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Thursday, 28 June 1906

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Chiefly the officials who advise the Minister. When the honorable member for Denison occupied the position of Postmaster-General he looked into every application himself, and declined to be bound bv the advice of his officers in matters regarding which his judgment could fairly be exercised.

Mr Fisher - Why attack the officers? Why does not the honorable member attack the Minister? The officers have nothing to do with the policy of the administration.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I was asked how I account for the state of things of which I complain, and I say that it is due to the incompetence of the officers. The honorable member interjects in a very superior tone; but is it not part of our work to vote the salaries of the public servants, and, where the men at the head of affairs* are not competent, to single them out for removal from office? The Public Service of the Commonwealth is governed by incompetent men, advising incompetent Ministers, who have not the remotest notion how to manage their Departments on their own initiative. If one goes to the Department to interview the Minister, that honorable gentleman at once sends for his officers, and mere youngsters, of ages ranging from sixteen or seventeen upwards, are found advising him on trivial matters, which his own judgment should enable him to determine, without a consultation with under-strappers. '

Mr Tudor - Is the honorable member referring to the Postal Department?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Yes,- though perhaps the same remark would apply to other Departments of the Commonwealth service, too. Balmain has been spoken of as a district in which the postal service is as good as it should be, but I know that one can post a letter at Mosman, another suburb of Sydney, on the Saturday, and it will not be delivered at a place only 50 miles from the metropolis by railway before the following Tuesday morning. As a matter of fact, one Sunday a few days ago I sent a messenger from that suburb to the General Post Office, a distance of some miles, to post a letter to the place of which I am speaking, but, although he did so, and paid another penny as additional postage, the letter did not arrive until the following Tuesday. Indeed, I got to the place as soon as the letter did, although it was written to announce my intention of going there.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member must have used the motor of the honorable member for Wentworth.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I could have walked in the time it took to convey the letter there. This is not an isolated case. Who should be called to account for the maladministration which makes these delays possible? The matter is too trivial for the Minister to attend to himself; but

Supply[28 June, 1906.] (Formal). 855 should not the officer at the head of the Department in Sydney see that all under him are carrying out their duties satisfactorily and expeditiously, and that business like methods are being pursued. Similar delays occur in the transmission of telegrams, and one may sometimes travel 100 miles and arrive at his destination before a telegram despatched to the same place is received. The Post and Telegraph Department of the Commonwealth is badly managed. As a sample of business incapacity, I will quote the regulation issued on the 14th June last with respect to the payment of overdue postal notes. That regulation is as follows: -

A postal note presented for payment after six months from the last day of the month of issue, shall not be paid until reference has been made to the chief money order office of the State of issue, and shall be cashed only at the General Post Office of the State of payment, and on payment of a commission equal to the amount of the original poundage, for each period of six months, or portion thereof, beyond the first six months from the month of issue; the amount of such commission must be affixed in unobliterated and unperforated postage stamps of the State of payment to the face of the note.

Postal notes are issued in various denominations for amounts ranging from 6d. to £1, and are largely used by persons in the back country, where, being negotiable, they are frequently put into circulation, and treated much in the same way as are bank notes. Yet the Department says that if they are kept in circulation for more than six months a fine shall be imposed when they are presented for payment. What reason is there for imposing this fine? The Commonwealth receives a very high commission on the notes when issued, and it is certainly no disadvantage to the Department, but rather a gain, that they should be kept in circulation, whilst it is also a convenience to those who use them to be able to pass them on freely like other negotiable instruments. I have in my possession several postal notes, which I have held for years in trust, because I wish to hand them over exactly as I received them, and, in all probability, they will remain in my safe for five years to come.

Mr Ewing - That is a very rare case.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It is not a rare thing for postal notes to be in circulation in the back country for a very long period. I have seen New South Wales postal notes in South Australia and always advise persons having them to treat them as negotiable instruments. Personally, I never cash a postal note for a few shillings, because such notes are convenient to keep in one's possession. There is no reason whatever for the fine provided for in the regulation which I have read, and I hope that the Minister in charge of the Department will look into the matter, and see that the public are not deprived of a legitimate convenience. A good deal has been said during this debate about matters of defence. The honorable and learned member for Corio this afternoon asked this very important question -

Whether, in the appointment of an InspectorGeneral for the Military Forces, the Minister for Defence will adhere to his announcement that all appointments in the Australian Forces are to be made from Australians?

The answer given by the Minister representing the Minister of Defence was "Yes." Now, I am an Australian, and believe that Australians generally have as much intelligence as any other body of people in the world ; but the fact that a man is an Australian does not of itself qualify him to assume control of our Military and Naval Forces. Whoever is appointed Inspector-General should be a professional military man, who has devoted his life to the study of military tactics and strategy. He should be a mathematician, and an engineer, and not only have passed creditably examinations to test his study of text -books, but have proved on the field his competence to take charge of men. Will any one say that a man educated merely in civil subjects, even though he may have acquired a university degree is capable of taking command of the Australian Army because he has followed military pursuits as a side line. The Government seem to regard the Question of defence as a play-thing, notwithstanding that we have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in trying to educate our citizens in the art of warfare, and to provide ammunition in case of attacks.

Sir William Lyne - How can we do that under free-trade?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It might better be asked how can we do it under protection seeing that it is the policy of protectionists to keep out imports.

Sir William Lyne - The free-traders will not allow us to establish steel works here, so that we cannot make our own guns.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Does the Min ister think that we in Australia can make guns equal to those made by Krupp, in Germany, or Armstrong, in England? This country is merely in its infancy yet.

Mr Wilson - Did they not make a gun in Kimberley during actual warfare?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Are not honorable members aware that the man-o'-war now in Sydney Harbor - the Powerful - is the ship whose gun was taken and rolled away into the interior? It was that gun which did the work.

Mr Wilson - Not at Kimberley.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - No; at Ladysmith.

Mr Wilson - The gun to which I refer was made at Kimberley.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member speaks as though a gun were improvised in South Africa; but the only gun carriage improvised was for the gun taken from the Powerful, which enabled the English to hold their own at Ladysmith.

Sir William Lyne - Long Tom?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - No. The honorable member does not know his history. Long Tom was a French gun in the possession of the Boers. Evidently the Minister knows nothing about it. The Government seems to take some kudos to itself for announcing that in . future only Australian officers will be appointed to military positions, because they know that they have in the corner a solid band of gentlemen who will applaud them.

Mr Page - No, thev have not.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am very glad to find that the honorable member for Maranoa is an exception.

Sir William Lyne - He was at Majuba, so he knows something about it.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - He was, and I think we all respect him for it. He knows what it is to serve under efficient officers. He has seen his comrades falling about him. He has seen his officers go down. He knows what the smell of powder is. The men who have seen active service are those whom we must depend upon in time of trial. The rumoured appointment of an Australian officer to the position of InspectorGeneral has given rise to much jealousy and, I dare say, vindictiveness, on the part of military men. I do not know whether or not Colonel Hoad is competent for the position. I have read of his going out to Manchuria, where he had special opportunities of judging for himself as to the efficiency of the Japanese transport, and I believe, from reports which I have read, that he acquitted himself well, and did credit to Australia. If he is an Australian, has seen active sendee, and has proved himself to be a strategist, he will be well fitted for the position. As, however, I know nothing about his qualifications, I shall pass no judgment upon him. All that I have heard of Australian officers has been very much to their credit. I know of one officer who went out to South Africa, who was rather affected in his manner of speech, and was regarded as of very little account. But he acquitted himself much better than many other officers who fought during the war. It is very often found that a British officer who may have a good deal of affectation in his manner will prove himself in time of war to be a most efficient soldier. We must remember that Great Britain is a country whose military service affords great experience in little wars abroad. Her officers have many opportunities of seeing service, such as we cannot afford to our officers in Australia. We must go abroad for competent' men who are capable of leading soldiers, and are able, from their experience, to report upon the efficiency of the service at whose head they are placed, and upon which we spend our millions. I have no doubt that our own officers will give a good account of themselves in time of emergency ; but we must first make sure that the man who is placed at the head of our Forces has seen active service. What the Minister has to consider is whether the officer whom he appoints to be Inspector-General has had sufficient experience of service conditions.

Sir William Lyne - Is the honorable member qualifying for the position of the honorable member for Wentworth ?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member for Wentworth is here as a representative of the people, intelligently devoting himself to the study of questions that arise in order that he may pronounce a competent opinion upon them. I do not profess to have had any military experience.

Sir William Lyne - Then why is the honorable member talking about it?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am bringing to bear upon this question my common sense, and the results of my reading and observation. The study of the history of one's country and of other countries qualifies one to express opinions on questions of this kind. I have offered no opinion on technical military questions. I should not pre- sume to do so. But I may tell the Minister this - that several years ago when we were granting a sum of money for the protection of Australia, I delivered a speech upon which I was complimented by the then Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton ; and if the Minister of Trade and Customs is at all interested in reading speeches he will find that what I said on that occasion was proved to be absolutely true in the war which has since taken place between Russia and Japan. Although I speak as an amateur, I am giving the results of my own study- of authorities, and I am at least able to point to the fact that what I said on a former occasion was justified by events. We must not forget that we have had in our midst military men of high training and genius. We have had in command of our soldiers men of experience like MajorGeneral Hutton and Major-General French. It was largely owing to the training which our men received from officers of military genius who came here from time to time that our Forces were able to give .such a good account of themselves in South Africa. While we take credit to ourselves, we must not omit to give credit to Imperial officers. Now let me ask what the Minister of Defence has done, and is going to do, to encourage the cadet system and the rifle club system in Australia?

Sir William Lyne - He is encouraging them.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Let us see how the Minister is encouraging these movements. I was present in the Melbourne Town Hall a little1 while ago at the demonstration of the Boys' Brigade. They were excellent, intelligent boys, fit for anything. But I was informed that the Department had not sufficient rifles for them. The Minister does not even provide enough rifles to train the boys or the men. How can they learn to shoot and become marksmen unless they have rifles? Officers who have returned from South Africa have told us over and over again that it will pay us to give the members of our rifle clubs as much ammunition as' thev will use. I am of the same opinion. If we give our riflemen a sufficiency of ammunition with which they may practice we shall find, if a time of emergency comes, that they will render us such valuable service as was rendered to the United States bv her citizen army in the civil war. We had a more recent experience of the value of rifle shooting in South Africa. The Boers could shoot well. We found that out to our sorrow.

If wa teach our boys to shoot they will be better able to defend their country when they become men. When I was a boy I had not the opportunity that boys have now of learning to shoot.

Sir William Lyne - Perhaps they used to shoot round the corner when the. honorable member was a boy.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I suppose the Minister means that I would run round a corner and then shoot, but I think' that his experience of me does not justify that remark. I do not know when I am beaten, and consequently I am seldom beaten. There is a good deal of the Englishman about me in that respect.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is going to be beaten next time.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - If the Minister refers to my political campaign, let me tell him that it is about the easiest thing that I have before me just now. When I have once been elected for any constituency I have never been defeated in it afterwards. I have at various times represented constituencies containing most of the principal towns in and around Sydney, in municipal matters, and otherwise. I have retired for various reasons, but I have never been defeated in a municipality where I was an alderman or mayor. To continue the subject upon which I was engaged, let me say that only when the time comes to take up arms against an invading foe will the genius in strategy prove his worth. We have to think of a time when our officers and men will be brought to the test as to whether they are competent or not. It is eas\ enough to engage a man at a high salary to dance round the country and write reports. But a man who takes that position takes a responsibility. He sees ahead the emergency of taking the field against an enemy which might gain a foothold upon our shores. I remember the time when a fleet came into St. Vincent's Gulf and anchored off Glenelg. It was not until the people of Adelaide woke up in the morning that they knew that a Russian fleet was off the shores of Australia. The ships could have bombarded and taken. Adelaide. It must be borne in mind that there are other ports in Australia where troops might get a landing, and that then we should have to take the field. We must have a General competent to lead an army in the hour of emergency-. It seems to me that we shall' not get an Australian genius who will be inspired for such work as that.

He must first have had experience in actual warfare. If through our insular prejudice an amiable Minister should appoint an incompetent officer, who might lead our soldiers into a death-trap, the responsibility would rest upon us as the representatives of the people, to whom the Minister is responsible in this House. If he should put an incompetent man at the head of our Military Forces it would be through our fault that the slaughter would come to our kith and kin in the hour of emergency. I do not hesitate to protest that if the Parliament be a party to the appointment of an Australian simply because he is of our own rearing, regardless of military genius and proved resourcefulness in actual warfare, we shall have acted the part which a traitor would have us act.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is taking a lot of trouble over his speech.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Since dinner time I have penned a few thoughts', because it seemed to me that the time had come when an honorable member should stand up in the House and speak in the face of the frivolous action of the honorable gentleman, who regards as a mere joke the discussion of the merits of an officer at the head qf a great service, upon which depends not only the safety of the Commonwealth, but also the safety of the Empire itself.

Sir William Lyne - Hear, hear.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Does the honorable member mean to say that, if we in Australia were to allow an enemy to come to our shores and scoop the gold within our banks, we should not have assisted them materially in providing them with the sinews of war in the shape of the tens of millions of sovereigns in our coffers? Does he mean to say that it is not our duty to consider that aspect of the matter? How long would it be possible for a war to go on unless a country had gold and the means of raising it? One of the chief bulwarks of Great Britain is her means of finding the gold for carrying on war. It was because of the shortage of gold, and the impossibility of getting it, that Japan was ready and willing to sacrifice the opportunity of ultimately squeezing millions out of the enemy that she had under her feet. It was because, she would have been unable to continue the war long without making it clear to the world that she was embarrassed pecuniarily that she decided to do what she did. As soon as it had become known to Austria, Germany, and .other countries that were giving moral support to Russia, that Japan was bankrupt, how long would it have been possible for the Japanese Army to remain in the field and to continue to do the work which was before them ? It would have been quite impossible. An army cannot be moved like marbles. "An army moves upon its belly." How can millions of men be supplied with food unless there are millions of gold available to make the necessary purchases ?

Mr Watkins - Napoleon did.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member is now going back to distant history. The conditions which prevail now are not the same as those which prevailed then. I do not wish to go into a dissertation upon the different conditions and what was done by a Napoleon. We have to consider things as they are under modern conditions of warfare. The time of disaster is not the time for protesting. The time to protest is when the Government are on the eve of not only making a most important appointment, but laying down a precedent 'and putting up their flag by declaring that they are going to make these appointments from Australians exclusively. I have raised my voice against the proposition. I believe that an Australian who is competent is equal to any man, but an incompetent Australian is as dangerous as a man could possibly be. There may be a Stonewall Jackson in our service. If there be so resourceful an officer in the Forces, let him come forward and win distinction worthy of a general, and upon his return to his home we all may salute him as Stonewall Jackson was honoured on his return from Mexico. Hon,orable members who laugh at the name of Stonewall Jackson are evidently not acquainted with the history of that notable officer, or the position from which he was able to raise himself. I have given an instance such as we might have in Australia. Here is a man who did not distinguish himself particularity well while he was at the Military Academy, but nevertheless he was a military genius, and by his own efforts he brought himself to the front. It was not until, as he always said, men were falling around him in all directions, and his chief concern was that he might pass unnoticed by his general in the dangerous positions that were taken up, that he proved himself to be a genius perhaps equal to Napoleon, to whom the Minister referred before dinner. I singled out this officer because the Minister spoke about a Napoleon as an impossibility, but we may have in our midst men capable of acquitting themselves as a Stonewall Jackson if they were seasoned in active warfare. Do we not know that had it not been for the disaster of an accident, even the conditions which prevail in the United States to-day would have been very different. I commend those honorable members who laugh at the name of Stonewall Jackson to read the history of his life. They are not competent to discuss this question on- the floor of the House until they, are well versed in the incidents pertaining to the success of warfare during the period of the civil war in America.

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