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Thursday, 9 August 1906

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) . - I think we may all congratulate the honorable and learned member upon having made the best of his case; and if there is anything unconvincing in the argument, the fault does not lie with him. He has told us that the opposition to his proposal will naturally fall under two heads, namely, that of expense, or of coercion. He considers, however, that, whatever objections may be urged upon these two grounds, the extreme urgency of his proposal entitles it to the consideration of the House. I do not oppose the motion from any consideration of the extra, burden that would inevitably be imposed upon the taxpayers if the proposed scheme were carried out, because I have always held that money well spent in defence is money soundly invested. Moreover, I do not oppose the motion because I hold that the State has not the inherent right to compel every Australian citizen to perform military service. I think that the State has that right. The motion now before us was introduced last session, when its discussion was deferred, and I regret that the honorable and learned member has not had an opportunity to bring it forward at an earlier period of this session. The Prime Minister has only to-day given notice of a motion for the abolition of private members' business for the rest of the session - a motion which, although' I quite agree with it, will have the effect of preventing the full discussion of the motion so ably moved by the honorable and learned member. It is solely because I realize that anything to be said against the motion must be said now, that, with all due humility, I propose to make a few unprepared observations. I should like to ask the honorable and learned member what purpose the forces he proposes to raise are intended to fulfil? He has told us that the proposed training will have a very beneficial effect in improving the physique of Australians, and- also that the force of trained men who will be placed at our disposal will have the effect of preventing an invasion of our shores. On which of these grounds does the honorable member mainly rely? If he rests his case upon the ground that the proposed training will improve the physique of Australians, why does he not propose to debit the Education Department with the cost? The defence of Australia should not be hampered with the cost of training men solely with the object of improving their physique.

Mr Hughes - The physical improvement would incidentally follow from the military training. The country would have to be defended even if the training did not result in an improvement of physique.

Mr KELLY - Then I understand that the' honorable and learned member thinks that his motion can stand upon its merits as a defence proposal. Upon that point I join issue with him at once. In the first place, the honorable and learned member stated that the system he advocates has been adopted in Switzerland. He told us that the defence forces of Switzerland could be very easily mobilized, and that the system adopted there was in other respects highly beneficial. He did not explain, however, how it would be applicable to our conditions. In the first place, Switzerland has not chosen her present system of defence solely because it is the best, but because she is debarred by her Constitution from maintaining a standing army. Granting, however, that the present system is best adapted! to the needs of Switzerland, I would point out that that country has an area of 16,000 square miles, and a population of something less than 3,500,000. In other words, she has 207 persons to every square mile, whereas our population per square mile is only one and one-third - men, women, and children. Whilst it would be very easy to mobilize a universal military force in a small country having a population of 207 persons to the square mile, it would be a work of insuperable difficulty in a country like Australia. To form a regiment here under such conditions might involve the mobilization of all the males capable of bearing arms over one-half of the Continent. For these reasons, if for no others, the Swiss system is absolutely inapplicable to our conditions.

Mr Storrer - The same arguments might be used against the maintenance of a standing army.

Mr McCay - We have no standing army.

Mr KELLY - I do not advocate a standing army. With, regard to the guarantee which the proposed scheme would afford us against invasion, I would point out that the distances in Australia are too vast to permit of it being defended by means of a land force alone. The forces that we at present maintain are not designed with a view to repel invasions. They are almost entirely coastal defence forces - in other words, forces complementary to sea power. Forces such as the .honorable and learned member is proposing to raise would be of no use whatever for the defence of Australia against invasion if the command of the seas passed from the British Empire. The honorable member for Bass will appreciate the position that his State would occupy if the command of the seas were lost by Great Britain. In such an event, Tasmania would be an easy prey to the enemy, and would probably be the first portion of the Commonwealth lost to us. So far as the rest of Australia is concerned, the great bulk of the people are congregated in the south-east corner. If Great Britain lost command of the seas, it would cost us more to transfer our forces and forward supplies and ammunition to the scene of operations in an unsettled portion of Australia than it would cost a hostile power. Let us take the case of a hostile force landing in Western Australia. If the enemy held command of the seas, he would be able to forward munitions and supplies for the troops engaged in Western Australia at a cost of about 15s. per ton, whereas, even though we had a railway right through, our transit charges to the same place would amount to £4 or £.5 per ton. Who would wim in a struggle of that character - a nation of 50 or 60 millions under such favorable conditions, or a people of four millions waging war at such a disadvantage? Obviously, by the mere process of exhaustion, we must go under. Therefore, the true defence of Australia does not rest with proposals such as that put forward by the honorable and learned member - iri fact, it does not rest with any system of land defence pure and simple.

Mr Hughes - Where would the honorable member obtain men to make up his sea forces ?

Mr KELLY - Will the honorable member a'llow me to excise from his motion the word " land "?

Mr Hughes - Certainly.

Mr McCay - The difficulty is that the word " land" does not occur in the motion.

Mr KELLY - Then the honorable and learned member is making me a present of something that is valueless. He has spoken a great deal about Switzerland, and I should like to know whether Switzerland has a large navy?

Mr Hughes - No. It must be taken for granted that it is not required.

Mr KELLY - If the honorable and learned member wishes to see an Australian naval power built up on proper Imperial co-operative lines, I shall be willing to give him all the help in my power. The true defence of Australia must inevitably rest upon sea effort. In this connexion the honorable and learned member seems to have arrived at some alarming conclusions. He seems to think that, because theBritish naval power happens, for the time, to be concentrated in European waters, Great Britain gains some measure of safety from those fleets which we in Australia do not share. He declared that our dependence upon the British Navy must yearly become less and less satisfactory. . I quite agree with that statement so far as it goes. My only desire is to make the Imperial Navy a co-operative one, in which we can all take an equal interest. The honorable and learned member is, however, quite wrong in thinking that the fleets which Great Britain maintains in European waters do not protect us equally with the Home shores. The idea to which he has given expression has been very actively pushed in Australia by persons who should know the real facts of the case. As a matter of fact, quite recently there has been a concentration of naval power in the North Sea, and upon the northern coasts of Europe. The British dispositions have been made with a view to having an adequate naval force upon the spot the moment there is an outbreak of war. There would not be the slightest sense in the Empire maintaining fleets in the China Sea or in Australian waters if the ships which they were required to attack on the outbreak of war were 10,000 miles away. They must keep as close to the enemy whom they wish to track down as they conveniently can. The British Admiralty have given effect to that policy, and in consequence the honorable and learned member for West Sydney has mistaken their motive. In conclusion, I should like briefly to refer to the authorities which the honorable and learned member has quoted in support of his proposal. He cited the opinions of a number of very distinguished soldiers. It is a matter for general congratulation, I think, when we see a member of the party to which the honorable and learned, member belongs quoting the testimony of military authorities in opposition to the opinions of the parliamentary officers who are charged with the administration of Departments. The officers whose opinions he has quoted are certainly very anxious to increase the standing and the power of the purely land forces of the mother country. But the Minister of War, who is responsible to the people of Great Britain for their present system of defence, has in unqualified terms . denounced any departure from that system in the direction of conscription. In one of the ablest speeches ever delivered by any Minister in submitting the War Estimates to the House of Commons, Mr. Haldane explained his ideas regarding the form which the second line of Britain's defence should take. He gave the. strong adherence of the War Office to the principles of the blue water school - the principle of affording home security by naval effort off the enemy's coasts. He then went on to point out that, as Great Britain is the dominant naval power, an interval of from six months to a year must elapse after the outbreak of hostilities before her shores could be seriously threatened with invasion. He declared that no nation could invade England while she maintained her mastery of the seas, and he added that, under any circumstances, her naval supremacy could not be wrested from her, in all probability, in less than six months or a year.

Mr Hughes - Who said this?

Mr KELLY - Mr. Haldane, the Minister of War. The honorable and learned member is not pleased-

Mr Hughes - Why did he not tell us the number of days and hours during which England could maintain her naval supremacy ?

Mr KELLY - Probably if he had thought that there was anybody who was so capable of appreciating his views as is the honorable and learned member he would have gone even to that length. But he did not think that the ordinary member of the House of Commons required spoon-feeding. He pointed out that, inasmuch as the interval which I have indicated must elapse before England would be open to invasion, it would be possible for her - the moment war was declared - to devote herself to the training of the raw material at her disposal in time to convert that raw material into good soldiers before that crisis of invasion really came. He said that Great Britain's duty should be to concentrate her attention upon her main objective. He also declared that she could not do everything that might be desired in the way of defence. She could not afford to maintain a predominant navy and a supreme army. That being so, he urged that she should devote all her energies to the maintenance of her sea-power, only retaining as a secondary insurance against the risks of war a skeleton military machine with all the parts, which could not be completed at a moment's notice, permanently ready - a machine with all the necessary knowledge and staffs ready, but a machine, to use his own words, into which " the rills of men could flow " when the time for use arose. That is his opinion of England's necessities in this connexion, and her necessities are upon all-fours with our own. Our position is the same as that of England in all particulars, so far as the general policy of defence is concerned. I fear that I have already occupied a longer time than I had intended to occupy in addressing myself to this question. I deeply regret that I have not had as full an opportunity as I could wish to answer the case presented by the honorable and learned member. He has presented his side of the question in a speech of his customary ability, and after very careful preparation. If any member remains unconvinced of the wisdom of his proposals after having listened to his speech, it is not because of the advocacy which they received from the honorable and learned member. I have had no opportunity to prepare myself to submit the other side of the case, and if my speech is unconvincing - as, probably, it is - it is not because the merits of the question are not upon my side,but solely because of the way in which I have put it.

Debate (on motion by Mr. McCay) adjourned.

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