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Wednesday, 22 November 1905

Senator WALKER (New South Wales) - I hope, Mr. President, that you will give me a. little latitude, such as the last speaker has had, if I allude to one or two matters that are not actually contained in the Bill before us. I intend, however, to make my remarks apply particularly to three Departments, namely, the Department of Trade and Customs, the Postmaster-General's Department, and the Defence Department. With reference to the Department of Trade and Customs, I notice that the border Customs officers are still continued. I was in hopes that by this time we should have been able to dispense with their services. Nevertheless. New South Wales is charged with £1.694 f°r border Customs officers, and Victoria is. charged with £1,225 f°r similar services, together with contingencies. That- is to say, the two States will lie charged with .£2,919. I hope that the time is close at hand when there will be no border officers whatever. The bookkeeping period comes to an end, I believe, in the year 1906. With regard to the PostmasterGeneral's Department, Senator Stewart is, I think, quite correct in saying that in order to enable us to form an opinion as to whether it is a paying Department or not the interest on the cost of telegraph lines and other works should he taken into calculation. Some people, I am aware, are anxious to see the system of penny postage introduced in this country. But I understand that that reform would entail a loss of £240,000 a year

Senator O'Keefe - What portion of the population would it benefit?

Senator WALKER - Penny postage is, I think, a luxury for which we can afford to wait for some time, and I shall support the Government in their policy of not extending, that privilege until we can afford it. 1 notice some figures which are very suggestive in connexion with this Department. We are paying to the Railways Departments of the various States for the conveyance of mails the following sums : - To New South Wales, £78.000 a year; to Victoria, ,£57,000; to Queensland, £50,000; to South Australia, £17,250;' to Western Australia, £21.000; and to Tasmania, £13,100, making a total of £236,350 a year. I am not saying that we are paying too much or too little in that direction, but those figures are suggestive, especially to those honorable senators who are in favour offederalizing the railway systems. Capitalized at twenty years' purchase, the sum that we are paying amounts to something like £4,720,000.

Senator Stewart - Tt would cost us as much if the railways were federalized.

Senator WALKER - I am one of those who believe that in time it will be necessary to federalize the railways of this country. I should not have been sorry to see in the Appropriation Bill provision made for the establishment of the office of High Commissioner in London. T should not have objected either to see expenditure proposed for taking over Quarantine and lighthouses. I should have liked to see proposals made for the appointment ot a Commission to consider the consolidation of the debts of the States, and the best way to pay for' the transferred properties. Those matters, however, remain for future consideration. The most important of the Commonwealth Depart ments, from my point of view, is that of Defence. I remind the Minister of Defence that we have in Australia at the present time an officer, in the person of Sir George French, with whom it might be advantageous to consult. He is here on family affairs, but he is a well-known artillery officer who has been Commandant in New South Wales and Queensland, and has also had considerable experience in Canada. I know that he has views on the subject.

Senator Matheson - He has published them in the press.

Senator WALKER - lt would be a very good thing for the Minister of Defence to submit a few questions to him. I should like to know whether the Minister is satisfied that the new Council of Defence is working satisfactorily. I was one of those who supported the constitution of that Council, but I cannot say that up to the present time I am satisfied that it has teen of great service to the Commonweal fi..

Senator Matheson - lt met once, and dispersed with consternation.

Senator WALKER - I am in favour of the, cadet system being thoroughly organized and encouraged in every possible way. In connexion with that, we must all recognise the splendid work that was done iii Victoria by the late Sir Frederick Sargood. The State of Victoria also deserves credit for the way in which her cadet, corps have grown. T should like the Minister to listen to a statement .published by a correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, with regard to a mounted cadet corps, whose operations he witnessed in a part of New South Wales. The writer says : -

Noting that many advocate through your columns citizen soldiers, I think much could be done to train the future defenders of the land in the Public schools. I was present at a school sports meeting on King's Birthday at Cranbury, a bush school 10 miles from Cudal. The teacher had a group of 16 school boys, ranging in age from S to 16 years, drilled as mounted cadets. These lads went through the mounted drill and handled their horses in a manner creditable to any mounted corps. At cutting the Turk's head they showed skill and good horsemanship. As 1 dismounted squad they went through various firing, sword, and physical exercises, also firstaid drill. Each boy is the possessor of a pearifle, and I was informed that any lad could make a certainty of killing " bunny " at a 50 yds. range. If, when these lads grow up, their services should be required in their country's defence they would only need arming with uptodate weapons and a few drills to equal the famous Boer soldiers. Their training has been thorough, and they would, in conjunction with others similarly trained, be the best and cheapest defence a country could have.

That is an object lesson as to what may be done with a country corps. The Australian boy, especially the bush boy, is a good horseman, and is fond of showing-off his skill in this respect. Of course, we all agree that it is very desirable to have our harbor defences in an efficient state, and, to that end, expenditure on torpedo boats is perfectly justifiable ; but I should like to see more attention paid to training ships. In Sydney we have a really good training ship, the Sobraon, which was originally intended for a reformatory, but is now turning out boys who are remarkably well drilled, and who, it is believed, will make excellent sailors in an Australian Navy, if ever we have one. The statistics in relation to the Sobraon show that only 5 per cent, of the boys turn out unsatisfactory, and, though many of them are taken from the streets, it is marvellous how the discipline they undergo renders them full of promise as good citizens in the future. Senator Pearce referred to Japan and its Navy ; but we must remember that Japan,, although only recently in the forefront, has an enormous population of 47,000,000, as against 4,000,000 in Australia. It is not difficult for Japan, under the circumstances, to afford a large Navy, but for us to attempt to provide an adequate defence of the kind on our own account would be a piece of extravagance. We ought to be a great deal more grateful than many of us are to the mother country for what she has done, and is willing to do, in this connexion ; and I, for one, say that if we can afford it, we ought to increase our annual subsidy to the Imperial Navy. Then, I should be willing to see a certain amount of money spent in the establishment of an ammunition factory, because it would be an extraordinary state of affairs if, in time of war, we were to find ourselves without the necessary powder. To revert to the question of an Australian Navy, I wonder if it .has been considered how soon large ships of- war become obsolete ? We have heard a good deal on this subject from the Home authorities ; and just now I believe Sir John Fisher is re-organizing the whole Imperial Navy, and it is possible that many ships, which cost I do not know how many hundreds of thousands of pounds, may be sold for a trifle. If we were to establish a Navy of our own, I am afraid that it would necessitate the raising of a large loan, because I do not see how we could go on providing new vessels with an annual contribution of £300,000 or £400,000. I shall keep my promise to be brief in speaking on the second reading, but, of course, there will be something more to be said by myself and others when the details are discussed in Committee.

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