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Friday, 17 November 1905

Senator PLAYFORD - That, of course, is a detail. But, as an instance of their utility, I may mention that he said to me in the course of conversation, "Take Torres Straits. A cruiser could go in at one end and sweep the whole of our commerce from end to end. There is nothing to prevent it at the present time. But if she knew that we had a torpedo boat or two, and a few destroyers cruising about, she would never dare to put her nose inside." I ought to say that Captain Creswell holds peculiar views with regard to our land forces. For he says that there is very little need for them. He would trust entirely to the British Fleet, so far as invasion is concerned, but so far as relates to the defence of our ports, and so on, he would trust entirely to fixed defences and his own- little fleet of destroyers and torpedo boats. As to the land forces, he would have permanent men, and do away with the whole of the volunteers and militia. He would have rifle clubs only. Such being his views on the subject, honorable senators can imagine that when the Defence Committee met, and the military men were on the side representing the Military Forces, with Captain Creswell on the other side representing the Naval Forces, and when he put these opinions before Sir George Turner and the late Minister of Defence, the effect was somewhat perplexing. I could give an account from shorthand notes of the proceedings, but honorable senators can imagine that the members of the Council of Defence were absolutely confused in their views, and went away without coming to any conclusion on this momentous question. Now I come to the question of what we ought to do in respect of our fixed defences. We have a considerable number of these scattered round the Australian coast from Thursday Island to Fremantle. I propose to tell honorable senators exactly what my officers assure me is required to place our forts in a fighting condition. At the same time, I wish them to distinctly understand that the figures which I shall quote are merely in the nature of esti- mates. My officers very naturally say : " If we have to provide against attack by an armoured cruiser we shall need a certain type of gun; if we are required to meet a protected cruiser we can do with a lighter gun ; whilst if we have to repel an attack by a battleship we shall need heavy ordnance." That, I think, is a perfectly fair position for them to take up. Unfortunately, we have never arrived at an understanding as to the probable nature of the attack which would be made upon us. My advisers say that to re-arm the fixed defences - that is, our forts - with modern guns, we should have to incur a large expenditure. The cost includes 200 rounds of cordite ammunition for the 9.2 and 7.5-inch guns, and 500 rounds for the 12-pounders, and works out thus: - Four 9.2-inch guns, £122,000; eighteen 7.5-inch guns, £324,000; and thirty-four^ 12-pounders, £76,000; total, £522,000. They say that lighting the various ports by electricity would probably cost £14,720. To complete the stores for existing submarine mines would cost, approximately, £4,000. Several ports require boom defences, which it is estimated would cost £1,600. It is further considered that the defences of Melbourne and Sydney should be strengthened by land installations of Whitehead torpedoes. That would cost, approximately, £20,000. In the matter of field artillery, in addition to the guns on hand and ordered from England, twenty-four .18- pounders are required, which, with the necessary ammunition, would cost £50,880. Then suitable sites for field artillery ranges should be selected in each State., and these would have to be at least ten miles in extent. No estimate can be made of their cost. Yesterday, Senator Matheson pointed out that in some States it might be possible to find suitable ranges in rough parts of the country. I believe that our field artillery in New South Wales occasionally fire in the National Park. Strictly speaking, however, we ought to h-"/e ranges under our own control as they have in England. In South Australia, these ranges could be obtained in some rough portions of the country--

Senator Guthrie - We could get them on the beaches.

Senator PLAYFORD - Very probably.

Senator Matheson - Then it is proposed to mount 9.2-inch guns in some of the forts.

Senator PLAYFORD -Oh yes. Tt is suggested that four of- them should be mounted.

Senator Matheson - The Minister's officers have determined the class of attack which we shall probably be required to meet?

Senator PLAYFORD - No.

Senator Matheson - Then the estimate which the Minister has read is not worth anything.

Senator PLAYFORD - Not long ago, I pointed out the number of rifles that we had in the Commonwealth. I now propose to tell honorable senators the number that we need, together with their cost. To arm the Military Forces of the Commonwealth to war strength - including those only who carry rifles - 32,000 are required. To arm those of the reserves not there provided for, 30,000 are required, of which number we anticipate that 11,000 at least would be needed by the permanent forces in time of war. That would reduce the number to 39,000. If we add 50 per cent. in both instances, that gives us 25,500, and the total is 76,500. There are already available in the Commonwealth 35,900 rifles, and a further 8,000 are provided for on these Estimates. The balance which we require is 32,600. The cost of these rifles, with bayonets and scabbards, is approximately £185,800. Owing to the increase in the number of rifles we should need to increase the quantity of ammunition held in reserve by some 16,300.000 rounds, which would cost £87,620.

Senator Matheson - That is on the basis of a reserve of 250 or 300 rounds per rifle?

Senator PLAYFORD - It is on the basis of 500 rounds per rifle. I now come to a statement by my officers as to what is required to place our defences upon a satisfactory footing. Our naval defences, it is urged, demand an expenditure of £2,300,000; new guns for forts would cost £522,000; electric lights, £.14,720; stores for submarine mines, £4,000; booms, £1,600; land installation of torpedoes, £20,000 ; rifles, £185,800 : to complete the war establishment of the field and garrison forces. £726,182 ; new guns for artillery, £50,880 : and rifle ammunition, when we purchase more rifles,' £108,000 ; or a total of £3,033,802. I thought possibly that we might also need something in the way of submersibles. Honorable senators are aware that the French Government have recently increased the number of these" vessels in their possession very materially. When my military offi cers advised me to procure submersibles, I asked Captain Creswell his opinion upon the matter.

Senator Matheson - How came the military authorities to advise the Minister upon that matter?

Senator PLAYFORD - They have the forts under their control, and they thought that submersibles might advantageously be used in conjunction with them. In this connexion, Captain Creswell reports -

I do not recommend the purchase of these vessels for the following reasons : -

The vessels and their suitability to the weapon carried must be separately considered. The only advantage gained is a certain measure of invisibility. The vessel is still in the experimental stage. From the statements of the late chief constructor, Sir W. White, I gather : -

(1)   That the forces acting on submerged vessels have not yet been accurately determined ;

(2)   That the design and construction to meet these forces have not been evolved ;

(3)   That modifications are necessary to insure a vessel of trustworthy stability.

Their speed is low, so that it has been said almost complete safety from submarines can be obtained by steaming at a rate of 12 or 15 knots. Radius of action compared with ordinary surface torpedo craft is small.

My task would not be complete if I did not refer to a. memorandum received from the Colonial Defence Committee in England within the past month or so, which has caused a very considerable amount of searching of hearts amongst my naval and military advisers. The memorandum is a secret one, and therefore I shall not quote it, except to say that it has been received through the usual channel, the Colonial Office. The letter bearing upon it, which is signed by the Honorable Alfred Lyttleton one of the Secretaries of the Colonial Office, is as follows : -

Downing-street, 25th August, 1905.

My Lord. - With reference to your Excellency's confidential despatch of 1st August, 1904, the secret despatches of 8th September, 1904, and 20th January, 1905, I have the honour to transmit to you, to be laid before your Ministers, twelve copies of remarks by the Colonial Defence Committee on the Defence scheme of Australia.

2.   The Army Council and the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have expressed their concurrence in the remarks, of which a copy has been forwarded to the Naval Commander in Chief on the Station.

The criticisms in which the Committee indulge are based upon the first report of Major- General Hutton to the Government in regard to his re-organization scheme. The Committee deal with portion of his minute dated 7th April, 1902, which has been published, and which, no doubt, honorable senators have seen. After that report appeared in print, Captain Creswell wrote a long memorandum, in which he criticised Major-General Hutton's scheme. Both the late Commanding Officer's report and Captain Creswell's criticism of it were forwarded to the Colonial Defence Committee, who were asked for their advice upon the subject. In connexion with this matter I wrote as follows: -

With reference to the Colonial Defence Committee's memo., No. 377 R, datedJuly17,1905, I wish the Director of Naval Forces and the Chief of Intelligence to furnish me with a brief and clear statement showing from the Naval and Military stand-point respectively : -

(a)   In what way the opinions therein expressed affect the existing or proposed organization of the Defence Force of the Commonwealth?

(b)   If the views of the Colonial Defence Committee were concurred with, what would be the increase or decrease in the existing personnel, arms, armament, ships, &c. ?

Captain Creswell sums up the position in a few words. He says -

Referring to your minute of 4th inst. as to the effect on the Naval Forces of the memorandum No. 377 R., from the Colonial Defence Committee, I beg to remark as follows : -

(a)   The opinions expressed in the memorandum involve the abolition of all naval organization and naval effort of any kind by Australia, other than by contribution to the Imperial fleet. Australian naval defence to be solely the concern of the Imperial authorities, and not of the Commonwealth Government.

(b)   The views of the Colonial Defence Committee, if concurred in, would preclude the need to frame any naval estimate whatever. The examination services would not of themselves justify the maintenance of any naval forces.

Honorable senators will recognise from this report what is the trend of the opinions expressed by the Colonial Defence Committee. I come now to what the military expert hasto say. Lt.-Col. Bridges reported as follows : -

In reply to the queries in your memo, of the 4th inst., respecting the Colonial Defence Committee's memorandum No. 377 R., I beg to submit the following : -

1.   The Colonial Defence Committee are of opinion that territorial aggression against the Commonwealth is impossible except on a large scale.

This does not deal with fixed defences. It relates only to the land forces - to no thing but Major-General Hutton's organization scheme -

On a large scale it would not be attempted until the British Navy had been definitely worsted, and "even then the difficulties and risks would be so considerable that, in view of other enterprises of a more hopeful nature, it is almost inconceivable that the attempt would be made."

He was alluding here tothe possibility of invasion.

Therefore " the contingency of territorial aggression by a large force conveyed in transports need not be taken into account as one of the requirements of Australian defence." Consequently it follows, inthe opinion of the Colonial Defence Committee, that the existing organization of the Commonwealth Military Forces " answers to no definite war requirement."

In each State a part of the Military Forces, roughly proportional to the population, has been allotted to the Australian Field Force, whose function is to repel aggression in any part of the Commonwealth ; the remainder, termed Garrison Troops, are organized for the defence of the State in which they are raised. This organization is shown in tabular form below : -

Commonwealth Military Forces. Field Force (to serve in emergency anywhere within the Commonwealth).

Garrison Troops (not to serve outside the State in which raised).

District Reserve (Mobile Troops).

Garrison for Forts (Sedentary Troops).

The Colonial Defence Committee suggest that this organization should be altered as follows : - " The Committee accordingly suggest that the Australian Field Force and the District Reserves should be replaced by a field force in each military district, organized either in brigades or as a. mixed force as may be convenient."

This proposal means that all the troops in each State would be divided into : -

(a)   State Field Force.

(b)   Garrison for Forts.

That is to say, instead of having an organization extending throughout the Commonwealth, the Military Forces in each State should be quite distinct.

Senator Matheson - They speak not of States, but of districts. It is rather important that in this regard we should wipe out State boundaries.

Senator PLAYFORD - In some respects, it is. They would prefer to have districts, because the State boundaries might give rise to some difficulty.

Senator Matheson - They are quite arbitrary.

Senator PLAYFORD - That is so. Deniliquin and other districts just across the Murray, for all practical purpose belong to Victoria, and the military organization in respect of those districts could be better controlled from this State. The report continues -

There would be no force organized for service in all parts of the- Commonwealth.

I do not gather from this that the suggestion is that if Australia were attacked, it would not be possible to send a force from this State to its assistance. They simply consider that our forces should be so organized as to be able to repel any possible attack, and they regard an attack as likely to be made .only by cruisers. The report continues -

Time will be necessary to work out the organization on these lines, but it seems hardly necessary to do so until the governing principle put forward by the Colonial Defence Committee is accepted, viz. : that " attack upon the Australian littoral reduces itself to raids by an enemy's cruisers." It may, however, be noted that the Colonial Defence Committee do not recommend any reduction in the peace establishment.

Another suggestion of the Colonial Defence Committee is that the establishments (peace and war) should be revised. If effect be given to this suggestion, the' peace establishment of the Field Artillery Batteries would be increased, and the war establishment of the Light Horse would be reduced by some 1,900 officers and men, and consequently a smaller quantity of equipment would have to be provided. The Committee also make some remarks regarding the details of mobilization, but, as these matters are not necessarily affected by the principle dealt with in paragraph 1, it seems unnecessary to deal with them now.

The question for decision is this : - Is the Commonwealth to make no preparation for resisting possible territorial aggression, and restrict its defence to meet raids by cruisers? The answer to this question affects the whole policy of defence and the organization of the 'Military Forces, and until it is decided, no steps can be taken regarding the defence schemes or the development of the forces.

Here we have the whole thing in a nutshell. It isi for us to decide what we have to meet. As Lt. -Col. Bridges points out, it is for us to decide whether we desire to prepare to resist possible territorial aggression, or merely to meet raids by cruisers. These are questions which must be determined before we can decide what system of defence we should adopt. We have to determine whether the view of the Colonial Defence Committee, that it is unnecessary to obtain torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers, as suggested by Captain Creswell, is the right one. Honorable, senators who have carefully followed my remarks will recognise that the problem of defence is one - that requires muchthought. A definite scheme ought to be laid down, and once Parliament has. approved of that scheme, it should not be lightly departed from. It should be a scheme not for to-day or to-morrow, but for a series of years, just as the Japanese mapped out a plan for acquiring so many ships and guns, and raising a certain number of men, within a given time. They took twenty-five years to work out their scheme. It seems to me that there is no absolute necessity for us lo rush in and incur heavy expense year by year ; but we ought to have an objective of some sort. Having carefully considered the question, we ought redetermine what Naval and Military Forces and fixed defences we require. Having arrived at a decision in that regard, let usequip our forces with up-to-date arms, and let us t?.ke the earliest opportunity to aim at the objective which we have set ourselves. That is the task before us. lt is not a very easy one for a Minister totake in hand w'- en one of his trusted officerssays he believes in the present field forces, in militia and volunteers, whilst another equally trusted officer sa,ys that no such forces are required. We have the Colom at Defence Committee saying to the officer, who; declares in effect, " You do not want volunteers ; you can trust to a few permanent men, to your forts, and to your rifle clubs," " It would be an error to waste money in purchasing the very vessels that you advise your Government to buy." My position therefore is a troublesome one. The first man you meet in the street, who fancies that he knows everything about defence matters, will at once unfold a plan to YOU; but the very next man you meet has quite a different scheme to propound. And so the thing goes on. This difference of opinion is not confined to writers of leading articles in the newspapers, or to newspaper correspondents. It exists amongst our own officers. Even they are not at one with regard to these very important details, and if we do not lay down a definite scheme of defence; and determine upon ,a certain objective, the happygolucky system that has prevailed ever since the establishment of the Commonwealth is sure to continue. From what I have saidhonorable senators will realize what a difficult task I have before me, and that it will be necessary for me to devote a great deal of time to the consideration of these questions. They will recognise that it would be imprudent for me to arrive at a hurried decision, that it is necessarythat I should carefully think the whole matter out. before I submit a scheme to my colleagues. They will realize, too, that it is essential that I should secure the best possible advice on these questions. Having done that, it will be for me to bring my scheme before the Cabinet, and for the Cabinet, having arrived at a decision, to submit it to the Parliament. As I have said, the task before me is a difficult one. I do not know whether I am capable of performing it, but I shall do my best. I hope that I shall be in a position before next session to bring a scheme of defence before my colleagues, and that we shall be able to ask Parliament next year to approve a system that will be more satisfactory than is the present one. I said a few minutes ago that we had no defence scheme. As a matter of fact, we have had far too many.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable senator think that we shall be able to make all these improvements in our defence system without floating a loan ?

Senator PLAYFORD - If we decided to bring our forces up to date within a limited time, we certainly should not be able to carry on without a loan ; but ifwe spread the expenditure over a series of years, I dp not think that it would be necessary for us to go into the moneymarket.

Debate (on motion by Senator Pulsford) adjourned.

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