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Wednesday, 7 August 1901
Page: 3515

Mr SAWERS (New England) - Although I realize that the House is probably tired of this debate, and that anything I may say is likely to have been already said, the question is of such vast importance that

I should like to say a few words upon it. In my opinion the control of the defences of the States by a central authority is one of the greatest justifications for federation. The divided authority and administration of the past was becoming almost a public nuisance. That can well be illustrated by a reference to what occurred in a neighbouring State about a year ago, when certain disturbances broke out in China. The Ministry of New South Wales on that occasion came down to the Legislative Assembly of that State, of which I was then a member, and asked their approval of the despatch of some 200 men, known as the Naval Brigade, to China. Although I and others protested against the men being sent, as involving a useless and foolish expenditure, inasmuch as all the military powers of Europe, together with America and Japan, were interesting themselves in restoring order in China, we were met by the answer - "All you say may be very true, but that jealous little State of Victoria, which is always trying to euchre New South Wales," and to pose before the world as the leader of the Australian States, has arranged to send a- small number of men to China, and we must follow suit." As a result the people of New South Wales were committed to an extravagant and useless expenditure. While it appears to me that there is no provision in the Bill now before us which would allow of the despatch of an expedition of that character without the approval of this Parliament, I trust that the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, whose capable speech on the subject I have read will take care, when, in committee, he devotes himself to the improvement of the Bill that it is made plain that no Ministry shall have power to arrange for any expenditure of the Kind without first receiving the sanction of Parliament. It would be no answer to say that Parliament is not in session, because I can conceive of no crisis so sudden or so urgent that it would be necessary to take action before Parliament could meet - it could be summoned in a very short time indeed. We had another illustration a few years ago when the late Mr. Dalley - a very eloquent and accomplished gentleman, but in whom, as a politician, I lost any confidence I ever had - set the example of sending to the Soudan a still more useless expedition of New South Welshmen than the China one. In my opinion it was one of the most wild-cat and silly expeditions possible, and yet it was sent behind the back of Parliament. Parliament was never asked to sanction its despatch, and it is useless for a Ministry to come down afterwards and ask to be whitewashed. I merely instance these cases to emphasize this great point - that there should be no case of emergency which would justify a Ministry in sending an Australian force out of the country without first having obtained the sanction of the National Parliament. I trust that the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, who is very capable in these matters, will take up this questions and if he does I shall be very happy to support him. The Bill has been spoken of as a skeleton Bill. I hardly know what is meant by the term, except honorable members imagine that it should contain full and definite particulars as to the number of foot and horse and how the forces are to be raised. I do not think that is necessary in a Bill. It is enough for Parliament to indicate its temper to the Government, and give them a free hand in raising the forces which are considered necessary after getting expert military advice. Our power will come in after the Estimates are submitted, because I trust that the House will never approve of any lavish expenditure on military matters. All the Government require to know is the temper of Parliament to guide them when forming the forces and considering the expenditure. I perfectly agree with much that has been said in this debate. It was not my good fortune to hear most of the speeches, as I was absent from the State, but I gather that much was said on the necessity of establishing a factory for the making of arms and ammunition. I am sure the House entirely agrees that we should not constantly depend on getting arms from Europe. In New South Wales the other day they were very deficient of arms, and when an order was suddenly sent to Europe, arms could not be supplied. There is a similar deficiency, no doubt, in all the States. What we ought to have is; not only an ample supply of arms, but the means of producing arms and ammunition within the territory. In regard to this question a very important phase of -railway construction comes in. "For example, it is highly necessary that we should have a railway system connecting the various capitals of the States beyond the reach of an enemy, to meet the contingency of a successful effort to break or destroy a portion of line. From Melbourne to Sydney the railway is almost perfectly safe from interference by a foreign force, but it is not so with the northern extension from Sydney. For the first 90 miles from Sydney to Newcastle the railway runs along the coast, and it would not be very difficult for a portion to be destroyed. I would direct the attention of the Government to the necessity of making a continuous system through the interior, and beyond all chance of being interfered with by an enemy They should open negotiations with the Government of New South Wales with the object of having a branch extended from Werris Creek, on the northern line, to the western line so as to make a continuous extension from Brisbane to Melbourne. This defence question will largely justify a railway extension to Western Australia. If the Government can show, as I hope they will be able to show, that it can be made without any great annual loss, the- military aspects of the question will go far to justify its construction. I should scarcely have troubled to speak at all at this late stage of the debate if it had not been for the honorable and learned member for Bendigo referring to the necessity of establishing an Australian navy, and the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne speaking of our naval defence as not only the first- line of defence, but as the second line and the third line, indicating that he regarded naval defence as the one essential thing, and a military force as almost unnecessary. I believe many other honorable members have spoken much on the naval aspects of the case. I am entirely opposed to the establishment of an Australian navy. I heard the honorable and learned member for Bendigo contrast Australia with England, and say that a navy should be our first line of defence. But the position of Australia is entirely different from that of Great Britain. Australia is an island it is true, but it is a continent as well, and to imagine that we can establish a navy to defend 8,000 miles of coast line is to imagine a thing which is far beyond our financial capacity. England is in a very different position from Australia, for she has not only a world-wide commerce and various possessions throughout the world to defend but her own existence depends on free intercourse to and from her shores. If the

British fleet met with a serious reverse - and I suppose that is not beyond the bounds of possibility - and her ports became blockaded, Great Britain would be brought in a very few weeks to her knees to sue for peace, for the simple reason that she could not support her own people. But the ports of Australia might be blockaded for years, and we should suffer no serious inconvenience because we are capable of. feeding and clothing our own people. Once we start to create an Australian navy we must go on and keep pace with every modern improvement. A ship built to-day will be practically useless ten years hence. Once we begin this sort of thing let us do it with our eyes open, and know that it is to be done at an enormous expenditure. The English fleet looks very well on paper, but after all said and done its true strength depends on its more modern vessels, and the mad race for naval supremacy is going on now more ferociously than ever. In England, I believe, 1901 is a year of extreme activity. The British Parliament has voted over £16,000,000 for the construction of ships and armaments alone, quite apart from other naval expenditure. She is adding fifteen battle-ships and twenty-two armoured cruisers to her fleet. Other countries are doing exactly the same thing, although not to that extent, because it is not necessary. Prance is adding six battle-ships and five armoured cruisers to her fleet. Germany is adding nine battle-ships, and Russia nine battle-ships and nine cruisers. Even Japan, during the first six months of this year, has added two battle-ships and three cruisers to her fleet. And so it goes on year after year. Once Australia started this game I guarantee that it would cost more than the taxpayers could stand. Honorable members should take seriously into consideration the fact that this Bill, in clause 37, gives the Government power to build ships without asking Parliament for authority. If we are to establish a navy, then it should not be a toy one. It must be one up to date, else it would be useless. If we were to start with six battleships it would cost eight millions or nine millions, and practically every year we should be adding a million to the expenditure on our fleet. The position of Tasmania presents the only difficulty in the matter Australia could not be successfully invaded, nor do I think that any hostile power could successfully blockade our ports. Our risk is- very slight if we except the position of Tasmania, which might be made a depot for a foe. But I think we would always be able without the necessity of having expensive battleships, to send sufficient men to Tasmania to eject any force. Our tine policy is to abandon all idea of having a naval force. I hope' that honorable members will realize what a naval force would mean. We might have a dozen warships and yet one substantial battleship could riddle the whole lot with a few shots. We must have ships up to date, and if we once started we must go on year after year meeting every modern improvement to keep our navy up to a proper standard, and that would 'involve an expenditure which this Federation could not undertake. We are part of the British Empire, and if old England became involved in some great crisis and found herself confronted with perhaps two or three first-class European powers, it is perfectly true that she could not spare great battleships out here. Some authorities have gone so far as to say that she would even abandon any idea of keeping a great fleet in the Mediterranean, and would concentrate her whole strength in the Channel to defend her shores, once she had met with any slight reverse. But still there would always be a class of vessels which would be useless for modern warfare, and yet would be quite good enough to face an}' ships which any foe would be likely to send here, or vessels that would at all events be useful as quick cruisers for conveying troops to Tasmania for the defence of that State. We should fortify our capitals, and what is of equal importance, our coal depots ; and we should entirely - I use the word " entirely " advisedly - rely upon the land forces for the defence of Australia Furthermore, these land forces should be established as nearly as possible on a purely voluntary basis. I am in entire accord with the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne in his denunciation of what is called militarism, and I should deplore it if this military spirit were to be greatly fostered in Australia. We have been going through a period of excitement in Australia, and we shall pass through1 the inevitable reaction, and, perhaps, the danger is that the reaction may go too far. I consider it will be necessary to have a body of thoroughly trained military men to work our forts and for the purposes of instructing the other branches of our defence forces ; but I hope this House will always put its foot down against any undue fostering of pure militarism. We should strive to encourage rifle clubs in every possible way ; but To think it is absurd to provide that any forces or corps now in existence shall remain in existence under the Bill. Surely we must change our conditions in the light of modern experience. I do not profess to know much about these matters, but I know enough to quite realize that such a picturesque force as the lancers may be useless- I say "may be" - in modern warfare. Why, therefore, should it be provided that any such force now in existence shall be retained 1 We must reform our defence forces in the light of the best experience we can get, and as mounted rifles seem to be much more effective than lancers, I trust that that particular arm of the service1 will be encouraged throughout Australia. While I am opposed to the construction of a purely Australian Navy, I trust that the Ministry will ask this National Parliament to rise to something like a true conception of its responsibility as representing a portion of the Empire.

Mr Higgins - I hope the honorable member does not think that I suggested a purely Australian Navy ?

Mr SAWERS - I did not impute that opinion to the honorable and learned member, but the idea is that we should have an Australian Navy subject to the control of the Ministry.

Mr Higgins - No one has suggested that we should have a purely Australian Navy.

Mr SAWERS - The idea is abroad that we should construct a navy, and if we are to construct it, we should certainly control it. However, what I wish to say is that, whilst I am opposed to the construction of a purely Australian Navy, at Australian expense and to be under Australian control, I trust the Government will ask the Parliament to rise to a proper conception of its responsibility and vote an adequate sum towards the support of the British Navy. With all our talk about patriotism, we are now giving an insignificant vote of £126,000 per annum as a contribution from United Australia to the British Navy. I almost wonder that the British Government accepted it. Whilst the people of Great Britain have for years past contributed not less than 1 2s. per head towards the- support of the navy - -and it will cost something like 15s. per head this year for the same purpose - we, the people of Australia, are paying towards the support of the navy of the Empire, of our loyalty to which we so greatly boast, a paltry £126,000, which works out at something like 8d. or 9d. per head. Surely this is not worthy of a great Commonwealth like this, which boasts so freely of its loyalty. Loyalty and patriotism have not much respect from me when they are exhibited only in time of excitement and hysteria. I want this Parliament, in a time of peace, when there is no hysteria, to rise to a sense of its responsibility, and vote a far greater sum than the miserable amount we are now paying towards the Imperial Navy. I do not desire to go into the details of the Bill, but I wish to refer to the danger pointed out by the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne of giving the Ministry of the day too much power under the emergency clauses of the Bill. I am entirely opposed to any idea of enforced service. We have required no enforced service in England, and neither are we likely to require it in Australia. When it comes to a question of forcing our citizens to fight our glory will have departed, indeed. I shall be in favour of excising from the Bill anything that bears the slightest resemblance to a provision for conscription. I am glad to see the Minister for Home Affairs in his place, because I wish to refer to a matter . upon which he has expressed himself. I remember hearing or reading of some Member of Parliament in New South Wales having asked the Minister for Home Affairs, while he was Premier of that State, if he was going to allow New South Wales to be made a recruiting ground for enlisting Imperial soldiers, and my right honorable friend said "No," and that he would take care nothing of the kind was done. I noticed that a question was asked of the Prime Minister here the other night in reference to the same matter, and that the Prime Minister, without giving a definite answer, said he would have something to say about the matter later on. I do not understand quite what was meant by these questions and answers ; but if they mean that the Imperial Government are desirous of enlisting men in Australia for service in the British Army or Navy, and that our Government will attempt to prevent them from exercising that liberty, then I, for one, will be entirely at variance with the Government. The Prime Minister said he would have something togo say later on, and I hope that he will express himself to the effect that this National Government will not prevent, or attempt to prevent, the enlisting of citizens in Australia for service in the British Army or Navy, if such citizens think fit to enlist. I cannot understand what is meant by such an objection. If we are part of the Empire, and profess to be proud of our connexion with it, why should we wish to prevent some of our free-born citizens from enlisting . in the British army or navy 1 Great Britain has given up to us this magnificent territory, perfectly free from any conditions whatever ; she has laid upon us no Imperial obligations, but has trusted to our patriotism. I think therefore, that it will be a sorry day when our Government dare to say that they will prevent by law I doubt if they have the power - any of our citizens, who may wish to do so, from joining the Imperial forces in maintaining the honour of the Empire, of which we are a part, in any quarter of the globe.

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