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Friday, 24 August 1906

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) . I was very much surprised to hear three members of the Labour Party make an onslaught on the Minister of Defence. Judging by the intemperate language of Senator Pearce, I should think that we are coming to the parting of the ways, and that the Labour Party are going to leave the Government in the lurch. What is more astounding to me is that several honorable senators who have spoken, particularly about defence, have left out of their calculation the question of expense. It is really futile for honorable senators to talk about spending millions on defence, millions on a railway, and millions on a Federal Capital. I propose to bring the Minister back to his Estimates, and to ask him a very simple question in the direction of economy, which I think ought never to be lost sight of, and about which I think we shall yet hear a 'great deal, when the Government will be compelled to adopt a policy of retrenchment. I desire to ask the Minister whether it is' necessary to provide on the Estimates for two additional associates and tipstaffs because it has been decided to appoint two additional Judges. He can answer my question when he speaks in reply.

Senator Playford - I do not know, and therefore I cannot fell the honorable senator.

Senator DOBSON - Perhaps the honorable senator had better consider the matter. He might also consider whether the five Justices should go to the various. States - for instance, to hear two cases in Western Australia, and perhaps one case in Tasmania - and take with them five associates and five tipstaffs. Like other representatives of New South Wales, Senator Walker desires that the question of the Federal Capital Site should be settled without further delay. May I remind honorable senators, as I reminded the good people of Bungendore, that that question has been settled, and that it rests with those who desire to repeal our Act to make out a very strong case indeed? I hope that the Minister will not listen to the suggestion to repeal the Act during this session. I hope that within five weeks of the close of the session, and with more work to do than we could properly do in five months, he will not bring down another Bill which would provoke a protracted discussion. I have never heard of a more ridiculous suggestion than that at this late period of the session, when we still have so much work to do, we should be called upon to revoke our decision regarding the site of the Federal Capital. Before any step in that direction is taken we ought to have a business offer from New South Wales, telling us what she is prepared to do in regard to the area, means of access, and other matters. We ought not to listen to New South Wales if she deliberately submits three sites and withholds the very site that we have chosen.

Senator Millen - Why did the honorable senator go and inspect other sites, then ?

Senator DOBSON - I desired to give consideration to the feeling which exists in New South Wales that her interests and privileges ought to be studied. If it be proved that her interests and privileges have not been considered in the selection of Dalgety. then at the proper time, and under proper conditions, and when I see that that State is prepared to bow down to the Constitution, I shall be quite willing to reconsider the position. I do not undertake to revoke my vote for Dalgety, or to indicate what I may do.. If there is a just cause of complaint on the part of New South Wales, let us know where it lies, and let us have proposals which savour of statesmanship, and show regard to the fact that we are asked to fix upon a site which is to serve us for centuries. I object to Parliament being asked to deal with this question de novo during the present session. I should not like the remarks of Senator Pearce to pass without stating the other side of the case. Whenever the question of establishing an Australian Navy has been raised here, I have pointed out that no one could fortell what the cost would be. I have warned honorable senators that when we had gone to enormous expense we should find that our ships and torpedo boats were out of date, and that we should have to incur the expenditure again. We ought to be extremely careful before we decide to adopt the naval scheme which Captain Creswell has suggested. I am borne out in this view by the Minister's interjection that since his return from England with fuller information Captain Creswell has admitted that his original estimate of nearly ,£3,000,000 would be considerably exceeded, and that, probably, in order to have a few torpedo boats and1 destroyers, and to maintain them, efficiently, we should have to expend £500,000 or £600,000 a year for the next seven years. In the present state of affairs, the Commonwealth cannot afford to incur that expenditure. In my opinion, Senator Pearce's criticisms of the report of the Imperial Defence Committee are absolutely unjustifiable. In the report, I can hardly find a single sentence which can be fairly called in question. The Committee point out, as every writer on naval warfare has pointed out, that in time of war the great object is to find out the enemy's ships, and defeat them on the high seas. Surely that is the primary object ! Senator Pearce objects to the Imperial Defence Committee telling us that it is of secondary importance that we should have a raider trying to interfere with our trade. Of course, that is of secondary importance. What is of 'infinite importance is the great battle, or battles, which must be fought in order to decide who shall be mistress of the seas. Again, in the report I find a paragraph which suggests the wisdom of delay, which points out that armaments are always changing, indicates how expensive it is to fortify our ports, and suggests that if we go slow with expenditure we shall have more money to expend hereafter when improvements in armaments have been made, and when we are able to say with more certainty what we want. I feel some sympathy with the Minister, because, as I have previously said, his Department is a most difficult one to administer. If I were in his position I should not allow myself to be bullied by the Labour Party into formulating a system of defence before we appeal to our constituents. What proportion of the electors will care a dump about the question of defence, as compared with the personnel of the men for whom they are asked to vote? I cannot conceive that the Minister would be doing a wise thing if he attempted to formulate a complete military and naval policy for the Empire before we have the report of the Colonial Conference, which is to sit in London early next year.

Senator Playford - I cannot bring forward a policy for the Empire.

Senator DOBSON - No; but cannot my honorable friend see how the defence of every part of the Empire is mixedup with the defence of the Empire itself ? Can he not see that, although Australian nationalism may be a very good thing in nine cases out of ten, yet when we are talking about the defence of the Empire there is something more important than that? I should say that one of the most important subjects to be discussed at the Conference of Premiers in London will be that of defence, together with the reports of the Imperial Defence Committee and the report of Captain Creswell. The authorities at Home are seized most fully of the Australian aspiration for a navy. They are familiar with the report of Captain Creswell and the scheme of Australian defence which the Age like many members of the Senate, has been suggesting, but, notwithstanding that, the Imperial Defence Committee have compiled this memorandum. I think that Senator Pearce's criticism of the memorandum is quite beside the mark, and that he has really misunderstood the whole subject. I hope that the Minister will not hurriedly formulate any scheme, because it is a most complicated subject to deal with. Colonel Bridges, who has gone Home about military matters, has not yet returned, and Captain Creswell has only just returned.

Senator Playford - Colonel Bridges has sent out his reports.

Senator DOBSON - The reports have only just been received, and I understand from the Minister that Captain Creswell's supplementary report is not yet to hand. At the end of a session every Minister is confronted with more work than he can possibly do, and therefore, in my opinion, it would be very unwise to rush the Minister of Defence into formulating a scheme now, as my honorable friends opposite seem to want to do. I desire to quote, for the information of the Minister, a paragraph from the report, which bears on my favorite system of military education : -

At the same time it is necessary to extend opportunities of elementary military instruction in various forms to as large a proportion as possible of the population, with a view to rendering military training as universal as circumstances may for the time being permit.

I also wish to draw my honorable friend's attention to the opinion of Major-General Babington, the New Zealand Commandant, who is reported in this morning's Argus to have said that not every fifteenth, but every English-speaking boy, ought to be trained as a cadet. I am desirous of knowing whether the Minister has read the remarks of Brigadier-General Gordon, of New South Wales, as reported in the press about a week ago. As I understand, Brigadier-General Gordon picked out the weak spots in the scheme of the Minister of Defence, and it was that officer's criticism which induced me to submit the motion. The important object is not only to get hold of the boys when at school, but also after they leave school, so that they may receive some military training worthy of the name.

Senator Playford - There are the senior cadets, the number of which could be increased afterwards. The honorable senator ought not to be in too violent a hurry.

Senator DOBSON - I am now calling attention to Brigadier-General Gordon's criticism.

Senator Playford - What do I care about General Gordon's criticism ?

Senator DOBSON - I presume the Minister of Defence will listen to the opinions of a military officer of great experience.

Senator Playford - If I listened to all the military officers we should be bankrupt very quickly !

Senator DOBSON - If the Minister listens to honorable senators who desire the establishment of an Australian Navy, we shall soon be bankrupt. There ought to be some adequate cadet scheme placed before the Senate.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator has said all this before.

Senator DOBSON - What I want to know is whether the Minister put this scheme before his officers, and, if so, did he get the opinion of Brieadier-General Gordon? I think it is fair criticism to say that the Minister has submitted a scheme which I regard as very meagre.

The PRESIDENT - Is the honorable senator not anticipating the debate on a motion on the notice-paper?

Senator DOBSON - I surely have a right to ask the Minister whether' he was aware of the opinion expressed by BrigadierGeneral Gordon. I do not want the Minister to answerme now, but to do so when he replies on the debate.

Senator Playford - I am not going to waste time by anticipating the reply I shall have to make on the motion which the honorable senator has brought before the Senate.

Senator DOBSON - I ask the Minister to read' Brigadier-General Gordon's remarks, and, if he will have the courtesy, to inform us whether he was aware of that officer's opinion.

Senator Playford - If I asked the opinion, of every officer in the service, I should have nothing else to do.

Senator DOBSON - That is not an answer. I wished to know from the Minister whether he had the opinion of BrigadierGeneral Gordon, and that of the MilitaryBoard. If theMinister- has not the courtesy toreply, I cannot help it.

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