Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH (Western Australia) - I agree with a great deal of what Senator Clemons has said. I do not know whether I am wrong in the statement, but I think that this is the first time he hast advocated a forward movement in Australia with regard to local naval defence.

Senator Clemons - I have always felt what I have said to-day, but I have never ventured to speak on naval or military matters before.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I have always held that view, and therefore I was glad to hear the honorable senator advocate it as he did. When we were dis-" cussing the naval agreement during the first administration of the Commonwealth, I said that the proportionate allocation of money between our three lines of defence was altogether wrong. On our first line of defence, which is the sea, we are spending something like £247,000. On the second line of defence, forts and mines, we are spending something like £100,000. On our third line of defence, the land forces, we spend something like £500,000. That third line of defence will only become operative in case the British Navy is defeated or evaded, and a large military force is able to land in Australia.

Senator Clemons - Great Britain spends something like half its defence outlay on its Navy, and half on its Army.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - And it has to be remembered that the British Army has to garrison distant territories. We are not sp situated. I myself think that we ought to adopt the same policy as Canada has done, and devote the greater part of our money towards an Australian Naval Defence Force, which could be used in conjunction with the Imperial Navy in time of war. It goes without saying that we are absolutely dependent for our protection on the British Navy. That must be so for a great many years to come.

Senator Sir William Zeal - So is Canada.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - We should adopt tha same attitude as Sir Wilfred Laurier took up at the Colonial Conference, when he said that all the money that Canada devoted to naval defence would be spent on men and ships, and not on a subsidy. If we adopt a policy somewhat on the lines of Captain Creswell's recommendations, we shall be doing something at least to prepare for local defence in a more efficient manner than is the case at present, when we have no protection at sea beyond that which we receive from the British Navy. Senator O'Keefe has spoken about the necessity for universal military training. I am satisfied that if we adopt that system we shall absolutely negative the possibility of having a system of naval defence. Whilst in Switzerland compulsory military training is necessary, in Australia we occupy an exactly opposite position. We are surrounded by the sea, and have to look principally to naval defence. Switzerland is surrounded by military nations, and has to look solely to military defence. There could not be a stronger antithesis.

Senator Clemons - What suits the one country cannot possibly suit the other. ,

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Exactly. If we adopt compulsory military training it will mean the equipment and preparation of something like 500,000 or 750,000 men. We are told by the highest authorities that it is exceedingly improbable that any attack will be made on Australia by a large military force. We should therefare have armed, say, .three-quarters of a million of men, whose Tides and accoutrements alone would cost ^4,000,000 or £5,000,000, and _ should thereby negative the possibility of being able te devote any considerable sum oF money to naval defence- I am quite in accord with Senator O'Keefe when he urges that

Ave should encourage the rifle clubs in every way.

Senator Sir William Zeal - They are doing very well.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH.They are the cheapest means of attaining the greatest result in military defence. They cost us no more than about £I 10s. per head. We could 'not have a cheaper and better service than is provided by a very large number of efficient riflemen. They provide an effective guarantee against invasion. I desire now to speak on another matter altogether. It has reference to the administration of the Defence Department. I refer to the advisableness of having more secrecy with regard to the details of our land and sea defence forces. Senator Pulsford mentioned this earlier in the debate, and there is a great deal of force in his contention.

Senator Fraser - If" our forces are of no use, what is the good of being secret about them?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - If our forces are ineffective, there is all the greater need for secrecy.

Senator Playford - We must not have printed Estimates laid before Parliament if we are to have secrecy

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - If public documents, like Hansard, containing details of our defence organization are read abroad-

Senator Playford - The Imperial Government publishes information in the' Estimates, and elsewhere

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - The Imperial Government, I am quite sure, does not publish such information as is published here- If foreigners read Hansard, and the other published reports which are placed before Parliament, they will have all the information they can require for use in case of hostilities.

Senator Sir William Zeal - Does the honorable senator think that foreigners will read Hansard? They will be great fools if they do !

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I think they do. The information so obtained is all tabulated. If our defence' scheme were complete - if we had an effective scheme, effective guns, and an efficient force - it would not matter very much if foreigners knew all about it. But when our guns are obsolete - or as Senator Playford said, "obsolescent" - and our defence scheme is incomplete, it is foolish to point out all our deficiencies for the benefit of foreign nations. I have before me a letter from a German gentleman who. occupies a position of some importance. I should like to read an extract from it, as bearing upon the important matter to which I have just referred. He says -

In reading your Australian papers and the speakers in your Legislative Assemblies, I have' for many years been struck with the frankness with which you debate your military matters. In speaking with officers of different foreign nations, I have always found that they shared my opinion. Military matters such as you debate in Parliament or in the Senate are in other countries kept dark. One only has to read Hansard to know how many guns you have - if they are oi any use or not, what ammunition you have got, how your fortifications are manned, and by what class of soldiers, and so on. I think there should be a little more secrecy in the matter. A few years ago, when the war vessel called here, I. came in conversation with the Commander. Talking about Sydney Harbor, he laughingly told me that he had made a plan of Sydney Harbor, where all the details were marked. Asking him how be had been able to do this, he pointed to a bottle of champagne, and said, " This is my informant." Where so many are in the secret there is no secret. A German Commander some years back told me, " If only the people (in Sydney) would talk less of their fortifications, and their military matters, it would be a great deal pleasanter to stay there. We do not want to spyaround, but they make me sometimes feel like a spy in honouring me with their unwarrantable confidence." I write you this to show how other people think about such matters, and you may be sure that all such communications are taken notice of. In this matter you might learn a little from

Germany. The German army can remodel their artillery or their infantry entirely without a soul knowing it. It is an Historical fact that in 1866 the German artillery had proved insufficient, and that the French artillery was far superior. The enmity of France grew more threatening after 66 than ever before, so that it was. clear that eventually a war was unavoidable. When the Luxemberg incident took place, Germany would have gone to war at once had it not been that the remodelling of the artillery had not been carried through at the time (1867),and took two more years to get completed. This was kept so secret that the German artillery in 1870, when the war broke out, was a relevation to the French.

I know that there is great difficulty in keeping such matters secret - that, in fact, it is practically impossible to do so. When we are discussing certain forts - when we show exactly the condition of the guns and the mountings, the quantity of ammunition available, and give the most minute details - we do something which no nation in the world does.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator think that we ought to be like an ostrich, and keep our heads buried in the sand ?

Senator Playford - Does Senator Smith suggest that Parliament would give a Government power to spend £300,000 or £400,000 without wanting to know how the money would be spent?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - What I am saying is that we give more publicity to our military mattersthan does any other nation in the world, including Great Britain.

Senator Sir William Zeal - We seem to get on pretty well !

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - We have not yet had a war, so that we do not know how we would get on. With Senator Pulsford. I hold that when a document is sent out by the Home authorities marked " private and confidential," it is most inadvisable to practically disclose its contents by reading reports on that document.

Senator Playford - I could not make Parliament understand the matter without replying to the questions.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - The Minister ought not to give ' replies which practically disclose the contents of a private and confidential communication, made by the Home authorities.

Senator Pearce - What possible harm could it do?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - As a matter of honour, there it is not right to disclose, in any way whatever, the contents of a confidential document, without the con sent of the sender. I do not intend to speak again on the DefenceEstimates, and shall say now all I have to say. The details of our fortifications, and so forth might be supplied to Members of Parliament, but ought not to be allowed to appear in public documents?

Senator Sir William Zeal - If the information were within the knowledge of forty or fifty Members of Parliament, it could not be much of a secret.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Papers containing information, which it is not advisable for other nations to possess, are circulated amongst members of the House of Commons, and are never made public. Especially when we have defences which are admittedly insufficient - when, at strategic points of Australia, there are guns which Senator Playford states are obsolete or practically useless - it is inadvisable to make the facts public. Before the defences are described publicly, they ought to be in a fair state of efficiency, and raised to a standard which would render us safe from ordinary attack.

Suggest corrections