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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Senator STEWART (Queensland) - We have heard a great variety of opinions expressed on this very important subject. I do not claim to be a naval expert like Senator Clemons,ora military expert like Senator Dobson, and therefore I shall offer my few remarks with the greatest diffidence. I do not think that we are in a position to establish such a Navy as would be an effective defence against the large navies which exist in other portions of the world.

Senator Guthrie - No one has suggested anything but harbor defence.

Senator STEWART - I quite agree with the honorable senator that harbor defence is absolutely necessary. But our land defence ought, I think, to be placed in a proper position. In Australia, the commonly accepted idea is that we should have a citizen defence force.

Senator Fraser - A compulsory one?

Senator STEWART - I am not in favour of a compulsory force: I do not think it is practicable under present conditions, or necessary.

Senator Dobson - What does the honorable senator mean by a citizen defence force, then?

Senator STEWART - I mean a volunteer force. In Australia, we have an Army of 23,751 men, of whom 1,360 belong to the permanent forces, 16,540 to the militia, and 5,850 to the volunteers. We expend £130 a head onthe permanent force, about £9 a head on the militia, and £2 a head on the volunteers.

Senator Playford - No, £6 odd.

Senator STEWART - The honorble senator is including the cost of the rifle clubs. .

Senator Playford - No; the rifleman costs only about 30s. a year.

Senator Dobson - The volunteers cost £6 8s. 6d. a head.

Senator STEWART - I am taking the figures from the Estimates. On behalf of New South Wales, we are asked to vote £6,357 for 2,490 volunteers, £3,500 for cadet corps, and £13,405 for rifle clubs. So far as direct payments are concerned - that is, without taking into account the miscellaneous expenditure - I find that the volunteers cost about £2 a head. That is very cheap.

Senator Playford - In my secondreading speech I gave the figures, and the honorable senator will find that the volunteers cost £6 odd a head.

Senator STEWART - The estimated expenditure on the Military Forces this year is £591,431, and for that amount we are only able to put into the field a small army of 24,000 men. What the Government ought to do is to abolish the militia system, and to largely increase the expenditure on the volunteer force. We must have a small permanent force which will be the nucleus of our Army ; but the paid contingent ought to be abolished. It is impossible to run a partially-paid force and a volunteer force side by side. That is abundantly proved by the small number of volunteers we have. Year by year, the number of men who join the volunteers is decreasing. If mv suggestion be adopted, I calculate that for the same expenditure we ought to be able to put nearly 50,000 men into the field.

Senator Guthrie - We would not get them.

Senator STEWART - I believe that we should get a very large number of volunteers if we offered reasonable inducements.

Senator Playford - If we gave them pay, as was done in South Australia., we should get them right enough.

Senator STEWART - I do not think it is necessary to give them pay. I believe we should get a very large number of men to join our volunteer force if we offered prizes for shooting, gave them a certain amount of free ammunition every year, and as much additional ammunition as they liked to use at cost price.

Senator Playford - We let them have ammunition at below cost price now.

Senator O'Keefe - But only a limited quantity.

Senator STEWART - We cannot run the two systems side by side. I know a number of men who are in the militia. Why did they join? Not because they were anxious to take part in the defence of Australia, but simply for the sake of the money they would get.

Senator Playford - I do not think that was the case. They do not get very much.

Senator STEWART - I am well aware of that, but the little they do get is an inducement. What I am pointing out is that we cannot afford to pay the money.

Senator Playford - If they are going to defend the rich man's property, why should they not be paid for it?

Senator STEWART - We are trying to inculcate into the minds of the people of Australia the desirability of every man taking his share in its defence. What greater sacrifice could any man make for his country than to offer up his life for it, whether he be rich or poor? The rich man ought to pay more in taxation than the poor man, and if he does not he should be called upon to do so. But to attempt to make invidious distinctions between the rich and the poor in the matter of defence seems to me to be altogether beyond the question. We have had a great deal of loose general talk on the subject of defence, but no attempt, so far as I know, has yet been made to lay down any definite lines upon which the Government ought to proceed. I have a proposition to make, and it is that the militia force should be disbanded, not now, but within a certain time, and that the money which is now spent thereon should be diverted' to the maintenance of the volunteer system. In order that I may ascertain the mind of the Committee on the subject, I propose to move that the item of £45,726 for the militia, or partly-paid force, be reduced by £1.

Senator Lt Col Gould - Perhaps the honorable senator will refrain from moving the request at present?

Senator STEWART - Yes. Some point should be given to the discussions which take place here from time to time. We have had a great deal of talk on naval and military defence, but we never seem to make any progress towards the adoption of a definite scheme. Here is a scheme which I propose, so far as our land forces -are concerned. If the Committee approves of my idea, it will support the request which I propose to move when the general discussion is concluded. If it does not, well, I do not know whether that will be taken as an, instruction to the Government to continue the present system or not, but it will look very like it, and if it turns out to be the case, then we shall have some idea as to what the wish of honorable senators is.-

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