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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) - In discussing the first item of the Defence Department, I desire to state the position in which I find myself in dealing with the various items of expenditure in these Estimates. The total amount we are asked to vote for naval defence is £47,609 ; and the total amount for military defence, £523,285. I am not sure whether I am alone in the view I take, but I have no hesitation in saying that if the votes were transposed, and we were asked to vote £523,285 for naval defence, and £47,609 for military defence, I should do so with a great deal of pleasure.

Senator Pearce - The honorable and learned senator is not alone in that.

Senator CLEMONS - I am glad to hear Senator Pearce say so.

Senator Pearce - I said so on the second reading of the Bill.

Senator CLEMONS - I intended to do so, but I allowed the opportunity to pass. I do not propose to make a second-reading speech now, but I take advantage of the opportunity to say, that in my opinion our expenditure on defence is absolutely topsyturvey. I do not forget that we pay an annual subsidy of £200,000 towards the Australian Squadron. I thoroughly approve of that. But I am not satisfied with an expenditure of £200,000 as a perpetual subsidy to the British Nav:. I am very strongly of the opinion that no time should be lost in forming an Australian Navy. I recognise that no effort has been made by the present, or any preceding Government of the Commonwealth in this direction. My chief regret in connexion with the Department of Defence is that we are doing nothing in the direction of acquiring a Navy of our own.

Senator Fraser - Would it not be better to increase the subsidy?

Senator CLEMONS - I do not think so.

Senator Fraser - Surely unity is strength ?

Senator CLEMONS - I do not think that the formation of an Australian Navy would in any way| interfere with that unity which I agree with Senator Fraser is most desirable. If we were asked by the Imperial authorities to contribute more than £200,000 towards the Australian Squadron, it is possible that I should vote for it, because I am firmly of opinion that such a contribution must be maintained. But I should not stop there. I say, let us contribute that subsidy of £200,000, and if necessary, a larger subsidy, but do not let us remain idle, and content to acquiesce in that position. We should decide, and soon, I think, first of all, what is the total amount the Commonwealth can afford to expend in its defence. If we decide that we cannot go beyond our present total, which is about £800,000 per annum, then when the opportunity arises I shall make such an effort as I can, and I hope I shall receive assistance, to secure that a very large proportion of that £800,000, which is now, in my opinion, very unwisely spent upon military defence, shall be devoted to naval defence.

Senator de Largie - The amount is over £800,000 this year.

Senator Playford - It is over £1,000,000 this year.

Senator CLEMONS - I have considered the subsidy of £200,000, as in addition to . the amount appearing on these Estimates.

Senator Playford - There is also an expenditure on works connected with the Department and on defence material, amounting 10 £200,000 more.

Senator CLEMONS - The Minister recognises that that is not likely to be a perpetual charge) and I think that expenditure should be spread over a number of years. The' Minister is not suggesting that the annual expenditure of the Commonwealth for the purpose of defence will be about £1,000,000 ?

Senator Playford - It has been as much for some years.

Senator CLEMONS - If that is so, it only strengthens my argument. I say that if we are going to spend £1,000,000 a year on defence, it is pathetic, and I can use no other word, that we should spend the paltry sum of £47,609 a year on naval defence.

Senator de Largie - As at present constituted, it is not worth any more.

Senator CLEMONS - I agree with the honorable senator, and, in fact, I very much doubt whether we are getting like fair value for the expenditure of £47,609. What I should like would be to see the Commonwealth getting good value, and there is nothing to prevent it, for an expenditure of £500,000 a year on naval defence. In my opinion, if it is necessary, in order to do so, we should take something off the amount set down in the military Estimates. If the Federal Parliament were prepared to expend £1,500,000 per annum on defence, I should very gladly do what I could to secure an annual expendi- ture of not less than £500,000 on naval defence. If we were to spend £400,000 or £500,000 on naval defence, it would not be very long before the Commonwealth might own a very efficient, though a small fleet, of first-class cruisers.

Sir William Zeal - Not first-class cruisers; they would cost £1,000,000 each.

Senator CLEMONS - With all respect to the honorable senator, I think we could get first-class cruisers for something under £1,000,000 each. Even if they were to cost £1, 000,000, by making a determined effort, we could gradually acquire a small fleet of first-class cruisers, homogeneous in equipment, and especially in speed. I venture to say that if we had five, or even three, first-class armoured cruisers, we should be in a better position to join with the Empire in maintaining our defence, than we should be if we spent £50,000,000-

Senator Givens - In subsidies?

Senator CLEMONS - No, not in subsidies, but on so-called military defence.

Senator Best - Captain Creswell has formulated a scheme which would be much less expensive than that proposed by the honorable senator.

Senator CLEMONS - I have read Captain Creswell's scheme. He does not propose cruisers, and his scheme is practically limited to torpedo defence.

Senator Best - A very good beginning.

Senator Sir William Zeal - It is all we can do.

Senator CLEMONS - I do not think that it is. When I consider the absolute waste of money on military defence, I do not think we should sit down and say that that is all we can do. I doubt whether any member of the Committee believes that the Commonwealth is getting anything like fair value for its enormous military expenditure, and I further doubt whether any honorable senator has any degree of confidence whatever in the defence which the expenditure on our present military forces would provide for the Commonwealth in time of need. In discussing defence matters, we are all agreed that our first line of defence is naval defence.

Senator Mulcahy - It is our primary defence.

Senator CLEMONS - It is; and by those who use that expression, it is intended to convey the opinion that it is our most important line of defence. And yet we spend a paltry £47,609 on our most important line of defence.

Senator Playford - We have the British Navy.

Senator CLEMONS - I admit that we pay a subsidy towards the Australian Squadron, but it will be a very poor thing for Australia if for ever we are to remain content with paying a subsidy to the Imperial authorities. I never voted for the subsidy with any such idea in my mind. I thought it the right thing to do, but I always hoped and believed that it would be supplemented by our own efforts. We are spending a lot of money in the endeavour to train men for military service.

Senator de Largie - We are not training enough of them.

Senator CLEMONS - I am not dealing with that aspect of the question at present, but Senator de Largie will agree that, much as we spend in that direction, we have spent practically nothing in endeavouring to prepare men for naval service. What opportunity is afforded for the training of naval cadets under our defence scheme ? Is there any ? I should be delighted if an opportunity were afforded to enable, say, 1,000 boys to begin training every year as naval cadets in Australia, and if training ships and training schools were provided to meet such a demand. Instead of being prepared to train 1,000 boys for the Navy, as we ought to be. I find that we have made no preparation for the training of even fifty of the youths who might desire to enter the defence service of the Commonwealth by joining the Navy. I am aware that the Minister is giving the whole question of defence his serious consideration. The honorable senator has not yet formulated a policy, and I do not blame him for that; but if, when he comes to formulate that policy, he can give the Commonwealth some opportunity to direct its energy and spend its money in naval defence, be will do more for the real defence of Australia, and for the preservation of our self-respect, than all previous Ministers of Defence have done since the Commonwealth has been established. I hope that some other honorable senators will join with me in the expression of these opinions. I recognise that most members of the Committee, and most public men in another place and elsewhere, in discussing the question of defence, spend all their time in finding fault with existing arrangements, and offering suggestions which have all to do with military matters, and never touch upon naval defence. An agitation is got up, which I regret, as to whether Australia should contribute to the Imperial Squadron, but when that dispute has been settled--

Senator Givens - It ought first to be settled whether we should depend on our own efforts or on the Imperial Government.

Senator CLEMONS - When that question is settled the whole question of naval defence disappears. We have heard objections to the amount of the subsidy; but if we decided no longer to vote £200,000 as an annual contribution towards the Imperial Navy, in my opinion it would become absolutely incumbent upon honorable senators who desire to bring about such a state of things to insist that we should spend at least £2,000,000 per annum to provide an adequate naval defence for the Commonwealth. What I suggest is that, availing ourselves of the magnificent protection we get by the subsidy of £200,000 paid towards the Australian Squadron, we should build up a fleet of our own, even though we may have to do so gradually. As a preliminary, and as a practical suggestion, I urge the Minister of Defence to say whether he cannot make a daring innovation and propose some adequate provision for the training of Australians for naval service.

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