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Thursday, 15 August 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This is a Bill which seeks the ratification by Parliament of two alterations in the Naval Agreement Act 1902. It is practically a measure to ratify an agreement which has been arrived at by the Admiralty in regard to the Squadron, by which the second-class cruiser Encounter becomes available to us for the purposes of a training ship on the Australian station. Negotiations with the Admiralty have been proceeding for some time with a double purpose in view. We have been asking from time to time for a considerable number of specially trained men, petty officers and others, for the manning of our training ships, and the Admiralty have acceded to our wishes with great liberality, especially as we have been, to some extent, inconveniencing them. On the other hand, we had no up-to-date ships - with the exception of the destroyers, which are not suitable for the purpose - in which to train crews, so as to have men available to man the Fleet Unit. There was some difficulty in carrying out the arrangement for the training of crews under the old Naval Agreement. That difficulty arose from the fact that a different rate of pay was given to our men serving in the ships from that given to the men under the British naval ratings. This led to friction and dissatisfaction, and it militated very considerably against recruiting. It became obvious that if that system were continued we should not have anything like a substantial number of men to put into our ships when they arrived in Australia in 1913. His Excellency the Naval CommanderinChief originated the idea that we might obtain a loan of one or more ships of the Australian Squadron in which to carry on recruiting for ourselves. We should thus have the full crew of a ship paid at the one rate, and it was thought that this would possibly have the effect of stimulating recruiting. With that end in view negotiations were continued, and the Admiralty asked that certain vessels on the Australian station, which were tied up here under the Naval Agreement, should return to England, and intimated that they were willing to hand over to us the secondclass cruiser Encounter, with officers and a nucleus crew, with the understanding that we should be entitled to deduct from the naval subsidy the proportion represented by the upkeep of the vessel. They asked that the Challenger and two of the thirdclass cruisers should be returned, and we asked that a ship which the Admiralty had on the China station should be returned to the Australian station. This constituted the official agreement arrived at between the two parties, it being understood that the agreement on our part was made subject to the ratification of Parliament. Honor- able senators are aware that I have circulated an amendment which I intend to propose, which reads -

The provisions of this section shall extend to authorize any arrangement already entered into for any of the purposes mentioned in this section.

It will be seen that the Bill makes provision to authorize the making of further arrangements if necessary. That has been decided upon because it is obvious that the Australian Fleet, now building, will not come out here as a unit, but in sections. The intention of the Government is that the cruiser Melbourne shall come out first. The battleship Australia, and the cruiser Sydney, will afterwards come out together, making a call at South Africa on the way. The two submarines will probably come out via Suez at a still later date. The desire of the Admiralty is that as our ships arrive the Australian Squadron shall be correspondingly reduced. We do not believe that Parliament has any desire to hamper either our own arrangements or those of the Admiralty, and in order .to meet the convenience of both parties we are seeking the approval of Parliament for a reduction of the Australian Squadron maintained by the Admiralty on the Australian station as our own Australian ships come out to take their place.

Senator Clemons - From time to time on these lines?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. The idea is that when the Melbourne arrives one of the second-class cruisers now on the station shall return to England, and when the battleship and the cruiser Sydney arrive other ships of the Australian Squadron will be returned, and in this way the Squadron will be gradually reduced. On the completion of the negotiations the Admiralty expressed their appreciation, and said tha* our action in releasing the Challenger had been a great convenience to them. These ships contain a large number of highlytrained men. It takes many years to bring men up to a high state of training, and as the Admiralty are turning out new ships they require to have in each a nucleus of these highly-trained men. The arrangement which has been come to has been of substantial benefit to both parties. Ir has enabled us to secure the Encounter, and we now have some 200 recruits on board that vessel. We are taking other recruits into the Williamstown Depot, the idea being to keep them there for a few months, and then send them on a training cruise in the

Encounter.We shall have fresh drafts from time to time trained in the same way, and we shall be able by the adoption of this course to secure a. far larger number of men to man our own ships when they arrive than we should have been able to secure under the old Agreement for the training of men in the ships of the Squadron. In the circumstances, I am sure a very few words are needed from me to obtain the hearty ratification of this Agreement by Parliament.

Senator Millen - Has there not been some re-adjustment of the financial part of the Agreement?

Senator PEARCE - I have already said that we are entitled to deduct from the naval subsidy payable under the old Agreement the proportion represented by the upkeep of the Encounter. This is estimated at £25,000.

Senator Millen - We practically get the ship for nothing.

Senator PEARCE - That is so; but we relieve the Admiralty of the payment of the officers and nucleus crew, whom we pay at Australian rates of wages. I think that the new Agreement is a satisfactory one, and I trust it will meet with the hearty concurrence of the Senate.

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