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Wednesday, 15 November 1911
Page: 2697

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Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .- After the very able speech of the honorable member for Mernda - after the eloquent, direct, straightforward, and impartial way in which he has examined the country's finances - it is most lamentable in a National Parliament of this character to hear from the Honorary Minister that it is too much to expect a member of the Labour party to use the opportunities afforded by this debate " to delay the passing of the Estimates." Can any member or any person who heard the speech of the honorable member for Mernda say, with any pretence to honesty, that that speech was delivered with any such intention? The Honorary Minister, the Prime Minister, and every member of the Labour party, knows that this is the only opportunity the country has to look to the state of its finances. Therefore, it is regrettable that we should have this sort of contemptible insinuation thrown out merely because honorable members opposite think that the opportunity now afforded, at this late hour of the evening, is a suitable one for advertising themselves in that press which they are constantly denouncing, but in which they desire to see their remarks reported. It is with the deepest regret that I enter the discussion in this spirit.

Mr Frazer - Does the honorable member refer to his friends on the Age?

Mr KELLY - I trust that the Postmaster-General will remember Ministerial dignity sufficiently to permit me to proceed on the even tenor of my way. Honorable members on the Government side are at. present smarting under the criticism of the Age newspaper. I have read in that organ recently articles, the vigour of which was only equalled by their truth, and I hope my honorable friends will take that remark into their inner consciences. I do not, on all occasions, approve of the Age newspaper, and I am happy to say that it does not always approve of me. I have, however, read in its columns some of the frankest criticism of the methods of my honorable friends opposite. And I think they would show more befitting modesty, and a great sense of the real feeling they possess of insecurity, if they endeavoured to pass over that criticism instead of always harping on it.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the remarks of the honorable member for Mernda was that in which he asked this Chamber to endeavour to arrive at some sort of balance-sheet for the future with regard to our national undertakings. I was signally struck with the honorable member's comments on our defence preparation. He touched on what has happened in the past in Australia through the failure of the Governments in the various States to take stock of their defence position. If honorable members will cast their minds back they will find that in every State of Australia and Tasmania public opinion forced the Parliaments to create naval armaments in order to defend the interests of this country against the Russian fleet, which was present in the Pacific in the early eighties. Victoria, which was the most advanced in these preparations, had, I think, something like eleven vessels in commission, and a couple of post-captains were imported, and the enterprise entered into on the same ambitious scale, proportionate to population, that the Commonwealth to-day, in answer to a similar public opinion, is entering on the construction and maintenance of the Australian Naval Unit. In 1893 there was the financial crisis to which the honorable member for Mernda referred, and the causes of which he demonstrated so clearly. The moment that crisis arrived the Parliaments of the States, no longer pushed by public opinion in regard to the Russian fleet, which was still in the Pacific, but still influenced by the public opinion that the Augean stable of the Colonies' finances should be cleaned and put in order, started retrenchment where retrenchment was politically most easy; and the navies of the Colonies were wiped out of existence. The cause and causes that had brought the navies into existence were still there, but our insurance against those risks was suddenly, with a stroke of the political pen, wiped out of existence !

One reason for this was, as the honorable member for Mernda pointed out, that the Colonies had taken no stock ; but there was also, I venture to say, another reason on which my honorable friend did not touch. The chief reason for this extraordinary absence of consistency in the past is one which essentially is above party, and one to which every honorable member might give his earnest attention. Under the Imperial Constitution Australia is charged with the responsibility of defending her self, while the Mother Country is charged with finding out what Australia has to defend herself against ! We in Australia have no official channels by which we can ascertain what we have to defend ourselves against. In the early eighties, the Australian Colonial Parliaments brought into existence navies to meet a danger of which they had no official information, but which public opinion, urged thereto by the press, said was a menace. The Parliaments acted, not from any information at their disposal - not from any official information collated in other countries - which would give a sure guide, but on press-created public agitation. What position are we in today? Why are we building the Naval Unit? Is it because the Australian Parliament has any official information? Or is it because a feeling of danger has permeated through the Australian public - a danger which my honorable friends opposite once claimed to be purely press created ? The Naval Unit came out of the so-called Dreadnought scare; and so soon as the press-created interest in these matters declines, so will our interest in the Australian Naval Unit decline, and so soon will ruin, through retrenchment, face our naval organization.

It seems to me that we might take a lesson from the Mother Country, where the great check' on Parliamentary inconsistency is the Foreign Office and the Foreign Intelligence Bureaux of the Army and Navy. When I was in England, five or six years ago, the Liberal Government, headed by Sir Henry CampbellBannerman, had been returned to power on a mandate, amongst others, for a reduction of naval armaments. Curiously enough, the Government, shortly after accepting office, indorsed in toto the Naval Estimates of their predecessors. There was agitation within the Liberal party, and, having friends in the House of Commons, I knew and realized what was happening. Little cabals were formed in the Liberal ranks, and efforts were made to keep the Liberal Government up to their platform protestations; and those cabals found their way eventually to the Ministry. The Government pointed out, how ever, that the facts were not as they were thought to be when the election pledges were given. The reports of the naval and military attaches in the European capitals showed the need for naval preparation, and the reports of the ambassadors at the disposal of the Foreign Office were hinted at. Thus Liberal Ministers, who had come into power on a mandate for the reduction of naval armaments, realized that they would be false to their public trust if they carried out the promises they had made when not fully seized of the official information. The Government told their supporters the position, and those supporters went into the country and told the. constituencies that the situation was such that the Government could not reduce the Naval Estimates. By means of official information from without the country, the Liberal Government were forced to maintain the expensive preparation that their predecessors had made.

A Democracy may within its own borders know what is best for it, but obviously it is not in a position to know what is being done beyond its .borders. In fact, any country truly national has throughout the world official sources of international information. We call ourselves in Australia a nation, and we realize that we are charged with the first responsibility of nationhood, namely, that of defending ourselves. At the same time, we have no power or right to know what we are defending ourselves against - what risks we have to face. That is one of the reasons the wrecks of past Australian navies are lying about the Australian coastline to-day - and that is the reason why, in my humble judgment, the wrecks of this Australian unit will be found lying about the Australian coastline as soon as a financial crisis faces this Parliament. The only way, in my opinion, to get over the matter is by some re-arrangement, under the Imperial Constitution, that will give Australians autonomous rights to know what they are defending themselves against - that will give them some shareholders' right in the Empire's official information. Until, that is done, we shall not be in a sound position to make sane and continuous preparation to defend ourselves.

Mr Higgs - Will the honorable member agree to represent Australia in that connexion ?

Mr KELLY - No; I give way to the honorable gentleman, who, on a previous occasion, was, I understand, the only candidate in his party for the High Commissionership

Mr Higgs - Wrong again.

Mr KELLY - Then I withdraw the imputation against the party. The Prime Minister had the good sense to realize the difficulty to which I refer, and at the last Imperial Conference endeavoured to make himself, and the Ministers who accompanied him, officially aware of the dangers of the Empire. He, the late Minister of External Affairs, and the Minister of Defence, were, in the Committee of Imperial Defence in Great Britain, made acquainted with the whole foreign situation, and Australia was thereby placed in a better position than she formerly occupied. Since their return, however, the late Minister of External Affairs, one of the best men we have known, has passed away; and, in his place, we have a Minister who does not know what he knew, while we have it in Hansard that his colleagues are under a pledge not to divulge to him what was told to them. Thus the present Minister of External Affairs does not know a tithe of what two of his colleagues know regarding the external affairs of the Commonwealth ! He is in no way responsible for this ; the responsibility rests upon an inefficient Imperial Constitution. I do not urge that a Constitution should be tampered with until its possibilities have been exhausted, but I say, without fear of contradiction, that we shall do Australia a disservice if we do not endeavour to place the Minister of External Affairs in a position to thoroughly understand the external affairs of Australia by sending him Home at the earliest opportunity to freely and frankly discuss them with British Ministers, as his predecessor did. There are external affairs affecting Australia which make it necessary for us to tax our people to the extent of 2 is. per head. Why should not the Minister of External Affairs know what they are? I Believe that the Constitution is defective, and that efficient Imperial Defence is mortgaged to an inefficient Imperial Constitution.

It cannot be objected that I suggest the sending Home of the present Minister because of my friendly political relations with him. I do it because I think that every occupant of his office should have an opportunity to inform himself of the foreign affairs of the Empire. It was not my intention to speak to-night, as I thought we should have a criticism by the honorable member for Calare of the statements of the honorable member for Mernda, but as that criticism is not forthcoming, I have stepped into the breach, not thinking it fair that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should be asked to speak at this late hour.

I would suggest to the Prime Minister that it is about time for an adjournment.

Mr Fisher - We had better go on until ii o'clock. It is the complaint of the Opposition press that we are not getting on with business.

Mr KELLY - I wish to again call the attention of the Government to a serious defect in the control of the note issue. There is now very little opportunity for the detection of forgeries, notes being in circulation in centres where the tellers are not familiar with them. If you change a cheque in a Melbourne bank, you may receive in return a large number of notes on paper originally printed for banks in Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, which, in the ordinary course of business, would rarely pass through the hands of Melbourne bank tellers. Of recent months, the Government have been circulating such paper largely in Victoria and New South Wales. Formerly, when notes were paid into a bank, the practice was to return them to the original banks of issue, where they were inspected, with a view te the detection of forgery. Nothing of the kind is now done.

Mr Hall - How many forms of notes are now in circulation?

Mr KELLY - I should think at least sixteen.

Mr Riley - A great many, at any rate. What the honorable member says is perfectly true.

Mr KELLY - I have already directed attention to the matter, but no steps have been taken to lessen the risk of forgery. No great harm has yet been done, so far as amateur investigation can discover, but what is required is rigid inspection and supervision. When notes are paid into a bank, they should be tested.

Mr Joseph Cook - I understand that notes of different sizes are now in circulation.

Mr KELLY - Notes of all sizes and shapes. Within the last day or two, I have seen notes that I have never seen before. Under the old system, notes generally remained within the State in which they were issued. If a Western Australian note were paid into a Melbourne bank, it would be at once sent back to the bank of issue, and checked.

Mr Riley - When we get the new issue, the trouble will be removed.

Mr KELLY - When we have the new issue, there will be only one form of note, with which the public will soon become conversant, but the public of any of our cities cannot become familiar with all the forms of notes now in circulation. Any one could print a superscription over a note which would deceive a large number of persons. I hope, and think, that that is not being done, but, nevertheless, rigid supervision is necessary.

Mr Hall - There is now a bright prospect for a forger.

Mr KELLY - Certainly. I pointed it out months ago, but nothing has been done. The fault, consequently, does not lie with the Opposition.

There are one or two other matters to which I should like to direct attention. There is, first of all, the question of the working of the Australian naval unit. The honorable member for Mernda never made a truer statement than when he declared that if we leave incomplete in any particular the organization of the naval force we must practically wipe out its value. This naval scheme must impose upon us in the future large annual votes. There must be, if there is going to be efficiency, a large coal bill, a large ammunition bill, a bill for the proper maintenance of guns, &c, and so forth, and I think that we ought to insure this efficiency against any risk of parliamentary retrenchment, due to bad seasons. We ought to make the position perfectly safe by having a war fund, in which, in the good years, we can place a little more than we require, so that we can work upon it in bad years, and thus maintain the efficiency of our Navy. Almost every public company of which I have heard has an equalization of dividends account into which it pays the surplus profits of an exceptionally good year, in order to meet the sudden falling off of a bad year. We need to adopt some such principle in the financing of our Naval Unit. We shall have to exercise the unit, we shall have to see that it is efficient, or we might just as well not have spent the money.

Honorable members may remember that at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese war, when it was simply a question of fleets on paper, the balance of opinion in the Australian press with regard to what was going to happen when war was declared was in favour of Russia. Russia had a battleship more than Japan» , and Russia's ships were said to be more powerful! as contrasted with those of «Japan» ; but what actually happened was quite different from what was predicted. It was found out when war was declared that the Japanese Fleet was an efficient organization. It had been trained and manoeuvred ; it had enjoyed gun practice and battle practice, whilst the Russian Navy was only a paper navy.

Mr Thomas Brown - Better still, the Japanese fleet had patriotism behind it, whilst the Russian fleet had not.

Mr KELLY - If the Australian Navy is going to be anything more than a mere pretence at the patriotism to which the honorable member for Calare alludes, then it will have to be manoeuvred every year.. In time of peace it will have to be kept up to date ; it will need to have a coal bill and an ammunition bill. Where is the money to come from? We shall obtain it if things are flourishing, as they are at present; but speaking, not as an Oppositionist addressing opponents, but as an Australian addressing Australians, I ask my honorable friends opposite what chance of a coal vote and an ammunition vote an Australian Navy would have from, I might say, any party in this Chamber if times were tight, and we had to decide between keeping the Australian Navy really, and not merely apparently, efficient, and reducing the old-age pensions ? Not a man in this Chamber but knows what would be done. The retrenchment of the Australian Navy's real, but not perhaps apparent, efficiency would follow. It would still be efficient on paper, but that is all.

Mr Joseph Cook - Hitherto the Defence Department has always been the first to be retrenched.

Mr KELLY - Exactly.

Mr Riley - That has been the experience of every country.

Mr KELLY - Every country is not in the position that we occupy. Other countries are faced with the official responsibility of foreign affairs. We are not. There is the check of official foreign information in other countries ; there is no such check here. If such a thing were done in England, the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs and the ex- War Minister would be touring England with official information at their finger-tips to tell the English people of their danger. Here all that we have to depend upon is our own guesswork ; and guesswork would not stand in any degree as a surety for national safety in such circumstances as I have foreshadowed.

I am not speaking as a scare head; I am putting before honorable members an ordinary business proposition. Our defence preparation must be continuous. If we start it at all, it is worth keeping going. If we are not going to keep it going continuously, do not let us waste money by starting it. We might just as well depend upon this Chamber to persuade any one from overseas that this was not a good country to come to ! If we do start it, however, and if we are going to keep it going continuously, the least we can do is to make some provision for continuously running the fleet, for giving it an efficiency supply without having to provide for every penny upon individual Estimates. We need a war fund or a war chest.

Honorable members must never forget that if we are going to defend Australia proportionately to the possibilities of attack, that war chest must increase with foreign preparation. It is a deplorable situation, but, nevertheless, it is a fact. The risks that we must suffer must increase with the preparation of, let us say, for the sake of the argument, the Pacific Powers. It is only a year ago since there was furnished to the Commonwealth Government a report advocating, I think, the expenditure of £22,000,000 on Dreadnought cruisers. During the last few months a Pacific Power has taken a step which makes that report as out of date as Queen Anne. A Northern Pacific Power is going to have twenty super-Dreadnoughts within the next few years, and as against such a fleet we might as well have nothing as have our Dreadnought cruisers.

Mr Hall - To what power is the honorable member referring ?

Mr KELLY - To a power with which we are in friendly alliance, and with which I hope we shall continue to be in friendly alliance - the Empire of «Japan» .

Mr Hall - Has not the Japanese Legislature refused to sanction that proposal ?

Mr KELLY - I have not heard that it has decided the matter.

Mr Hall - There is a cablegram in this morning's newspapers to that effect.

Mr KELLY - Then I missed "it; but I will take the analogy a stage further by speaking of what I have seen. Whilst we in Australia think that the safety of Australia in certain contingencies, which, we hope, will never arise, is made reasonably secure by the existence of the Australian naval unit, I myself saw being built at Barrow for that same power a ship which is an effective answer to our naval unit - a ship which could wipe the whole unit off the sea in five minutes. It was a super-Dreadnought, equal, I should think, to the Princess Royal. I was not shown over it, but saw it in the distance, and I gauged it as being capable of wiping off the face of the waters the whole of the Australian naval unit in five minutes.

Mr Riley - Then what is the good of our having a naval unit?

Mr KELLY - That is not an answer to my argument. The answer to it is that it is of no use having anything unless you know what you want it for.

Mr Riley - We cannot compete with «Japan in the matter of a navy.

Mr KELLY - Then the only thing we can do is to endeavour, by organized unified effort, to get the people of our race all over the world to help us to maintain our common safety. The existing Imperial constitution, however, gives us no opportunity of efficiently doing that. One section of the Empire is charged with the responsibility of ascertaining our foreign risks, and the balance of the Empire, in no way correlated, are asked to defend their special interests - as if we could divide the interests of our race into watertight compartments ! The thing cannot be done. The 'conclusion to which my honorable friend from South Sydney has come is one at which I arrived some years ago. I was at first accused of being a bad Australian because I came to it. As a matter of strict fact, however, I do not think that a unionist is a bad individualist in the sphere of Labour. I do not think a man who joins a union is blind to his own interests in doing so. I quite agree with my honorable friends opposite, that, generally speaking, the best chance the worker has to get good terms from a force - the force of Capital - which is necessary and yet antagonistic to him - is by combination. And so I believe that when we have a country, like this Australia of ours, faced with a proposition which is demonstrably beyond our powers, so surely should we enter into a union of our race to endeavour unitedly to do what we cannot hope ever to achieve alone. I believe that the external pressure which is now being felt in Western Canada, which has already made persons who were at war with us a few years ago in South Africa realize our mutual interdependence - the external pressure all over the Empire - is driving the oversea subjects of the King to realize that until we have some modification of the existing Imperial Constitution, oversea Britons, including ourselves, are not really autonomous.

We have rights of local government with regard to all sorts of conditions and matters, and, in my judgment, if we are wise, we shall always retain these local powers of self-government. But there is something which we have not got under the existing Imperial Constitution, and which, so far as I can see, we cannot obtain under it, and that is systematized united corporate action in defence pf corporate interests; and, still more, corporate action to find out how those interests are affected vitally from other quarters. I think the case is overwhelmingly strong for a general review of the whole situation, but I think that we should proceed with infinite caution. A good deal of harm, perhaps, was done at the last Imperial Conference by an effort to jump the position, as if Constitutions could be altered by a mere stroke of the pen ; but I really think that the time is ripe for Australians on both sides of politics to take thought before taking action. My honorable friends opposite are better fitted to lead any movement of this kind than are members on this side of the House. All their lives they have been speaking of the value of united action. All their lives they have been appealing for the principles of united action. The time has come for both sides, and especially for them, to consider whether Australia, in existing circumstances, is in a position to defend herself against risks of which she is officially not cognisant. I do not wish to touch upon this question more fully than I have already done. I wish only at present to urge upon the Ministry that their first responsibility in the present situation is to exhaust every opportunity of the existing Imperial Constitution. It is a misfortune that this Parliament is called upon to vote 21s. per head, from the pockets of the Australian people, without clearly knowing for what purpose - to meet what danger - the money is to be voted. It is doubly unfortunate if the responsible Minister in the Cabinet is not in a position to have that information. With the increase in the cost of Dominion armaments will come a demand from the business sense of the Australian people to learn why this money is being spent. I believe, personally, the expenditure is necessary. If you ask me why I believe it, I simply do not know. I am guessing at it. I am not in a satisfactory position to know, and there is no man in this Chamber to whom I can look, as the House of Commons can look to the Foreign Secretary, for an assurance that the expenditure we are incurring is absolutely necessary in the interests of the Australian people. That is my position as a trustee of the Australian people in this matter of defence. I ask the Prime Minister and the party opposite to send the Minister of External Affairs home to England in the recess, and let him find out the true facts of the external problems of Australia.

Mr Joseph Cook - He is cheering you under his breath, the whole time.

Mr KELLY - I do not care whether he likes my proposal, or does not. If he does not like it, he is not fit for his position, because no man in that position can fail to realize that it would be an absolute absurdity to hold it without knowing the real external problems of the Australian people, requiring the expenditure already of21s. per head of our population.

Progress reported.

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