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Thursday, 9 August 1906

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .- It is a great relief to an ordinary member of the Committee to know that the speech just concluded by so torrential a peroration is not designed as an appeal to party feeling. The honorable member for Gwydir has told us that he has spoken solely in the public interest, without party motive, and, with no such object as the obtaining of votes. The honorable member said something about nailing his colours to the mast. If his political career stands for anything, the fittest place for him to nail his colours would be the political fence. He accused honorable members upon this side of the

House of masquerading as free-traders. He also accused protectionists upon this side of the Chamber, and upon the Ministerial benches of masquerading as protectionists. It is singularly unfortunate that this misdescription! should come from an honorable member who has been everything - a protectionist, a free-trader, and a Socialist - all within a short space of time. In 1891 the honorable member submitted himself to the Canterbury Labour League as a candidate for that constituency. Before his name went to the ballot, however, it was withdrawn, and he afterwards opposed the selected labour candidate as a protectionist. He was defeated upon that occasion. Afterwards, in the Marrickville electorate, he succeeded vd gaining, upon his own merits, the suffrages of eleven trusting electors. Subsequently he joined the Labour League, and was returned to this House. He now feels called upon to traduce many better men. I did not, however, rise with a view to making a party speech. We have' listened to some fairly comprehensive addresses, and I propose to speak as briefly as the occasion will permit upon a non-party question, and in a non-party spirit. I am glad to at last find myself in complete harmony with the Treasurer upon the matter with regard to which I intend to address the Committee. The right honorable gentleman made some statements with regard to the Naval Agreement, which show beyond the shadow cf a doubt that he, as the mouthpiece of the Government, is prepared to accept the verdict of the Imperial Defence Committee and stand by the principle of the Naval Agreement, instead of giving his adherence to the policy so recently advocated by members of the Labour Party. In considering the question of Australian defence, the first thing that strikes one is the extraordinary concentration of power that has been going on throughout' the world. Just- as honorable members know that this concentration has been going on in the industrial world, and that what I may term the tools of trade have been passing into fewer hands, so, throughout the world, the control of armaments is passing into fewer hands. One hundred years ago the armaments of the smaller powers were factors that had to be taken into account. During the Napoleonic era great efforts were made to gain possession of the armaments of the Netherlands, Denmark, and other small countries, and the motherland made immense efforts to counteract this movement. In those days the smaller powers counted for something, but to-day they are hardly worthy of consideration. The military power of Europe is practically now concentrated in the hands of tha Triple Alliance on the one hand, and the Dual Alliance on the other, with England holding the balance between them. There are smaller countries, which exist only because the time is not opportune for the larger powers to absorb them. In South America, there are a number of small powers which exist, not because of their inherent merits, but because of the Monroe doctrine, established bv 80,000,000 of our own flesh and blood in the United States, which insures the inviolability of American territory. Therefore, it appears that the sun of the small powers is set, awd I am prompted to the conclusion that, for this reason if for no other, this Continent must be, for all time, indissolubly bound up with the great Empire of which we form a part! What is Australia's position in the Empire? Up to the present, we have been able to devote ourselves to the development of our immense territory, without being called upon to pay any regard to the responsibilities of nationhood. We have never had to fight for our great heritage ; we have never heard a shot fired in anger, nor have we ever been asked to take part in the Imperial Defence Scheme. What is the reason of this ? Great Britain has had to provide for her own territorial integrity, and for the safety of her trade. Her only possible enemies have been centred in Europe, and as she has been compelled to maintain a vast fleet to hold the European powers in check, she has been enabled, incidentally, and without providing any ships or armaments for the exclusive defence of Australia, to afford us security. British armaments have been thrown like a cloak round the coast of Europe, and access to the high seas has been denied to any possible enemy that might threaten Australia. Under these conditions, Australia was right behind the Imperial shield ; but what is her position to-day ? She has suddenly moved from behind the Imperial shield, and has taken v,p a position far in the forefront. She is now an outpost nearest to the danger centre. We are very near to the new powers in the East, with one of whom we are fortunately in alliance, but with whom we can- not expect - although we may hope - to remain always at peace; and I ask honorable members to consider the changed situation, and to reflect that we now owe a duty to ourselves infinitely greater than any we have had to discharge in our past history. The people of the mother country will not have the same interest or the same concern in building war ships in competition with the new powers in the Far East that they have had in maintaining huge naval armaments against the powers of Europe, who offer greater menace of invasion. What does , all this mean? It seems to me that when foreign armaments more nearly approximate our own the great empty lands of Australia will be in danger of being taken from us, without our being able to offer anything but the most flimsy and hopeless resistance. That. I am sure, is a consideration with which honorable members will deeply concern themselves. What duty do we owe to Australia under such circumstances? Our own capacity to protect ourselves is likely to become comparatively less and less effective year by year. Alone, . we cannot hope to compete with the great Eastern powers. A mere comparison of our population with theirs should be sufficient to enable honorable members to recognise that fact. For instance, Japan - which is by far the less powerful potentially of the great powers of the East - possesses a population of nearly 48,000,000. The population of China is, roughly speaking, 400,000,000. At the present time, the Japanese fleet, which is only in its infancy, consists of 166 vessels, and there are 39 additional vessels at present in course of construction. In other words, the fleet of Japan - including the ships which are new being built - numbers 205 vessels. I mention this merely with a view to showing that we have no possible chance of standing alone. I have already pointed out the danger of Imperial slackness in this matter, and I ask what solution of the difficulty presents itself which is not in the direction of Imperial cooperation? What possible hope is there that a proper solution of the problem, from an Australian stand-point, can be arrived at if it does not lie in our being able to make a business arrangement with the mother country under which we shall insure that Imperial strength, in battlefleets shall always increase in the same ratio as the fleets of Europe and Asia combined? Unless we can enter into some such arrangement, Australia will not long remain in possession of the race which now occupies it. In suggesting that we should make a business arrangement with the mother country in this connexion, I wish it to be clearly understood that I do not mean that Australia should stint her own efforts in any way. She must devote herself to training her own men and to developing her own naval power. If her men are to be used in u co-operatve effort, thev must be trainer under the one control. The Australian contribution to any Imperial fleet - and I use the word "Imperial" in its widest sense - must be under a proper system of discipline, and under the same command as are the contributions from other sections of the Empire. To insure discipline in all the Empire's fleets, there must be one control, otherwise how can a commander know how to employ the forces at his disposal to the best advantage? There must be one control for the construction of the Empire's ships, or how can we know that the tactical difficulties of the commanders in manoeuvring them will not be immensely increased? There must be one control in the distribution of those fleets, or how can we be assured that, upon the outbreak of war, the Empire's efforts will be put forth to the best advantage? There we have the ideal of a co-operative Imperial navy. Some honorable members - especially those in the Labour corner - have been wont to ridicule the idea that Australia is unable to provide for her own defence. But I would point out that it is no more unworthy for Australia to seek to co-operate in a manly way, to her own advantage, with the people of our own blood overseas than it is for a trade unionist to combine with another trade unionist for a common purpose.

Mr Hutchison - The trade unionists will be called upon to fight the battles of the Empire when that time comes.

Mr KELLY - I am not casting any reflection upon trade unionists. I am merely pointing out that the honorable member cannot legitimately oppose the co-operation of Australia with the mother country-

Mr Hutchison - If the honorable member was not sneering at trade unionists, why does he accuse. the Labour corner of doing anything of the kind?

Mr KELLY - I cannot understand the observation of the honorable member. The ideal of a co-operative Imperial navy will involve some very serious modifications in the existing Imperial Constitution. Its attainment is beset with difficulties. But, although those modifications may be undesirable to a degree, some change is absolutely necessary. Australia unaided cannot defend her own shores. She must join with other people, and she can only join equitably with them by securing a modification of the existing Imperial Constitution. These modifications may be, for many reasons, undesirable, but they are none the less necessary on that account. Before many years have passed, honorable members will recognise that fact. I am afraid that this is a subject with which I am scarcely fitted to deal. Nobody has a keener appreciation than myself of my own inability to do it justice. Honorable members know that I have done my best to interest the leaders of opinion in the House in this all-important Imperial question. But I have not been successful in inducing them to take action, and therefore it becomes necessary for the rank and file to grope their way to the light as best they can. We have this idea before us as a beaconlight. We want to take all the steps we can to move in the direction indicated, even if we cannot achieve all that is desired at once. For my own part, I think that what we should endeavour to do is to extend the principle of the Naval Agreement in every way possible. I think that the naval reserve in Australia at the present time has a serious cause for complaint, and I do hope that the Government will do all that it possibly can to insure the extension of the principle of the Naval Agreement to this force, constituting the naval reserve of Australia as an Imperial naval reserve in these waters, trained on Imperial vessels at certain times of the year. If that principle be so extended, the naval reserve will be made greatly more useful than it is now. It needs extension in that direction, and also in the direction of offering facilities for Australians to rise to the highest grades in the service in Australia. These are extensions of the principle of the Naval Agreement which I hope the Government twill take even)' opportunity to have made as soon as possible. If they were made, the "burning question" of an Australian Navy would be relegated to the background. It is quite possible to do it. It is possible to use all the officers we have in Australia in our locally-controlled forces, transferred and made into an Imperial naval reserve in Australia. The only difference between themselves then and now would be that they would then be subject to the Imperial standard of discipline, whilst now they have a standard of their own under which they have to work. The first step would be to ask Imperial officers to make an annual inspection of the Australian forces, and to furnish an annual report on the state of their discipline. So much for the naval side of the Australian defence problem. May I ask for leave to continue my remarks to-morrow?

Mr Deakin - On the understanding that we finish this debate to-morrow.

Mr KELLY - Honorable members on this side have not been making long speeches.

Mr Deakin - As long as the honorable member does not interfere with speakers on his own side, I do not object. I think there are no more speakers from this side. How long would the honorable member be to-morrow?

Mr KELLY - Probably half-an-hour.

Mr Deakin - Why not finish to-night?

Mr KELLY - I do not object, but I did not wish to keep honorable members up at this late hour. I turn now to the second line of Australian defence. I propose to deal solely with the anti-invasion forces of the Commonwealth, and not at present with the coastal forces as they exist at the present time. I include, the garrison artillery and troops in the coastal forces. When we are considering the question of what forces we need in Australia for the distinct purpose of repelling invasion, it becomes necessary for us to consider when it is likely that these forces will be called into requisition. It is obvious that Australia cannot be invaded until the command of the seas has been lost. It is obvious, therefore, that our anti-invasion forces cannot be called into requisition until such an eventuality occurs. Our position in Australia is very much like the position of Great Britain. The British problem is our problem. Great Britain's second line of defence will be called into operation ait about the same period as our own. I have here the opinion of the present Secretary for War in Great Britain as to the position of the anti-invasion forces there. I quote from column 664 of the English. Hansard for the present session - volume 153. Mr. Haldane said -

The first thing we want is absolutely clear thinking about the purposes for which the Array exists, and the principles on which it is to be organized. That, perhaps, seems a. trilling thing to say, but it would seem more trifling to say that copy book maxims are useful things. Every error multiplies itself into millions. In the Army you are dealing with an enormous body of men under all sorts of complicated conditions, and if you are not perfectly clear what you want to do with these men, and on what principles you desire to fashion their organization, you may be involved in an amount of expenditure, and in a state of confusion you cannot realize beforehand.

He went on to say -

It was laid down with extreme clearness by the right honorable gentleman, the member for th'e City of London, on nth May last, in a speech to which we all listened wilh the deepest interest, because we felt it marked a new stage on the way to efficiency, that on the hypothesis of the worst possible moment of our military position, and on the calculation of Lord Roberts, accepted by other military critics, it would not be possible to attempt an invasion of our island with less than 70,000 men, and no admiral of the British Fleet would undertake such a task. That is the advantage of a strong Navy, and very useful when considering the cutting down of all unnecessary army expenditure. The right honorable gentleman,, the late War Minister, was of opinion that no foreign nation would care to land 5,000 or 10,000 men. If they did land 5,000 or 10,000 it would be no use, because they could not come subsequently and take them away. Such a number of merv might cause some annoyance, but they would alt be cut up, not one of them would get back.

He then referred to the essentiality of the Navy, and said -

Let us start then on the assumption that we are in earnest with this principle, and that it is now a continuous principle. It is the principle of the late Government ; it is the principle of the Defence Committee; it is the principle of the Navy ; it is the principle of the War Office, and the Army Council ; it is the principle of the present Government, just as it was the principle of the late Government. It is an accepted principle, and one on which the rule of clear thinking should apply. We have bed-rock fact here for the organization, of our defence.

That bed-rock fact was the predominance of the Navy and its efficiency to repel invasion. Mr. Haldane went on to say that, as the country's whole effort had been put into this unit, and as the country could not afford both a navy and a large army, it became necessary, in considering the second line of defence solely, to provide only such portions of a.n army machine as could not be constructed between the period of the outbreak of hostilities and such time as our naval supremacy might be wrested from us. He held that, if the country provided such portions of the military machine as could not be provided in a hurry - as could not be provided in the interval between the outbreak of war and the loss of the command of the seas - the rest of the country's second line of defence might be left until the outbreak of war. The position of Great Britain is entirely that of Australia. If the Government were to content themselves so far as our second line of defence is concerned with providing a truly efficient administration - and that we have not got at present - by providing either small arm ammunition and ordnance factories, or an adequate supply of ordnance and ammunition, and all the stores that cannot be supplied at a moment's notice, they would be doing all that is necessary at present. In such a case they might well leave the mere raising of levies to such a period as between" the outbreak of war and the loss of sea command would enable us to train them to be efficient soldiers.

Progress reported.

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