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Thursday, 3 November 1910

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) .- I hope that my friend, Senator Rae, did not regard my interjection as an expression of a desire that he should curtail his remarks upon this Bill. But it did seem to me that a portion of the debate had got rather far away from the measure. In a large measure old-world politics have been discussed to-night ; and I am sure that any Imperial statesmen who may read the debate will get some very useful hints from it. But the immediate question which we have to consider is whether the Bill which is now before us provides for the commencement of an Australian navy upon sound lines.

Senator Millen - If there were no world politics, we should not require a navy.

Senator PEARCE - I do not mind a reference to world politics of the present day ; but I think that we are getting rather far from the subject under consideration " when we attempt to deal with world politics at the end of the twentieth century. Senator Gardiner set me a nice little sum in arithmetic when he asked what would be the cost of a successful raid by a foreign Power upon Australia? I would suggest to him that he may inform his mind upon the subject by reflecting that if we had not the protection of the British Fleet, and if, iri the event of war, Japan chose to send a single battleship to Sydney, _ Melbourne, or to any of our capital cities, we could not make an effective reply to it. That fact of itself evidences that we owe our present safety to the British Empire. I recognise that it is in the interests of Great Britain that she should keep that Empire together, because it is her greatest commercial asset. At the same time, we are receiving the benefit of her protection ; because, in the absence of that protection, our White Australia legislation could not stand for a day. A single Japanese battleship at any one of our ports might demand the repeal of that legislation, and a few shots from such a vessel would make the population of that port think seriously about repealing that legislation.

Senator de Largie - We should pull down the flag at the first shot?

Senator PEARCE - For all the effective reply that we could make to any battleship off our coast, we might as well pull down the flag. Such a vessel could batter every one of our coastal forts, and we could make no response.

Senator Rae - Is there no fort which could reply?

Senator PEARCE - There is not a single fort along our coast which could reply effectively to the fire of a battleship armed with 12-inch guns. Senator Rae has objected to the proposal in the Bill to place our naval unit in time of emergency under the control of the British Fleet, and to subject it to the orders of the senior officer of that Fleet, whoever he might be. That senior officer might be an Australian. The British unit in China waters might thus be placed under the orders of an Australian Admiral, and the New Zealand unit might be similarly placed. But the idea is that the Pacific Fleet must be one. It must be one to be of any use. The battle which will determine the mastery of the Pacific may be fought in the North Pacific, and yet Senator Rae suggests that before our ships are sent away from the Austraiian coast, Parliament should be called together to decide the conditions under which they may be so despatched. What a splendid prospect ! In the case of a war, with, say, Japan, before a decision could be arrived at, and the necessary legislative authority could be given, the Japanese Fleet would be able to sail round the Pacific, attacking and defeating each unit in detail. But if the Government have power to hand over the control of these vessels to the Imperial authorities, and so to permit of the various units of the Fleet being welded into one, they may be able to put up a decent fight against any force which may be set against them. The Canadian Government has taken to itself a similar power. The Defence Act t 903-9 provides that Parliament shall be called together at once, and of course no Executive would take action unless they were pretty sure that it would meet with the sanction of Parliament, to which they are responsible. I do not know that there are any other points connected with the Bill to which I am called upon to reply. I am glad that it has met with such a f avorable reception ; and I do not think that its consideration involves the points which have been raised by some persons, and notably by Senator Stewart. At this stage of the session we should make fairly rapid progress with business, and therefore I appeal to honorable senators not to debate questions which are not particularly affected by the various -clauses of the measure.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee :

Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 (Power to appoint officers).

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [10.18].- I notice that as the Bill is drafted it would not be possible to give commissions to persons who had not passed examinations. Tt "night be considered desirable to appoint some men in the Imperial service to commissions in our own forces. Would it be possible to do that ?

Senator Pearce - Yes, under sub-clause 4 of clause n.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause jo (Appointment does not create a civil contract).

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