Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 9 August 1901
Page: 0


Mr E SOLOMON (FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -It was not my intention to have spoken on the subject of defence, of which I know very little from past experience. At the same time, it strikes me that it would have been better had the Minister for Defence been here to hear the various arguments that have been used in the course of this debate. Moreover, I think that it is like beginning "at the wrong end of the stick " to talk about defence purposes, when we really do not know what we have to spend. I would far rattier have seen the initiation of this Bill postponed until the Tariff question had been settled. Honorable members have suggested various systems of defence. Some have gone so fatay to say we should expend millions on a navy. Others wish to spend large sums on a standing army, notwithstanding that at the present time there is a large outlay on the forces in the various ' States. It has struck me very forcibly that we should encourage as much as possible those who are voluntarily coming forward at the present time. As to rifle clubs, for instance, I noticed a telegram from Western Australia the other day to the effect that the clubs in that State had approached the Minister for Defence and asked for 10,000 rifles, suggesting that the clubs should pay half the cost of the rifles and more than half the cost of the ammunition. If we can get a nucleus of defence in that direction, we ought to encourage the idea to the very utmost. . Without going over the ground already traversed, my idea is that we should have a small militia force in each State, which could be concentrated at any moment at any given point in case of invasion. Not that I have the slightest idea of invasion for many years to come ; but we should be prepared to raise a large body of men for our own defence at any time. Those in our militia forces should be trained in such a way that officers might be ap=pointed from their ranks who could take charge of companies in any place. The volunteer system has not of late been so popular throughout Australia as it was some years ago. In the sixties I was a member of the volunteer forces of South Australia under Colonel Freeling. We were a militia rather than a volunteer force, and had to camp out for training for sometimes a week at a time. In those da}'s there was a fever of excitement because of the recent Crimean war, and Australia was on the qui vive for the approach of foreign cruisers. With regard to the establishment of a Commonwealth navy, I think that any proposal of the kind would be absurd. To spend a million pounds upon the construction of one vessel, which would be totally inadequate to our needs, would be useless ; and at the present time we really do not know what we shall have to spend. The present arrangements for naval defence are very good. It is true that the ships of ' the Australian squadron lie idle in our waters for long periods ; but a little while ago, when the Spanish man-of-war Saide visited Australia, it was seen that whenever she arrived at a port one of the ships of the squadron came soon afterwards. It struck me at the time that an intimation had been given to the authorities that the foreigner had been sent out here to obtain information. We, in Australia, have always been eager to show even foreigners everything of interest that there is in the States, including our fortifications and means of defence, and it is pretty certain that many foreign people have come here to get information about our resources in that respect. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Flinders allude to the need for a transcontinental railway. It was owing to almost a distinct promise that that railway would be built that the State of Western Australia joined the Union. For a long time we held back, and had federation beenproposed to the people without what was looked upon as the promise of that railway, we should not have joined the union. We are 2,000 miles away from the Eastern States, and if war broke out under present circumstances, and vessels were chartered to send troops to usby sea, every effort would be made by the enemy to prevent them, from getting there. Therefore, it is necessary that the railway should be made for purposes of defence. We need no standing army, because it has been shown that when men are required to defend their country they will always come forward, and I believe that if Australia were threatened, men would come from the most distant parts to enrol in defence of their hearths and homes. In conclusion, I would lay particular stress upon the importance of the construction of the transcontinental railway in the interests, not of Western Australia alone - because we are not bound up to our own State interests to the exclusion of national interests - but of the whole of the people of Australia. It has been said that we have something like 950,000 men to put into the field at a moment's notice ; and although one may well doubt the correctness of those figures, we know that if necessity arose, our people would come forward to do the best they could in the defence of their country. That is shown by the fact that whenever it was mentioned in the press that a contingent was to be sent to South Africa, twice and three times as many men as were required volunteered to go.

Mr.R . EDWARDS (Oxley).- As I understand that honorable members desire that the debate should be brought to a conclusion at an early hour of the day, I shall not occupy very much time. But any measure which has for its object the establishment of the defence of the Commonwealth will be considered of the utmost importance by the people of Australia. The House is very fortunate in having amongst its members so large a number possessed of practical knowledge and experience in military matters, and their contributions to the debate have been most acceptable to those who have had little or no experience in such things. To my mind the Bill is a very good one, although the honorable member for Kennedy failed to see any merit in it, and went so far as to state that not one honorable member had expressed himself in appreciation of it. I think he was in error in making that statement. The Bill covers a great deal of ground, and much time, thought, and consideration has evidently been given to its provisions. It is an honest effort on the part of the Minister to make provision for the defence of the country. I hope that it will be many years before there will be any need for us to defend ourselves against invasion ; but in order that we may be in a state of peace and security it is absolutely necessary that we should prepare to resist an enemy. Our security lies in the fact of preparation. Complications may at any time arise between the. motherland and other countries which may be fraught with danger to Australia. Besides that, we must always keep in mind our proximity to China and japan. I am pleased that provision is made for the formation of junior and senior cadet corps, because I am of opinion that boys and youths should be taught military drill and the use of firearms. Boys are only too glad to receive such instruction, and what they learn will never be forgotten. If cadet corps are formed in connexion with all the city and country schools, the Commonwealth, in a' few years time, will have an army in each State ready to take the field at short notice. We must rely upon our citizen soldiers for our internal defence, and therefore the sooner ' our youths are taught the' use of firearms the better it will be for us. I recognise, too, that there must be a standing army of professional soldiers, but its numbers should be small. The honorable member for Maranoa, who has some practical knowledge of military matters, said that he thought about 500 men would be sufficient. I am somewhat in doubt about that. There are six States in the Union, and it will be necessary to have a certain number of soldiers in each State to train our volunteer forces, and for other purposes, so that possibly more than 500 permanent men will be required. I hope, however, that our standing army will be a very small one. I favour the volunteer system, and I would encourage the formation of rifle clubs, and provide them with expert instructors, giving every facility to our young men to make themselves expert shots. I object altogether to compulsion or conscription, which I think would prove very distasteful to Australians. I feel that the young men of this country- would regard any system of compulsion as a' reflection upon them. Should the Commonwealth get into trouble with any other power, every man in the country would be only too glad to come forward in its defence. The difficulty would be not to get volunteers, but to restrict the applications for enrolment. - The honorable and learned member' for Bendigo mentioned the omission to deal with the fire brigades of the Commonwealth in the Bill. I think that that fine body of men, who are accustomed to a certain amount of drill, would be a great acquisition to our defence forces.







Suggest corrections