Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 22 April 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - I wish to reply briefly to the criticism that has been passed upon the Bill. I desire first of all to make a slight correction of what I said in moving the second reading of the measure. I gave the Senate some information about the Air Board, and when I was asked whether its establishment would involve any additional expenditure, I said that the only additional expenditure- 1 knew of was an allowance of £100 per annum to the finance officer. I find that I overstated the amount of his additional remuneration. The allowance madeto him is only £75.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - Does the Minister mean to say that the total emolument of the officer is only £575 per year?

Senator PEARCE - I do not at the moment know just what his total salary is, but he isto receive an additional sum of £75 per annum because of the extra duties thrown upon him as a member of the Air Board.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can the Minister give the information he- promised about the number of aeroplanes.

Senator PEARCE -Before I sit down, I shall give all the information asked for Senator Gardiner, when speaking on the Bill, said-

Is it a fair thing to ask the country to commit itself to enormous expenditure for air. defence?

The honorable senator also said that "the world is waiting for a lead in disarmament." I quite agree with that statement; but when the honorable senator refers to this particular Bill as one proposing enormous expenditure, and then asks that we should give a lead in disarmament, I am justified in directing his attention to some figures respecting naval and military expenditure. Great Britain, in policing as she does about onehalf of the world, is spending, I understand, 10 per cent. of her revenue. The United States of America, that has not the responsibility of policing vast territories, is spending, I understand, 12 per cent. of her national income. And another country, Japan, that has no colonies beyond a few island possessions, and no- responsibility for mandated' territories, and for occupied countries, such as Great Britain has, is spending 33 per cent. of her national income. In view of these figures, the lead in disarmament should not come from a country like Australia, which is spending a comparatively insignificant sum, but from those countries which are spending: such huge sums as I have indicated. We hope that the lead will come from those countries. During the course of the debate, I was asked a question as to the number of machines there are in Australia. The Air Board has now. in its possession machines as under, for units provided on the first year's programme for the Australian Air Force : -


The nine flying-boats, and twelve ships' seaplanes required to complete the units provided for, will be ordered without delay. The proportion of ground to flying personnel in the Australian Air Force will be as follows: -


The proposed establishment provides for aeroplane squadrons being equipped with twelve machines, and the seaplane and flying-boat squadrons with six machines each. The reserve considered necessary is 50 per cent, of the total establishment of the unit. The following machines are now in our possession, and have been allotted to service units: -



The following machines are in our possession, and have been allotted to No. 1 Flying Training School: -


And the following training machines are in reserve: -


This makes the total of machines in our possession : -


It will be seen from the above that our reserves in D.H. 9's, and S.E. 5 Ay's, are below 50 per cent. ; those for D.H. 9 Ay's are above 50 per cent. This is owing to the fact that we must make the best use of the machines given to us by the Imperial Government; and it is not proposed that we shall purchase more D.H. 9's and S.E. 5 Ay's, as these machines are obsolete in theRoyal Air Force, and should be replaced with new types when reserves get so low as to warrant the re-equipment of these units. That is not to say that these machines are obsolete for certain purposes, nor that the Air Force, which will be an effective arm, is equipped with obsolete machines, because the other machines are up-to-date. In the meantime, as the reserves get low in any squadron, a Flight might be replaced with D.H. 9 Ay's. In this way we can keep somewhere near our 50 per cent, reserve for service units, make the best use of our machines, and save a certain amount of expenditure. It will be noted that in the training units we have ample reserves, but in these units in time of peace the reserves required will probably be much greater than those required in service units, and a much larger reserve than 50 per cent. of the establishment must be maintained in the preliminary training machines, that is to say, Avros. In this case, we are well provided for from the gift equipment. The general principle being worked on, however, is 50 per cent. reserve of establishment in service units, and at least 200 per cent. in reserves in preliminary training machines. At the moment we have a reserve of 300 per cent. in these machines, and experience may show it to be necessary to maintain such a reserve. In ordering flying-boats and ships' seaplanes for service units, the principle of a 50 per cent. reserve has been maintained, that is to say: Flyingboats - Unit, 6; Reserve, 3; making a total of 9. Snip's Seaplanes - Unit, 6; Reserve, 3; making a total of 9; with an additional 3 Seaplanes for finishing training, or 12 altogether.

The officers may be set down as fol low : -


The relation of ground personnel to flying personnel may be thus summarized: - (a) Permanent officers - ground .officers, 58; flying officers, 125. (6) Permanent officers i and other ranks - ground personnel, 58; other ranks, 1,046; total, 1,104; flying personnel, 125. Citizen Forces: - (a) Officers - ground officers, 10; flying officers, 30. (6) Officers and other ranks -ground personnel, 292 ; flying personnel, 30. The total Permanent and Citizen Forces are: - (a) Officers - ground, 68; flying, 155. (6) Officers and other ranks - ground, 292; others, 1,104; making a total of 1,396. The proportion of officers, therefore, is 1 ground to 3 flying; and of officers and other ranks, 9 ground to 1 flying.

Senator Elliottin his criticism said that in this Bill we were laying down a war basis, and that" the Air Force proposed to be provided is equivalent to what we had in the Australian Imperial Force. I have had the figures looked up, and I find that they do not bear out his statement. We had with the Australian Imperial Force, one wing headquarters, four squadrons, and one repair section in training, and we used the Royal Air Force depots. That is to say the Australian Air Units which were on active service had no depots, but used the Australian Imperial Force depots. Under this Bill we propose to establish one flying training school and one Air Craft depot, including the repairs, so that the comparison works out at four squadrons with the Australian Imperial Force as against one squadron here. Upon service with the Army we had four squadrons, one of which was with the corps. We had none with the Navy. Under this scheme we are proposing the same strength, namely, four squadrons, two of which will be permanent, and two citizen squadrons. We are proposing to establish a flying boat squadron, and a seaplane squadron with the Navy, which we did not have during the war. The personnel of the Air Squadron during the war was over 500 officers, and 2,500 officers and other ranks. What we now propose is a force of 160 officers and 1,500 officers and other ranks. Of this number 145 will be permanent officers, and 1,100 officers and other ranks.

Senator Elliott - But this is only the commencement of the scheme. I believe that the Minister intends to increase it.

Senator PEARCE - That was not the point of Senator Elliott's criticism. His statement was that this scheme was upon a war basis, and it is that statement to which I am now replying. Then it must be remembered that during the war we did not have with our Forces an Air Force which' was proportionate to those forces. Our Air Force was not at any time proportionate to the forces we had in the field, and to a very large extent we used the Royal Air Forces supply and repair depots. During his speech upon this Bill, Senator Elliott dealt with the same matters in regard to the supersession of officers as he dealt with when he was discussing the Defence Bill. He will not, therefore, deem it discourtesy on my part if r do not reply to his observations, seeing that I have already done so. Senator Pratten contended that the Bill is merely a skeleton measure. His statement is correct, because the Bill must be read in conjunction with two Acts passed by this Parliament, namely, the Defence Act, and the Naval Defence Act. But it is not advisable to repeat in this measure all the sections of those Acts which apply to 'the Air Force. In this Bill we incorporate all the sections of those Acts which are applicable to that Force.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister has missed the point which I made. What I said was that we had not a prospectus of what is proposed.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator said that this was a skeleton Bill.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In that it lacks the details which have now been given.

Senator PEARCE - It is a skeleton Bill, because it is nob convenient or advisable to re-print in it, all those sections of our Defence Acts which are applicable to the Air Force.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My point was that the honorable gentleman in his first speech failed to give us the particulars which he has now supplied.

Senator PEARCE - Then we are quite in agreement. Senator Duncan raised an important point regarding the type of seaplane which is being obtained. I can only assure him that any seaplane or other plane that we may secure in the future will be of the latest and most uptodate type. We have an officer attached to the "Air Ministry, who will look after our interests in that regard. Senator Fairbairn raised the question of the expenditure which will be involved under this Bill. He is satisfied that there is no extravagance in the proposals of the Government provided that there be no increase in the expenditure, and that we save what' we can during the balance of the financial year, so that when we come to review the position next year we may be able to reduce the expenditure. I find that the position to-day is that of the £500,000 which has been voted for this scheme we shall not spend more than £400,000, and the probability is that we shall not even spend that sum. I can definitely assure the Senate that there will be £100,000 of the vote unexpended at the end of the financialyear.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But to carry out the scheme which has been foreshadowed by the honorable gentleman will require an expenditure of £500,000.

Senator PEARCE - I do not claim any particular credit for the saving of that £100,000, because, owing to various circumstances over which we have had no control, the establishment is being given effect to at a later date in the financial year than we anticipated.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the establishment mentioned by the honorable senator will cost about £500,000 during a normal year.

Senator PEARCE - No; it will cost more than that in the full financial year. I think the amount will be nearer £600,000. This £500,000 was for certain expenditure onquipment, and also for the establishment for a portion of the year, and it is obvious that the same establishment for a whole year it will cost more. The control, however, will still be in the hands of the Senate when we re-assemble, because the Senate will be able to determine how much we are to spend in the next financial year. Nothing done this year will prejudice us in that regard.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister, has given certain particularswith regard to the personnel. When that personnel is brought into being, the Minister now says it will require £600,000 for its upkeep.

Senator PEARCE - Well, more than £500,000.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - So that by approving of the personnel we shall be, in effect, committing this Parliament to an expenditure of more than £500,000 a year.

Senator PEARCE - I do not know how I can make myself clear to the honorable senator. I have just said that it is not so, and that all Parliament is committed to is the setting aside of £500,000 in this financial year for the Air Force. I said that owing to the late period at which this establishment is being appointed we shall not spend more than £400,000 of that money, and that when the next Estimates are presented to Parliament they will be for the establishment which we assume will then have been completed. That will obviously be some figure higher than £500,000, and I should nob think it would be more than £600,000. If Parliament, in view of the circumstances that are then before it, decides that it is not prepared to spend that amount of money, Parliament will be free to take that course. It will mean ultimately simply reducing the personnel and the establishment.

Senator Elliott - Will you not have appointed officers who cannot be dismissed until they are forty years of age?

Senator PEARCE - They can be dismissed at any time. There is nothing to prevent a Government from retrenching at any time it sees fit.

Senator Newlandspoke of the necessity for a superannuation scheme. While I hold this office no one would be more happy than I should be if such a scheme could be passed through Parliament. It is the intention of the Government at the earliest possible opportunity to ask Parliament to agree to such a scheme. That scheme has been drawn up, and is now before the Treasury for their consideration, because it has a very important financial aspect. It will mean that a considerable sum of money must be found by the country, even under a contributory scheme, and, therefore, it has to be seriously considered by the Treasury, but as soon as possible Parliament will be asked to express its opinion on the question.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Can you say whether that scheme will be linked up with the general superannuation scheme for the Public Service?

Senator PEARCE - Yes, it is a general superannuation scheme for the Public Service, and for the military also.

Suggest corrections