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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - The question of naval defence, so far as it affects Australia as a part of the British Empire, is so important that I do not think that any apology or excuse need be given by any honorable senator for proposing to discuss it. From the Imperial point of view, issues fraught with greater importance are involved. I do not intend to deal with that side of the question, but one cannot forget the fine speech of the Minister of Defence on these points. Nor can one drive out of his memory all that is going on in the world around, or which hinges on naval defence, without being inspired by a sense of duty, even if it is a mere echo of the Minister's own words, lo remind Australia how urgent it is to think of carrying out one clear policy with regard to naval defence. I prefer to approach the discussion of this question by pointing out some things which I shall not discuss. That our policy is being carried out by the present Minister matters to us perhaps not a fig. The question is, " Was our policy sound?" Whether it is our policy, and the presentment of it practically comes from another party, the fact stands out that it marks a sound restingplace and a sound, safe point of advance for the naval policy of Australia.

Senator Pearce - lt will be all the better if it belongs to no party.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am glad that the Minister has caught the echo of the spirit with which I approach the question. Whether it is sound policy to defray the cost out of revenue I shall not discuss now, because the proper time to deal with the financial question will be in connexion with the Budget. From many points of view the speech of the Minister of Defence on this measure gives a fine, intellectual, and historical warning to the people of Australia as to their duty in regard to national defence. We are beginning on the right track. There is one note, however, in the Minister's speech, and I detected in it a somewhat uncertainty of tone. Our relationship with the Imperial Navy is a very delicate and great question. It involves two things. What is our- duty to ourselves from the national defence point of view? According to the first law of nature, self-preservation is, perhaps, one of the first things we have to consider. The Minister considered the question in. that light, and put it fairly clearly before the Senate. But we have to consider the question in relation to the Empire, to consider, not only our separate duty of defending ourselves, but the bigger problem of what shall be, in time of war, the relation of the unit we are creating to the Imperial Navy. I will do the Minister the credit of saying that I detect a reason for the uncertainty of his tone. I can quite understand why any Minister with a sense of grave responsibility at this early stage in the building of a navy for Australia, and the formulating of a naval policy, should hesitate. On that point, if there is hesitation, may I, in the capacity of a mere senator, ask the Minister, the party on the other side, and the whole Senate, to listen to an historical anecdote. When the States of America were considering whether or not they would make the final act of revolt against the tyrannical oppression of their King; when the point was in issue, and they were wavering, a man got up, and, in order to help to decide it he said, " After all, I wish you to remember that we are determined to be a free people and free from that oppression. Now that you are taking that step, you must hang together or you will be hanged together." The result was that they fought and stood together. The application of the anecdote is that, so far as the formulating, the carrying out, and the perfecting of a naval policy from an Australian point of view is concerned, you have to remember that the Australian unit will be part of the Imperial Navy whenever the clash of war strikes the Mother Country or us. In a crisis, we cannot afford to separate ourselves for a moment from that Navy. It is well for us to-day, viewing the developments of historical movements in Europe and in the East, that that cardinal note of policy shall be sounded here, that we are one, that in a crisis we shall stand together, and, in the words of Patrick Henry, whom I quoted before, we shall hang together or be hanged together. 1 think the Minister's speech shows that he has conceived that idea. We may be taunted from the other side that this is an Imperial speech - a sort of high Tory Imperial tone - and that, by reason of that, it is more or less antagonistic to Australia. One has to remember the possibility of the taunt. I detect in the Minister's speech that he is not going to be led away by that, because, as I pointed out previously, we have a dual duty to perform because of our dual position ; that is our duty as almost a separate and independent nation in the matter of defence, and our duty to the Empire when a crisis comes.

Senator Lynch - The obligation is reciprocal.

Senator ST LEDGER - I thank my honorable friend for his interjection, which helps me along. How may we fulfil our obligation to ourselves and to the Empire? Probably, as the Minister has indicated in his speech, the best way in which we can serve the Empire, not only at present but in any terrible emergency in the future, is to place ourselves in such a position that our defence on the sea shall be so effective in our own immediate vicinity that even great Powers will think twice before they strike at us. I think that I detect in the .policy which has been outlined by the Minister, and which I hope he will pardon me for saying he has gathered from ours, that he is carrying out that idea. So far, his policy is, to my mind, sound and correct.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to- 8 p.m.

Senator ST LEDGER - When the sitting was suspended, I was referring to the importance of an efficient naval defence, both to ourselves and the Empire. A train of thought upon that aspect of the question was suggested to me by some remarks of my colleague, Senator Chataway. He was referring to the important part which the Imperial Navy had played during a critical period of the Boer War, when Senator de Largie derisively uttered the word "Kruger." I wish to cast no reproach upon that man's tomb. What is happening to-day? The Empire of which we form a part is building stepping-stones to an altar by which it may rise to higher things. Why is the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth representing us in South Africa if it be not to express this great Imperial ideal ?

Senator Rae - Bunkum ! He is there merely to express our good feeling towards the South African Dominion.

Senator ST LEDGER - I should not have . referred to this matter but for the derisive remark made by an honorable senator upon the opposite side of the chamber. I mention it because I hope we all recognise that we form part of a great Empire, and that, whilst it behoves us to do our best to preserve our national ideals, it is equally incumbent upon us to seek to make that Empire strong and self-contained. I trust that the unfortunate allusion to which I have referred does not receive the slightest indorsement from the Minister of Defence. It may be asked why I speak so strongly upon the Imperial ideal ?

Senator Rae - The honorable senator would speak strongly on the price of a tin pail.

Senator ST LEDGER - Senator Rae is no authority upon this question. I speak strongly upon it because I believe that our Empire is the greatest human achievement on earth.

Senator Stewart - The solar system is nothing to it.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am quite prepared to stand the fire of my honorable friend. Whilst I speak so strongly in support of the view taken by the Minister of Defence, I ask the press to note the derision with which the bare mention of the Imperial ideal has been received by honorable senators opposite.

Senator Rae - It is simply awful.

Senator ST LEDGER - I say that we must bear our share of Imperial responsibilities, and I do not know whether the Minister is easy or uneasy while I am making this speech.

Senator Stewart - Very uneasy. Cannot the honorable senator see him shivering ?

Senator ST LEDGER - I think that the Minister has shown a sense of his responsibility, and that he does not approve the derision in which his supporters are indulging.

Senator Stewart - Why all this funereal talk?

Senator ST LEDGER - Senator Stewart is a descendant of a tyrant race, and he ought to remain quiet. It seems to me that we should consider this question from a dual point of view. I quite appreciate the policy of the Government and of their predecessors in endeavouring to perfect our land defence force. The complement to that line of defence is our naval defence. Whilst I am not a blind adherent of the blue-water school in the Old Country, which seeks to repose entire confidence in the Navy, I say that what we have done in connexion with our land defence force constitutes a step in the right direction. But we must look to the Imperial Navy for our security. Our first line of defence must be the Navy.

Senator Rae - What Navy ?

Senator ST LEDGER - Our Navy; and if it be not Imperial it is not ours. Whilst equipping our land force as our last line of defence, we should be worse than foolish if we did not endeavour to build up a strong and efficient Navy. The Minister of Defence, in moving the second reading of this Bill, emphasized the necessity for adopting that policy. He pointed out one reason why he attaches such importance to it. It is that Australia is the last place on earth to which the rest of the European nations may come. That is a magnificent, an absolute, and unchallengeable truth. He urged that in order to preserve to our race this last portion of the earth in which other nations may desire to find a lodgment, it is essential that we should build up a defence force, not only upon land, but also upon the sea. I quite agree with him. Notwithstanding the derision with which my remarks have been greeted by his supporters, I wish to congratulate him upon his effort to achieve that ideal. What is the significance of the events which are transpiring both in Europe and in the East?

We know that a great Empire of kindred people is building up a navy of such strength that it is doubtful whether we can maintain our naval supremacy. What is the object which it has in view ? I wish to say nothing disrespectful of- that great Power. I desire to say nothing in derogation of the great energies which are inspiring a certain movement in the Empire of Germany. We have also to consider that the nations of the East are awakening. One of our immediate neighbours is one of the first Powers in the world. She is massing her navy and her army. For what purpose? When we reflect upon the fact that one of the greatest European Powers must find an outlet for its people, we involuntarily ask ourselves, " Where is that outlet to be found?" What is the meaning of the feverish energy which is being exhibited by China and Japan? We in Australia are closest to what may be termed the ' vortex '*' of the political disturbances in those countries, and we are bound to prepare to defend ourselves against attack. I do not entirely agree with the allusion of Senator Chataway to the Achilles' heel. He stated that he thought the United Kingdom itself represented the Achilles' heel. I do not think so. I think that Australia is the Achilles' heel of the Empire. My reason for that opinion is that any Power which might succeed in winning Australia from the Empire would, by so doing, fatally weaken the Empire itself. I thought that I detected a note of warning in the Minister's speech on this subject. I do not know whether he had studied what I have placed upon record upon this subject in permanent form. But, at any rate, lie agreed with me upon the point. I can understand the Minister's diffidence and caution when dealing with the subject, especially as he has behind him supporters who are ready to treat the Imperial idea with derision and scorn. Nevertheless, I compliment him upon the Imperial tone of some parts of his speeches. I am justified in asking him whether he thinks that he stands alone in his party on this matter, or whether he is standing with us. On some matters, Australians are inclined to hurry too fast. On our own particular local questions we are hurrying so fast that thought has not time to collect itself. We are inclined, on this subject of defence, which is equally vital, to hurry too fast also. We are inclined to think, because we have a big continent and fine streets in our cities, that we solve all our difficulties merely by saying that we are Australians.

That is an awful delusion. We can afford to learn much from the great Mother Country, which is the head and heart of our Empire. I compliment the Minister that, in his speech, he recognised the fact that we can learn from the Imperial Navy. May I ask that that policy shall be continued, and that, while building up a Navy of our own, we shall teach our officers and men to follow the model that the Mother Country has set before us? If we do so, I have no doubt that we shall be successful. Another thing that I should like to point out in connexion with this matter is that any blow at any portion of the Empire is bound to upset the whole equilibrium of that Empire, and that it would be one of the greatest mistakes we could make to regard our means of defence as separated in the slightest degree from the means of defending the Empire as a whole. The Minister made reference to Canada; and 1 agree with what he said about that great Dominion. But may I point out that Canada is doing something that we are neglecting to do? Canada recognises that naval and military defence is not a matter of predominant necessity so far as local requirements are concerned, because she always has the protection of the Monroe doctrine. As long as the United States maintains that doctrine, Canada is secure. But, nevertheless, Canada is taking- steps for her own defence in a direction to which we are paying insufficient attention. She recognises that defence policies are of little avail unless a policy of peopling the country goes with them. I hope that a corollary to this defence policy of ours will be that the Government will take steps to bring into Australia the men who, in case of emergency, must stand behind the guns, whether on land or by sea. May I mention, in connexion with this point, that some time ago the present Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfred Laurier, pointed out what was the destiny of his country in relation to the Empire? A few years since, it was said that at some time Canada would be detached from the Empire, and by the volition of her own people would become part of the great neighbouring republic. But Sir Wilfred Laurier pointed out that the people of Canada had no wish to join the United States, and that their national instincts prompted them to remain part of the Empire. It is in order to carry out that idea, and to preserve their integrity as part of the Empire, that they have built up their means of defence I hope that the Government will recognise that it is essen- tial to any defence policy for this country to bring in people who will take their part in defending Australia in time of war. Four or five Defence Bills have been dealt with by this Parliament ; but it has not been sufficiently realized that our land arm is not our real line of defence. Our true defence must be through the Navy, and by co-operation with the Imperial Navy. I may here point out that in a few months the representatives of Australia will meet in conference representatives of other portions of the Empire in regard to defence matters. We must have a definite declaration of policy agreed upon, and affecting every one of the various "portions of the Empire. While assenting, as I do, to this Bill, I wish it to go forth that in passing the measure we recognise our duty to ourselves, and are fulfilling it, and that, while helping the Empire and ourselves, we recognise that in European and Eastern countries there is a certain drift of policy which may be fraught with serious consequences to us. Our Navy must be regarded as an expression of the idea that, we are one with the Empire. I add to my assent to this policy the reason for it that it is an expression of the idea that we are assisting the Empire in building up a force for our own effective defence. There should not be the slightest chance of friction between our Navy and the Imperial Navy when we are called upon to face the difficulties with which we shall, sooner or later, be assailed. I believe that the Minister of Defence has submitted this Bill with the intention of giving effect to the principles and ideals

I have expressed.

Senator Rae - It is hard to say whether the honorable senator is a bigger nuisance when he agrees with us or when he opposes us.

Senator ST LEDGER - When it is time,to talk about nuisances to the country and the Empire, possibly the honorable senator will be remembered, and the speech I am making to-night may also be referred to.

Senator Rae - I thought the honorable senator was speaking to the gallery.

Senator ST LEDGER - This is not the first time I have spoken to the gallery, and the gallery has often saved me. I am here now, after fighting my way through the gallery, and I welcome the opportunity to express these strongly Imperialistic, though none the less Australian, ideas. I hope that the Minister of Defence get» more consolation from the criticism of the measure by honorable senators on this side than he is able to derive from the attitude of the members of his own party.

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