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Thursday, 21 August 1902

Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume) (Minister for Home Affairs) . - I think I may fairly complain of the action of honorable members in initiating a debate of this character on" grievance day," rather than dealing with the subject under circumstances which would permit of my being notified beforehand, and of my preparing myself for a reply to their criticisms. Honorable members can not expect me to deal so effectively with their complaints as if I had had notice of their intention to bring forward the matters to which they referred. I have no documents or records with me, but I wish to speak from memory with reference to two or three matters. First, I desire to deal with the statement of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, with regard to the warrant officers and non-commissioned officers who are being retired, and who have not yet been informed of the amount of the payment to be made to them at the expiration of their term of service- on August 31st. I may say that we are under no obligation to pay these officers anything whatever, but I induced my colleagues to agree to give them two months' notice and two months' pay, so that they should not be thrown out of employment without a moment's warning. I am proposing to the Cabinet to give certain compensation to the retiring men, which will probably amount in all to about £16,000 ; but the exact form in which this shall be done is still a matter for consideration. This expenditure must, however, be sanctioned by the House before any payments can be made. Many honorable members object to make any payments in the form of compensation or retiring allowances, and therefore the matter will have to be discussed before any definite action is taken. In all probability this proposal will be submitted in connexion with the Estimates. It will, therefore, be seen that so far as I am concerned I am not keeping this matter in suspense.

Mr McCay - I do not think I suggested that.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - But the honorable and learned member said that the matter should not have been under consideration for so long. I am now showing him that it is practically settled so far as the Cabinet is concerned. Although this proposal, to which I have referred, will involve the expenditure of a large sum of money for this year, I do not think that we can very well deny consideration to the men who are being deprived of positions which they have occupied for many years past. The amounts given to individuals will, after all, be comparatively small. The draft. Estimates, to which the honorable and learned member referred, are being printed as rapidly as possible. My secretary has been conferring with the Government Printer this morning with a view to arranging that the printing shall be completed to-morrow. These will be subject to further reductions and alterations. The Estimates for the whole of the military and naval forces stand at about £599,000, or practically the same amount that they represented two or three years ago. This is a reduction of £135,000 upon the Estimates for last year, but I wish to explain the position. The honorable and learned member for Corinella complained about the stop page of recruiting, but I would point out that recruiting was suspended for nearly the whole of last year. It will probably surprise honorable members to learn that, in consequence of this, the defence expenditure was very much reduced - in fact, the actual outlay was about the same as the amount provided for in the Estimates to be submitted this year.

Mr McCay - Then if we commence recruiting, in order to bring the forces up to their proper strength, we shall probably run into a large amount of extra expense, and find the Estimates exceeded. 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not think so. The Estimates submitted last year were upon an inflated scale. Many of the corps were below their proper strength owing to the suspension of recruiting, and, as a result, the actual expenditure was £130,000 less than the amount provided for on the Estimates. The number of volunteers in Queensland had been much reduced, the strength of the various corps in New South Wales had also been diminished, and this applies to a small extent to the Victorian forces also. In South Australia there has been no reduction, and in Tasmania very little.

Mr McCay - Let us keep up our staff of non-commissioned officers. I do not refer to the permanent men, but to those who belong to the citizen forces.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable and learned member refers to the militia 1

Mr McCay - Yes.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Honorable members can scarcely expect me to use the pruning knife in connexion with that branch of the force in the absence of personal knowledge. In the very nature of things, I must depend upon my responsible officers for information. I can assure honorable members that, as far as possible, I have accepted the recommendations of those officers in the carrying out of this scheme. There have been occasions, however - notably two - upon which Icould not adopt that course. One of these recommendations was that a considerable reduction should be made in the pay given in some of the States, and the other that there should be a reduction in the number of men without a corresponding diminution in the number of officers. In those two instances, I returned the recommendations, and I think I can fairly claim that the reductions which have been made in the payments to the men have been very small indeed. I believe that in the case referred to by the honorable and learned member for Corio, he is mistaken as to the facts. If men devote all their time to the service for 4s. 3d. per day, it is a very small pay indeed ; but it is not within my knowledge that they have done so.

Mr Crouch - I will bring the matter under the notice of the Minister by letter, and he will find that my statement is accurate.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I shall be very glad if the honorable member will do so. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne has referred to the probability that because the General Officer Commanding has not belonged to the engineers, but has been a linesman, he might not devote that attention to the engineering branch of the service which its importance warrants. At this particular moment, I forget the exact details of the retrenchment scheme, but it is essential that I should have some one to advise me as to the number of men which should constitute that arm of the service. I am not going to take the responsibility of determining these matters without having some one to support me, should my actions be questioned. I have advised the responsible officers that they should be particularly careful-

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Let us have a General as Minister for War.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - In reply to that interjection, I may mention that quite recently my attention was directed to a statement in the Sydney Evening News criticising a little trouble which was supposed to have arisen between MajorGeneral Hutton and myself, and suggesting that it would be wise to hand over to that officer a certain sum of money, and allow him to spend it just as he chooses. I question very much whether Parliament would allow money to be disbursed in that way. I admit that the number of officers upon the head-quarters' staff appears to be large. But I would point out that no new appointments have been made. The officers in question have been transferred from other States, and it must not be forgotten that prior to federation there were six headquarters' staffs in Australia, whereas now there is only one of any importance. What has happened is that a good many of the officers upon the head-quarters' staffs of the various States have been drawn to one centre. Peeling, however, that the staff was a large one, I have only provisionally approved of it, and of three of its members only temporarily. The General Officer Commanding informs me that after the first twelve months he will probably be able to get along with three or four officers less, and, therefore, I took the action indicated. I did so because I had to act before the matter was discussed by the House, and with a view to giving honorable members a free hand in dealing with it. Under the circumstances, I do not see what more I could possibly have done. The honorable and learned member for Corio has also referred to the reduction which has taken place in the number of men stationed at Queenscliff - a reduction from 35 to 26. That, however, is a mere matter of official detail. I cannot be expected to know why one man is placed here, there, or anywhere else. How can a Minister do other than depend upon the reports of his responsible officers? There is another matter which was specially brought under my notice the other evening by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. He declared that married men were being discharged from the force whilst single men were being retained. The same evening I ascertained that it was perfectly true that married men had received notice of retirement. Thereupon I requested that, whereever it was possible, the services of married men with families should be retained, whilst the single men should be retired. With the exception of four or five, I believe that the whole of the married men have been retained in accordance with that instruction. It is true that notice of retirement was given to certain married men, and that the notice has not been withdrawn. At the same time it has not been acted upon.

Mr McCay - Some of the married men are going.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It may be that four or five married men are being retired for some special reason.

Mr Crouch - I can supply the Minister with a list of the names.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - What I promised to do on the occasion in question I have done. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne has referred to the impossibility of a man in the ranks rising to a higher position. The regulations to which he has referred came under my notice only about a fortnight ago, and I at once took exception to that one which insists upon candidates for positions as officers having a knowledge of Greek, Latin, and a number of other subjects. I gave instructions that these should be omitted from the educational test.

Mr Crouch - What about the age limit?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I was not aware that the age limit was so low, but to a large extent I must leave that question to those who understand these matters. If there are any conditions in the regulations which it is impossible to carry out I will endeavour to make them more elastic. The instruction which I gave in regard to the educational qualifications of candidates will be carried out, and an opportunity will be afforded to the sons of the poorer classes of the community to rise to the higher positions in the service. That would be quite impossible under the existing regulations, save in the case of a man possessed of an exceptionally brilliant intellect. There is another regulation which I thought was a little objectionable, and the terras of which will, therefore, be varied. Reference has been made to three officers who have been brought from New South Wales to the head-quarters staff. Those three officers were recommended for promotion. I happen to know all of them, and I do not know which is the best officer. As to Captain Owen, I am satisfied that there is no better man in Australia. Major Bridges and Major Savage are also exceedingly good men.

Mr Crouch - I am told that they are first-class men, but there is an objection to promoting officers, whilst men are being dismissed.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Their promotion does not involve any considerable increased expenditure, seeing that we have reduced the allowances payable to military officers, and included them in their salaries. In most cases the salaries now paid constitute a reduction upon those previously paid, plus the allowances. It seems to me that in this connexion some persons have been trying to cause trouble without giving the public accurate information. The honorable member for Moreton has declared that an effort is being made to cut down the issue of ammunition, and spend the money thus saved in uniforms for the rifle clubs. I am not aware that that is the proposal at the present time, but if ammunition is to be distributed in the other States as it has been in Victoria during the past three years we shall need to provide a considerably increased sum for its purchase. Last year the ammunition required for the rifle clubs of Victoria was something over 4,000,000 rounds, and this year it is estimated at nearly 5,000,000 rounds. When it is considered that the cartridges for the 303 rifle cost the Government £6 10s. or £1 per 1,000 it will be seen that this supply represents a considerable outlay. It is not proposed to do more than reasonably restrict leakages. Regarding the question of uniform the general officer commanding has made a recommendation with which I do not agree. He wishes to reduce the class of uniform -

Mr Crouch - He desires it to be khaki all through the service.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes; and I do not agree with that proposal, because there are regiments which have provided their own uniform, which pride themselves upon it, and wish to retain it. Take, for instance, the Australian Horse. If the recommendation of the general officer commanding were adopted, the handsome uniform of that branch of the force would have to be thrown aside.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - And also that of the Scottish Regiment.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - To my mind, khaki is suitable for active service, but it is not very suitable for ordinary purposes.

Mr Wilkinson - My reference was to the uniforms for rifle clubs.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I think that the honorable member is mistaken as to the facts. The honorable and learned member for Corio has referred to several paragraphs which have appeared in the press. In this connexion, I would ask honorable members to pay very little heed to a number of those paragraphs. How they come to be published I do not understand. Sometimes I am very much startled to see absolutely misleading paragraphs, based upon information which I am alleged to have supplied. I cannot agree with the contention that there should be no reduction in the number of officers.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Some honorable members desire only the New South Wales officers to be reduced.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The New South Wales officers have been reduced more than have those of any other State, whilst the Q ueensland troops have been diminished to a larger extent than have those of the other States, and that at the request of its Premier. In Victoria the reduction has been less, whilst there has been practically none in South Australia and Tasmania.

Mr Crouch - We were down to bedrock here previously.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - In New South Wales and Queensland the expenditure has been reduced by one-half, and in Victoria by one-third.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why has Victoria been so favoured ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Victoria has been treated exactly as the needs of the case demanded. I fear that I shall have to make still further reductions in the naval forces, so that those in the service who experience a feeling of unrest in connexion with what has already taken place, should realize that up to the present time they have been lucky. Instead of trying to bring influence to bear to prevent reductions, it would be better if they recognised that the country is determined that reductions shall be made, and that, therefore, they must submit.

Mr McCay - But the reductions must be equal.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The object of the General Officer Commanding is, if possible, to equalize the rates of pay throughout the Commonwealth, and to make the cost of the defences proportionate to the population ; but it is impossible to do this all at once. The reason why greater reductions have taken place in Queensland, and, perhaps, in New South Wales, is that the rates of pay were higher there than in Victoria, for example. The expenditure in Queensland is still higher in proportion to population than in the other States, though serious reductions have taken place.

Mr Crouch - How much can be taken off the head-quarters staff?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It is a very popular thing to attack the head-quarters staff, but they have more work now than they are able to do - at any rate, within an eight-hours day. - and they work very hard.

Mr Wilks - Besides, they are a man short ; the Minister for Defence is away.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes ; and personally I have to work sixteen hours a day. The headquarters staff is composed of very good men, and in the initiation of a new condition of affairs the General Officer Commanding cannot be expected to carry out extensive schemes without the assistance of the best men obtainable.' I hope that honorable members will not tilt at the headquarters staff until we get things into working order. When that happens, it maybe possible to reduce the staff a little, but at the present time the General Officer Commanding requires the assistance of every man under him. It would be hard to find any one who would display more energy or greater ability than that officer himself. ' I feel sometimes that he goes a bit too fast, but he is very much in earnest, and I am sure he will shake up the drones in the service in a way in which they have never been shaken up before.

Mr Wilks - Are there strained relations between the honorable member and the General Officer Commanding?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - No. There was a misunderstanding between us. I do not like things to be made public until the ministerial head of a department or the Cabinet have dealt with them, but the action of the General Officer Commanding in the case referred to was due to a mistake. He recognises that the civil authority must be above the military authority - that in matters affecting expenditure, or any large scheme of organization, the civil authority must 'be paramount. As I have had to speak entirely from memory, honorable members will understand that the figures which I have used cannot be regarded as absolutely correct. What we have striven to do is to make a fair reduction in the number both of the officers and of the men in the service, but we have not denuded the forces of necessary officers. I agree with the honorable and learned member for Corinella that perhaps a larger number of officers are required in times of peace than in times of war, in order to train the men.

Mr McCay - In times of war it is more difficult to procure officers than to procure men.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes. I hope that when the Estimates are brought down, as I think they will be within the next fortnight or three weeks, I shall be able to give honorable members fuller and more detailed information than I have at hand now. A few alterations have yet to be made, but I hope to present Estimates showing a reduction of £140,000 or £150,000 on the amount provided for in last year's Estimates. I have previously explained that in those Estimates provision was made for the salaries of men who had notbeen appointed, and as many of the positions have not been filled up, the money of course has not been spent, the total expenditure having been reduced to about what it was the year before last. With regard to the question raised by the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, I would point out that the Commonwealth has no power to deal with factory legislation unless the subject is referred to it by the States. A resolution dealing with it was passed by this House, and the Government thereupon inquired from the States Governments if they would refer the subject to the Commonwealth Parliament, but they refused to do so. We could, of course, deal with industrial disputesaffecting more than one State ; but as things stand we could not do more than that.

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