Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 27 August 1913

Senator PEARCE - One tiling or other could have been done. If the Minister thought that the acting manager was capable, he could have put him there.

Senator Millen - Do you think him capable ?

Senator PEARCE - I am not going to say whether we thought him capable or not. The position we took up was to get the most capable man we could. We told the acting manager that he was free to apply, and that we would deal with the application on its merits, but we intended to invite applications throughout the world for the management of the dockyard. That was the position when I went out of office two months ago, but Senator Millen has not solved that problem yet, and, of course, as Senator Guthrie says, he has found time to make other appointments. I indorse very largely what this Committee of Management has said. If Senator Millen will lay the papers on the table, honorable senators will find that every recommendation from the Naval Board for the purchase of machinery was approved by me.

I challenge Senator Millen to cite one proposal or recommendation by the Naval Board to provide further machinery for the dockyard which was not approved of by me.

Senator Millen - That is to say, you carried out the Board's recommendation ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. If the Minister can produce any evidence to the contrary, I shall be obliged if he will bring it forward. Seeing that he has quoted one member of the Naval Board in that connexion, I would like him to say whether the Naval Board have told him that they were in any way hampered by me, as Minister, in obtaining anything they required for the dockyard. I come to another sensation of the honorable senator, and that is his action in practically closing down the works at the Henderson Naval Base, in Cockburn Sound. In order to get at the genesis of this thing, let us see what Admiral Henderson says in his report of 1911. On page 12 he says -

10.   Port Western is a very good harbor, and until Cockburn Sound (Fremantle), which is far more important from a strategical point of view, is ready, this port should be utilized by the Western Division as one of its principal anchorages, and as a place where ships should be able to replenish with coal or oil fuel.

We have to remember that he recommended two fleet primary bases for Australia, namely, at Sydney and Fremantle . On page 55 he sets out what are the general requirements of a fleet primary base -

(a)   Docks capable of receiving the largest vessels when in an injured condition.

(b)   Work-shops capable of effecting any repairs to, or replacements required in, hull machinery, fittings, or armament of all types of vessel ; to include facilities for lifting out and replacing the heaviest weights, such as guns, gun-mountings, and machinery.

(c)   Provision of the necessary equipment and supplies for replenishment of all naval ordnance, naval stores (including coal and oil) and provisions.

(d)   Easy and safe communication with the manufactories of ship-building material, ordnance, and ammunition.

(e)   Facilities for the rapid coaling of ships.

(f)   Necessary equipment for testing chain cables.

(g)   Safe storage for reserves of ammunition and explosives.

(h)   Moorings and wharfage for ships under repair or in reserve,

(i)   Satisfactory arrangements for reception and treatment of the sick and wounded.

Then, dealing with the question of requirements, on page 56, he says -

(a)   The harbor of Cockburn Sound, including Owen's Anchorage and Jervoise Bay, to be examined thoroughly as soon as possible by experts, with a view to locating the site of the future Naval Dockyard. The site should include space for graving docks, building slips, workshops, storehouses, and all plant, &c., for the building of ships and for the repairs and maintenance of a fleet. It appeared to me that a site in the vicinity of Jervoise Bay was best suited for Naval Dockyard requirements. A channel for deep-draught ships would have to be dredged through the Parmelia and Success Banks, and slight dredging would be required in other places. It would probably also be necessary that a short breakwater should be thrown out from Woodman's Point.

I understand that plans and estimates have been framed for carrying out of a great part of this dredging, and I am sure that it will prove of the greatest Benefit not only to the Navy but also to merchant shipping and commercial interests, as it would greatly relieve the pressure on Fremantle Harbor for shipping accommodation which the future must inevitably bring.

In the interim, the needs of the fleet will be met by - 1st. The completion of the dock now building at Fremantle and of the repair and refitting shops proposed to be attached thereto at as early a date as possible. 2nd. The temporary provision of a base for six destroyers and three submarines in the Swan River. 3rd. The dredging of the channel, so that large vessels can find a safe anchorage in Cockburn Sound. 4th. The provision of adequate reserves of coal and oil fuel, &c.

(b)   A large area of land should be reserved for Naval purposes, so as to allow of considerable future expansion.

(c)   A site to be selected for storage of ammu nition and explosives.

When Admiral Henderson made this report, he had with him an exceedingly competent staff. He had also all the data relating to the various soundings which had been taken over a period of years, all the information which had been gained about the harbor and its approaches, and about these banks. He had the Admiralty charts of over fifty years ago ; he was able to compare the existing depth of water with that shown on those charts, and with the more modern soundings taken during recent years in the course of the exploratory surveys for the main harbor at Fremantle, which was eventually located in the Swan River, but which it was at one time proposed to establish at Owen's Anchorage, Woodman's Point, the spot where Sir John Coode recommended that it should be established. In connexion with that inquiry, the then enginer-in-chief, Mr. O'Connor, had occasion not merely to refer to the depths shown on the Admiralty charts, but to check them with the depths which now obtained, and which had been brought about by the scouring action of the tides. Admiral Henderson had all that information placed in his hands by the West Australian Government at the request of the Commonwealth Government. I invite attention to the fact that that officer recommended both an interim programme and an ultimate programme. His ultimate programme was a fleet base, which should be the centre of the fleet when created. His interim programme was a base for the vessels which are to comprise the fleet unit. In recommending that interim programme, as he does in paragraphs 1, 2, 3, and 4. of his report, he took into consideration the fact that there was then being built in Fremantle a dockyard which, at the request of the Federal Government, had been made large enough to accommodate the flagship Australia.Senator Millen, or his advisers, must have lost sight of the fact that that dockyard is a thing of the past.

Senator Millen - I have not lost sight of its history.

Senator PEARCE - The construction of that dockyard in the river has been proved to be impracticable, and the State Government have had to abandon all idea of it.

Senator Millen - Why? Because they started operations before they had finished their exploration.

Senator PEARCE - The Minister of Defence is not going to make any political capital out of that. Recognising the fate which overtook that dock, the late Government determined that they would not have a graving dock there. It was their intention to build a floating dock, and in that case it would not matter what the bottom was like.

Senator Millen - Then why were bores put down ?

Senator PEARCE - To determine whether there was a sufficiently strong foundation to carry the heavy machinery, such as shear legs, which would have to be installed in the workshops, and not for the purposes of a dock at all. It was never the intention of the late Government to put a graving dock at Fremantle. In view of the fate that had overtaken the dock at Fremantle, it was their intention to install a floating dock. When Admiral Henderson made his report he had no knowledge that the graving dock would not have been completed this year.

Senator Millen - But he was dealing only with his interim programme. He recommended that the site selected should include space for a graving dock.

Senator PEARCE - He contemplated that this year we should have a graving dock at Fremantle. Would he not have submitted a very different report if he had known that we would not have such a dock ? Is it not likely that he would have recommended the construction of a floating dock for Cockburn Sound in order that we might push on with necessary works there? It was because of the failure of the dock at Fremantle that the plans in regard to Cockburn Sound were put ahead of what Admiral Henderson proposed. If the graving dock had been constructed, all that would have been necessary in the interim programme would have been to proceed with the works that ore set out in paragraphs 1, 2, 3, and 4 of Admiral Henderson's report. But we had to recognise that we were bringing to Australia a battle cruiser which could be accommodated only in one dock in the Commonwealth, so that if she chanced to become crippled in the Indian Ocean she would have been obliged to go all the way round to Sydney to effect repairs. That consideration entirely altered the order in which certain works at Cockburn Sound required to be carried out, and indicated that, in addition to the undertakings recommended by Admiral Henderson in his interim programme, a floating dock would have to be provided. I have looked up what I said regarding these works when speaking upon the Budget in this Chamber last year. I find, from Hansard of 26th September, 1912, pages 3483 and 3484, that I stated -

Under the Naval Departments the works include the Flinders Naval Base, £400,000; Cockburn Sound, £45,000; Port Stephens, £15,000; dredges and plant, £100,000 ; or a total of £560,000, of which amount £200,000 is provided for on the present Estimates, leaving a balance of £360,000 to be subsequently provided for. As regards the Cockburn and Port Stephens Naval bases, no estimate can be given as to the final expenditure upon them, for the reason that the work now being carried out is merely survey work on which to establish data to enable us to frame our estimates of cost. Therefore these figures do not include any money for Cockburn Sound and Port Stephens Naval bases, except to enable us to provide preliminary data, or for Sydney, for which no final scheme has yet been proposed. It is further estimated that the expenditure indicated by these figures will be spread over four years.

As I have already said, we are unable at present to give any estimate for the Naval bases at Cockburn Sound and Port Stephens until surveys have been made to secure the necessary data.

In looking over my private papers, I find that at the time the Estimates were under consideration, I was supplied with tuc details as to the works on which the expenditure of £45,000 at Cockburn Sound was to be incurred. Fortunately for me, in view of the Minister's attempt to make political capital out of this matter, I have those details before me. The money was to be expended as follows: - Survey and data work, instruments, plant and stores, camp, launches, boats, rafts, £9,000 ; railway extension, that is the extension of the railway from Fremantle, a distance of 6 miles-

Senator Millen - Was a railway necessary for survey work?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. Wherever the dockyard may be placed a railway will pay tor itself. It is necessary for the undertakings which will follow the survey work. Railway extension, preliminary works and plant, I find, were to cost £12,000. This expenditure included a house for the naval engineer, a house for the general foreman, offices for the staff, sheds, workshops, eze. Upon the removal of the powder magazines, new jetties and new railway sidings, £20,000 was to be expended. The diversion of the roadway was to cost £3,000, and wages for the staff £1,000, making a total of £45,000. In the £100,000 which appeared in the Estimates for 1912-13, provision was made for the purchase of a dredger for Cockburn Sound. The work which has been carried out with the aid of that expenditure has been exactly the work set out in the details which 1 have given. But as that work proceeded, and as the requisite data was acquired, we were able to decide upon the other works which could be undertaken only after the completion of the survey. The Minister of Defence has sufficient information in the Navy Office to-day to authorize the Government in submitting a proposition on the next Estimates in favour of starting those works. The reason why I sanctioned the railway proposal was that it was demonstrated to me by the members of the Naval Board that that railway was necessary, not merely to provide access for the men who would be employed on the works, but also to convey the necessary material for the works, which they urged should be proceeded with at once. Now, as to the site for the dockyard. Cockburn Sound is a huge harbor, somewhere about 12 miles from north to south. In that large sheet of water there are three possible sites for a dockyard. One is at Rockingham Bay, on the extreme southerly side of the Sound and the farthest from the main entrance and Fremantle, another is at Case Point, half-way between Rockingham Bay and the northern portion of the Sound, and the third is at Jervoise Bay, Woodman's Point, which was the site recom mended by Admiral Henderson. When Admiral Henderson recommended that site, he had before him information from the Western Australian Government as to the depth of water it contained, and the Minister of Defence must know that there is from 40 to 46 feet available in close proximity to Jervoise Bay.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator cannot find more than 36 feet anywhere there.

Senator PEARCE - That information is different from the information which was supplied to me. I come now to the question of how Jervoise Bay came to be finally selected. The Navy Office is a thing of comparatively recent growth. Three years ago there were only one man and a boy employed there. But after the adoption by the late Government of Admiral Henderson's scheme, steps were taken to constitute .a Naval Board, and that Board was called upon by me, as Minister of Defence, to organize a staff for carrying out their work. As they brought to me their proposals in that connexion, applications were invited for the positions, and from those applications the Naval Board recommended the appointment of the experts who should have charge of the various departments. In every instance in which experts have been appointed they have been appointed on the recommendation of the Naval Board. One of those experts is the Director of Naval Works, whose duty it is, under the third member of the Board, to work out the plans for works when once the policy to be followed has been determined. That policy in the present instance was the establishment of a fleet base at Cockburn Sound. Surveyors were put to work there. They reported, as the result of boring in the sand, that a certain depth of water was available, and from time to time various recommendations were made by the Director of Naval Works to the third member of the Naval Board. Every step taken by the late Government was taken on the recommendation either of a member of the Naval Board or of that Board as a whole. Never at any time during my period of office as Minister of Defence did the Naval Board, either individually or collectively, express to me any want of confidence in the staff as a whole or any individual member of it. Never once did they tell me that they were not satisfied that the authority upon which they were acting was insufficient or inefficient. Therefore, as these gentlemen came forward with their recommendation, I contend that I was justified in assuming that they were satisfied that the experts under them who were supplying them with expert advice were skilled in their particular work.

Senator Millen - That is to say, the honorable senator shelters himself behind his experts.

Senator PEARCE - I am going to force the Minister into this position : that he ought, in justice to his officers, either to say that he has competent officers, or, in justice to the Senate, he ought to say that he has not competent officers. I say that in every step that I took I had the advice of my officers.

Senator Millen - And if I have taken every step on their advice, what then ?

Senator PEARCE - If the advice given by the same officers to two Ministers conflicts, the honorable senator should ask them why they give advice in one direction one day and in another direction later. When I left office there was not only no justification for stopping operations, but there was absolute justification for putting on some hundreds of men more. There was an absolute necessity for the work being proceeded with. The information in the Navy Office justified me in adopting the recommendation of the Naval Board. That information was not merely placed before me with a bare recommendation. In addition to that, on many occasions I sat as a member of the Naval Board, and had all the plans and reports before me, discussed them with the Board, and heard the discussions amongst the other members before making up my mind as to my adoption of their recommendation. The decision to choose Jervoise Bay as the site of the dockyard in Cockburn Sound was arrived at at a full meeting of the Naval Board, after consideration by them of the reports of the experts regarding the depth of water, the difficulties of the situation, and all the circumstances of the case.

Senator Millen - As the honorable senator has said that there is 40 feet of water, may I invite him to look at the Admiralty chart, which shows that there is no more than 30 feet of wafer?

Senator PEARCE - The Admiralty chart is, I think, 50 or 60 years old.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator should not repeat that sentence, because it is not quite accurate.

Senator PEARCE - In many cases it will be found that there has been a deepening of the water as a result of scourings. Admiralty charts are not always to be relied upon implicitly. For instance, the Admiralty chart for the coast around Port Phillip heads at one time showed that Half Moon Bay, near the Crows Nest, was impossible for ships to enter, and yet one day we found that a Japanese training ship did come in to the very water where the Admiralty chart showed it was impossible for ships to float. I repeat that the reports brought before the Naval Board showed a depth of water of from 46 to 60 feet.

Senator Long - Reports to the Naval Board ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes; reports received from the survey officers.

Senator Bakhap - Does the honorable senator say that there have been recent soundings ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes; I say that the soundings have been going on for over a year.

Senator Millen - Soundings or borings ?

Senator PEARCE - Soundings and borings. They have been going on for over a year. A large amount of the £40,000 voted by Parliament has been spent on soundings in J Jervoise Bay. When the Naval Board met, they had this information before them, and were ready to come to a decision upon it. With that data the Naval Board recommended that Jervoise Bay should be selected for the site of the dock. If Senator Millen has not seen that recommendation, I should like him to look at it, and to know that his statement that we acted without full knowledge was absolutely incorrect.

Senator Millen - I say that the honorable senator went on without complete knowledge.

Senator PEARCE - I reply that every step I took was buttressed by knowledge as the result of the survey and the work done. The honorable senator has either been misled by misrepresentations of some of his naval advisers, or he has been guilty of misrepresentation himself ; and I should like him, in justice to himself, as well as to myself, to clear this matter up, and to tell us which is the case. I assure him, and I assure the Senate, that what I have said to-day is the absolute truth.

Senator Millen - Why should I take the honorable senator's word when, apparently, he is not prepared to take mine ?

Senator PEARCE - I say that every statement which I have made here to-day is a fact, and that every step that was taken while I was in office was justified by the reports put before me and the Naval Board. Every step taken was taken on the recommendation of the Board and the individual members of it. Because Senator Millen must know - I am sure that he does - that the different members of the Naval Board are responsible for the different sections of the naval work, and that a single member of the Board can come and make a recommendation on a particular part of the work of which he is in direct control. On a matter which concerns them all, the Board makes recommendations as a whole.

Senator Millen - Was this one of the matters which concerned the Board as n whole ?

Senator PEARCE - The choosing of a particular site in the Bay would be a matter which concerned the Board as a whole.

Senator Millen - And the carrying out of the works there ?

Senator PEARCE - The planning of the works would be under the authority of the third naval member of the Board, who is responsible for that section. He has naval works under his control. But in dealing with the dockyard there are more considerations to bear in mind than the works. There is the question of strategy; for instance, as to whether a particular place is the best location for gun fire. Therefore, you have to have the diversified opinions of the whole Board on an issue of that kind.

Senator Millen - Therefore, these things would not have been done unless a particular naval member sanctioned them.

Senator PEARCE - Certainly. When the Government had decided that a fleet should be based there, and when the Minister, on the advice of the Board, had decided what part of the harbor should be chosen, it would be the duty of a particular naval member to make a recommendation.

Senator Millen - And he would know what was going on ?

Senator PEARCE - I presume that he would. As far as I know, he never complained to me that he was kept in the dark; and if he has complained to the Minister that he has been kept in the dark, I should be glad to hear his statement. At any rate, I wish to make it perfectly clear that, up to the time the late Fisher Government left office, there was not a shadow of justification for the discharge of a single man from the Cockburn Sound works. There was absolutely no justification for any delay in carrying out the work. Everything was being carried out in such a way that the work would be continuous. Moreover, nothing was being done there that was superfluous. Everything would fit in with what was being carried out elsewhere. By the time that the works were carried out, we estimated that we should have the floating dock there. The dredging done was done so that ships could come in. Prior to that time the works would be completed, so as to make the place appropriate for a torpedo and submarine depot, for which no dredging at all was required. We must remember that this base was intended, not only for battleships, but also for torpedo boats, submarines, and destroyers. As far as the Minister's policy goes, there is not a single place on the western coast to be prepared for their reception.

Senator Millen -1 have made no statement that no place "would be prepared for them.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator has discharged the eighty men. What were they doing? They were engaged in preparing that place. He has made the statement that he is not going to carry out these works, because they would not be required ; that the works would be there before the channels would be dredged. But I point out that the place could be used as a submarine base without a single foot of dredging.

Senator Millen - I know that the honorable senator was not going to put a part of his establishment at one point and the other somewhere else.

Senator PEARCE - Then the honorable senator knows something that is not correct. His naval advisers can tell him, as they told me, that this was their proposal - that they would give the destroyers and submarines at Cockburn Sound all the accommodation that they required, and that they would put the Australia and the cruisers inside Fremantle harbor. The railway which Senator Millen was twitting me about just now was to run up from Cockburn Sound to the harbor. That was one of the reasons why the railway was to be built. The honorable senator has evidently not had the whole of the details from his naval advisers as I had.

Senator Millen - I think I have.

Senator PEARCE - That is what they proposed. They proposed that, while the dredging was being carried on, we should use Fremantle harbor for the Australia and the cruisers.

Senator Millen - That has nothing to do with the permanent design, which does not contemplate divorcing the fleet in that way.

Senator PEARCE - The permanent design contemplates the whole base being at Cockburn Sound. The whole design contemplated a western fleet. But we have not a complete eastern fleet yet. The whole design will not be completed for twenty-two years ahead. The present work was for a base for the present fleet only, and that is what the honorable senator has lost sight of. I charge the Minister that, in making these attacks on the recent Administration, he has been animated by a desire to make party capital out of defence matters. He has been deliberately trying to drag defence into the" party arena. His attacks have failed, because they were empty of justification. In the case of Cockatoo Island Dock, his statements have been shown to be inaccurate and misleading. His statements in regard to Cockburn Sound are, to my knowledge - unless the information put before me was wrong and misleading, which I refuse to believe - without a shadow of justification. The honorable senator has shown a deliberate desire to make political party capital out of these defence matters, hoping, no doubt, that I had forgotten the circumstances. Whilst he had the files of papers before him, and I had to depend on my memory, he thought that he would be able to score a political advantage over me. This is the first time in the history of Australia when any political party has endeavoured to make political capital out of the defence question.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator did nothing else during all his public life.

Senator PEARCE - I say that the present Minister of Defence, by endeavouring to make political capital out of the question of defence, has initiated a pernicious principle, which I venture to predict 'the party opposite, if they continue it, will have bitter cause to repent.

Suggest corrections