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Friday, 29 May 1914

Senator OAKES (New South Wales) . - It is my intention to oppose the motion which has been submitted by Senator Pearce. In doing so, I desire to warmly congratulate the Minister of Defence upon his action in seeking to perpetuate these distinctive national regiments. I do not claim to have any Scottish blood in my veins, but I do claim to be an Australian, and to have a deep regard for the traditions of the Mother Country. I entertain the view that anything we can do to make our defence scheme more efficient we ought to do. The population of this country consists, in the main, of descendants of the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh people. Anything that we can do to maintain their distinctive traditions we ought most certainly to do. Senator Pearce has claimed that the proposal of the Government cuts right across our territorial scheme of defence. But it must be recollected that our local conditions may suggest the wisdom of modifying that scheme if by so doing we can give play to sentimental considerations, and thus increase efficiency. I need scarcely remind honorable senators that there is a territorial scheme of defence in operation in Great Britain. Yet that scheme makes provision for the Gordon Highlanders, the Welsh Fusileers, the Inniskillen Dragoons, and the St. George's Rifles.

Senator Pearce - They are in the regular forces. They are not in the territorial forces.

Senator OAKES - I say that they are provided for in the territorial scheme of defence. I see no particular merit in the word " territorial," although it may serve a useful purpose in the matter of administrati ve control. When it is suggested by Senator Pearce that we shall make our Army more efficient if we cut out all sentimental considerations, I say that he is making a serious error. I have seen both schemes in operation in New South Wales. Under the old volunteer scheme we had various units under different names in that State. Amongst these units there was always the keenest competition to catch the public eye. I know that on ceremonial occasions there was one unit which always used to stand out pre-eminent - I refer to the Scottish Rifles. Why? Because the members of that body seemed to be more keen and alert than did the others. There appeared to be associated with them a tradition that they were really fighting men, who came from fighting stock. The same remark is applicable to the Irish Rifles, and to the English Rifles. We, as descendants of the British race, ought not to do anything to impair that inspiriting feeling in connexion with our Defence Forces.

Senator Stewart - When the enemy see the kilts, they run away.

Senator OAKES - I know there is a story told in an American work to the effect that the Indians of North. America, when they first saw the Highlanders, thought that they were women, and, as they held the view that when women took to fighting it was time for them to get out, they promptly did so. I am sure that Senator Stewart likes to feel that he is an individual unit of a great Empire. I am speaking now more from an Empire than a local point of view. The idea that Australia can be defended by Australians is positively ridiculous. No more narrow and provincial view was ever put before any deliberative body of men. The time may come when we may be able to defend Australia; but that time is not yet. It is a long way off. Until then, we must be dependent upon the strength of Great Britain, which is behind us, more particularly upon the sea. Senator Pearce has told us that when he went to Great Britain he saw one of the Horse Guards arrayed in a gorgeous uniform, and that it was nothing but the millinery side of the Army that attracted the people. Let me tell him that the most attractive uniforms to be seen anywhere are to be found in the Prussian and French armies. Seeing that such uniforms are adopted in conscription armies, surely there must be some basic principle behind them.

Senator Needham - The Boers did not have any distinctive uniforms.

Senator OAKES - I am quite aware of that. Some time ago I saw in New South Wales a parade of about 30,000 cadets. It was a fine spectacle. I saw 30,000 young Australians, who will ultimately make good fighting men ; but they were all dressed in one drab uniform. Consequently there was nothing to attract the public or to excite enthusiasm.

Senator Needham - Does the uniform make the soldier?

Senator OAKES - Not any more than Parliament makes the politician. General Sir Ian Hamilton, in an interview which he subsequently gave to a press representative, stated that what had impressed him most about that parade was the lack of public applause and approval.

Senator Gardiner - They were thinking of the cost of the scheme.

Senator OAKES - Just after the present Government came into office, a social function was held at Waverley in connexion with Mr. Kelly's appointment to the Ministry. At that gathering I pointed out that the time was not far distant when the people of the Commonwealth would bitterly complain of the cost of our defence. I said that the working classes would be the first to complain. However, I do not wish to discuss that aspect of the matter now. All I desire to say is that we ought to encourage everything, whether it be either of a sentimental or practical character, which will contribute to the efficiency of our Defence Forces. We cannot put aside at one sweep all the military traditions of the Empire. Senator Pearce has said that a uniform is necessary for one reason only, that is, to prevent the men found carrying rifles in war-time from being shot as irregulars.

Senator de Largie - There are many other reasons for the wearing of a uniform.

Senator OAKES - There is a great deal to be said for a uniform, both in the Navy and in the Army. There is as much gold lace on the uniforms of the officers in the Australian Navy as on those of the officers of the Imperial Navy, and I do not regret it. It is proper that we should adopt the customs of the Old World, which have proved their soundness during hundreds of years of service. Australia is generally credited with legis lating by experiment rather than by experience, but, although we are starting a new system of defence, we cannot afford to disregard the experience of the Old Country, and should not be above altering our methods when it seems wise to do so. We shall do well to take advantage of the sentiment and patriotic feeling of our people, by keeping up the Scottish and other national regiments.

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