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Thursday, 2 October 1902

Mr PAGE (Maranoa) - The Acting Minister for Defence appears to have given the subject of retrenchment his most serious attention, but a more hopeless muddle I never saw in my life. When the leader of the Opposition asked him how he had saved the £175,000, he gave us a garbled account of details which honorable members could not follow. If the Minister is honest and straightforward, why did he not circulate the information amongst honorable members a week ago, instead of keeping it as a trump card up his sleeve ? Why did he not take honorable members into his confidence, and let us know exactly how many officers and men were being retrenched, instead of keeping the information from us until the very last moment, and then giving it to the committee in such a way that honorable members could not follow his statement? The Estimates provide for the division of £12,225 amongst 26 persons in connexion with the Headquarters Staff. Fifteen clerks divide£3,145 amongst them, and one of them draws as much as £325. Provision is made here for clerks, sub-clerks, and assistant clerks, both in the Head-quarters Staff of the Commonwealth and in the Head-quarters Staffs of the States, but an Imperial establishment would have the work done much more cheaply. When the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General were in Queensland they referred particularly to the saving in Defence expenditure which would be brought about by the adoption of federation. Australia's noblest son was particularly strong upon that point. He told the people of Queensland that federation would bring about uniformity of administration and give a better, cheaper, and more contented service than then existed. But that has not been our experience. The Defence expenditure has been increasing by leaps and bounds from the moment that the forces were transferred to the Commonwealth. The representatives of South Australia have been twitted with having complained so strongly about the drill instructors who were sent to that State. But those drill instructors have been foisted upon the people of South Australia. They are officers who have been retrenched from the service of New South Wales and Victoria, and the Acting Minister for Defence knows it, notwithstanding all his quibbling. During the Commonwealth inaugural celebrations in Sydney in January, 1901, I heard it asked of the South Australian troops - " What troops are they?" The men sent to Sydney on that occasion from South Australia compared more than favorably with the men sent from Victoria, notwithstanding the alleged want of drill instructors in South Australia. I find that each of the staff officers is being allowed £50 for horse-feed, but that no such allowance is being given to other officers. Are we to suppose that the horses belonging to the Head-quarters Staff require more food than the horses of other officers? If I were Minister for Defence, I would save the country £350,000 in twelve months. Instead of the present Head-quarters Staff, I would have only the Major-General Commanding at £2,500. I am sorry that the officer in charge of our forces is not an artilleryman or an engineer. Some one said the other day that there are no officers like infantry officers, but the two best men in the British Army to-day are Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener, and one is an artillery officer and the other an engineer. I would also have a chief of staff at £550, a deputy adjutant-general, an artilleryman, a deputy assistant adjutant-general, an engineer, at £550 each, a principal medical officer at £900, and five or six clerks at £120. I want to know what is the good of having Head-quarters Staffs in the various States if there is to be a special Head-quarters Staff following the General, with his cock plumes and spurs, from State to State. There is no saving of expense there. If the Defence authorities had their way the Commonwealth would soon become insolvent, because they would incur the most riotous expenditure. If we voted £1,000,000 for defence purposes this year, the Minister next year would ask us for more. My experience in politics is that the more you vote for defence the more is wanted. I feel every word that I am uttering this afternoon, and the Minister knows it. Whenever I have spoken to him privately, and whenever I have addressed honorable members in this Chamber, I have spoken in the same strain.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member told me that I had done well to reduce the Estimates by the amount which I have saved.

Mr PAGE - I thought that the honorable gentleman was an exemplary Minister, but when he told me that he had saved £175,000, he did not tell me that £103,000 had to be deducted from that.

Sir William Lyne - The £103,000 was not calculated. The honorable member ought not to make a statement which is hot in accordance with facts.

Mr PAGE - The Minister is the first man who has told me that I am untruthful. I believe every word I have uttered to be true. We do not want a staff of curled darlings to perform society functions, but men who will act as practical instructors to the military forces. I do not care how much we pay so long as we obtain proper services ; but our Head-quarters Staff might be reduced to the extent I have indicated without impairing its efficiency one whit.

Mr Reid - Does the honorable member's proposal refer to the chief staff or to one of the States staffs ?

Mr PAGE - To the Head-quarters Staff. I am sure that if I were appointed Minister for Defence I should be able to work the department with a staff such as I have indicated.

Mr Reid - What about the staffs for the States?

Mr PAGE - I should cut them down by a corresponding degree. I do not see why we should have a large number of officers in each State. From my experience in Brisbane the officers are not in their offices, and cannot be found half the time. The Minister told us that the members of the staff were distributed all over the State, but beyond one officer at Townsville and another at Rockhampton, I have never seen any of of the Head-quarters Staff outside of Brisbane.

Sir William Lyne - I spoke of the naval staff.

Mr PAGE - That is worse still, because I am sure that no honorable member from Queensland can say that he ever saw a naval staff officer outside of Brisbane. Of course, there are naval cadet officers at some places, but the members of the permanent staff are quartered in Brisbane, and I have never seen them out of that capital. I share the opinion of the honorable member for Bland, that it would be better to spend £100,000 in purchasing rifles of the most approved pattern for arming our forces than £20,000 in the way proposed. The Minister said that the Martini-Henry rifles were as good at short ranges as were the magazine rifles.

Sir William Lyne - I did notsay anything of the kind. I said that at 300 yards the Martini-Henry rifle was an effective weapon. I did not refer to the magazine rifle.

Mr PAGE - Does the Minister suppose that men who are armed with magazine rifles would allow an opposing force with MartiniHenri rifles to get within 300 yards of them. I should like to see the Defence Estimates cut down to the extent of £200,000. We could do this with advantage, and place that sum at the disposal of the Treasurer with a view to its expenditure upon reproductive works. If we can spare money to spend upon playing at soldiers, we can better afford to devote it to the construction of reproductive works. There are plenty of places in my electorate which need telephone and telegraphic facilities, and the same might be said of many other districts. I agree with the honorable and learned member for Laanecoorie, that we should not cut down the vote by a certain amount, and leave it to the Minister to retrench in detail, but that we should indicate clearly the way in which the reductions should be made. We do not wish to get rid of the rank and file, but- to reduce the salaries of those officers who are receiving £450 and upwards per annum. I do not say that we should dispense with them altogether, but that we should make them share in the retrenchment.

Mr Watson - We should dismiss some of them.

Mr Skene - It would not be possible to reduce the Estimates by £200,000 without diminishing the numbers of the rank and file.

Mr PAGE - Yes, it would. It is proposed to spend about £10,000 in excess of last year upon the Head-quarters Staff alone, and if we save ten times that amount, as we could very easily, we should reduce the expenditure by £100,000 straight away. Last year the Minister for Defence told us that the instructors for rifle clubs had to ride on horseback from one place to another to carry out their duties, As the meeting places of the rifle clubs are situated, in some cases, hundreds of miles apart, I do not know how this would be practicable. A few days ago the Acting Minister for Defence told us that the Government were not in accord with Major-General Hutton's scheme of defence. To-day he said, however, that whatever might be done with the Estimates, the money had been spent.

Sir William Lyne - I did not say anything of the kind. I told the honorable member privately that a certain amount of the money had been spent.

Mr PAGE - I am surprised that the Minister should deny his statement to me.

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