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Friday, 20 November 1936

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- It is satisfactory to note that the Opposition has- broken its silence on national defence, and has enunciated a more detailed policy. Some people would like to see Australia hopelessly defenceless, a gift to any aggressive foreign nation. I cannot understand that outlook. Our increased defence expenditure for 1936- 37 has been forced upon us because of the international situation. As a virile community we prefer to make provision for our own protection. Defence expenditure is a form of national insurance, a'- " cover " against the risks of international repercussions. I was surprised to hear this morning so well-informed a gentleman as Senator Collings contending that Australia's isolation is its best protection. The contrary is the case : modern development in aviation has so completely nullified that isolation that it becomes imperative for us to establish an efficient air defence force backed up by mobile land forces. The militia is our home defence army. Under the Defence Act not one militia man can be sent beyond our shores for military service elsewhere without the approval of this Parliament and the people. Voluntary service overseas is distinct altogether- from service within Australia in time of war. Under section 59 of the Defence Act every male inhabitant, if he be a British subject, eighteen years and over, is liable, in time of war, for service in Australia's home defence forces. There are, to-day, approximately 1,250,000 male persons of military age in the Commonwealth, yet comparatively few are fitting themselves to perform that obligatory service should it ever be necessary to put this section of the Defence Act into operation. It is folly to think that the existing nuclei of the three defence services - army, navy and air - can be expanded, in the time an aggressor would allow, into an effective fighting force without a reserve personnel built up over a number of years. Bravery, the reputation of the Australian Imperial Force, and a smug sense of superiority over peoples, who are trained to defend their native lands, are no substitutes for a reserve of trained personnel under trained leaders. How many militia men remain long enough with their units to be classed as trained soldiers ? Ridiculously few. The. continuous flow of " ins " and " outs " is a drawback to the education of leaders and specialists. To their credit, however, an enthusiastic band of officers and noncommissioned officers have carried on, despite this difficulty, and have reached a reasonable standard of efficiency, though not so high a standard as could be attained if the ranks of the militia were complete during tlie whole period of three years for which each member lias enlisted. A minimum of 35,000 is generally accepted as an adequate nucleus for the training of Australia's home defence army. This number has never been reached since universal military training was suspended in 1929, when 4S,000 were in training. The special recruiting drive to raise the strength of the militia from 26,000 on the 1st July last to 35,000 is reported to be proceeding satisfactorily. The success of the drive, however, can be judged only by the increase of the strength of the infantry battalions. There is no difficulty in filling the ranks of the other arms of the service. Three-fifths of a modern army are infantry. They are the backbone of a fighting force, the spearhead, and thrusting power of an army. The rapid strides made in air offence are counter-balanced by equally effective air defence; nothing can beat infantry but better infantry. If the opening up of country centres to fill the ranks . of metropolitan infantry battalions fails to produce, and maintain the required numbers, then there is no alternative but to revert to the more democratic system of universal training. However, it is the duty of every one to give the voluntary system one last fair trial.

There are too many undersized young fellows in the militia; too many undeveloped youths are offering. Their unsatisfactory physical condition may be attributed partly, but not entirely, to lack of nourishment during the depression years. Prior to 1932 the percentage of rejects on medical grounds, which include chest and height standards, was far too high. The hearts of these young men are in the right place. They are keen enough but do 'not measure up to required standards. I suggest that none should be rejected; all of them should be drafted into groups for a six-months, or twelve-months' course of physical training. It is a moot point whether such training should he undertaken by the Health Department' or by the Defence Department. The latter seems the more preferably, because it has all of the necessary facilities available to it. The young men likely to undergo such training voluntarily are potential militia recruits. A course under trained physical instructors would be of national value, and its cost would be inconsiderable. Tlie youths who undergo the training might be allowed rail and tram fares to and from the various drill halls in the metropolitan areas. Country lads are not so much in need of setting-up exercises as are city lads. The Minister for Defence should investigate this suggestion ; a healthy young manhood is an asset, from which we will reap benefits later through a reduction of invalid pensions expenditure.

Despite our feverish anxiety to bring the militia up to 35,000, not one additional penny has been allotted on the Estimates for the encouragement of regimental rifle clubs. If these clubs had received more consideration in the past there would have been no necessity now to open up new country centres in order to keep metropolitan infantry battalions up to strength. Under the Financial Emergency Act 1931, the allowance of 2s. Gd. for each effective member per annum was reduced to ls. 6d. That was five years ago, and it is still ls. 6d. This reduction hits hard the enthusiastic young militia rifleman. It would not cost more than £500 to restore this allowance. Out of its annual allowance each club has to pay markers' fees, prizes for periodical rifle and Lewis gun competitions, besides administrative expenses. When the compulsory or universal system was in force, hundreds of trainees joined the rifle club of their battalion or unit" Rifle shooting was a phase of their training which appealed to them most; it had a. sporting flavour. The average young Australian likes keen competitive sport. When that recreation is of national value it should be encouraged especially when it tends to hold the young militiaman and make him less anxious to seek his discharge before his three years' term of enlistment has expired. The Minister for Defence is very optimistic about the number and calibre of the infantry recruits in country centres. They will be keen enough for a year perhaps, but eventually their enthusiasm will wane if small arm training be restricted to the drill ground.

Whilst on defence matters I desire to commend the Government for providing a sum of . £18,000 this year for the partial restoration of free ammunition to reserve or civilian rifle clubs. Much of that ammunition is the ancient mark VI. stuff. Some day there will be a serious accident with this pre-war ammunition, and the Government will have to pay heavy compensation. I again urge complete restoration of the annual grant of 200 rounds of mark VII. ammunition of the type which we used in the Great War. Australia, with advantage might follow South Africa's policy of encouraging these semi-military clubs. With a white population of 2,000,000, the number of effective white rifle club members in that country last year was 120,000 ; Australia, with nearly 7,000,000 whites, had only 47,000. Of that number 7,000 belonged to regimental rifle clubs. There is a desire amongst rifle club members all over the Commonwealth for instruction and practice in the lewis gun, or in the Bren gun, when it is adopted. This shows commendable enthusiasm on the part of these reservists to fit themselves to take their places in the ranks of our home defence army in time of national emergency. Laudable though the desire may foe, however, the care and custody of such weapons, the increased numbers that would be required, apart altogether from the greatly increased amount of ammunition involved, are factors which make such' training impracticable.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Could not a few of those guns be supplied at selected centres?

Senator BRAND - Ammunition is the big problem. If the supply for ordinary rifles cannot be kept up, how can we provide it for guns which fire 120 rounds a minute?

Senator Marwick - There may be no necessity for firing practice.

Senator BRAND - In that case the men would soon get tired of dismantling and re-assembling the gun.

In certain quarters, the necessity for standardizing our railway gauges has been stressed as a part of any government's defence policy. The disadvantages of existing breaks of gauge are not. nearly so great as they might appear at first sight. The enforced stops could be used for resting troops, feeding, watering and exercising horses. Even if there were a change to the standard 4-ft.8½-in. gauge, the existing capacity of our railways is not sufficient to enable our troops to be shifted at as rapid a rate as would be necessary. What is needed is the duplication of the whole or sections of the lines that are likely to be used, the laying down of subsidiary or alternative lines, the provision of more cross-overs, and greater facilities for loading and unloading. Even with a standardized gauge, these improvements would still be required in order that the maximum number of trains could be run every 24 hours. The matter is worthy of consideration, because of the employment that would be provided for a considerable number of men. Many persons have not the faintest conception of the size of an infantry division, with all its technical units and impedimenta, under war conditions. To shift a division, 100 trains are needed. Our field army will consist of five such divisions and two cavalry divisions. Something more than road transport would be required to shift those troops quickly, because the majority of them would have to be transported in a limited space of time to some important centre of operations. Sound strategy dictates that the objective of an enemy must be against some centre or centres, the loss of which would vitally affect our national life. Notwithstanding the development of road transport and the improvement of our roads, that means can never displace the railways for the transport of large masses of men and supplies. Considerable importance is placed by some persons on the development of air navigation. That need not be seriously considered; it is less useful than road transport. Its use would be confined to the conveyance of a small detachment with light equipment to someimportant selected spot. For strategical moves, air transport is out of the question. The Commonwealth is fortunate in having an Australian War Railway Council, of which the Commonwealth and State Railways Commissioners are members. Any recommendations that this body may make should, I think, be embodied in our defence policy and be given effect, because one result would be to provide employment for thousands of men.

Ex-soldier members of this Parliament regret no less than do others the necessity for this year's rather big expenditure on defence. We see even in this chamber to-day the effects of war on men who served in my brigade on the western front. That brigade, with other brigades, participated in some of the most terrible battles of the last war, and in it were no -fewer than eight holders of the Victoria Cross. Can it be said that Senator Sampson, Senator 'Cooper, both of whom arc ex-soldiers, or any other honorable senator, desires a repetition of those days from 1914 "to 1918? One would think that the colossal human wastage of those years, and the aftermath of misery and human wreckage, would cause all nations to hesitate to precipitate a similar conflict. Unfortunately, the road to peace seems to be deserted. We and the Empire generally owe it to those who are coming after us to keep our eyes on that peace road; but, at the same time, we must keep our lantern alight.

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