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Wednesday, 2 November 1904

Mr McCAY (Corinella) (Minister of Defence) . - I have to thank the Committee for the courtesy of allowing me to make this statement now, in order that honorable members may have areasonable opportunity to consider the proposals of the Government in connexion with the future administration and control of the Defence Forces before the Defence Estimates come on in the usual way. I suppose that those Estimates will come under the consideration of the Committee in the course of a day or two ; I hope so, certainlv. But, in the meantime, honorable members will have an opportunity to ascertain how far they agree with, or to what extent they dissent from, the proposals of the Government. It is not ray intention, sir, at this stage to enter into a discussion or explanation of the Estimates themselves. I desire above all things to be reasonable as to the length of time which I occupy in what I have to say. If I were to speak upon the Estimates generally, I should probably wear out the patience of honorable members before I had finished. I may say, with regard to the scheme which I am about to outline this afternoon, that I have had prepared a minute which gives the essence of the views of the Government upon future Defence administration and control. That minute is now being printed, and I believe will be ready for circulation amongst honorable members before the House rises this evening. It is impossible for this Govern ment to have been able to consider and resolve upon any vital alterations in Defence policy as a whole. We have been in existence as a Government for something less than three months, and for more than half of that time, our allegedly precarious life has been the object of vigorous attacks. So that we have not had much more than a month in. which we could' be engaged upon considering questions of policy.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - But the honorable and learned gentleman has had special experience in Defence matters.

Mr McCAY - I may say at once that I have my own ideas on a number of matters of importance in connexion with Defence fairly well formulated. But there is a custom in connexion with parliamentary government, as we know it, for Ministers to obtain the sanction of the Cabinet before they propound their own theories of policy on important matters. I should like to say, in passing, that the whole question of Defence is very closely bound up with the question of expenditure, and that it is as impossible for this Parliament or the public of Australia to get the things they want without paying for them as it is for any private individual to do so; and that, consequently, any development of Defence policy is more than likely to be accompanied by an increase in the cost of that policy. In that connexion I should like to mention, in passing, one or two matters which are not immediately connected with the subject of my remarks this afternoon. The first is with regard to several establishments - such as an arsenal and a military college. Matters of that sort are inevitably accompanied by expense, and the Government have had no time yet to consider ways and means in connexion with them. However desirous they may be of carrying out such ideas, we are not in a position, and shall not be in a position, to make any intimation on these subjects at present. With regard to the equipment of our troops - and that is the only other matter to which I shall refer that is not connected with the future administration of the Forces - it is, of course, not complete. We have a complete scheme, practically' approved of by Parliament, although the money has not actually been voted ; the expenditure of something over ^500,000 being spread over a series of four years, and the last of those years being the year 1006-7. I am glad to say. however, that there seems every reason to believe that we shall have the equipment complete by that time. I think I can safely say this : that when what is contemplated is carried out, the land forces of Australia will be in a satisfactory position, so fax as equipment is concerned. I know that honorable members have been anxious with regard to those first essentials of defence - rifles and field guns. As the Committee is already aware, I have, with the consent of my colleagues, anticipated parliamentary authority - or rather my predecessor anticipated parliamentary authority - with regard to ordering 5,000 shortened rifles - new magazine rifles - of which some are now about to be delivered, although they have not yet reached Australia. I have also ventured to anticipate parliamentary authority by ordering twenty modern field guns from England. There was a proposal to procure 15-pounders - the gun which is now being discarded by the field artillery in the' British Army. That proposal was made, I believe, in the belief that we should not be able to get the new 18½ - pounders for a couple of years to come. But, feeling very strongly that if possible we should get the new guns, and not the 15 - pounders which would have to be replaced in the course of two or three years at any rate, by 18½ - pounders I made inquiries through the Governor-General and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, with the result that the other day I received information that there is a reasonable degree of certainty that we shall be able to obtain the new guns before the end of the financial year. I therefore ordered twenty of the 18½ pounders, and as soon as they come to hand, although our field artillery will not be equipped as we should like them to be equipped, because there will still be a number of 15-pounders in use, I believe we shall be able to have our field artillery in a reasonable state of efficiency so far as equipment is concerned. Leaving that subject, I now desire to come to the future administration of the Defence Forces, both military and naval. Honorable members who take an interest in the matter have probably already surmised from what has been said by the right honorable the Prime Minister, of the intention to introduce a Bill to amend the Defence Act this session; that the Government propose substantial changes in the mode of administration. It is urgent that a decision should be arrived at. Our, present General Officer Commanding - our first Australian General Officer Commanding, Major-General Sir Edward Hutton - came out here under a three years' engagement, which expires on the 281th December qf this year. 'He leaves for England before that date, in accordance with the ordinary practice which enables a General Officer Commanding, or a similar officer, to leave in time to be in England again upon the date on which his term of service expires. Therefore, the Government were compelled, by the stress of circumstances, to decide more quickly, perhaps, than they would have done if they had had a reasonable amount of time at their disposal, upon the future method of administration. I do not think that we should have been able to arrive at a decision even now, if it had not been for the efforts of my two immediate predecessors,

Senator Dawson,Minister of Defence in the Watson Administration, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the Minister of Defence in the Deakin Administration. The services rendered by the right honorable member for Swan, who previously occupied the position of Minister of Defence, are acknowledged as a matter of course. It was about the time that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro became Minister of Defence, that the question of the future administration of the Defence Forces became more urgent than previously, owing to the approaching termination of the engagement of the General Officer Commanding. If it had not been for the work of my predecessors, I do not think that it would have been possible for the Government to be ready with proposals now, and . I desire, at the outset, to acknowledge to the full the very great service and assistance I have derived from the records they left behind them. I found all the facts collected and collated. The honorablemember for Eden-Monaro left behind him a proposed scheme, the main features of which I am putting forward to-day. I also found that Senator Dawson had appointed a Committee to draw up a scheme, and that scheme, in its main features, is that which I am about to propound. I claim neither originality nor novelty. I found the whole of the material in the Department, and the work almost completely done. As a matter of fact, it is my' good fortune to be able to announce to the Comn.ittee the results of work done almost wholly by my predecessors, and I wish it to be understood that I desire to give full credit where credit is due in that respect. The proposals I am about to lay before honorable members, not only have the imprimatur in effect of the Ministers of Defence in the Deakin and Watson Administrations, but they also possess a further recommendation in that they practically follow the precedents of every important country in the world. England has been the last of the nations to abandon the principle of the Command-in-Chief in connexion with her army in times of peace. The United States, Switzerland, that chief prototype for Australia in so many respects, and all other countries that have constitutional government, have found that the system of Command-in-Chief, in addition to the other disadvantages it unfortunately possesses - of course, I recognise that it has many advantages also - looked at from the political side, has never been altogether satisfactory to the . community. There have always been inevitable difficulties in properly adjusting matters of responsibility and administration under that system, and that, I venture to think, has been, in some respects, the chief cause of difficulty and dissatisfaction from time to time, not only here, but in the motherland. I may say that the system it is proposed to follow is, in all essential features, the same as that adopted in Switzerland, but not under such advanced conditions as those which prevail in that country. Switzerland has advanced further along the road we desire to follow than the Government think it possible for us to proceed at present. I suppose that honorable members will agree with regard to one thing - however much they may differ so far as details are concerned - that the Australian ideal is that our defence should be carried out by citizen forces - army and navy alike. I venture to think that the ideal citizen force is one in which everything that can possibly be conceived of is being done by citizens, as contrasted with professional soldiersor sailors. The latest Swiss system - which has not yet been adopted, or even finally approved of, by the Swiss Federal authorities, but of which a week or two after I took office I had the good fortune to receive an advance copy through the courtesy of an officer who had just returned from England - provides for a citizen soldiery developed to its full. That is to say, everything that can be done by citizen soldiers is done by them, and nothing is left to permanent or professional soldiers, except that which, owing to its nature, requires the services of a permanent bureau. I trust that honorable members will not think that I am overlooking the importance of the naval side of our defences if I refer to the army more frequently than to the navy. Our land forces are more completely developed than are our naval forces. Our land forces, at present, constitute the main factor in our defences, and I am sure honorable members will pardon me if I speak mainly of the army.

Mr Johnson - We have the redoubtable Cerberus still.

Mr McCAY - Yes. Our case is not entirely hopeless. I shall, however, deal with that matter a little later on. I think that if we began with a purely professional army in which, in peace time, the whole of the administration, instruction, and training were carried on by professional soldiers, and in which the whole of the rank and file were also professional soldiers, the first step that could be taken in order to develop a citizen force would be to provide that that section which required the least training should be constituted of citizens - that is, of course, the rank and file. We have long passed that stage in Victoria. The second stage is that in which the executive command, as distinct from the administration and instruction, is handed over to citizens and taken away from the permanently employed men. That stage we have reached in Australia, and have almost passed through it, because, with the exception of a few of the higher commands, the whole of the executive command and training is carried on by citizen soldiers and sailors. The third stage of the development of Gitizen forces is that in which not only are the troops composed of citizens, and the executive command carried out by citizens, but the instruction preparatory to training and commanding on service in the field is given by citizens also. That stage they have reached in Switzerland. We have not yet gone so far in Australia, and I do not think that we are in a position to proceed to that length at present. Our professional soldiery must still be maintained for the higher instructional purposes, because given two Australians of equal ability, the man who devotes the whole of his time to professional soldiering or professional sailoring must obviously be better qualified to perform his duties than is the individual who devotes only a portion of his time to them. Therefore, until Australians either can or must - and I say " must " advisedly - give more time to preparation for service in the defence of their country we cannot hope to make our instructional staff a staff composed exclusively of citizens. Australian conditions render it impossible for us to advance much further along the road of service by citizens than we have already done. Until we reach the stage at which men can devote more time to being themselves instructed in defence matters, they cannot hope to be qualified . as citizens to impart the higher instruction to others. Therefore, so long as the citizen service is very limited in extent - as it is now - so long as we have not the long courses which are adopted in Switzerland, and which for one or two years extend from forty days to 120 days, so long as those methods are not possible to us, we shall have to maintain our higher instructional staff - a staff Composed of professional men as contrasted with a staff of citizens.

Mr Page - Surely the Minister does not refer to the whole of the officers?

Mr McCAY - I am afraid that I have not conveyed my ideas very clearly to the honorable member. I am speaking only of instructional work. We have an instructional staff, which is composed perhaps of twenty or thirty officers, who are scattered throughout Australia.

Mr Hutchison - Will not the instructional officers be Australians?

Mr McCAY - I have not uttered a single word in regard to that aspect of the matter. I appreciate the honorable member's anxiety for information, but perhaps he will permit me to reach that particular point in my remarks before I deal with it. I am now dealing with the question of how far our forces can be purely of a citizen character. I hope that I shall live to see the day when nothing but the small nucleus of our Defence Forces, to which I am abo,ut to refer, will be composed' of professional soldiers.

Mr Page - I am afraid that the Minister is hoping for too much.

Mr McCAY - It is better to hope for too much than for too little. We shall probably achieve more by aiming high than by aiming low. There is, however, an irreducible minimum of professional men required. In Australia training goes on all the year round, at irregular intervals. But, even if it took place only at fixed periods, a vast amount of administrative work would require to be performed - work which requires continuous attention. Therefore, administration pure and simple has to be carried on by permanently employed men. In Switzerland - and I must be pardoned if I frequently refer to that country, because it affords the type to which, to a large extent, we desire to conform - that fact is also recognised. In connexion with the recent proposals in that country there is a very interesting appendix, which sets forth the reasons for and against them. These contrast the present system of administration with that of instructional and executive command. It is pointed out that continuous administration is essential, and that therefore some officers must be permanently employed. If that be the irreducible minimum of professional defenders, it seems to me that it is sound common sense to say, "Separate the irreducible minimum from, those things which are now professional, and which may afterwards fall into the hands of our citizens, and then work in the other direction towards the desired ideal as rapidly as circumstances will permit." Therefore the first and essential point in the Government proposals - as it was in those of my predecessors - is that administration shall be separated alike from instruction, and from executive command. The administrative bureau is to be established to administer the Defence Act. There will be a staff of instructional officers to instruct, and the executive commanders will command and train the troops. So much for administration itself. But there is something which is even more important than this. In Australia we have long suffered, not from a lack of defence policy, but from a lack of continuity in defence policy.

Mr Kelly - And from lack of funds.

Mr McCAY - The difficulty suggested, by the honorable member is .an interminable one. I do not propose to say anything in regard to that matter just now, though I should certainly not be in a position to ask either the Cabinet or Parliament next year for a less sum than I am asking for this year. Practically these Estimates were framed before I took office, though I accept full responsibility for them. Consequently the Government - even if it had wished to do so - could not have made any substantial alterations '.in them, nor should I have ventured to recommend any such changes. I think it is incumbent upon a new Minister to make sure that he knows what he is doing before he initiates any change. Should it be found necessary to make any substantial alterations of policy, the Government must wait until they reach that haven of which we hear so much - the haven of recess.

Mr Page - Why does not the Minister consult the honorable member for Wentworth ?

Mr McCAY - No doubt I should find his services of use. He does me the honour of talking to me about some of these matters, and I gain an advantage in that way, just as I do from' conversation with the honorable member for Maranoa, whose assistance I also hope to receive in connexion with the Government proposals. I repeat that we have long suffered from a lack of continuity in the defence policy of Australia. We have suffered from it as the inevitable result of the system of having a Com- 10 m 2 mand-in-Chief. Where we have a CommandinChief - if we have men of wide experience and of developed ideas upon high military matters - we do not always find them agreeing absolutely. Military men, as well as lawyers, sometimes differ. Consequently, we may find that one man's scheme does not meet with the full approval of his successor. It is inevitable, therefore, that there must be a risk of lack of continuity in the defence policy of Australia if we continue the system of having a General Officer Commanding the forces. Consequently, the Government propose to form as the highest defence authority a Council of Defence. The proposed Council will be constituted as follows : - The Minister of Defence, the Treasurer of the Commonwealth - because the higher matters of defence always imply an expenditure of money, as the leader of the Opposition knows perfectly well - the Inspector-General of the Military Forces, the Naval Director - whose position in relation to the naval branch of the service corresponds as nearly as practicable with that of the Inspector-General of the Military Forces - and the Chief of the General Staff upon the military side. At the present time our Naval Forces are comparatively limited in extent, and;, therefore, do not require the same elaborate machinery that our Military Forces do. These gentlemen will constitute the regular members of the Board. I do not say "permanent members," because there are two Ministers upon this tribunal, and there is nothing permanent about their positions. There 'will also be consultative members of two kinds. The Government attach considerable value to this means of obtaining advice, especially in relation to local conditions - advice which the regular mem bers of the board might not so fully possess. The consultative members will be selected representatives of the citizen forces, and expert advisers, who may be called in from time to time. There may be. for example, a gentleman available who is very skilled with regard to fortifications. I have one in my mind's eye at the present time who is in the service of the Commonwealth, but is not a member of the Defence Department, and we might find it serviceable to call him in, and obtain his opinion in regard to certain matters which come up for consideration. This will be the constitution of the Council of Defence, whose duty it will be to discuss questions of general policy, and questions involving Defence expenditure as a whole. In order to have continuity of records, it will also keep minutes of its proceedings, and will have as its Secretary the Permanent Head of the Department. In ordinary times, the Council will probably not need to meet more than once a quarter, but on special occasions it may require to meet more frequently. Besides securing continuity of policy in this way, we shall bring the Cabinet as a whole, which is responsible through the Minister at the Head of the Department, into more direct touch with the defence policy of Australia, and we shall also maintain a closer touch between the carrying out of that policy and the Parliament which, as the representative of the people, controls it. The Council of course will not be able to override the Cabinet, any more than a Cabinet can override Parliament, but we hope that, consisting, as it will, partly of members of the Cabinet, partly of some of our best and most experienced professional soldiers and sailors, and partly of experienced members of the citizen forces, it will be able to bring the intelligence, as well as the knowledge of defence matters and of Australian feeling to bear upon questions that come before it, which will enable it to frame a policy, from time to time, that will be alike satisfactory to the public and sufficient for the protection of Australia. For example, when the Estimates are put into shape by the Minister, it will be called upon to consider the great lines of expenditure to be followed. It will not be asked to discuss minute details : to say, for instance, whether the contingencies under a certain subdivision should be limited to £120 or , £150; but it will look at the great lines of expenditure that are being incurred, and will consider how far they are proper and appropriate. The Government hope that in this way we shall be able to derive very considerable advantage from the constitution of the Council, which will cover the two branches of defence - the Army and the Navy, our Land Forces, and our Sea Forces. In dealing with our Land Forces, I may, perhaps, be permitted to speak of them as an Army. They are not an aggressive, but only a defensive, force, but the word " army " is the most appropriate that I can call to mind to shortly describe them. The administration of the Army will be carried out by a Military Board, just as the administration of the Naval Forces will be carried out by a Naval Board. I would warn honorable members that they must not confuse the Defence Council - which will deal with matters of policy, and other great questions - with these administrative boards, which will supervise the work of administration even in its smallest details. The Military Board will consist of five regular members. The Minister of Defence, who will be a member of it, will have, as at present, the final administrative power. He now has to take the responsibility of finally determining any important matter of administration, and he will have to continue to accept that responsibility, because any delegation of his powers to the board would interfere with the principle of parliamentary control and Ministerial responsibility. This scheme is in accordance with the practice which has been laid down in England in connexion with the establishment of a similar board. In addition to the Minister of Defence, there will be three military members of the board, to whom I have given provisionally the names of (1) Chief of General Staff ; (2) Deputy Adjutant-General ; and

(3)   Chief of Ordnance. Then there will be a finance member, who will be a civilian, whilst there will also be consultative members, who, as in the case of the Council of Defence, will be representatives of the Citizen Forces.

Mr Groom - Will the finance member be a civilian member of the Public Service?

Mr McCAY - Yes, because he will have to give his time continuously to the duties of his office. It is impossible to carry out administration except by continuous work. We practically have finance members at the present time, in the shape of the Departmental Secretary and the Chief 'Accountant, who, at all events, keep an eye on the expenditure, and see that it does not exceed the amount authorized by Parliament.

Sir John Forrest - Will they all be paid?

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