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Thursday, 15 May 1924

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) .- I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) respecting thf- excessive cost of the Flinders Naval Base and the inefficient method of carrying out the work, but it must be remembered that the Labour Government, from 1910 to 1913, and the Cook-Irvine Government, from 1913 to 1914, were both responsible for its construction. Unfortunately, as has happened in many cases where new works have been established, an absolutely unqualified person was appointed to carry out this work. I wish to give the honorable member, for Swan the credit that is due to him. When the Public Works Committee visited Flinders Base, the honorable .member was the first to draw attention to the unbusiness-like method adopted in constructing the wharf. Members of the Federal Parliament represent not only their particular constituencies and States, but the whole of the Commonwealth. It is not right for an honorable member to libel any portion of Australia, more especially its ports; The leading admirals and other qualified experts contend that Westernport is one of the finest ports in the British Empire.

Mr GREGORY - If a jetty were built 100 feet out from the shore, a depth of water of 40 feet would be obtained.

Mr FENTON - The honorable member is speaking of Hann's Inlet. It matters no? whether Admiral Henderson was right or wrong in recommending Flinders as a sub-base. A parliamentary paper, dated the 22nd April, 1914, and presented to this House during the regime of the Cook-Irvine Government, contains a report on the Flinders Naval Base by Sir Maurice FitzMaurice - one of the greatest engineers, I suppose, of the world, and a member of a famous firm which has supervised the construction of many of the great docks of the British Empire and Europe. Sir Maurice FitzMaurice stated in his report -

I have, after roughly estimating the works at each place, come to the conclusion that Hann's Inlet has been wisely chosen as the cheapest site for a naval base in Port Western, assuming that it is used for destroyers and submarines only.

At the time this report was presented to the House, Admiral Henderson and other admirals considered that a submarine base should be situated in still water. Since then, we have had! the experience of the war, and comparing the submarines of the two periods is like comparing a giant with a pigmy. The report continues -

Quite apart from the question of the work at the Base is the question of railway communication, mid in this connexion Ha mi "a Inlet gives better facilities than any other site. I have gone into the question of tho position of the Base at possibly some greater length than necessary, and I feci sure that the same points as I have mentioned have been carefully considered by others, but I felt it necessary to satisfy myself that thu best situ had been selected.

I admit that when the tide is out, 1 Faun's Inlet does not present an attractive appearance, but, at the time we were seeking a training base for submarines and destroyers, the experts agreed that Harm's Inlet was the best site. There has been considerable criticism of Flinders as a training base, but, credit for economy must be given to the Labour Government. Admiral Henderson recommended five or six different places in Australia as being suitable for bases and sub-bases. These included Sydney, Port Stephens, Hobart, Port Lincoln, Henderson, in Western Australia, and Flinders, in Victoria. Over £1,000,000 has been spent at Flinders Naval Base, and some of it, I admit, was wasted during the term of office of both the Governments I have named. Yet a considerable sum of money has been saved in the training of men by concentrating at the Flinders Naval Depot instead of establishing bases at tho different places recommended by Admiral Henderson. At Jervis Bay there is a college for the training of naval officers, and at Flinders the training of naval ratings is undertaken. I find myself in a rather peculiar position because the members of the Committee that investigated this question were practically unanimous in their recommendation. There was one dissentient, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley). Senators Barnes, Lynch, and Reid, and Messrs. ' Jackson, Mackay, and Mathews recommended the provision of extra accommodation at the Flinders depot for the lower ratings of the Australian Navy. Judging by the accommodation at Flinders depot, and at other places under the control of the Commonwealth, I should say that, if the premises were subject to the provisions of the Factories Acts existing in the various States, the Government would be prosecuted for overcrowding. I hope the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) will not press the. matter to a division. As the lower ratings of the Navy will be benefited by the increased accommodation at Flinders, this House might, well allow the motion to go through without calling for a division.

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