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Friday, 15 June 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - In ordinary circumstances, I should not have spoken to this question, because I think that in the vast majority of instances, there is a considerable waste of time in connexion with a debate on an AddressinReply. At the same time, such a debate has its advantages. It enables the Opposition to criticise the action of the Government during the recess, and to point out what, in their opinion, are the weak spots in the Administration. It has also the advantage of enabling the Government to meet any charges than may be brought against them. At times, it has the further advantage of enabling a want of confidence motion to be levelled at the Ministry - a privilege that has been exercised on numberless occasions. I do not propose at this stage to discuss at great length the question of Defence, which has been raised by Senator Gould. I merely wish to deal with two or three points that have been raised during the discussion, and in which the administration of mv Department has been called in question. I am at one with Senator Gould in the belief that we ought to secure the most competent officers available, and that if we have not suitable men in the service, we should, if necessary, obtain them from outside. But when we have in Australia officers equally as well trained and as able as any fromthe mother country that! I have ever met, it is only fair that we should encourage them. It is only reasonable that we should show them, that provided they display the requisite ability and acquire the necessary knowledge, the prizes of the service will be open to them. That is all that I ask.

Senator Higgs - That is all we ask withregard to the appointments in New Guinea.

Senator PLAYFORD - Exactly. When Senator Gould dealt with the question of the ability of our officers to take high positions in the service, he showed that he hasnot that knowledge which I have obtained, during the last few months, in administering the Department. If he had, he would" not have said what he did. We have more than one officer eminently capable, and able to show a record superior even to that of the present Inspector-General. We have men who have seen more service and passed higher examinations than he has - men who are as able and as competent in every respect as he is.

Senator Walker - Men who have worked up from the ranks ?

Senator PLAYFORD - Yes.

Senator Lt Col Gould - I am very glad to hear it.

Senator PLAYFORD - In no case shall I agree to the appointment of an officer unless i am perfectly satisfied that he is eminently suited for the office which it is proposed he shall fill. We have many good officers, and to encourage the young men who are joining our service we should say that the prizes are open to them if they show that they have the requisite knowledge and character.

Senator Fraser - We must give them an opportunity.

Senator PLAYFORD - And we are doing so. The Boer war gave many of our officers an opportunity to acquire special knowledge in actual warfare. We have in the service men who have passed high examinations at Hythe and elsewhere, and who. from their records, stand practically second to no Imperial officer whose services we are likely to obtain. I intend, as far as I can, to encourage our officers. We have in our service many young men who are second to none to be found even in the British Army - men who have studied at Home, and who have made themselves masters of their work, and are enthusiastic and competent in every way. As to the complaint by Senator Gould that, instead of having a General Officer Commanding, to whom the Minister should apply for all necessary information, we have a Military Board. I would remind him that I was not responsible for the appointment of that body. As a rule. I do not care a fig about boards. During my political career I have knocked more boards "on the head," so to speak, than has an v other honorable senator. I know that a board will work very well when it has at its head a highly competent man, who is practically the board. In the absence of such a man the system does not work so effectively ; as a rule, a great deal of confusion and trouble arises, just as has occurred in connexion with the Railway Commissioners of New South Wales. As one who has worked with the Military

Board, I am able to say, however, that it proceeds on different lines from those usually adopted by such bodies. Usually the Minister in of the Department in connexion with which a board has been appointed does not occupy a seat upon it. The members of the Board meet and make their recommendations to him. All that he sees is the recommendations which they forward, and he arrives at a decision after reading the papers. The advantage of the Military Board, however, is that the Minister is a member of it. All important questions have to come before it. and the Minister hears what can be said for and against them. In this way he gains a great deal of information, and is able to determine the questions coming before him much more intelligently than would be the case if the Board were a thing apart from him. The position would be different if he did not hear all that was to be said for and against any proposal. Sometimes the Board takes up an antagonistic position to a proposition submitted to it, and arguments are advanced against it. The Minister thus enjoys the unique advantage of hearing all that can be said in favour of or in opposition to a proposal submitted to the Board in his presence. The system has been in operation for only a verv short time. I did not appoint the Board, and I am in no way responsible to it, but I do say that so far it has worked very well. Here is the position that I take up in regard to it : We know that in New South Wales particularly there is a very strong feeling against it. But not one of those who criticise - and severely criticise - it can give a concrete instance of a wrong or baneful action by the Board. I have asked its critics to point to one case in which its action has had an injurious effect. I have said to these men, " Bring forward one case. Do not say, ' I do not believe in Boards ; Boards do not do this or that,' but mention a case showing that, during the last six or eight months the Board has taken action that has had an injurious effect on the service." What has been the result? One man in Sydney has said that the Forces are disorganized ; that the position is not as good as. it was, and that there are not so many men in the. Forces as there were when Major-General Hutton was in charge. I find, however, that since the Board was appointed, the number of men . in the Forces as compared with the number when

Major-General Hutton was General Officer Commanding has increased by nearly 2,000. In New South Wales alone, where we have helped the rifle club movement in every possible way, we have nearly 2,000 more men in the rifle clubs1 than we had in Major-General Hutton's time.

Senator Lt Col Gould - But what control has the Department over the men in the rifle clubs?

Senator PLAYFORD - It is not a question of control. In this democratic country we allow men to control themselves as far as possible; we give them all the liberty possible. We know that the members of the rifle clubs who learn how to shoot constitute a reserve force which, in time of war, will be useful to us. We have no special control over them. We have passed certain regulations relating to the clubs, We give them a supply 'of ammunition, and we have helped them by providing rifle butts and other conveniences. We are doing all that we can to encourage the rifle clubs and constitute one oi the best and cheapest forces we could have. It is one which in time of invasion we could1 depend upon, after it had been drilled for a few weeks, to give as good an account of itself as the Boers did in South Africa, and that is saying a good deal. It is said again that the position is worse than it was before the Military Board was appointed. As a matter of fact, it is eminently satisfactory. I shall ask Parliament shortly to vote a sum sufficient to enable me to purchase more field guns. The Field Artillery is the most important arm of the service. I shall ask Parliament to vote a sum for the purchase of a number of the finest artillery guns, the 18-pounders, that are known in the world - a number sufficient to bring us up to absolute war strength. I shall also ask for a vote for the purchase of ammunition to supply every gun with 500 rounds. Then I shall ask the Legislature to pass a vote for the purchase of another 10.000 rifles. Last year a vote for the purchase of 8,000 rifles was agreed to. and I propose to make the further addition I have indicated. Parliament will likewise be asked to vote a sum sufficient to enable us to place our supply of ammunition on an absolute war footing, so that if a war broke out next day we should be able to say we had sufficient ammunition for the needs of all our men. We could to-day, if necessary, bring into the field without difficulty a force of 60,000 men trained or partially trained. In the course of my tour through the Commonwealth I said to the colonels of the various Militia regiments, " In the case of war we should want you to double your numbers. Would you be able to do that?" When I put this question the other day to Lt.-Col". Williams, of Ballarat,' he said, " I can double my regiment in a day or two, not by the addition of men who have not been drilled, but of men who have passed through the ranks in years gone by, and would be only too glad to come forward." We can double our forces. Then we have that grand reserve of nearly 40,000 riflemen on whom we can fall back.

Senator Dobson - Does the honorable senator mean to say that he has 40,000 riflemen, in addition to the 60.000?

Senator PLAYFORD - No, I never said anything of the sort. The honorable senator is a most marvellous man.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator said that he had that number to fall back upon.

Senator PLAYFORD - I said that we could double our present force of 20,000 men, and that then we should have a reserve of 40,000 riflemen to fall back upon.

Senator Dobson - That is 80,000 men.

Senator PLAYFORD - It must be remembered that amongst the riflemen there would be a certain number of elderly persons, who would! not be able to take their share of the work. By deducting 20,000 from the actual number that we have now, and making a very great allowance here, we could put into the field an effective force armed with the finest artillery that the world knows of to-day, and armed, as regards the greater proportion, with the vervbest rifle, and as regards the balance with the second-best rifle. We could put 60,000 men into the field in a very short time to meet any force, but we shall never! want them, because no such force would ever come here to attack us.

Senator Pearce - We should never want to do so until the British Navy was wiped off the face of the sea.

Senator PLAYFORD - Exactly. I desire to Say a few words in reply to Senator Millen, who evidently took up the position of leader of the Opposition. His remarks were couched in his usually fair spirit. He indulged in severe criticism, but when it is examined it discloses that the Opposition have very little cause for complaint against the Government, and advance no reasons for offering any special opposition. What was the burden of his statement? After going back into the dim and misty past, he looked up the records of Parliament, and said that in the past the Barton and Deakin Ministries brought forward programmes which were a great deal too big, that they were never able to carry anything like a fair proportion of the measures which they had foreshadowed, and that the present speech was merely a continuation of that policy. He declared that we talked of asking Parliament to agree to the passage of measures which would never be brought forward, and which, therefore, would never be passed. If we are continuing the policy of the Barton Ministry, it shows, at all events, that we are consistent. The honorable senator could not say that there is any special inconsistency about the Deakin Ministry, nor did he try to show that any part of its policy is inconsistent. His second point is not the one which the members of the Opposition usually make. They generally say, " The Governor-General's speech is very long and very wordy, but there is nothing in it." On this occasion, however, all that is reversed. Senator Millen says, " This is a long speech certainly, but there is too much in it. We have got too much to do, and we cannot do it." I would suggest that, if we were to raise our aims a great deal higher, it would be a wise policy in the circumstances.I think that Senator Millen will find that we are in earnest in what we propose, and that we shall bring these measures forward, when the Parliament will have to deal with them. Whether they will be thrown out or not is another matter. I think he will find, however, that nearly all, if not all, the proposals which we say we intend to ask Parliament to consider - and they are not very numerous, if honorable senators will glance through the speech - will be submitted before the end of this session. The honorable senator went on to point out that two years ago I made a promise which I had not kept with reference to striking out of the speech the words " Gentlemen of the House of Representatives," as a preface to the paragraph relating to the economy with which the Estimates would be framed, and the expenditure of the votes arranged. Two years ago I believe I did make a promise. I have not looked up the matter, but I will take my honorable friend's word that I did. I have only one excuse - if it is an excuse - to make, and that is that I forgot about the promise. If I had not forgotten that it was made, I guarantee that it would have been carried out. On the first occasion I was Minister for only a short time, and during the intervening two years a great many things have occurred, and I have had a considerable amount of work to do in connexion with the working of my own Department. It was simply a lapse of memory on my part. I promise that if I am here next year the use of this phrase shall not recur, so far as I am concerned. I promise that if I cannot prevent it occurring again, even if I am not here, and somebody else is in my place, he will be properly warned by my secretary as to what I have said on the subject, and then, if he chooses not to carrv out the promise I made to the Senate, he will have to take the consequences, whatever they may be.

Senator Col Neild - Hear, hear ! That is quite fair.

Senator PLAYFORD - There are two points - in fact, several points - which Senator Dobson made. His speech was offensive in more ways than one.

Senator Dobson - I am very sorry.

Senator PLAYFORD - The honorable senator made offensive remarks relating to the Government, and most objectionable statements relating to the Labour Party. He used strong language - not guarded language at all. He put his remarks in the strongest possible way he could, and in art offensive way to them.

Senator Dobson - Let them speak for themselves. There was nothing offensive about my remarks.

Senator PLAYFORD - I shall let them speak for themselves. I am only pointing out what the honorable senator did.

Senator Dobson - The question is whether my remarks were offensive or not. I only spoke about machine politics.

Senator PLAYFORD - Oh !

Senator Dobson - Does the Minister want to gag me?

Senator PLAYFORD - No .

Senator Dobson - I only repeated what the Prime Minister had said.

Senator PLAYFORD - The language which the honorable senator used was, I consider, highly objectionable.

Senator Dobson - Let the Minister quote one sentence about the Labour Party which was offensive.

Senator PLAYFORD - I have not got a copy of the honorable senator's speech, but he said that the members of the Labour Party came here, and were absolutely gagged - that they had no independence.

Senator Dobson - They have none.

Senator PLAYFORD - Of course they have.

Senator Dobson - What rubbish !

Senator PLAYFORD - They differ among themselves, as we saw only a short time ago, when Senator O'Keefe made one statement, and Senator Pearce another.

Senator Dobson - That is not what we mean by the term " independence." They are controlled by a machine outside, as the Minister knows.

Senator PLAYFORD - Then the honorable senator made a statement relating to the presence of three parties in Parliament, and said that the Ministry were dependent upon the Labour Party's vote. That is perfectly true.

Senator Dobson - What is there offensive about that remark?

Senator PLAYFORD - I have not the slightest objection to the statement in itself, but I object to the offensive way in which it was uttered, to the reference to our being at the beck and call, and under the domination of the Labour Party, and all that kind of thing.

Senator Dobson - The Minister is accustomed to it, surely? The Government are " mortgaged " to the Labour Party, so somebody said.

Senator PLAYFORD - We have, as the honorable senator says, three parties in Parliament, and because no one party has an absolute majority we must have a coalition between two of the parties to carry on the government of the country.

Senator Mulcahy - We do not like to see the tail wagging, the dog.

Senator PLAYFORD - The honorable senator does not want tha dog to be wagged at all, I suppose. Where a Parliament comprises three parties, and no one party has an absolute majority, the only way in which the government can be carried on is by two of the parties working together. Senator Mulcahy will not dispute that statement, I think, because he knows that if necessarv, I could cite hundreds of cases in which that has occurred. Lord Palmerston's Government, for instance, was kept in office by the Tories, though he was a Whig, because they did not like their opponents. The Radicals did not like Lord

Palmerston, and the Tories would not join with the Radicals to turn him out.

Senator Dobson - No; but the Tories were not a machine governed by an outside organization.

Senator PLAYFORD - Does the honorable senator mean to say that the Tories were not a machine, that they had no definite policy and no caucus, that they did not arrange amongst themselves as to how they should vote, that they had no " whip" to whip them up.

Senator Dobson - They were not a machine.

Senator PLAYFORD - They were a machine.

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