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Thursday, 2 October 1902

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - While I do not profess to possess any special knowledge upon this question, I agree with the honorable member for Bland that the expenses incurred in connexion with the Defence department are too high. I have a very distinct recollection of speeches made by the Prime Minister and the Acting Prime Minister on the occasion of a visit which they paid to Brisbane tosupport the movement for the federation of the States. One of the arguments used by both of them was that the transfer of certain departments would lessen the cost of government. I think I could almost quote the very words which the Acting Prime Minister used when referring to this subject at a public meeting held in the Exhibition-building. He said that instead of having six little tinpot armies controlled by six Commandants, we should have one Australian army, controlled by one Commandant, and that the saving which would be effected in the administrationof this department would go very far towards covering the other expenses in connexion with federation. It appears to me that instead of doing away with the various staffs in the several States, we have kept them on, and created a new one. I am quite willing to admit that in the transition stages a good deal of work is necessary before the whole of the departments can be brought into line, and that doubtless, as time goes on, it will be unnecessary to spend as much upon the headquarters branch as we do at present. At the same time, it has been stated to me, on what I believe to be excellent authority, that a good deal of unnecessary work is undertaken by the head-quarters branch ; that work which should be done in the offices of the different regiments, while not left altogether undone there, is multiplied at the head-quarters branches of the various States. The idea which prevails throughout the Commonwealth, and was particularly evidenced in the debate when the Defence Bill was before the House, is that the Australian army should consist of a citizen soldiery. Of course, no one will deny that a certain proportion of the forces must be composed of permanent men. We must have expert military men - skilled men, such as submarine miners, engineers, and drill instructors - as well as competent and expert officers. But the feeling which is generally expressed is that the defences of Australia should he undertaken by our own people. In following the debate - and I have watched it very closely - it has appeared to me that we have overlooked one fact. It is proposed in the scheme formulated by the Commandant that a certain nursery for the Defence forces should be formed by the rifle clubs - that we should have a kind of reserve force composed of members of rifle clubs. I consider that quite as good a nursery as that is to be found in the shape of cadet corps, which we seem to be neglecting. ' In my opinion, the training of our citizen soldiery should begin in the schools. In most States there are cadet forces, but after the boys leave school they leave us and we leave them. There seems to be a missing link - an intermediate stage - for which no provision has been made. We should take up the cadets when they leave school, and form a kind of senior cadet corps. In that way we should keep them in touch with our defences, train them in the use of the rifle, and then, when they had arrived at the age of, say eighteen years, they would be fit for drafting into the regular militia, or permanent forces, if it were desired to increase them. In the meantime, at all events, we should be training them to become expert shots. I know of instances in Queensland in which school cadets have distinguished themselves at rifle association meetings in various places, and held their own with some of the adult shots of the State. That the Minister has loyally done his best to bring down the expenses of this department, I think few of us will attempt to deny. But he has had a colossal task. I have said, in connexion with the discussion upon other items in the Estimates, that some of the States which are whining now about the cost of this and other transferred departments helped, immediately before the departments were transferred, to make the Minister's work very much more difficult than it would otherwise have -been. The honorable member for Bland has compared the cost of the Defence department now with what it was prior to its transfer to the Commonwealth. I desire to quote from the Queensland Hansard, vol. 85, a speech made by the late Sir J. R. Dickson, when the Estimates were being discussed in the Legislative Assembly on 26th October, 1900. The deceased gentleman was then Chief Secretary and Premier, and in moving that - £126,873 be granted to defray the expenses of the Land Defence Force, he is reported to have spoken as follows : -

The item represented an increase upon the Estimates of last year of no less a sum than £49,450. At first-sight that would appear to be - and it was - a very considerable increase upon the previous appropriation for this purpose ; but he presumed honorable members would recognise the very greatly altered circumstances under which this enlarged appropriation was asked for. Instead of the defence force being a sort of local police, they had now assumed, in conjunction with similar forces all over Australia, large dimensions, being in fact recognised as awing' of the great British army.

Later on, in reply to the leader of the Opposition, he said -

He regretted to hear the leader of the Opposition say that this vote was too large. For the very reasons which he had adduced, he (the Chief Secretary) thought it should be maintained, if not enlarged. He thought it would be unfortunate if they allowed the defence force to be taken over in such a condition that it would not show to the other colonies what our reasonable requirements of an efficient service were.

The leader of the Opposition interjected -

Can you improve it much inside of nine weeks ?

This was only nine weeks prior to the time it was thought the department would be transferred. Sir J. R. Dickson replied -

He would like to see it surrendered under the Commonwealth Statute in such a condition as would be creditable to the Commonwealth.

I wish honorable members to pay particular attention 'to the following passage : -

If they reduced this vote to £80,000, at which it formerly stood, very likely the majority of the Federal Parliament and the Federal Executive would consider that that allocation for the defence service of Queensland was sufficient for the future, whereas, if they showed the Federal Parliament and the Federal Executive what their requirements were, he was sure that the status of our defence force would be maintained, and very pssibly enlarged. If they reduced the estimate in the manner indicated, it would lead the Federal Government to consider that, as the defences of Queensland had been gauged by the Parliament of Queensland, there was no necessity for any larger defence to be provided. The Federal Government was not going to overturn in one session the conditions under which the several States entered the alliance. He held the present estimate was rather too limited for their defence requirements, and when the Federal Parliament was established, there would be an even larger allocation for the defence of that great colony with its rapidly increasing population.

It is a somewhat long quotation, but I think it is necessary that this statement should be placed on record, inasmuch as the Premier of Queensland has charged the Administration of the Commonwealth with having increased the cost of the transferred departments as compared with the expenditure which they involved when administered by the States. A little further on, in the debate to which I have already referred, Mr. Reid interjected -

Have not the taxpayers in all the colonies got to pay the same in proportion ?

Sir J.R. Dickson replied

That was a different matter. They would, no doubt, have to contribute to the general defence of the Commonwealth, but when the force was taken over that vote would not have to be borne locally, and the amount which appeared there would cease to be charged directly to Queensland.

That is where a mistake was made. The fact was overlooked, that whatever the transferred departments cost over and above what they returned to the Commonwealth would have to be borne by the States during the bookkeeping period. Mr. Givens interjected -

Will we not pay it just the same ?

Sir J.R. Dickson replied

It would not fall so heavily upon Queensland.

Then Mr. Kidston interjected -

I see you are working the same dodge with this as with the Post-office - trying to get the better of the Federal Government.

When the Postmaster-General's Estimates were before us, I pointed out that the expenditure on that department had been increased in a like manner. When State Ministers in Queensland criticise federal expenditure, they should bear in mind that they themselves piled up expenditure in the transferred departments of the State immediately before they were taken over by the Commonwealth. I have a few words of criticism to offer upon the way in which the retrenchment in this department has been carried out in Queensland. I have been in communication with the Minister and his department upon the disbandment of certain Queensland companies. Some of the most effective companies in that State have been altogether disbanded. They recognised, as we did, that there was need for a considerable reduction in the expenditure, and in the number of men enrolled. But to wipe out four companies in one regiment, and to wipe out a complete regiment, seems to me to have been a mistake. It is, perhaps, presumptuous for a layman to speak of any act of administration by those who ought to know, as a mistake, but two of the companies which have been disbanded were complimented, I believe, by the General Officer Commanding himself, at the last encampment held in Queensland, as the best companies on the ground in drill and manoeuvring. I have here a letter from the department received only the other day, in which it is stated thatthe 4th Darling Downs Regiment, of which I am now speaking, was disbanded ten years ago. Let me say that that regiment was called into existence only about three years ago, and there never was a 4th Darling Downs Regiment before that time. It is true that companies have existed in Ipswich for a very long time. One company which was formed as far back as 40 years ago, has been in existence there almost continuously, though under different names. Those men had the military and patriotic spirit, and they even maintained a battery of artillery there. If a similar course were adopted now we should not only have volunteer infantry and militia, but we should have volunteer artillery brigades, and by providing them with field guns for practice, as was done in the olden times, I believe we should be adding to the efficiency of our forces. I do not state that as my own opinion, but as an opinion communicated to me by one who professes to understand the subject.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member will understand that I had to accept the recommendation of the General Officer Commanding.

Mr WILKINSON - I am aware of the difficulties under which the honorable gentleman has had to act. Perhaps none of us can fully realize them, but we can realize them to a degree.

Mr Page - Is the honorable member in favour of a reduction of the vote?

Mr WILKINSON - Yes. I believe that far too much is being spent upon the administrative branch of the Defence Force. Some of the money so expended could be better spent in providing for a certain amount of drill, and in providing ammunition, which would enable our citizen soldiers, and those who are willing to become citizen soldiers, to secure that practice with the rifle which we have heard so much extolled by the leading soldiers of Great Britain today. Our own experience from the work of the men whom we sent to South Africa is that it requires but a very short period to lick men into shape and lit them to take the- field. Numbers of the men whom we sent to South Africa knew no drill, and could neither ride nor shoot when they enlisted. If our citizens learn d,ill as school cadets they will never forget it. They can be kept in touch with the .Defence Force after they leave school by being drafted into rifle clubs, infantry, and mounted infantry corps, and we shall then have men .with a knowledge of the rifle, who, in two or three weeks, or a couple of months at the outside, could learn sufficient of manoeuvring in the field to make them an efficient force. I was speaking1 of the 4th Darling Downs Regiment, and I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to a matter on which the men who were members of that regiment feel very sore. Immediately after they had been complimented on their conduct at the encampment, they were marched into Brisbane, where their arms were taken from them, and they were marched back to their head-quarters at Ipswich without either arms or accoutrements. To a layman there might not appear to be very much in that, but the men felt it as sorely as the disbandment of the regiment, because they said it was like marching them home in disgrace.

Sir John Quick - Why was that done ?

Mr WILKINSON - It was done under the excuse that it would save expense in returning the arms from Ipswich to Brisbane.

Sir Langdon Bonython - Who paid the compliment ? Was it the General ?

Mr WILKINSON - It was done under orders from the head-quarters staff. I think that Major-General Hutton is too much of a soldier to have given any such instructions.

Sir Langdon Bonython - Was not the compliment conditioned by circumstances?

Mr WILKINSON - The men were instructed to leave their rifles and accoutrements in Brisbane in order to save the expense of having them returned from Ipswich to Brisbane, a distance of 24 miles. The public did not know this, and seeing them march back without their arms and accoutrements, they might reasonably have assumed that they were being marched back practically under arrest. I have a word or two more to say on the question of rifle clubs and uniforms. I am of the opinion, which appears to be general, that rifle clubs form one of the most useful branches of the Defence Force, and one which should be encouraged in every possible way. Looking at the lump vote for the Commonwealth, the amount set down for rifle clubsappears to be very large. But if the numbers belonging to clubs in the various States are compared, it will be seen that Victoria has enrolled more members of rifle clubs than all the rest of the States of the Commonwealth put together. There seems to have been some special fever engendered in the minds of Victorian citizens.

Mr Salmon - No ; it was due to encouragement by the Government.

Mr WILKINSON - I am very glad to hear it. If we had a proportionate number of expert riflemen in New South Wales and in the other States, we should have an effective force which would be able to give a good account of itself should a foe threaten these shores. There have been regulations in the various States compelling members of rifle clubs to provide uniforms. I understand that it is proposed, under the new scheme, to provide members of rifle clubs with uniforms, but to cut down the supply of ammunition. I think that will be a decided mistake. It will be time enough for the members of rifle clubs to put on uniforms when they are required to take the field, and if the Commonwealth can afford to spend this £8,000 or £10,000, it would be better to do so in providing the rifle clubs with cheap ammunition, as we have done in the past, not on the limited scale now proposed, but on the not too liberalscale of the past.

Sir William Lyne - Honorable members propose to cut the Estimates down, and yet if the rifle clubs were to be maintained on the same basis as previously it would involve an expenditure of £100,000 for ammunition.

Mr WILKINSON - I do not think that we are going to have rifle clubs on the same basis as previously. I believe, with the honorable member for Bland, that a saying in the expenditure can be best effected by the reduction of the salaries of the men at the top, who are at present receiving what, in my opinion, is inordinate remuneration for the work they have to do. It seems as if something must be paid tothese men because they are soldiers, and the amount of their remuneration is not arranged in accordance with the value of the work they do. The amount on the Estimates appears to me to be more than Australia can afford at the present time, and I believe we can get for less money a more effective force than is here proposed. It is all very well to have men taught to perform the pretty drill manoeuvres which have been referred to by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, but it is far more to our interest to have men who can use the rifle well, even though they may not be able to keep step in the line of march as accurately as those who have spent most of their time in the practice of drill instead of in the practice of rifle shooting.

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