defence policy be postponed until the budget is before us.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) -Why not leave these matters to the experts?

Senator ARKINS - I am not prepared to leave them to experts. Unless we see that there is a gas mask for every citizen in Australia, we are courting disaster. Were a fleet of modern bombing aeroplanes to attack Sydney, and drop even half a dozen gas bombs, the city would be panic-stricken. Effective gas masks are an imperative necessity. Even if the gas masks which are provided become obsolete the day after to-morrow, we should have them to-day.

SenatorFoll - It is not always wise to place all the cards on the table.

Senator ARKINS - I agree with the honorable senator. Nevertheless, I believe that it is the duty of Parliament to ascertain whether these precautions have been taken.

SenatorGuthrie. - Aeroplanes for defence purposes are badly needed.

Senator ARKINS - I agree with the American system of appointing a standing committee of parliament to deal with defence matters. Whilst I have faith in the men in charge of affairs, I do not believe in the parliamentary representatives of the people sitting dumb. Australia's future defence is in the air, under the water, and in protection against gas attacks.

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