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Thursday, 21 July 1904

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - It is reported in the newspapers that Brigadier-General Finn is to be appointed to the command of the Military Forces of the Commonwealth. I have nothing personal to say against that gentleman, who, I understand, is a capable, experienced officer ; but I would ask the Ministry to pause before they make this appointment, because it will have to be made for a definite time, and that will mean the extinction, of any hope of an Australian officer ever being appointed to the position. Of course, the Minister of Defence is acting on the statements made by the General Officer Commanding in his last annual report, in which he writes strongly against Australian . officers. But I wish the Minister to rememberthat in his previous report that officer said -

The distance and isolation of Australia render it absolutely indispensable that, in training and equipment, the defence system of Australia should be independent of outside assistance. ... In times of peace it is most inadvisable for Australia to rely upon the assistance of Imperial officers to lead and train its troops, or upon the Imperial resources to obtain equipment and ammunition for their use. In time of national emergency it would be impracticable.

I wish the Prime Minister to realize that he is now creating a precedent. For the first time since the Forces have been united and placed under a Defence Act, it has been possible to appoint a General Officer Commanding or an Inspector-General; and we find that the system of importing Imperial officers is to be continued. Supposing that we were to import the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, or the Premiers of the States, how would it be possible, I ask the honorable member for Bland, for Australian sentiment to assert itself? Or how would it be possible for that sentiment ever to grow, or for Australia ever to be self-contained? I urge the honorable gentleman, not only in this case, but in others, to consider what the appointment of outsiders to official positions will mean. It will simply have the effect of destroying any Australian sentiment. I' hope that there will be another opportunity to discuss this matter. I wish the Government to consider that no officer, unless he has had an Australian training and possesses local knowledge, can fitly lead our Forces. The United States has not to go outside for a Commandant. Canada, I am glad to say, is giving up the practice of importing an Imperial Commandant. I believe that, in the future, the office will be held by a Canadian officer. I understand that the Government are to make an appointment on Tuesday next, but I would earnestly ask them to delay taking any action until the House has had an opportunity to express its opinion.

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