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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I am very glad to welcome this measure, because, in my opinion, it is a step forward in the perfecting of our system of defence. It will put us in a proper position with regard to not only our own defence, but our relationship to the Old Land. Defence is not, and ought not to be, a party question. I am pleased that it has not been so treated here. The military defence scheme which Senator Pearce submitted when He was in a former Ministry was taken up practically by the succeeding Government, and adopted. Here we have the proposition of the Deakin Government to form an Australian unit as part of the British Navy adopted by their successors. I believe that our provision of one unit of the British Navy will tend to place the Commonwealth in a position of greater dignity than it has yet occupied in the matter of naval defence. I welcome this measure on that ground. In the civilized world, there is no seaman who stands exactly in the same class as the British seaman, because he is the product of generation after generation of training. Of course, I intend no disparagement to other people. I was very glad to hear the Minister of Defence say that, with the object of bringing them up to the same standard of efficiency, the training of our Australian seamen would be similar to that of British seamen. I am not going to quarrel with the Government for having reversed the policy of their predecessors by insisting that the cost of this naval unit shall be defrayed out of revenue, instead of out of loan money. But I rose chiefly to quote the speech of a gentleman who is eminently qualified to speak upon this question of naval training, because he has had a very wide experience. I am sure that the Minister of Defence will recognise the weight which should be attached to- his utterance, and will be glad to have it embodied in Hansard, so that it may receive as wide a circulation as possible. This gentleman says -

The personnel is the most important point in a fleet, and the education and training and discipline of the personnel are the whole end-all and be-all of a navy. I was stationed in Ceylon some years ago, when 4,000 Boer prisoners arrived there, and I heard an intelligent Boer general, who commanded one of the detachments, say, " Ah, the mistake we made in the beginning was that we did not make old Kruger buy a fleet." Buy a fleet ! You may buy ships, armaments, and machinery, but you cannot buy a fleet. Money can do almost anything, but all the gold in the world would no more buy a fleet than the moon and stars. It is the men that count. ' You cannot buy men. First of all, in the characters of the men you require certain qualities. You require courage, and self-reliance, endurance, and obedience. These qualities, I know, are in the breasts of all Australians, but, alone, they are insufficient. These qualities must be polished and developed - polished like the metal of a tempered sword. How is that done? It is not a thing of a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, or of two or three years. I tell you, you may build three battleships one after another on the same slip and in the same time that you will train one man to be a seaman. When I was engaged in the training service a few years ago we selected boys at the age of 16, and we rejected 35,000 boys every year in order to enter 7,000. You can imagine that, although the men in England are not so strong constitutionally as those in Australia, there was considerable selection, and the best only were taken.- From the ages of 16 to" 18 we were developing their moral qualities, from 18 to 20 their physical and sailorlike qualities, and from 20 to 23 the qualities required in the higher gunnery, torpedo, and engineer-artificer rating. Without these ratings you may have ships, men, and officers and not right an action successfully. It depends on the qualities of these ratings whether you will have success. That is where I want to sound a note of warning. Do not run away with the idea th;it it is easy to make th-se ratings. It is the most painful, tedious, and arduous process, wearying to all the faculties of the officers engaged in the training; but it must be done. There are few who can tell when it is done. One ship may look smart, and the men may look smart, and another ship and her men may not look so well ; but it will lake the eye of an expert to tell whether the men in one are inefficiently and inadequately trained, or in the other fully trained and disciplined. When the crisis comes, when the hour of the trial arrives, the slight difference which only the eye of an expert can detect, is sufficient to send one ship to the bottom in ten minutes, and leave the other untouched. It is training and discipline that tell. If training and discipline are inadequate, yon may spend money by millions and the result would be useless - absolutely. I might put it this way - an inadequately trained personnel is a terrible danger which is most difficult to discover until war actually commences. When a First Lord of the Admiralty took up his position, it was my privilege to preside at a dinner given to him by the naval officers, to congratulate him upon his appointment. We made speeches in which we expressed the hope and the trust that he, as ^ First Lord of the Admiralty, would continue to maintain the fleet, not only in its present proud position as the finest and greatest fleet in the world, but in instant readiness for war should turbulent conditions suddenly arise. The First Lord afterwards said, *' Why do you naval officers always want to be talking about war? It is 100 years since you fought a great battle on the seas." That is correct. We have had a little fighting here and there, and it is 100 years since we fought a great naval battle; but this is another thing which shows the confusion of thought - the astounding confusion of thought, for what do naval officers and fleets exist? I am as opposed to war as any other man ; but we exist for war, for victory, and for no other purpose. If we are inefficiently trained and inadequate in our knowledge and discipline, sweep us away ! It is far better. Then you know what you have to expect. You must "not rely upon anything in the nature of training and gunnery and torpedo instruction or discipline unless it is the very best. The very best is removed from the second .best by only a light 'degree ; but it means the difference between victory and defeat. That is why it is almost impossible to convey to the mind of a civilian what naval training really means. The discipline must be severe. At first it is severe, because the men are unaccustomed to it, but as it is carried on it is not felt so severely. The training must be strict anc! prompt. It is by slow, painful, and arduous efforts and constant striving for efficiency that a navy can be created. Anything less than the very best is no good at all. If it is not the very best it is worthless, and should be thrust aside. In the middle watch, when the officer is on deck with 300 men perhaps in his watch, the captain is in bed asleep. He might as well be dead for any effect he could have on the course of events which happen suddenly, and that officer has to think. Suppose a fire breaks out, or a man falls overboard, or the wind is rising. What should he do? He is constantly thinking of these things, and has the order ready instantly when the emergency arises. It is the same with war. Every Admiral on every station, is constantly thinking of war, and nothing else. It is his business, and what he is trained to do. He is thinking and deciding what he should do if war happened with that nation or with the other nation to-morrow, or in six hours' time. These things occur suddenly, and he must have these matters constantly in his mind. Yet people ask, " Why are these officers always talking and thinking about war?" If they did not they would be useless. Send them away ! Drown them ! Sink them in the middle of the Atlantic ! With this new navy of the Commonwealth, pursue your way steadily and immovably ; but let it be thorough. You will have good success and bad success. You will have unexpected failures in creating this navy, but you are at the beginning. Whatever you do do it thoroughly. The men you train, train them thoroughly, or they will be useless. A man begins training at 18, and is not thoroughly trained for gunnery, torpedo, and steam, and all the other exigencies required by the service in the highest necessary ratings, until he is 25. Australians are very intelligent and clever, and may do it in a year quicker ; but not much more. The training must be from 18 to 24, if it is to be of i.ny good at all. Avoid like poison the influences alike of society and politics upon your navy and the eventful' result, although it may be long delayed (because it is a wearying process - instructors get weary and require cheering, as your teachers do in the back blocks), cannot fail in the end to be satisfactory in the establishment of a maritime force adequate to the duties required of it.

I have quoted that deliverance because I think it is singularly appropriate to this Hill. It was made by Admiral Sir Day Hort Bosanquet, the present Governor of South Australia, on the occasion of the annual dinner of the Royal Society of St. George. The sentiments which he has expressed in that speech are those of a man who is thoroughly in earnest, who knows exactly what he is talking about, who realizes all the qualities that Australians have in them, and who only desires to make the very best use of those qualities.

Senator de Largie - I do not think there is much sense in the. suggestion that Kruger should have bought, a fleet.

Senator VARDON - That statement was made by a Boer general, and not by Admiral Sir Day Bosanquet. I believe that Australians will be found equally as capable of being trained, and of becoming efficient seamen, as are the British seamen of the present day. It should be our aim to make our naval unit as effective as possible, to render our officers and men as capable as are. those to be found upon the vessels of the British Fleet. I am glad that the Minister of Defence laid so much stress upon this matter of. training. Unless we insist upon our men receiving the very best training, we shall find that in the hour of emergency our naval unit will be a failure, instead of a success. I have no fear that Australians will fail to realize their duty in this matter of defence, and that they will do what is necessary to insure that the Commonwealth shall be represented in time of danger oy a thoroughly efficient naval force. I do not intend to discuss the provisions of the Bill generally, as Senator Gould has done. I recognise that in those provisions an earnest attempt is being made to establish a naval unit upon a sound basis, and to bring it up to a standard of efficiency, and I wish the Minister every success in his efforts.

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