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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr RANKIN (Bendigo) .- I recognize that the Government has been hampered in its works policy because of the need to prosecute an energetic defence policy. Though the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) tells us that we are being scared by threats of an imaginary foe, I am sure that he is too intelligent to believe it. Every one recognizes that Australia may be threatened with grave danger if we are not strong enough to defend it.

The Commonwealth will have to face the question of water conservation, in which lies the only hope of increasing our rural population. The need for this is emphasized by the drought which prevails at the present time over a great part of the continent. That water conservation is vital to our existence has been proved by the fact that the only rural areas in which population has increased in the last generation are those in which water conservation schemes are in operation.

I believe that immigration should he encouraged because, if we are to hold Australia, wo must occupy it. Recently, I travelled through the Northern Territory in company with the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen). In that part of Australia there are huge areas that could be developed by means of irrigation and which, properly developed, could support as many people as we now have in the whole of Australia. Northern Australia is at present our weakest point. We must occupy that territory, or it will be taken from us by some other nation that is prepared to occupy and develop it.

I wish now to discuss the report of Air-Marshal Sir Edward Ellington on the Australian Air Force. This man, after a month's investigation, made a report which, I think, was most unjust to our magnificent Air Force. I believe that we have the best flying material in the world. We have young men who, for some reason, seem to be at home in the air, and it was proved during the war that they were equal, if not superior, to the airmen of any other country. Let us consider the record of this man who came out here, and damned our Air Force with faint praise. He was Chief of the Air Staff in Great Britain in 1937. He came here, and declared that our air discipline is not good, though he was Chief of the British Air Staff, on the blackest day of the Royal Air Force, when they lost nine lives during the 1937 Empire Day air pageant, and when eight machines had to be completely written off. No fewer than twenty men were injured, and the only group that did not have an accident was commanded by an Australian, Group-Captain Goble, who was training in England at the time. He did an air-marshal's job for two years in England with great credit to himself and to the force to which he belonged, yet Ellington says that the flying discipline of our men is not what it should be. He does not state that for two years before he made that report Air- Vice-Marshal Nicholls, who is now in charge of the Eastern Air Command in Egypt, was responsible for the flying discipline of the Australian Air Force. While here Air- Vice-Marshal Nicholls received a salary of £2,780 a year, though Air-Vice-Marshal Williams, his senior, was receiving only £1,750 a year. This man Ellington was Chief of the Air Staff during the recent crisis in Great Britain, when the only excuse that Britain had for betraying the Czech oslovakian nation was that its air force was not up to standard, and that the air defences of London were so poor that the city was practically open to attack by any foreign power.

Mr Pollard - Is that why peace was made?

Mr RANKIN - I should think so. Peace was preserved at the expense of a nation which to-day is suffering the tortures of the damned. We should have every sympathy with Czechoslovakia, and be ashamed of the part that we played.

Mr Pollard - That is a reflection on the British Government.

Mr RANKIN - It is. The man who made this report was the chief of the Royal Air Force in 1937-38, when 201 men were killed in 105 crashes. In his report Sir Edward Ellington laid stress on three matters: First, the need to improve discipline. Well, the discipline of the Royal Australian Force for two years, as I have already pointed out, was under the control of an officer of the Royal Air Force. The only conclusion to be reached is that in future we should have one of our own men in control. Secondly, he advocated a better system for the training of pilots after the completion of the course at the Point Cook training school. A Royal Air Force officer had charge of that training. Thirdly, Sir Edward Ellington criticized the conditions of service in the Royal Australian Air Force. That is not a matter which the officers of the Royal Australian Air Force can remedy, although they are able to and do fight for improvements. Any remedy must be applied by the Commonwealth Government itself, because it is a matter of government policy. He also said that there was a grave shortage of flight commanders. That is admitted, but it must be pointed out that, when an air force expands with the rapidity with which the Royal Australian Air Force has expanded a shortage of commanders is inevitable. Flight commanders cannot be trained overnight. The Royal Air Force, when it was expanding rapidly suffered a much graver shortage of flight commanders than the Royal Australian Air Force suffers to-day. In some groups of the Royal Air Force in 1937, whereas there should have been 34 flight commanders, there were only seven. The Royal Air Force has been taking from the Royal Australian Air Force annually between 50 and 60 young fellows and it is appealing for more. Australian pilots have done well in -England, and a great many of them have become flight commanders after a short period of training.

Sir EdwardEllington reported also that the Wirraway aeroplanes which are being manufactured by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fisherman's Bend were unsuitable, but, while he was condemning the Wirraway in Australia, representatives of the Boy al Air Force went to the United States of America and purchased 200 of them for use in the Royal Air Force, of which Ellington is Chief of Staff. In these circumstances, what notice can be taken of his report?

Mr Pollard - Why did the Government bring him here?

Mr RANKIN - I do not know. The honorable member should ask the Ministry. In November last, at the aerial pageant on Flemington Racecourse, I saw one of the Wirraway machines that had been manufactured by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation - as a matter of fact it was the only one that had been up till then turned out by the factory - and I was particularly struck by its performance. If the disturbance which threatened at the end of September had eventuated, we should have been glad to have 30 or 40 Wirraway machines available.

Sir EdwardEllington's report contains many half truths about the Royal Australian Air Force, but he failed to mention one matter which reflects upon the British Government, namely, that the lack of equipment in the Royal Australian Air Force is due to the fact that the British authorities on every occasion have objected to our going to the United States of America to obtain machines and equipment, although Britain itself was not able to supply our requirements.

Mr Pollard - It would appear that Britain is jealous of. our success in developing our Air Force.

Mr RANKIN - I think that that is very likely. Our lack of equipment is the one great weakness of the Royal Australian Air Force. It has no weakness of personnel. The Royal Australian Air Force has in its service many able senior officers. Air Vice-Marshal Williams was in Palestine during the war, and I saw a good deal of the work done by his famous squadron, which was second in deeds and valour to none. The men who formed this squadron, all of whom were trained by Air Vice-Marshal Williams, won laurels for their flying feats. Some of them were absorbed into the Royal Australian Air Force, where they gained high positions. Their world flights and their work in Australia prove that they were a magnificent body of men. Air Vice-Marshal Williams, although he was junior to the commanders of two British squadrons, was appointed to the command in Palestine when the CommanderinChief of the E.E.F. Air Force, which was composed of three British squadrons and one Australian squadron, was sent to the command in India in 1918. No one would deny that for an Australian to achieve a command over the heads of senior men in the Royal Air Force, he needs to be of outstanding ability. To-day, in the Royal Australian Air Force, we have men like Goble, Anderson, De La Rue and Lukis, all of them group commanders, in addition, of course, to Air ViceMarshal Williams. Any one of them would be far superior to any man whom we could obtain from Great Britain to command our Air Force. There has been talk of an exchange of Royal Australian Air Force officers for Royal Air Force officers. We know also that with the expansion of the Royal Australian Air Force, there will be created in Australia . the position of Air Marshal. On the 14th September,- the Sydney Bulletin said -

To the disgust of Australian airmen, Royal Australian Air Force and Civil Aviation lads alike, Canberra is getting more Avro-Anson bombers from Great Britain. Some of them are " used " machines. The appointment of a British officer to command the Royal Australian Air Force, as the Royal Australian Navy and the Commonwealth Military Forces are commanded by British officers, is expected at any moment. Perhaps he, too, will be a " used machine."

I should say that, if we did obtain a man from the- Royal Air Force to take charge of our Air Force, he would not be one of the top-notchers, because Great Britain to-day faces such a threat from Europe that it would not dare to send one of its best men to Australia. The Royal Air Force is very willing to take our "best nien, but I fear that it would be inclined to send one of its " duds " here. I think that Sir Edward Ellington came to Aus tralia with the intention to make a job for some senior man in the Royal Air Force. We know that many men climbed to undeserved eminence during the war on the backs of the Australian Imperial Forces, and I hope that the Government will not entertain the idea of bringing a man from Great Britain to Australia to take command of our Air Force. I advise it to take no heed of Sir Edward Ellington's report. It must not allow itself to be stampeded into doing anything that will destroy the morale and discipline of the Royal Australian Air Force, which is a magnificent force and one of which Australia should be proud.

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