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Friday, 24 August 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - In order to be accurate in my remarks, I have been refreshing my memory with regard to certain matters which were discussed here on the last Appropriation Bill. I refer specially to the question of defence. I do not wish to begin finding fault with the Minister of Defence until I am certain as to whether or not he has an adequate answer to the criticism which probably he will hear later on when the Appropriation Bill is under consideration. I wish, in fairness, to remind the honorable senator that last session he gave the Senate clearly to understand that, first of all, he would deal with the matter of making provision for naval cadets throughout the Commonwealth. So far as I have been able to ascertain from a perusal of papers which! have been distributed elsewhere, no such provision has been made on this year's Estimates.

Senator Playford - There is a considerable sum put down.

Senator CLEMONS - Perhaps I was slightly inaccurate in saying that no provision is made. What I maintain is that the Minister has not made adequate provision, nor anything like the provision which he gave the Senate clearly to understand last year he would see was made.

Senator Playford - I believe I said that I would do something, and what I have done is a start.

Senator CLEMONS - I shall withhold any strong expression of opinion until the Appropriation Bill is submitted, but I think it only fair to tell the Minister that I shall do mv utmost this vear to alter the item for this purpose in the Appropriation Bill. I join with Senator Pearce and others who feel very strongly on the question of naval defence, and deplore its inadequacy and neglect, but I mean to go further. I do not intend to limit myself to a discussion on this Supply Bill, but I mean to take every possible step in my power to alter the item in the Appropriation Bill. I shall re-state the position as it appears to me, and I believe that I have the sympathy of many honorable senators. We are spending, as the Minister told us last year, £r, 000,000 a year on defence. Of that sum £50,000 was set aside for the purpose of naval defence, excluding, of course, the subsidy of £200,000 to the Imperial" Navy.

Senator Playford - That is for naval defence.

Senator CLEMONS - I admit that.

Senator Playford - It means a total expenditure of £250,000.

Senator CLEMONS - I admit that £50,000 is spent - I might say misspent - locally on so-called naval defence.

Senator Millen - But the expenditure of money is not necessarily defence.

Senator CLEMONS - It is spent for that purpose, and a sum of £200,000 is contributed to the Imperial Navy as a subsidy. The total expenditure, therefore, is £250,000. I repeat this year what I said last year, that if the position were reversed, and we spent £750,000 on naval matters and £250,000 on land defence, it would much more nearly approximate to my idea of what is desirable, necessary, and proper for the Commonwealth.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator will come into antagonism with the last speaker, who wants us to spend more money on land defence.

Senator CLEMONS - I should be extremely sorry to find myself in antagonism with any member of the Senate ; but on this subject of naval defence I feel very strongly. I consider that during a period of six years this Parliament has spent an enormous sum on so-called land defence, and that a large proportion of it has been wholly wasted. I propose this year to do everything in my power to alter the appropriation of the money for the various purposes of land and naval defence. I hope that in the interval the Minister will not merely redeem his promise of last year, to assist the Commonwealth to a better scheme of naval defence, but prevent a great many honorable senators from being compelled to vote against him on so important a measure as the Appropriation Bill, because that I feel is likely to happen. I voted for the subsidy of £200,000 to the British Navy. - and, as I said last year, I should, if necessary, vote for a larger subsidy - on the distinct understanding that I did not regard it as in itself forming a complete part of our naval defence, but only as a means to an end - simply as part of a. proper Commonwealth scheme of naval defence. In my opinion, it ought to be largely supplemented by the expenditure of money which would give us the nucleus of an Australian Navy. I do not pretend to be an expert on these matters. I am inclined to defer considerably - of course, reserving to myself the right of criticism, even although he is an expert - to the Naval Director. There is much in his report to commend it to the Senate ; but, so far as I can estimate what is going to happen in connexion with the Appropriation Bill, it will be entirely ignored by the Government.

Senator Playford - How could we deal with the matter in the Estimates when we had not got the report from the Imperial Defence Committee ? Surely, we ought to be very careful before we ask Parliament to agree to an expenditure of over


Senator CLEMONS - That is not the whole question. I have never intimated that we must necessarily spend £3,000,000 per annum on defence.

Senator Playford - Not per annum, but on a fleet, which, according to Captain Creswell's estimate, would cost £2,500,000. Since his visit to England, where he obtained further information, he has had to considerably increase the estimate.

Senator CLEMONS - That may be.

Senator Playford - We ought to be very careful before we sanction the spending of so much money.

Senator CLEMONS - That is not quite the question. I think it should be sufficiently obvious to the Ministry that when they received Captain Creswell's report, and learned that it was the wish of very many members of each House - of a majority, I believe, if they would only speak their minds - that more money should be devoted to the preparation of an adequate scheme of naval defence-

Senator Playford - Hear, hear ! there is no doubt about that.

Senator CLEMONS - I am glad that the Minister agrees with my remark. Captain Creswell was of opinion that very much ought to be done in the direction of naval defence. The Government have entirely ignored his report. The Minister's answer to me is that they could not act on the report, because they wished to hear from the Imperial Defence Committee. They could have acted on the report. I do not say that they could have gone into the details, but they could have provided for the expenditure of a larger sum on naval defence. They could have done a great deal which would not have been in conflict, necessarily, with either the report of Captain Creswell, or the report of the Imperial Defence Committee, in offering opportunities in Australian waters for the training of Australian seamen. So far as I can ascertain, they have done practically nothing.

Senator Playford - We have put om the Estimates an increased amount for naval cadets.

Senator CLEMONS - What is the increased provision for naval cadets? The provision made is absolutely ridiculous. The Minister of Defence must know that the amount expended on so-called naval defence is mostly wasted. What is the use of maintaining an obsolete vessel like the Protector?

Senator Playford - The Protector is the most useful vessel we have, and it is used for training purposes at Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, and all over the Australian coasts. It is the only vessel we have for the purpose.

Senator CLEMONS - It is disgraceful that the only opportunity for training our people to become sailors should be that afforded by a boat like' the Protector. It is contemptible and ridiculous.

Senator Playford - The Protector is a splendid boat.

Senator CLEMONS - The Protector is only about 800 tons register, and it is farcical that our only training ship should be one that lias been obsolete for the last thirty years.

Senator Playford - She was not built thirty years ago.

Senator CLEMONS - The Protector must be at least thirty years old.

Senator Playford - She was not obsolete when she was built.

Senator CLEMONS - I shall not quibble on that point. We are maintaining an utterly inadequate vessel like the Protector, while the Government neglected an admirable opportunity to secure some of the vessels recently removed from the Australian Station. Whilst those vessels might not have been suitable for purposes of defence, they would have been vastly superior to the Protector as a means of training. If the present Government had had any energy they could have purchased those vessels for a mere song - that is, two or three of the vessels might have been acquired for perhaps £5.000. Indeed, the probability is that if _ the Government had had sufficient enterprise to make the request, thev might have obtained the vessels for nothing.

Senator Playford - Those obsolete, useless boats would have been a miserable provision for defence purposes.

Senator CLEMONS - The Minister is either wilfully or stupidly ignoring the fact that I am now suggesting that these Imperial vessels might have been obtained for training purposes, and I am emphasizing the fact that in this connexion the Government missed a splendid opportunity. Howeve^ the Minister, with that absurd affection for anything which comes from a State I shall not mention, thinks it more advisable to keep in commission such a craft as the Protector, than to acquire boats of five or six times the tonnage and capacity. 1 am sorry that the Ministry showed such shameful neglect, because the acquiring, of these vessels would have done something to promote a better and most desirable feeling in Australia in regard to the wishes of the Imperial authorities as to Australian naval defence; at all events, some good would have been done if such a request as I have indicated had been made by the Government, and, as I have no doubt it would, have been granted. The opportunity, however, has been missed through ignorance or apathy, or, I suppose, that neglect, which affects most Ministers - and I make no exception of Senator Playford - as soon as Parliament gets into recess. I wish to intimate in the clearest possible way that when the Appropriation Bill is before us, I shall do my utmost to secure to the Commonwealth, better provision for naval defence, even to the extent of dividing; the militaryexpenditure by three, and adding as much as I can to, the naval expenditure. I have no desire to inflate the defence expenditure as a whole, because I consider that a vast amount is now wasted. But we desire to get good value for our money. and the easiest way to attain that end is to devote it to naval defences. I do not care how much importance any honorable senator mav attach to the military defences, he will readily admit that, generally speaking, no defence expenditure is more satisfactory than that devoted to the Navy of Australia or any other country. Our naval men are of a type for which every one has much more admiration than for ordinary military men : and if that admiration be lacking we are beginning the downfall of the Empire. To me it is monstrous that Australia, surrounded as it is by water - a huge island - should, as we are often told we ought, imitate the defence policy of a small land locked country like Switzerland. Time after time in the Senate I have heard Switzerland held up as an example of the proper form of defence for the Commonwealth. I do not often deal with military or naval matters, because I do not profess to know much about them ; but I may claim some faculty for investigating comparisons, and some ability to recognise when a parallel is a parallel.- It has always occurred to me as ludicrous in the extreme that we should seek to mould our defences on such a model. On the other hand, I object to the maintenance of anything like a standing army. If we want good value for our money we can get ii in naval men - they are, and always have been, the handy men of the Empire - and I. would sooner trust the land defences of Australia to-day to 20,000 naval men just off the ships than to 50,000 men of our so-called army.

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