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Friday, 24 August 1906

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH (Western Australia) . - I was unfortunate in not being able to catch your eye, Mr. President, when Senator Pearce sat down, because I wished to continue the discussion upon the report of the Imperial Defence Committee. I quite agree with Senator Pearce that it is unfortunate that the Government has not fulfilled its promise to bring forward a definite defence policy for the Commonwealth, as we were assured last session would be done. We now have in our hands a report which purports to be a general scheme of defence for Australia. Reading through that document, it seems to me that the great subject of defence has been narrowed down to a mere question of the' protection of our ports and shipping. This in itself is a matter of great importance. But it is nothing in comparison with the far greater question of a defence against the possible invasion of Australia, a subject which is hardly, if at all, touched upon in the report. I interjected when Senator Pearce was speaking that the Imperial Defence Committee proposed to make provision for the protection of our money-bags, and no provision for the protection of our native land, which, of course, is of infinitely greater importance. It would be admittedly a great calamity if a raiding squadron should destroy wholly or partially our coastal cities or destroy our trade and commerce. But, relatively speaking, that would be small in comparison with the awful calamity of an invasion. One would be in the nature of a pickpocket, who had robbed us of a certain amount of wealth, and the other would be in the nature of an assassin, who was trying to deprive us of our national existence. The great- question of the defence of Australia, from the point of view of an invasion, does not seem to have exercised the mind of the Imperial Defence Committee in any way. When we consider the question of an invasion, we admit that our first and most important line of protection is the British Navy. Australia would not have been a part of the British Empire if it had not been for the British Navy, and, for over a century, its development has proceeded in a calm and quiet manner, simply and solely on acount of its protection. But are we prepared to stake our national existence on the question of the continued supremacy of the British Navy? A few years ago it was almost equal to the combined navies which could be brought against it. But, at the present time, that is not the case. New naval Powers have sprung into existence, and we have now the possibility of a combination of naval Powers being against us which would be overwhelming.

Senator Walker - What Powers?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I have particularly in my mind Germany, the United States, and Japan, which a comparatively short time ago were not naval Powers.

Senator Walker - The United States is never likely to be against us.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - I hope not, nor do I believe that the others ever will be against us. I am merely stating the fact that there could be a combination of naval Powers which would probably end in the defeat of the British Navy.

Senator Playford - There has been that possibility for a great many years. We have only said that we would keep enough ships to fight two combined Powers, and I think we are in that position now.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - We know that the British Navy was probably never so strong as it is now, under the direct supervision of Admiral Fisher. We are delighted with that fact, because that is the principal protection of our national existence ; but we should not rely absolutely and fanatically on the continued supremacy of the British Navy. Let us consider what would be the effect in Australia if the British Navy were defeated. It would be a question of our national existence. We have a force of less than. 50,000 men, including the members of rifle clubs.

Senator Playford - The rifle clubs comprise 37,000 men alone.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - And, with the others, they make less than 50,000 men.

Senator Playford - We could put into the field to-morrow 70,000 odd men.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - That is absolutely incorrect, and I am surprised at the Minister of Defence making such a statement.

Senator Playford - In the course of a week or two we could.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH.There is an effective force of less than 50,000 men whom the Minister could put into the field. Recognising the immense importance of the British Navy, are we going to stake our national existence upon its continued supremacy ? That question is not discussed in the report of the Imperial Defence Committee.

Senator Playford - Because the Committee had already discussed that question and laid down certain lines. They said that the chances were that we would never have to meet a force of more than 20,000 men, and under no circumstances that they could imagine a force of more than 50,000 men..

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH.Let us obliterate from our minds the British Navy, and see the position in which Australia would stand in the event of an invasion by a force of 20,000 men. The most accessible portion of Australia to a hostile force, and the portion which could be most easily invaded would be Western Australia, or the Northern Territory. Assuming that the British Navy did not exist, and that an invading force, not of 20,000, but of 5,000 men, came down to the Northern Territory. We have not a soldier or a gun there, and it would be impossible for us to send a soldier or agun within 1,000 miles of the place. The only hostile attitude that we could adopt would be to send a firmly worded telegram of protest against the force landing upon our native land. Again, if 20,000 men were to land in Western Australia we have a force of less than 4,000 men. including the members of rifle clubs, to resist the invaders, and what is of more significance, only 4,000 rifles in the whole State. It possesses probably the richest gold mines in the world, an immense area of pastoral land, and millions of sheep and cattle. Assuming that the British Navy did not exist, a force of 20,000 men could land anywhere in Western Australia, and hold that third of the Continent. However many able-bodied men we have in the State, we possess only 4,000 rifles, and, of course, we could not resist an invasion.

Senator Millen - Is there no room for the expansion of the forces?

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH.There is no reserve of arms there that I know of. The 46,000 armed men in the eastern States could not get within 1,000 miles of their brethren endeavouring to resist an invasion in Western Australia, and that third of the Continent, containing rich gold mines, which always appeal to an invading force, rich pastoral lands, and scores of millions of accumulated wealth, would be defended by less than 4,000 men and 4,000 rifles. We have to recognise that our first and most important line of defence is the British Navy, and to consider our own defence from two points of view - from the point of view of a raid, which would simply mean the loss of wealth, an undoubted calamity ; and from the point of view of an invasion, which may mean the loss of our national existence. While we may have made fairly adequate provision against raids by fortifying our harbors and laying mines, our provision against an invasion of Australia is absolutely fantastic and ridiculous.

Senator Playford - Oh !

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Of course, what I have said may be foolish, and the Minister may think that there is no probability of an invasion. Althoughwe are spending on 50,000 men about £500,000 a year, yet the fact remainsthat 46,000 are penned up in the south-east corner of Australia, and could not defend any other part of it in the event ofan invasion.

Senator Millen - They have a fair amount of elbow-room.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Of course, I am speaking in general terms.

Senator Playford - Evidently the honorable senator wants a railway made.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Those men could go north as far as Rockhampton, and west as far as Port Augusta. The possibility of an invasion in the event of the British Navy being defeated is the paramount question. It is more important even than the question of an Australian

Navy, and far more important than the question of a raid upon Australia. I hope that when the long-promised scheme of the Government reaches fruition it will guard against the danger of an invasion, and secure us against the possible loss of our national existence.

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