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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I desire to say a few words in reply to Senator Givens, who has referred to the troubles we have had in Papua.

Senator Givens - And the Government will continue to have troubles there while the present policy is pursued.

Senator PLAYFORD - There is no doubt that, for a great many years, we have had trouble in connexion with the Possession. It appears at present to range round the Acting Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. Barton, who, I understand, was originally a civil servant there. I forget in what capacity he was employed., but I think it was in connexion with the police.

Senator Walker - He was Resident Magistrate in one of the districts.

Senator PLAYFORD - Mr. Bartonhad experience in British New Guinea, and his experience in th'e position of Acting Administrator has extended to nearly two years and a half.

Senator Givens - For how long was he appointed?

Senator PLAYFORD - I do not know, I have not the particulars here. The Prime Minister sent his Secretary to British New Guinea to make a report, which honorable senators have read, and which contains nothing to the disparagement of Mr. Barton. But after Mr. Hunt had left the Possession a man named Richmond - a civil servant there - brought a charge against Mr. Barton, to the effect that he had altered a minute by adding to it.

Senator Walker - He is a captain in one of His Majesty's regiments, and " Captain Barton " is his proper title.

Senator PLAYFORD - It makes no difference whether he is a captain or a sergeant or a lieutenant. He is a man, I suppose, and as such he ought to receive every consideration at our hands, and not to be unjustly or unfairly treated or hounded down. With reference to the charge made by Richmond, there was appointed a special Board of Inquiry, which, if I remember aright, consisted of Mr. McLachlan, the Public Service Commissioner ; Mr. Garran, who is well known to honorable senators as an annotator of the Constitution in conjunction with Sir John Quick; and Mr. Allen, who is Secretary to the Treasury. As the result of an exhaustive inquiry, the Board absolutely exonerated Captain Barton from all blame, and fixed the blame upon his accuser, who was disrated, and sent to a more outlying part of the Territory. Meanwhile, as I am informed by the Prime Minister, complaints were coming to him from diggers, storekeepers, and others in Papua more particularly in regard to the administration of the land laws. Although he was not prepared to dispense with the services of Captain Barton, still he felt that if he could get a gentleman who possessed special knowledge, and had Had practical experience in that country, it would be a wise thing, in the circumstances, to secure his services. There was a man who, for years, had been governing it as a Possession, and who was admitted on all sides to be a most highly successful Administrator, and the Prime Minister very properly thought that if he could secure his services he would be doing the right thing. He did not take this course for the purpose of snubbing Captain Barton, because he felt that, although he had never communicated with Captain Barton on the subject, that gentleman would readily retire in favour of a man possessing unique qualifications for the position. Some honorable senators seem to think that it was a put-up job on the part of Captain Barton to apply for a Royal Commission. I am informed that it was nothing of the sort. The Prime Minister says that, so far as he is aware, Captain Barton did not know at the time he asked for the appointment of a Royal Commission that he was in communication with Sir William McGregor on the subject. He decided to order an inquiry, because he believed that that was the very best way to find out to what extent trouble existed, and how it would be possible to prevent a recurrence of it.

Senator Givens - Does the Minister think that the administration of affairs of Papua at the present time is a success ?

Senator PLAYFORD - I do not know. I have not administered the Department of External Affairs, and I do not pretend to make definite statements on the subject. It may be not the fault, but the misfortune, of Captain Barton to be surrounded by men who do not act loyally towards him. The honorable senator has pointed out certain officers who, in his opinion, were highly improper persons to be appointed in any circumstances. Being subordinate officers, it can be readily understood that they might make it almost impossible for Captain Barton to govern the Territory. No man can govern a territory, command a regiment or a ship unless he has the loyal support of his officers, and also of his men.

Senator McGregor - Who appointed those officers?

Senator PLAYFORD - I do not know, but I should imagine that many of them were appointed before we took office.

Senator Givens - They ought to be cleared out ; but the Government are not strong enough to do that.

Senator PLAYFORD - The honorable senator spoke of the absolute and total failure of the Government, and of officers being unfit. If that is the case, why should he object to the appointment of a Royal Commission? Is it not to inquire into those very things?

Senator Givens - How many inquiries will be necessary?

Senator PLAYFORD - Having failed to secure the services of Sir William McGregor, we have no one here with special qualifications for the position.

Senator Givens - There are plenty of good men in Australia.

Senator PLAYFORD - It is a great deal better to have a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, and to give the Government the best advice on the subject before a Lieutenant-Governor is appointed. I now come to the question of appointing an Australian' to the position. For many years my principle has always been to appoint our own citizens in preference to outsiders in practically every case, except such a unique case as that of Sir William McGregor. I have no doubt that in the future an .Australian will be appointed to this position, if it is found that the present occupant is responsible for what is called the misgovernment of the Territory. But if he is not, and we cannot get a man with a better knowledge of tropical countries, and with more experience, why should we dismiss Captain Barton and put another man in his place?

Senator Givens - Because so far the government of the Territory has not been a success, but a failure.

Senator Pearce - Does the Minister of Defence say that if it cannot be proved that Captain Barton is incapable, he must be appointed to this position?

Senator PLAYFORD - No, I do not. I would say that it is necessary to prove the affirmative. We must believe that he is capable.

Senator Pearce - We want somethingmore than mere belief.

Senator PLAYFORD - I know that the whole question is surrounded by very great difficulty. If honorable senators will take the trouble to look up a speech which was delivered on the 23rd August, 1906, bv the Prime Minister, in reply to statements exactly similar to those which have been made here by Senator Givens, they will see the answer which can be given. Sena tor Givens has charged me, as Minister of Defence, with being in favour of the appointment of Imperial officers.

Senator Givens - I did' not say anything of the kind.

Senator PLAYFORD - I misunderstood the honorable senator, because I took down those words.

Senator Givens - I said that on every occasion the honorable senator was in favour of committees and commissions of inquiry, instead of doing the work of his Department.

Senator PLAYFORD - I heard the reference to commissions of inquiry ; but the honorable senator charged me with being in favour of appointing Imperial officers.

Senator Givens - No.

Senator McGregor - Of getting advice from Imperial officers.

Senator PLAYFORD - That is another point.

Senator Givens - I charged the Minister with being on every occasion in favour of appointing boards of inquiry, instead of himself formulating a national policy of defence for Australia.

Senator PLAYFORD - But subsequently the honorable senator said that I had always been in favour of appointingImperial officers. I have never been in favour of their appointment. I have been criticised very severely because during my term of office I have got rid of two or three of them. I had placed in the GovernorGeneral's speech a special paragraph with regard to that very subject, and the Government are now pledged to the appointment of Australian officers to the Military and Naval Forces, and to 'the appointment of Australian citizens to positions in the Public Service, wherever favorable and fit men can be secured. The honorable senator also asked why I appealed to the Imperial Defence Committee for advice with regard to the defence of the Commonwealth.

Senator Givens - The Minister asked them to formulate a policy for him.

Senator PLAYFORD - No; we asked the Imperial Defence Committee, not to formulate a policy, but to make recommendations. Our own officers, who possess local knowledge, will be able to say whether they agree with the recommendations or not, but because the Imperial Defence Committee have made recommendations there is no necessity for us to adopt them. When there were in Great Britain Imperial officers who were of the highest standing, and had had the greatest experience - far greater than our own men could possibly have had - when there was a Colonial Committee of Defence, which advised the States prior to Federation, and which has since advised the Commonwealth ; when I received from my officers all sorts of conflicting recommendations, and when, not being an expert, I could not very well decide between them,. I thought that the best thing I could possibly do, in the interests of the Commonwealth: was to ask the highest authority in the British Empire to give us the benefit of their advice. I submit that, taken as a whole, their advice is excellent. Let me take one point on which my officers were not absolutely agreed, and that ' is the character of the guns which should be mounted here. The Imperial Defence Committee recommended a uniform type of gun for use throughout the Commonwealth, namely, the 6.7, which is one of the best guns to be procured. An ordinary 6-inch gun is not to be compared for excellence with the 6.7 gun, which contains all the latest improvements. By the adoption of the superior gun we shall be able to save something like ^16,000, while maintaining our fixed defences in a state of equal, and even greater, efficiency. The 6.7 guns require a smaller number of men to handle them, and, because of this, there will, of course, not be the necessity to employ so many permanent members of the force. Other recommendations have been made by the Imperial Defence Committee; and these we shall have to consider. For instance, it is recommended that the fixed defences at Albany, and also at Fremantle, shall be abolished; and it is for us to decide whether that step shall be taken. What I desire to point out is that these recommendations are made by some of the highest authorities to whom we could appeal. At the same time, we are not bound to adopt all their recommendations, and I do not suppose that we shall.

Senator Givens - After considering the recommendations, how long does the Minister think it will take to formulate a defence policy ?

Senator PLAYFORD - I should say not more than a month. I brought matters to a point at which I can lay before my colleagues what I believe should be the policy for the present, and for the near future. I cannot, of course, lay down a scheme for all time, because, in matters of defence, there is constant change, requiring modification in the methods of administration and organization. The Boer war taught the British Generals that there is not that necessity which was previously insisted on for men. to be drilled and dressed up on parade, with a view to going through certain evolutions, but that the best men for the defence of the country are those who, with, perhaps, only a slight knowledge of drill, have received a thorough training in the use of the rifle. It will be seen that an alteration of the kind indicated will, to some extent, do away with the necessity for regular troops ; and a modification in this direction may be seen in the proposals recently laid before the House of Commons by Mr. Haldane. I think the Government have done quite right in getting the best information possible before submitting a defence scheme to Parliament. The establishment of a factory for the manufacture of small arms and shells was recommended by Major-General Hutton years ago, and has been approved of, I think, by every Government up to the present. No doubt it is exceedingly desirable that the Commonwealth should possess such a factory, though this is not so important as we might be led to suppose from the remarks of some honorable senators. However that may be, there must sooner or later be a factory of this kind in the Commonwealth, though, singular to relate, no proper information has been obtained on the subject. Information is being obtained now. It will be remembered that last year, when the subject was before us, I pointed out that the smallest establishment for the manufacture of small arms and shells would cost at least ^150,000.

Senator Givens - Twice that amount will be thrown away by th|e adoption of penny postage.

Senator PLAYFORD - The question of expense must be considered ; we must not rush into any lavish disbursement in this connexion before we are ready. My own opinion is that enterprises of this kind should be built up by degrees ; and I have asked for plans and estimates for the most modest small arms and ammunition factory that can be worked with economy.

Senator Mulcahy - Get a bullet mould !

Senator PLAYFORD - This is a much more serious matter than the honorable senator seems to imagine. In Canada the manufacture of small arms for the Government is carried on by a company, which turns out the Ross rifle - a very different weapon to that favoured in the Commonwealth. This manufacture by a company has been going on for only a comparatively short time; and, from the last report which I read', the venture does not appear to be proving very satisfactory. I do not approve of the manufacture of small arms and ammunition being carried out by a private company. Such work ought to be carried on under Government supervision - that is the best policy under the circumstances. I hope that whoever may be Minister of Defence in the future will be able to lay before Parliament a proposal for the establishment of a small arms factory, which I think must be situated at Lithgow, in New South Wales, where the coal and irqn are on the spotv I need not say more than that this is a usual .Supply Bill, making no more than the ordinary provision based on last year's Estimates. No new appointments or new works are dealt with in the schedule.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee :

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2, 3, and 4 postponed.


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