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Wednesday, 26 May 1915

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .- I am extremely glad to have heard the statement just made by the honorable member for Grampians. If anything has been demonstrated in connexion with the present period of mental unrest, it is the absolute necessity which exists for being able to kill any rumour before it assumes great proportions. At one period of the war every man was prepared to dig up his back yard in order to discover whether any cement foundations were hidden there. At another period there were constant suggestions that things were going wrong. The prime duty of those who occupy responsible positions is to check every rumour of this kind before it is able to inconvenience public activities. Perhaps one of the most important functions of the Minister ought to be to watch public opinion, and whenever he finds a mischievous impression which can be refuted gaining ground, to immediately make the facts known, and thus reestablish public calm. I think the Assistant Minister will admit that I have done all that I possibly could to help the Department privately. There is, however, one matter which gives me some concern, and it has reference to our field artillery. At the outbreak of the war I urged that, with a view to allowing our artillery to volunteer for service abroad as units, the men of the various batteries should be called out for continuous training, not for two or three weeks, but until they were fit to meet any artillery which might be, brought against them. I do not think that Australians, because of the pioneering stock from which they spring, need anything like the same period of training as do men of other nationalities. They are also of better physique, I believe, than is any other race on the earth. But a scientific arm like that of artillery requires a considerable training - a training which in the armies of Europe extends over two or three years. I hold that it would have been better if we had been in a position to call out all these batteries. I know that the Assistant Minister would have liked that to have been done. The previous Minister of Defence was anxious to do it. But difficulties were raised - difficulties of a technical character - which applied only to the training of one or two men on every gun. This opportunity is one which has been allowed to slip. I speak now with less certainty on the question than I would have spoken nine months ago, because, owing to the changes which have taken place, I think that the possibilities of the war being of comparatively short duration are very much better now than they were at that time. But, in my opinion, it is a matter which even now should not be lost sight of, and I hope that my honorable friend will again look into it. Continuous training would be of immense value apart altogether from the actual firing of the guns. .

There is one other matter to which I ask my honorable friend's consideration, and that is the financial arrangements between the Central Office and the various Commandants. So far as I know, the principle of requisitioning is still in full swing. Everything more or less has still to be requisitioned for, entailing enormous delays and giving rise, not only to the loss which delays in themselves entail, but to a friction amongst the people from whom we expect the loyalest work, which is more important than the actual delay or loss that one suffers. I think that there is nothing to which a Minister could devote himself personally with greater effect than the question of eliminating red-tape in the ordinary administration of his Department. I suggest to the Assistant Minister that if he were to go up quietly and unostentatiously to a big centre like Sydney, see what works are necessary to be requisitioned for, and observe exactly the latitude which is given to a Commandant, for the sake of argument, before any simply local work can be carried out, he might come to the same conclusion as myself, and that is that it is about time that the mountain of red-tape was cut down and the work of the Department simplified for its proper purposes.

Another question I wish to deal with is that of starting artillery factories and generally increasing our ammunition possibilities. I know that in this country we have begun to consider ourselves somewhat in a sort of backwater of the world's industrial progress. That is a pity - I am not speaking of the other side of the House-

Mr Mahony - We consider ourselves right in the forefront.

Mr KELLY - I am afraid we are not. I fear that in this country we have shown ourselves to be probably the only community under the British Flag which is not trying to increase its possibilities in the directions I have indicated. Take, for instance, the manufacture of guns. I admit at once that the question of materials presents difficulties. But I do not think that we would have had any real trouble in getting from America, for instance, the steel and various other things we would have required. At any rate, it would have been of enormous advantage to us to know that we had made a start. I think that even now the attention of the Government might well be directed to the matter, in order to make a start with the manufacture of artillery and various other things which are necessary in order that we may be self-supporting in connexion with the output of war materials. But artillery I place as extremely important, and in this connexion I invite my honorable friend in charge of the Department to consider whether we might not be utilizing some of the artillery materiel we have in Australia to-day. Very sensibly the Government have decided to send, away the garrison gunners, who will be equipped with their siege artillery on the other side of the world. In the same- sense entirely, if we are- not prepared to send more field batteries fully equipped, we might send the guns. I can conceive of no international possibility until this particular war is over which requires the Commonwealth to keep here guns which it is not using. I am not going to put the matter higher than that for obvious reasons. I do invite my honorable friend to see whether he cannot take that course. Goods lying idle when they are wanted are goods wasted. Here are guns which might be used. If we have not the gunners to send with them, let us make a balance, and send the guns. Let us, by all manner of means, do what we possibly can.

Mr Burns - There are guns and gunners who want to go.

Mr KELLY - I admit that it was not my honorable friends opposite who were not prepared to act upon my suggestion in the first place. I believe they acted upon departmental advice, but I do say that had they called these men out for continuous training they would have had the field, batteries volunteering for active service en masse; because every one who is interested in citizen training is anxious to secure this unique opportunity to fit himself for a noble profession.

Mr Boyd - Are you seriously suggesting that we should send away the guns we have for the defence of Australia?

Mr KELLY - I certainly do. What else have you done; why should you not?

Mr Boyd - You have an extraordinary notion of defence.

Mr KELLY - I am not an admiral of a training ship.

Mr Boyd - I think you are a bit of an ass to talk like that.

Mr KELLY - Of what use is a field gun in Australia to-day? These field-guns are here for the defence of Australia certainly - like all the other field guns which have been sent away from here.

Mr Page - But a few years ago the honorable gentleman did not see the use of an army or a navy.

Mr KELLY - If the honorable member will look into the facts he will find that I strenuously opposed, in this House, the small torpedo navy which he was advocating, and which could not have done what the Sydney and the Australia have done.

Mr Page - They would be very glad of their service in the Old Country to-' day.

Mr KELLY - Of the torpedo boats?

Mr Page - Yes.

Mr KELLY - That is a point I am coming to. We have a few torpedo boats on our coast, and the men in them are very anxious to get away; in fact, there is not a man in our Navy who is not anxious to get away. Why should they not be allowed to go?

Mr Jensen - I can tell the honorable member.

Mr KELLY - Until the honorable member for Henty came to the conclusion that I was an ass, because I thought that we ought to send the field artillery guns out of Australia, this discussion was proceeding on temperate lines.

Mr Boyd - I did not say those guns.

Mr KELLY - I was talking of nothing else but field artillery guns from start to finish.

Mr Boyd - Yes, you were.

Mr KELLY - If the honorable member had awaked earlier in the discussion he might have understood it.

Mr Boyd - You are so smart that you will trip over yourself directly if you do not take care.

Mr Jensen - There has been a lot said to-night about sending more men to the front. I think I am fairly safe in saying that in proportion to population Australia has sent a greater number than any other Dominion.

Mr KELLY - I do not want to argue that at all.

Mr Jensen - Yet we are being condemned wholesale.

Mr KELLY - I do not want to argue that point. I have not been dealing with the matter in that light.

Mr Joseph Cook - I should doubt that statement very much.

Mr KELLY - I am suggesting to the Assistant Minister ways by which he could do more, and I am sure that he does not resent that.

Mr Jensen - Not at all.

Mr KELLY - I am convinced that he is as anxious as any one else to do more if it can be done.

Mr Jensen - I do not want a false impression to be created.

Mr KELLY - I think that we can do a bit in the way of sending out the field guns that we have lying idle. I have to put it clearly, because otherwise the honorable member for Henty would not understand it. We have field guns lying idle - some of them in store - and they might be utilized as I suggest. But if the Minister cannot send the guns, let him send the gunners without them.

Mr West - Of what size are they?

Mr KELLY - They are the modern 18-pounder guns.

Mr Jensen - Would you he prepared to see Australia unprotected if something were to happen?

Mr KELLY - I do not think that a field gun in store is a protection.

Mr Jensen - It is handy.

Mr KELLY - If you are not training with a gun, or using it, you might as well have it on the field.

Mr West - My information is that the guns are of no use.

Mr KELLY - I can assure my honorable friend that these are the modern British field pieces. The Minister can give him the exact number of 18-pounders that we have lying in store here. They ought to be used. We know the great difficulty which the factories in England have in turning out a sufficient number of guns for the front. We cannot, unfortunately, help at this stage with ammunition; but at least let us send guns if we can do so, and cannot send the gunners with them. I am. sorry to have broken into this debate at this late hour of the evening. I have only done so for the pur- pose of assisting those in charge of the epartment; and I hope that the Minister will take a note of what I have said, and, particularly, go up to Sydney, and look into things, where he will find that he can do endless good. I presume that the Home Affairs Department is carrying out the military works in connexion with barracks and central places just as it was doing when I was administering the Department. Tou will need to watch one side of that work rather closely. A lot of money may be wasted by killing enthusiasm. It is better to spend a pound or two more and keep people keen than to make them unhappy by retrenching to an extent that will not be felt. I understand that the Home Affairs Department is building for the Defence Department a number of socalled temporary huts, to be used for military hospital purposes. In a place like Sydney, one could not be expected to be happy under a galvanized-iron roof.

Mr Archibald -The Home Affairs Department is not erecting such buildings.

Mr Jensen - Nor is the Defence Department erecting them for hospital purposes. It is going to erect good buildings.

Mr KELLY - I have seen such buildings in oourse of erection.

Mr Jensen - For hospitals?

Mr KELLY - Yes. The galvanized iron was lying in readiness.

Mr Jensen - We are putting up huts to accommodate soldiers.

Mr KELLY - The huts to which I refer are to be used for hospital purposes. The matron of the hospital told me that that was to be their use. Every one who occupies those huts will feel that he has a grievance. I do not know whether the inmates are to be invalids sent back from the front, or sick cases from Liverpool, but, in my opinion, the roofs are not suitable. Ruberoid would be almost as cheap as galvanized iron, and would make a cooler roof, and give satisfaction.

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