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Thursday, 2 October 1902

Mr SKENE (Grampians) - Under the influence of the speech delivered by the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, I was inclined to deal rather broadly with this subject ; but as the debate has since been directed to the matter more immediately before us, I shall content myself with saying a very few words. I hope that the honorable and learned member's reading of the Constitution is not legally tenable. I think it would be a great misfortune if it were so, because I entirely approve of that portion of the Commandant's report in which he recommends that, if necessary, troops should be available for despatch to places outside the Commonwealth in connexion with our defence operations. The Commandant has pointed out the number of occasions on which it has been necessary for England, in selfprotection, to send troops abroad, and we know now that if the Boers had prosecuted the war with greater vigour at the outset we should probably have had to begin at the sea and drive them back into their own country. I think, further, that as a Commonwealth we should look at this matter from a broad point of view, because we shall be called upon to deal with the islands of the Pacific. I believe that e eventually we shall extend our control across the Pacific until we are able to clasp hands with our great AngloSaxon kinsmen in the United States. If we do not realize our proper destiny in this regard, the enterprising colony, of New Zealand will cut the ground from under our feet, and a great rival Commonwealth will be formed in these southern seas. We know from what has recently happened that New Zealand is regarded in the old country as almost equal to the Commonwealth, and if we do not assume a proper position in the Pacific we may be supplanted by that colony. Our present position carries my mind back to what I read in Froude's work, Oceana, regarding the suggestion made to the Protector Cromwell by Sir James Harrington, that England would become the great Commonwealth of Oceana; that she would be a Commonwealth for the purpose of expansion. That was a prophetic utterance, and I believe that our Commonwealth will eventually include New Zealand and all the islands of the Pacific. The Minister referred to the retirement of Commander Richardson from the Victorian naval forces. It is unfortunate that good men should have to be retired, and it is a special misfortune for a sailor to find himself cut adrift from the occupation which he has followed for the best part of his life. The seafaring man does not readily take to fresh occupations.

Mr Page - Another position has been found for him.

Mr SKENE - I am glad to hear it. I should like to know what will be the effect of the proposed new arrangement with the Admiralty. It occurs to me that perhaps it may be necessary to dispense with all the members of the local permanent naval forces.

Sir William Lyne - The new arrangement cannot be entered into until Parliament has dealt with it.

Mr SKENE - That may be ; but still I think it is desirable to consider beforehand the position occupied by the officers and men connected with the local naval forces, who have given up positions in the mercantile marine or Royal Navy in order to carry on their present work. They have also 'had a certain amount of training at the expense of the State, and they should not be turned adrift if it can be avoided. I therefore suggest that, if necessary, the Government should induce the Admiralty to take over our present forces, so that the men may not find themselves absolutely stranded. I do not pretend to have any technical knowledge of military matters, and I recognise that if the Government bring down Estimates which are not altotogether too extravagant, it is desirable that we should leave the technical details to trained experts. We have searched the Empire for a Commandant, and we have secured the services of an officer who has had extended experience, not only in the Imperial service, but also as the Commandant of the Defence Forces in New South Wales and in Canada. We should therefore be, to a great extent, guided by his opinion. Having listened carefully to the speeches which have been delivered, I have come to the conclusion that no one really knows how a saving either of 40,000 or £60,00 upon these Estimates could be effected. The honorable 'member for Maranoa spoke of reducing them by £200,000, but the salaries of the men whom he suggested should be retrenched would not represent anything like that sum. I am disposed to vote for the amount for which the Minister has asked, believing that ho and the Commandant will recognise that we are passing through a very critical time, when it behoves us to economise as much as possible. I am content therefore to leave it to them to make whatever savings they can. At the same time, I desire to point out that it is undesirable that economies should be effected at the sacrifice of efficiency. Some reference has been made to expensive uniforms. I have had some little experience in this connexion, because my boys were cadets and have also occupied higher positions in the service, and I know that the cost of supplying uniforms is rather heavy. Looking through the naval list yesterday, I was surprised to find that the officers in that arm of the service have ten complete uniforms which they may be ordered to wear. I am aware that khaki is not expensive, but still even uniforms made of that material Gan run into a considerable sum. I could mention two or three young men serving in the mounted rifles as corporals, privates, &c, who are eminently qualified to accept appointments as officers, but who have been prevented from so doing, simply because they cannot afford to purchase the necessary uniforms. It is a pity that eligible well-educated young men should be thus precluded from rising from the ranks. On that ground alone, I think, it behoves us to see that military uniforms are made as cheap as possible. 1 do not feel capable of criticising this vote in a practical manner, and I have heard no argument advanced which would warrant me in voting for its reduction.

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