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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Senator GUTHRIE (South Australia) - Is not this Tasmanian naval force the old crew which manned the torpedo boat?

Senator Keating - No; there was. an engineers corps for that purpose.

Senator GUTHRIE - It is high time that naval reserves were established throughoutthe Commonwealth. I believe an attempt has been made to recruit by sending the Protector round. Senator Dobson has suggested that we shall be able to recruit a considerable number of seamen, not only to serve in our own Defence Force, but to assist the Imperial Navy if necessary. He has said that it will be better to assist the Imperial Navy by means of men than by money. In England,no matter how much money Parliament is prepared to vote for naval purposes the trouble is to enlist men to man the fleet. I believe that it is our duty to do something to assist in manning our own coastal defences, and that therefore the recruiting of naval reserves should be pushed forward vigorously. It has been said that England is prepared to let us have ships of war. What is the use of having those vessels if we have not men to man them ? There are men on the Australian coasts who would be prepared to render this service if they were trained. But the encouragement given is very small. Let honorable senators realize the fact that we spend over £600,000 in land defences, and only about £45,000 in naval defence. A considerable sum is spent in harbour defence, which should be undertaken by trained sailors. My own opinion is that the whole of the harbour defence of Australia should be under one command, and that a naval command. The men at the guns on shore would have to fight in conjunction with the seamen, and the officers on board the ships ought to know everything about the guns at the forts. I trust that the Government, in considering the defence scheme during the recess will be able to propose something definite in this regard. There is plenty of room for economy ; and if I am in order, I should like to draw attention to another matter. A whole company of men are withdrawn from the Queenscliff forts every week to do duty at Government House. I regard this as an absolutely useless expense, seeing that these men are not provided with any ammunition, and could not afford us any protection whatever, not even having the power to arrest an offender. Their whole duty is to walk up and down at Government House, and be relieved every four hours. A fresh company is brought from Queens- cliff each week by train at a cost of about 15s. per man. The time occupied on the journey is seven hours, whereas these men could very well travel by steamer at 2s. 6d. a head in two hours and a half. Surely some economy could be exercised in this connexion, instead of reducing the force for the coastal defence of a State to twelve men.

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania).- Was any call made for these naval reserve men in Tasmania, and if so, was twelve the total number that could be obtained ? Is there any relation between that number and the numbers of naval reserve men in the other States? I see that there are twenty-four naval reserve men in Western Australia, twelve in Tasmania, and eightytwo in South Australia. Is there any rule observed in this matter?

Senator PLAYFORD(South Australia - Minister of Defence). - So far as I know, these twelve men were obtained in Tasmania, but I do not know why that is the number, or why any particular number is selected for any State. These arrangements were made before I took office, and I found these items in the Estimates. I can see no reason for the particular numbers, except, perhaps, that they may have been arrived at on a population basis.

Senator Clemons - I cannot see how the number is arrived at on a population basis.

Senator PLAYFORD - There are 1,050 naval reserve men in the Commonwealth,

Senator STEWART(Queensland).- I move -

That the House of Representatives be requested to reduce the vote, Thursday Island, " Militia, £2,088" by £1.

My object is to get an expression of opinion as to whether the Militia Forces should be continued. My own impression is that wewould get a much more effective and certainly a more numerous force, if the money at present spent on the militia were diverted to the support of the volunteer system. In the Militia Force we have 16,540 men. whereas there are only 5,850 volunteers. The volunteers, in direct payments, cost £2 per head per annum, while the militia cost £9 per head ; so that if the whole of the money spent on both branches were devoted to volunteers,we should, as I say, have a much larger force. Of course, the question of efficiency arises; and I should like an expression of opinion as to whether the extra drill to which the militia are subjected, is a compensating advantage for the expenditure. To my mind it is not a compensating advantage. We ought to specially encourage rifle shooting in the land forces. The drill of the barrack-yard does not appear to be of much consequence in modern warfare, and certainly would not count for very much in the defence of Australia. The mere ability to perform certain evolutions, so far as I can gather, is of very little moment on the battlefield of to-day ; what is wanted principally is the capacity to shoot well, and the power to march, and to endure hunger and fatigue. We are much more likely to get a good class of men in the volunteers than in the militia. I know a number of men who would not be in the militia, but for the money inducement. What we want is not a comparatively small number of men able to go through certain evolutions, but a comparatively large number of men able to shoot well. Honorable senator after honorable senator addresses himself to the subject of defence, but we do not seem to make any progress towards, a definite defence system. I advocate the abolition of the militia, and the substitution of a small permanent force, with a comparatively large volunteer force. We should spend the money much better in encouraging volunteers by offering prizes for shooting, and providing ammunition, ad libitum, if it be desired. In that way we should train up a nation of sharpshooters, who would be able to give a good account of themselves, if Australia ever had the misfortune to be invaded. We could, I believe, by this means raise an Army of 50,000 men equal in every particular, to the 22,000 who now make up the militia and the volunteers.

Request negatived.

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