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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) . - I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister representing; the Minister of Defence, a matter which, while, it in no way affects him personally, is one that I think may eventually exercise a very serious effect upon the discipline of the great Department over which he presides.

The Minister knows that the one essential in his Department is discipline, and the only way in which it can be obtained is by an absolutely loyal adherence to the spirit and letter of the regulations governing the Department. If a subordinate officer or man in the Defence Forces transgresses the regulations he is invariably given a very short shrift. Very properly the heads of Departments are firm upholders of the regulations; but if it is necessary for the heads of Departments to insist upon their subordinates upholding those regulations it is all the more essential that they themselves should equally honour them. The matter which I am about to bring under the notice of the Minister is not, in itself, one of a very vital nature, except that it does evidence a disregard for the regulations which no high officer of the Defence Department should exhibit. Today, with, a view to imposing some check upon breaches of the regulations, I asked a number of questions in this House. I asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence whether there were any regulations dealing with the relations which officers may have with the press, and. if so, whether he would lay a copy of them upon the table of the House. The Minister replied that there were such regulations, and he did lay a copy of them upon the table. I then inquired whether officers were free to grant interviews to the press if they so desired, to which the Minister replied that they were not. I further asked if a certain officer had been granted permission to give information relating to his recent mission to England to a certain newspaper. The Minister replied that he had not been granted such permission. Finally, I asked whether the Minister would take steps to see that there was no recurrence of the episode. His reply forms the subject-matter of my present complaint. He stated that he was not aware that the officer in question had infringed the regulations.

Mr Ewing - It was not a wry bad infringement in any case.

Mr KELLY - I will read the regulations governing the Naval Forces of the Commonwealth, and allow the Minister himself to be the judge of that. Regulation 163 reads -

Members of the Naval Forces are forbidden to publish or communicate to the press any information -

Any information ! without special authority, either directly or indirectly. They will be held responsible for all statements contained in communications to their friends, which may subsequently be published in the press.

Here was an officer of high standing in the Naval Forces of the Commonwealth actually granting an interview to a representative of the Agc newspaper without special authority - an interview which extended over three-quarters of a column.

Mr Crouch - How does the honorable member know that he did it without authority ?

Mr KELLY - The Minister has said so. The next regulation bearing upon this matter reads -

They are not to attempt to prejudge questions under investigation by the publication, anonymously or otherwise, of their opinions.

I have been compelled to bring this matter forward because of the Minister's statement that he is not aware that there has been any transgression of the regulations. Surely he must recognise that it is absolutely essential that all officers of the Defence Department should know that it is not their duty to have any dealings whatever with the press.

Mr Fisher - Would the honorable member allow them to hold private conversations which might find their- way into the press ?

Mr KELLY - I am merely discussing the regulations at the present moment. The officers themselves must uphold those - regulations if they expect them to be upheld by others.

Mr Fisher - If the regulations were absolutely wrong, an officer should obey them.

Mr Lonsdale - There should be the same law for the officer as for the private.

Mr KELLY - Exactly. My point is that high officers in the Defence Department should not disobey the regulations which they are sworn to administer.

Mr Crouch - The regulation to which the honorable member has referred is usually interpreted as meaning "information which is detrimental to the service."

Mr KELLY - I do not think that is so, because it is a very rare occurrence indeed for us to read press interviews with officers. But I ask the honorable and learned member for Corio who is to be the judge of what is detrimental to the service? Is it to be the Government, or are we to allow every officer and private to decide the matter for himself? Obviously, such a regulation would be impossible in its working, because under it every man' would be the judge of what information if was proper for him to give to the press, and the result would be that in a very short time every secret in the possession of the Defence Department would be at the disposal of every one outside. The next point which I desire to discuss is one in regard to which the Government are distinctly blamable. It is a matter upon which we may justifiably ask for some explanation. As honorable members are aware, during the recess the Government took it upon themselves to send the Naval Director to England for the purpose of gaining certain information. Whilst he was in the mother country it was obviously to the benefit of the Commonwealth that he should gain as much information as possible. My quarrel with the Government is that thev recalled the officer in question without affording him an opportunity of attending the Imperial Naval manoeuvres, which were held this year. That is a point on which I wish the Minister to give a full explanation. The honorable gentleman must recognise that the experience which our Naval Director would have gained by attending the Imperial manoeuvres would have been invaluable to the Commonwealth'.

Mr Salmon - How would it be invaluable?

Mr KELLY - The honorable member does not seem to think that there is any value in naval manoeuvres.

Mr Salmon - Yes, I do.

Mr KELLY - I can assure honorable members that attendance at naval manoeuvres is a privilege anxiously sought by sailors in every part of the world.

Mr Salmon - What advantage would the Commonwealth gain ?

Mr KELLY - At the present time we have a Naval Director who has not for very many years been at sea. He is a very valuable officer, but his value would be enhanced by sea experience.

Mr Glynn - Judging by reports, a good many of our officers are always " at sea " !

Mr Salmon - I suppose the honorable member for Wentworth means experience at sea with the Commonwealth fleet - the Protector, for instance.

Mr KELLY - The honorable member for Laanecoorie does not seem to realize that the Naval Director is proposing a scheme of torpedo flotillas for the Commonwealth, and that the combined movement of torpedo craft and large ships of war is one of the most delicate operations in naval manoeuvring. I have been told by naval officers in the Imperial service that they would infinitely rather not have torpedo boats on their side when manoeuvring than have to operate with torpedo boats in the handling of which they had not entire confidence. That, I think, answers the honorable member's interjection. It is essential, if we are to have torpedo flotillas - and I am opposed to them - that the commander should at least have had some recent knowledge of naval manoeuvres. The Naval Director had an opportunity while in. England to attend the Imperial manoeuvres, and I think the Government did not act wisely in recalling Captain Creswell so soon. The Minister knows that Captain Creswell was invited, and actually accepted the invitation ; and yet we find him hastily recalled, and missing an invaluable opportunity to fit himself for his high office. To turn to another subject, will the Government take into their serious consideration the advisability of instituting in Australia some examination similar, or corresponding, to the English examination for " tactical fitness to command " ? It is now the avowed intention of the Government - and I have no quarrel whatever with that avowed policy as expressed - to give " preference " to Australians in all appointments in the Australian service. I say, advisedly, " preference to Australians," not the employment of Australians exclusively.

Mr Ewing - Preference to Australians, provided they are fit.

Mr KELLY - Provided they are fit. The only way in which we can make our officers fit to hold the high positions to which they aspire is to call upon them to pass the highest and stiffest examination extant. Some of our appointments' are extremely important. Take, for instance, the high office of Inspector-General. It has been lately urged in the press that the appointment is not an Executive appointment in the technical sense, but an appointment more of a> staff nature than anything else. But I refer honorable members to the explanation of the late Minister of Defence, on the 2nd November, 1904, in this House, as to one of the probable duties of the Inspector-General. The present Treasurer had asked the then Minister of Defence who would take charge of the Forces in time of war, and the reply was -

In time of war the man who should be placed in command of our Forces is the man who knows, so to speak, the individual capacity of the members of the Defence Forces. The man who knows what the officers can do, and what the men can do, is the man who should command, because he knows to what extent he can try them. The man who best knows that is the Inspector-General. Therefore, he would be Commander-in-Chief in time of war.

The then Minister of Defence meant to qualify, and, I think, afterwards did qualify, that statement by saying that the InspectorGeneral would probably be CommanderinChief. There, we see, an enormous responsibility which may devolve on the Inspector-General in time of need. Knowing that he will have to incur, in all probability, that enormous responsibility, it is not too much to ask the Government to be extremely careful to see that Australian officers have an opportunity to pass such an examination as will fit them to undertake it.

Mr Crouch - The suggested InspectorGeneral for Australia has passed much more severe examination's than has the English officer in a similar position.

Mr KELLY - I do not wish to deal with persons or personalities ; this is entirely a question of general policy. I think the best method - and honorable members will see the force of what I say - would be for the Ministry to consider the matter in their corporate capacity. It is not the fault of Australian officers that th'ey have not passed such examinations, and they may take it as some bar in the way of their progress that there are examinations of the kind in other parts of the world.

Mr Salmon - Some of the biggest failures are those who have passed the examinations.

Mr KELLY - And some of the worst fools are those who have not passed them. The remark of the honorable member for Laanecoorie is one made in regard to all professional examinations - that examinations are a test not of ability, but of knowledge. We may find fools passing the examinations - that is, people who are clever only at examinations - but, on the other hand, the men who cannot pass them have not the knowledge requisite for high office. If an officer has not the knowledge on paper he will not have it on the field. , The examination, for practical fitness to command! is an examination of more than a man's mental fitness and understanding. I know I am speaking vaguely ; and I only wish I had the papers before me. At any rate, all officers of the Imperial service^ who aspire to positions of any importance, are asked to pass that examination.

Mr Crouch - And so are officers in Australia.

Mr KELLY - Australian officers are not examined in " tactical fitness to command."

Mr Crouch - All above the rank of major have to pass the examination.

Mr KELLY - They have to pass for lieutenant-colonel.

Mr Crouch - That includes practical fitness to command.

Mr Salmon - What is the point of this particular examination?

Mr KELLY - It is a more severe examination than that for lieutenant-colonel. It deals not only with the manoeuvring of large bodies of men, but with questions of supply and so forth; it is really an important examination which fits a, man to hold an independent command.

Mr Crouch - That examination deals with the manoeuvring of a regiment, whereas the Australian examination deals with the manoeuvring of a brigade, which is higher still.

Mr KELLY - That is not the point. The examination, in England is, I understand, to test a man's fitness to exercise an independent command. An officer in command of a brigade may very easily be a subordinate officer; indeed!, in most cases I think he is.

Mr Crouch - Subordinate to whom?

Mr KELLY - To the General commanding a division or whatever the force is.

Mr Crouch - We have no divisions in Australia.

Mr KELLY - The honorable member is surely rather exaggerating the unimportance of the Australian forces, if he means that a brigade is the full strength that will be ever placed in the field.

Mr Crouch - We have never, at any time, drilled as divisions in Australia.

Mr KELLY - That does not in any way get rid of the fact that if ever our forces are to go into the field, and to be of any use, it must be in greater strength than one brigade. However, I do not wish to be led into an academic discussion on a subject in which the honorable member is proficient. I was going to deal with those who had risen to high positions before it was necessary to pass an examination for lieutenant-colonel, but, perhaps, it might be invidious to say anything on the subject. I think we may take it for the moment that the officers who have qualified under the old system are fully capable to fill their positions. For my part, I should prefer to think that the Australian officers already in the Forces are worthy in all respects, but the suggestion I am making is intended for Ministerial consideration in order that the status of Australian officers may, if possible, be improved.

Mr Salmon - The late General Officer Commanding promoted all these officers.

Mr KELLY - I do not wish to question their general competence to hold their positions.

Mr Salmon - The honorable member could not very well do so, in face of the promotions made by Major-General Hutton.

Mr KELLY - One might do so in some cases, but I have no wish to go into contentious matters.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How is it that these honorable members have all swung round to Colonel Hoad?

Mr KELLY - I hope that honorable members will not mention any names.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have a recollection of Colonel Hoad being criticised by some of these honorable members.

Mr Crouch - The honorable member should not point to me. I have always regarded Colonel Hoad as a most efficient officer.

Mr KELLY - When his name was mentioned in this House 1 said that, from what I had heard, I thought he was a very excellent staff officer, although I did not think he was good enough for this appointment.

Mr Salmon - I had in mind an officer in New South Wales, who could not pass the examination for a lieutenant.colonelcy. but was promoted by MajorGeneral Hutton.

Mr KELLY - I am not questioning any one of those statements, but I had hoped that honorable members would not view these matters from the provincial standpoint of Vittoria or New South Wales. I merely make this suggestion for the consideration of the Minister. The Cabinet should consider thees questions, and. except so far as technical matters are con cerned, should not be guided therein by the advice of officers who have not passed these high examinations.

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