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Thursday, 28 June 1906

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .- We can all congratulate the honorable member for Maranoa on the fearless way in which he has expressed his opinions, even though some of us may not agree with him on all points; for he spoke from absolute conviction, and without ulterior motives. I wish to indorse what he said with reference to the way in which the Government have of late avoided giving straightforward answers to pertinent questions. To-day the honorable member asked a series of questions which, if they had been truthfully answered, would have shown how complete is the present disorganization of our Defence Department. The Government did hot hesitate to give evasive answers, in order to conceal this state of affairs. The extraordinary thing about the matter to me is that they actually seem proud of their powers of evasion. Indeed, the more misleading the answers given, the better they are pleased. It may occasionally be contrary to the public interest to answer questions relating to Defence, but, when that is necessary, the Government should accept the responsibility of declining to answer. No consideration of public interest requires a Minister to mislead the House, or to give evasive answers to honest questions. Not only are the Government prepared to ignore their responsibilities in this matter, but we have the admission of the Minister of Defence that they have suppressed information of the utmost importance. Speaking to an interviewer, the Minister said yesterday - to quote the report in to-day's Argus - "Why should the Council of Defencehave been called together oftener?" .... "They are a council that advises on questions of policy, and only need meet when policy is being discussed. During my administration they have met twice - on the same question. They met to consider Captain Creswell's report - the one recommending a fleet. Then they met again to consider the report of Colonel Bridges on the same subject. And the two reports were so diametrically opposite that everybody was in a fog.

The Government printed the report of Captain Creswell, and laid it before Parliament and the press ; but for many months past they have suppressed the report of Colonel Bridges, their own Chief of Intelligence, who condemned Captain Creswell's proposals. Was that an open way in which to treat Parliament and the country? The Government should not have printed one report without printing the other. Do they regard the question of defence as a party one ; or have they handed over their responsibilities in this matter to the Age newspaper? Whatever may be the position, the state of affairs is a sorry one, and, I hope, will soon be corrected. A good deal has been said lately about the failure of the Board system in connexion with the administration of the Defence Department ; but I ask honorable members whether the failure, which is apparent, has been due to the inherent defects of that system, or to the helpless administration of it which we have had during the past year. The first argument in favour of the Board system was that it would allow the proper allotment of responsibility in each branch of the Defence Department, while permitting an absolutely impartial report upon the administration of that Department to be furnished to Parliament by an independent officer. The second good point claimed for it was that it would keep Parliament in closer touch with the affairs of the- Department than would be possible if the system of a General Officer Commanding were retained. Its third good point was that it would insure a continuity of policy. On the other side, it was argued that, in a small service like ours, it would always be difficult to find a sufficient number of expert officers to fill the positions which would be created if the Board system were adopted. Parliament determined to adopt the Board system, and the best officers available here were appointed to the positions of InspectorGeneral and members of the Council and Boards. But we have not given them a free hand, and we have gone to no trouble to train up successors to them. The Council has had no opportunity to properly exercise its functions, and the InspectorGeneral has been hampered by the lack of necessary assistance. We have bought a ship, but have refused to equip it with sails, and now we are asked to raise the wind to direct a gearless vessel.

Mr Salmon - What assistance has been refused .to the Inspector-General ?

Mr KELLY - Ordinary clerical assistance necessary for the proper performance of his duties.

Mr Salmon - What clerical assistance has he?

Mr KELLY - He has one secretary, who travels with him ; but he states in his report that it is essential that he should have more assistance, unless he is to be turned into an inspector of units of companies, instead of an Inspector-General of the working of the Department. I recommend the report to the honorable member's consideration. In spite of the Board system, we have now no continuity iri our Defence policy, and, indeed, no policy at all. Parliament has less knowledge of the working of the Defence Department than it had before. Who is to blame for this ? Whose fault is it that the Council of Defence has met only twice during the administration of the present Minister? Questions of the most pressing importance have arisen this year which the Council should have considered in all details, and discussed with the utmost care. There was, for instance, the question of the adaptability of the Swiss system to Australian conditions. On the Minister's own showing, the Council has not considered that question at all. Why has the Council not met? 'Is it the fault of die Council, or of the Minister, whose chief anxiety is to get back to his native town every weekend? Whose fault is iti that we have no Defence policy? Is it the fault of the Council, which has had no opportunity to meet, or of the Minister, who does not possess a sufficient sense of responsibility to make him call its members together ? Whose fault is it that the administration has not upheld the regulations of the Department, and that the service is in a state of disorganization and unrest, because of maladministration? Is it the fault of the Board system, or of the Minister? I recommend that question to the serious consideration of honorable members. The blame for all these things undeniably rests with our method of choosing Ministers and allotting portfolios. The weakest man in the Ministry is, under present conditions of Government, considered the best to fling into the Department that most needs strength in its administration. This Government had but few supporters in the Senate - I think four all told. From these they had to choose two as Ministers, and to one they allotted this

Supply[28 June, 1906.] (Formal). 841 most important portfolio. Thus it is that the Defence Department has been reduced to such a hopeless pass. I do not say that the whole fault lies with the present Minister, because the Department was in anything but perfect order when he took office. I contend, however, that in considering a question of national moment such as the defence of Australia, it is necessary to be honest, and to ask " Whose is the fault ?" Does the fault lie with the system of administration or with the persons whom we have chosen to preside over the Department? If we do not like the system of control by Boards, let us honestly confess that we have made a mistake, and frankly retrace our steps. For my own part, I do not think that we have yet given the Board system a fair trial. If there is anything I deprecate in this connexion, it is constant change from one system to another, instead of having a settled system of administration. I think that, now that we have inaugurated the Board system, we ought to give it a chance of proving itself. If, after a fair test, it is shown to be deficient, by all means let us make a change. We should not, however, adopt an inept compromise between control by a General Officer Commanding and control by a Board. We do not want a " Poobah " General Officer Commanding, nor should we permit the Inspector-General of the Forces, as a member of the Board, to report upon his own work.

Mr Cameron - Is it. proposed to do that ?

Mr KELLY - That has been suggested by the newspaper whose wishes are usually law to the present Government. It has been suggested that the new InspectorGeneral should have a position on the Board. In other words, it is suggested that the Inspector-General should be the impartial critic of his own actions. What a hopeless subversion of the underlying principle of the Board system would thereby be involved ! It is the first duty of any Government to put our defencesin sound order. The Minister of Defence seems to think that it is not necessary for the Council of Defence to meet often. Questions of the greatest interest and importance in regard to defence matters have arisen in various States during the past year, and should have been immediately submitted to this great advising Council upon all questions of policy. When the Minister cannot see the necessity for frequent meet ings of the Council of Defence, he shows that he has no appreciation of the duties of his high position. Let us have no more of this nerveless control of the country's most important Department. I do not wish to say any more upon that point. The honorable member for Maranoa dealt at considerable length - and, I believe, as the result of the firmest conviction on his part - with the question of who should, in the interests of the Commonwealth, be appointed to the position of Inspector-General of the Forces. Like the honorable member, I approach this question in no personal spirit. I havemet Colonel Hoad - to whom I may be pardoned for referring, seeing that his name was raised by the honorable member for Maranoa - on two or three occasions, and what I have seen of him I have liked. I think, however, that personal regard should in all cases give way to considerations of public good. I feel that the one great essential is that the Inspector-General should be above all political influences, and absolutely fearless. If there is anything, to my mind, which weighs against Colonel Hoad, it is that he, more than any other officer in the Public Service of Australia, seems to make use of political influence.

Mr Ewing - That is not so.

Mr KELLY - I believe that what I am saying is true.

Mr Ewing - But the honorable member should be sure before he says it.

Mr KELLY - I am quite sure in my own mind.

Mr Salmon - Would the honorable member give us some instances to support his contention?

Mr KELLY - Does the honorable. member call upon me to give instances, when he notices that the Age is daily acting as the spokesman for Colonel Hoad?

Mr Salmon - That is not political influence.

Mr KELLY - The Age absolutely dictates the policy of the Government. Does it not exert political influence?

Mr Kennedy - I thought it was contended that the Labour Party ran this Government.

Mr.KELLY.- I think that the honorable member for Laanecoorie will be the first to admit that the Age exercises an enormous influence - an overshadowing influence - in Victorian politics. 842 Supply [REPRESENTATIVES.] (Formal).

Mr Salmon - I do not call the Age's advocacy of Colonel Hoad's claims the exercise of political influence.

Mr KELLY - Does the honorable member deny the influence of the Age in Victorian politics?

Mr Salmon - I am not discussing that point.

Mr KELLY - I know that the honorable member would not for a moment deny it. The Age has strongly backed up the candidature of Colonel Hoad.

Mr Salmon - That is press influence. Give us some instances in which Colonel Hoad has attempted to use political influence ?

Mr KELLY - Does the honorable member really want me to give him an instance ?

Mr Salmon - Yes.

Mr KELLY - Then, since I have been pressed, I shall give an instance, although I am reluctant to introduce personal matters into this discussion. I met Colonel Hoad for the first time on a railway platform, when I was on my way to Sydney, and he was on his way to Japan. I spoke to him for a few minutes, and liked him. I amnot sure whether it was a letter or a wire that I received from Colonel Hoad, before he left Rockhampton, wishing me farewell. Does the honorable member suggest that it was Colonel Hoad's intense appreciation of my personal qualities that led him to send me that telegram? The honorable member has asked me to explain what I mean, and I mention that as one instance. We do not want, in the position of an impartial administrator of the Defence Department, any one who pays any regard whatever to politicians or political developments. The InspectorGeneral must be an absolutely fearless critic of all that is happening in his great Department.

Mr Kennedy - That telegram appears to have affected the honorable member very considerably.

Mr KELLY - Personal considerations never affect me in the discharge of my public duty. There are some persons whom they may affect, and I honestly believe that some persons have been so affected.

Mr McColl - In future we shall have to be careful when we are civil to the honorable member.

Mr KELLY - I had no wish to enter upom this question, but the honorable member for Laanecoorie has forced me into my present position. Every one who has a good knowledge of the inner working of the Defence Department must be perfectly aware that what I say is correct.

Mr Salmon - What the honorable member has said will db more harm to himself than to Colonel Hoad.

Mr Knox - I think that the honorable member will be sorry that he put such a construction upon a kindly act.

Mr KELLY - I do not see how it is possible to adopt the construction that honorable members are placing upon it. However, I shall not labour the matter ; we can agree to differ. The honorable' member for Maranoa and myself feel that, when we see a powerful newspaper urging the appointment of certain persons, it is necessary to stand! up in our places in Parliament and say what we know about the matter. I do not care if certain honorable members feel that I have done something which does not reflect credit upon myself. I shall always stand up and do what I consider to be my duty, and, with all respect to honorablemembers, I cannot accept them as the keepers of my conscience in a matter of this kind. I wish to say this about Colonel' Hoad : I believe that he is a very able administrator, but I believe, further, that he is constitutionally averse to accepting responsibility.

Mr Page - He has always shirked it.

Mr KELLY - I make this statement with a knowledge of the Department, and without any wish to injure it. I think that Colonel Hoad is an able officer, and I hope that he will rise to a high position in the Commonwealth Service. But, whilst admitting all Colonel Head's good qualities, I contend that the disqualifications to which I have referred absolutely unfit him for the position to which he aspires. In conclusion, I wish to ask the Government if they are yet in possession of the report of the Imperial Defence Committee, or whether they have received any forecast of the report? I think that certain recommendations are sure to be made. In my opinion, the Committee are certain to recommend that we should convert a number of our slow-firing hydropneumatic ordnance into quick-firing guns.. The conversion of these weapons will involve a considerable amount of labour, and I wish to know whether the Government are taking any steps to prepare themselves for the changes which they know are sure to become necessary. One of the strongest

Supply[28 June, 1906.] (Formal). 843 recommendations that we have ever had with regard to our Defence Department was that made by Major-General Sir Edward Hutton as to the necessity for creating a reserve for the Royal Australian Artillery. I hope that the Government are not losing sight of this question. I bad several discussions with the Minister representing the Minister of Defence at the end of last session, and urged upon him a scheme for creating a reserve for the Royal Australian Artillery, practically without incurring additional expense. I should like to ask him whether he has done anything further in that direction. My suggestion was to utilize the anxiety which so many people in Australia evince to enter the Police Forces of the States for the national benefit. My scheme practically is to make some arrangement between the Commonwealth Government and the States authorities, whereby the one authority will give an undertaking to the States that will satisfy them that the men who are enlisted in the Royal Australian Artillery will be the type of men whom the Police Departments of the States require; and that, on the other hand, the Police Departments of the States will give an undertaking that they will always give priority of opportunity, when vacancies occur, to men who have been three years and upwards in the Royal Australian Artillery. Then my proposal is, that these men, having served in the Royal Australian Artillery, and having entered the Police Force of one of the States, shall continue on the reserve of the Royal Australian Artillery. One week in every year they would pass with the colours. The honorable member for Maranoa will agree with me, I think, that three years of training would be sufficient to turn out a thoroughly efficient gunner.

Mr.P age. -Hear,hear.

Mr KELLY - The men having been made efficient, a week's training every year would be sufficient to keep them efficient. The great point about this scheme is this - that in the Commonwealth, by a curious coincidence, we have our important fixed defences close to our great centres of population where the great bulk of the Police Force is stationed. So that the reserve of the Royal Australian Artillery serving in the Police Force of a State would be absolutely on the spot for service with the colours when their services were required.

Mr Cameron - Who would guard our cities if the police were taken away for a week?

Mr KELLY - The honorable member surely does not suppose that we should take away all the police at once. We should take them in batches for training.

Mr Cameron - A good many of them would be taken away from police duty, at any rate

Mr KELLY - We should relieve some of them, certainly. But my honorable friend does not seem to be able to see the bundle of hay because of the needle. His is the smallest possible objection that could be raised to the scheme. The one great difficulty is to reconcile the Federal and States Departments, and to induce them to work together for the common interest. But I am satisfied, from inquiries which I have made, that the States Police Departments will probably be willing to come into some such arrangement when once they are satisfied that the class of men enlisted in the Royal Australian Artillery will, in future, be the class of men whom they require for the police.

Mr Wilson - In case of any civil trouble, could not citizens be enrolled as special constables?

Mr Page - In England they prefer military men on the reserve for the Police Force

Mr KELLY - Of course, they do, and that, I think, would be the case here. The great point to remember is that it is impossible to make an efficient gunner in a day. A gunner is a highly trained man. You can create a special constable in a few days who will be quite good enough to tide over a week or two at a time of emergency. But you cannot create a gunner if an emergency arises.

Mr Crouch - Does the honorable member think that the Police Force should be reserved for ex-artillerymen?

Mr KELLY - I do. If we could do that, I think it would be the best thing possible for us.

Mr Crouch - I tried to get that done last year, and the honorable member voted against me. I tried to get the regulations altered for that purpose.

Mr KELLY - The honorable member is prepared to say that last year he was prepared to amend every regulation in the Military Department, but, as a matter of fact, Hansard shows that he simply proposed to deal with one or two matters.

Mr Crouch - I mentioned that matter especially.

Mr KELLY - Perhaps the honorable member will get up and explain his scheme. I do not wish to quarrel with him as to the method by which we should get these things done. Personally, I think that the Government of the day is the authority that should do them. I do not think that either the Honorable member or myself wants any kudos for this sort of thing. All that we want is to get our idea realized. This is a good thing. We can create a reserve practically without additional expense if only the Government will set to work to bring it about. I recommend the matter to the Minister's most earnest attention.

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