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Wednesday, 27 August 1913

Senator MILLEN - Yes, that is so. I was not present, but Mr. Cutler was, and he evidently considered himself justified in recognising the action of the Board in deciding to call for applications as showing a lack of confidence in him, and in assuming that his application would not be successful. I think he shows that he regarded the action of the Board as an intimation that they were not disposed to leave in his hands that very expensive public property.

Senator Rae - In other words, the honorable senator thinks they shunted him.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, he was shunted, and I admit that the Government tried to shunt him in a very kindly way. There was a practical intimation of the opinion of Mr. Cutler held by Senator Pearce and the Naval Board, and they knew more about him than I did. I never met the gentleman until a week or two ago, and then conversed with him for only half-an-hour. Mr. Cutler indicates in his communication the conclusion at which he had arrived regarding the opinion as to his qualifications which had been formed by Senator Pearce.

Senator Long - - In that matter, did not the late Government follow the usual procedure, with regard to important appointments, of calling for applications for them?

Senator MILLEN - But this man was there.

Senator Long - He was in the employ of the State Government.

Senator Pearce - He was told, as his letter indicates, that he might be regarded as an applicant, and would be treated on his merits.

Senator MILLEN - And the honorable senator practically told him that his application would not succeed.

Senator Pearce - I never told him anything of the kind.

Senator MILLEN - The man took that as an intimation that the Naval Board were not satisfied with his services. If they had been, all that they required to do was to ask the State Government to transfer him to the Commonwealth. It was intended that officers employed at the dock should be transferred, as a number of them actually were, and as a number arebeing transferred at the present time. Mr: Cutler could have been transferred in the same way. If Senator Pearce had wished to appoint Mr. Cutler permanently to the position, he had only to make a formal application to the State Government for the transfer of his services. In the circumstances, I should have taken very great risk indeed if I had permanently appointed to the position a man who in the opinion of those who had considerable experience of him was not qualified for it. In answer to the question why I have not found some one to succeed him, I say that I prefer to wait a few weeks longer, in the hope that we may get a man specially qualified for the position.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that none of the other applicants are suitable ?

Senator MILLEN - None of them appears to me to possess all the qualifications which I think are needed for so important a position. I may be making an error of judgment. I know that many of them are excellent men, but I have thought it better to take a few weeks more and endeavour to find in some man a combination of the qualifications which I think are needed.

Senator Maughan - Is that opinion shared by the Naval Board?

Senator MILLEN - It is.

Senator Pearce - Is it not a fact that the London Committee made a recommendation ?

Senator MILLEN - They did, but I am not aware that a Committee sitting in London knows exactly what is wanted here. I do not mind explaining the difficulty which is in my mind. The applicant recommended by the London Committee is an engineer employed in the Royal Navy at £600 per year. It appears to me that an officer who can command no higher salary is, perhaps, not possessed of the wide experience which I think we need for this important position. An error made in this appointment, which would have to be continued for some years, might have disastrous consequences later on. It has seemed to me that an officer holding so comparatively unimportant a position at Home cannot possess the wide experience which I think is the essential qualification for a manager of the dockyard.

Senator Pearce - That is not their only recommendation.

Senator MILLEN - That was their specific recommendation. Let me say that Senator Pearce need not have bothered to ask my permission to see the papers, as apparently he knows all about them.

Senator Pearce - The papers now referred to were in the office before I left.

Senator MILLEN - I have told the Senate the reasons why I have abstained from making an appointment.

Senator Rae - Would not the Committee that made that recommendation be acquainted with the qualifications required?

Senator Pearce - Yes, and every one knew what qualifications they had.

Senator MILLEN - It is a matter of opinion as to what qualifications are wanted in the manager of a place like a dockyard. I am trying to state the reasons which have animated me. It seemed to me that a gentleman who had held only that position at Home, although recommended by the Committee as possibly the best of the men applying, was still not quite the man we had the right to look for to take over the responsibility of the dockyard itself, seeing that the success he achieved in his management would have a very big and lasting influence on its ultimate operations. Therefore, I have taken a few weeks longer, in the hope of finding some one who will appeal to me as being more suitable for the position. That is the crime of which I am guilty.

Senator Rae - What salary are you prepared to give?

Senator MILLEN - In the advertisement no salary was stated. Each applicant was required to state the amount for which he was prepared to give his services. This gentleman had offered his services at £1,500 a year, though he is now obtaining £600 in England. I think that for a salary of £1,500 we might have looked for somebody with a little wider experience than he appears to possess.

Senator Rae - A really first class man ought to be worth £5,000 a year.

Senator MILLEN - I tell the Senate candidly that if the matter were left to me solely, I would sooner give £5,000 a year to get the best man, than pay £1,500 a year to a man about whom I had any doubt. If I have erred, well and good. I am telling the Senate the circumstances in which I have acted. I do not think, in spite of the recommendation of the Committee, that the men who have offered their services are quite good enough . for the work that Australia wants to be taken in hand.

Senator Long - What is going to guide you in your ultimate selection of a man?

Senator MILLEN - I think that the honorable senator has had enough experience of the world to know those factors which would guide one. I have told the Senate why I have acted as I have done. I venture to think that honorable senators in their quieter moments will say that I have only taken a business precaution in preferring a little delay to making a mistake.

Senator Rae - You might inform us what steps you are taking.

Senator MILLEN - Seeing that the applicants were at Home,' the only step which could be taken would be a short communication by cable with the High Commissioner. Passing from Cockatoo Island, I come to the question of Cockburn Sound. I want to start with a reference to Senator Pearce's quotation from his own speech on the Estimates, where he said that the money was wanted> and that the intention was to spend it on survey work. He went on to say that they had been constructing a railway, and other works. I want to repeat most emphatically that there is not the slightest intention in my mind to deviate from the policy laid down by Admiral Henderson to create a base for the western fleet in Cockburn Sound. But I am going to insist here, as I will in every step that is taken by the Department, that before the people's money is spent, ordinary business precautions shall be taken to see that it will be spent in a proper way. In this particular matter,' my charge against Senator Pearce is that, in trying to push forward that work, he lost sight of those business considerations which should prevail with every man in his own affairs. In this particular case, Admiral Henderson's advice is clear enough. He says -

The harbor of Cockburn Sound, including Owen's Anchorage and Jervoise Bay, to be examined thoroughly as soon as possible by experts.

It cannot be contended that {he examination' has been thorough and complete, seeing that it is still going on. If it was complete, as Senator Pearce would make us believe, if he had done all that appeared necessary to justify him in putting up permanent works, there was no need to carry the examination any further ; but when I went there, and now to-day, they are"' still putting down bores to test the soil. Why are they probing into the bowels of the earth to find out what is underneath if they are satisfied that the time has arrived to spend money on permanent improvements? The fact is, as I will show from minutes of the Naval Board, a justification of my statement that before the necessary preliminary work has been completed an effort has been made to push on the other work, which, in my judgment, ought not to have been started until the exploration and the survey had been carried to such a point that we could say, without doubt, that we know the character of the ground on which we are to build. I have already referred to what Admiral Henderson said. It will be noticed that, in reference to the survey, he used the expression, " It should be thoroughly surveyed." He must have had a very good reason for putting in the word " thoroughly." He must have known of the financially tragic history of Bermuda ; but he did not know then, as we know now, what has happened at Fremantle. There, as the result of insufficient exploration, they proceeded to erect their works. What happened ?

Senator Needham - Against the advice of one of their eminent engineers, Mr. C. Y. O'Connor.

Senator Rae - The bottom feU out of it.

Senator MILLEN - They acted in accordance with the advice of some engineers, and it is quite evident now they did not carry out the borings extensively enough. After they had spent over £250,000, they suddenly found, because they were over a limestone cavern, water rushing up. It would be a disastrous thing to repeat at Jervois3 Day, which is also limestone country, the sad experience of the dock at Fremantle.

Senator Pearce - Are you going to put down a graving dock at Jervoise Bay ?

Senator MILLEN - Admiral Henderson recommended the establishment of a graving clock there, and he is accepted by the honorable senator as a law-giver in this matter. It will introduce a curious state of affairs if, when it suits a Minister, he will depart from a report; and, if it suits him, also demand that no one else shall depart from it. Are we going to take this as an idly- written document, or as one in which every word as well as every recommendation was considered ? Admiral Henderson did not recommend a floating dock for the fleet, and lie had a reason for not doing so.

Senator Pearce - Are you going to put a graving dock there?

Senator MILLEN - I am not certain, because I want to complete this exploration. If it is possible, as a result of the exploration, to put a graving dock there, then I say his report ought to stand until he, or some equal authority, tells us that a floating dock will do just as well.

Senator Pearce - If there is a good foundation, you will not put a floating dock there?

Senator MILLEN - At the present moment, and of course always subject to any advice I may get, I say that the survey should be completed before we can know whether we can carry out his report.

Senator Pearce - You are going to put a graving dock there if the foundation is sound ?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, until Admiral Henderson, or some other authority, comes and tells me that a floating dock will do just as well for the purpose he had in view.

Senator Needham - Will you explain why some of the surveyors have been dismissed recently, and probably more will be dismissed shortly?

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator has asked me about a matter of which I have no knowledge.

Senator Needham - Surveyors have been dismissed since you came into power.

Senator MILLEN - I do not know what the honorable senator means by the term " surveyors."

Senator Needham - I mean the men conducting the exploratory work.

Senator MILLEN - I know that an instruction was given to Mr. Fanstone to carry on with all speed the work of exploration and survey. I am not concerned in what men he puts on or takes off. There is an instruction from the Naval Board to carry on the survey work as fast as he can, and the rest I leave to him. I come now to a statement by Senator Pearce that these banks which we all recognised have to be pierced - the Success and Parmelia banks - were pierced months ago. He was trying to rather startle me by giving me the information that months ago these banks had been probed, and that it was possible to determine what they were made of. Why, it is year3 since that was done. The honorable senator shakes his head, but I ask him to listen to an extract from a report by Sir John Coode in 1887 -

The borings through the Success and Parmelia banks have shown, as before stated, that they consisted almost entirely of sand. Any channel which might be formed through these shoals would inevitably necessitate frequent dredging for maintenance, and, as I pointed out in my report of 1877, such an approach would be impracticable and dangerous in a gale from the west, when the wind would be directly across the line of channel, and it would be impossible to_ confine vessels to the deep-water track. Notwithstanding the fine sheet of water which exists in Cockburn Sound, the difficulties attendant upon the formation and maintenance of suitable and safe approaches are so great, and would be accompanied with such a large expenditure, both in first cost and maintenance, and there will be no alternative but to consider the utilization of the shelter and deep water there as entirely unattainable.

Here, in 1887, we have Sir John Coode giving exactly the same report as Senator Pearce's recent exploration has discovered.

Senator Guthrie - There is no harm in being doubly sure.

Senator MILLEN - At double the cost. Senator Pearce's statement in the newspaper the other day was that the banks consisted of sand, gravel, and clay.

Senator Pearce - There are papers in the Navy Office to show that.

Senator MILLEN - When the honorable senator seeks to startle me with the information that the borings were completed a few months ago, he will pardon rae for telling him that they were completed years ago.

Senator Pearce - A bore has been put down since that survey was made.

Senator MILLEN - I think I am correct in saying that there are not in the Navy Office to-day the results of the early bores. They ought to be there, and I am getting them there in order that we can compare the earlier borings with the new ones. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that there is any knowledge of that earlier exploration work in the office. There is another matter on which Senator Pearce attempted to enlighten me. When he spoke of the Challenger Pass he said I had spoken of only one entrance, and he went on to describe the Pass -

With the removal of some soft rock obstructions, there is a deep water entrance available without touching the sandbanks referred to.

If the Challenger Pass,as he would make us believe, is such an excellent opening that it only requires a powerful Minister to brush a few rocks on one side, why did he contemplate spending thousands of pounds in cutting through two banks? The answer to his statement, with which he thought to impress somebody, is that the Challenger Pass is an entirely unsuitable entrance. Here, again, we have the advantage of the report of that very eminent engineer, Sir John Coode, who says -

This Pass could not, however, be improved at any reasonable expenditure so as to convert it into an approach to Cockburn Sound, which would be available in all weathers. Nor is it clear that if so formed - practicability of which there is reason to doubt, having regard to exposure and the presence of rock - that it could be maintained in its improved form.

This is the Pass to which Senator Pearce invited my attention. I knew all about it, but in view of that report, I preferred to eliminate it from the discussion until he himself introduced it. The honorable senator asked me if I was an engineer, and, if not, who was advising me in this matter. May I ask whether Senator Pearce is an engineer ?

Senator Pearce - I am not.

Senator MILLEN - Well, Sir John Coode was an engineer. I admit that I have no engineering knowledge.

Senator Rae - The Minister of Defence is altogether too modest.

Senator MILLEN - Nobody is likely to accuse my honorable friend of being too modest.

Senator Long - The Minister is not very complimentary to-night.

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friends are not acting in a way that is calculated to exact compliments. I come now to another matter. Senator Pearce, in a communication to the press the other day, said -

There is certainly expert advice in the Naval Department which has been availed of by me.

He also asked -

Who, then, has discovered that further expert advice is necessary?

That inquiry refers to the statement made by the Government that it is intended to seek the assistance of some eminent civil engineer. In inviting such an authority to come out here, there is not the slightest intention that he shall review Admiral Henderson's work. All that he will be asked is to advise the Government as to the best method of carrying out the very extensive works which are in contemplation in connexion with our naval policy. Senator Pearce has inquired upon whose advice that action was taken. In order to show that, before I assumed control of the Naval Department, there was evidently a nebulous idea that things at Cockburn Sound were travelling a little too fast, or were getting a little out of hand, I may be permitted to quote the following memorandum, dated 21st May last, by the first naval member of the Board -

I am against a decision on either scheme put forward at the present time with our present knowledge.

There were two schemes then under consideration - one put forward by Mr. Panstone, and the other by Captain Clarkson. The first naval member of the Board proceeded -

Before it is safe to decide on the harbor scheme, the closest observation is necessary for the longest time at command. I understand that this is now proceeding, and all data carefully tabulated.

Senator Pearce - To what has that reference ?

Senator MILLEN - There were two schemes submitted - one by Mr. Fanstone, upon which Captain Clarkson reported adversely, and upon which he then submitted an alternative scheme.

Senator Pearce - Has that scheme any relation to the site?

Senator MILLEN - No. It had reference to the works.

Senator Pearce - Was it the location of the site at Jervoise Bay that was in question ?

Senator MILLEN - - No; there was no disagreement about that. I wish to show that there was growing in the Naval Department, owing to the distance of Cockburn Sound from Melbourne, a feeling that there was not that close grip over things that there ought to be.

Senator Pearce - Was not that only in relation to the disposition of the various buildings ?

Senator MILLEN - It embraced more than the disposition of the buildings. It included the whole scheme - such questions as where the dockyard, wharfs, &c, ought to be placed. According to the first naval member of the Board, it was desirable to complete these observations. I gathered that there was a feeling, which I shared, that it was necessary to push these surveys a little further before launching out into anything in the nature of permanent buildings. On the 3rd of May the first naval member of the Board wrote -

I suggest an early date for consideration and decision as to sequence of work at Henderson Base, and rate of progress.

It seems to me that that ought to have been determined before a start was made upon these works.

Senator Pearce - What works?

Senator MILLEN - The sequence of works at Henderson's Base and the rate of progress. I am speaking of the railway which the late Government put down.

Senator Pearce - Does not the Minister know that a railway is necessary, no matter where the works may be placed ?

Senator MILLEN - I do not. It seems to me an entirely foolish thing to commence works of that kind sooner than we are obliged to. The sequence of work has an important bearing od the economy with which those works can be carried out.

Senator Rae - The Minister of Defence suggests that everything should be put off until everything has been done.

Senator MILLEN - The remark of the honorable senator is characterized by extreme flippancy. The correct thing to have done was to complete the exploration and survey work first. We should begin at the beginning, and make a good beginning. No time would be lost by so doing, because we should thus eliminate another disaster such as that which occurred in connexion with the Fremantle

Dock. Here is a memorandum from the third naval member of the Board -

I consider that a large sum of money has been injudiciously expended at this base, and that this expenditure is still proceeding. I very strongly recommend that it be curtailed, and that the Director of Naval Works be instructed in writing to cut down expenditure to the limits laid down in the recent Board meeting, and communicate it to him then verbally.

Senator Pearce - What is the date of ?

Senator MILLEN - It is dated the 18th July of the present year - after my honorable friend had left office.

Senator Pearce - All the expenditure was in the branch of which Captain Clarkson was the head.

Senator MILLEN - But he contends that works are being carried out concerning which he has never been consulted.

Senator Pearce - What works are they!

Senator MILLEN - I cannot tell my honorable friend on the spur of the moment. It was because of this that the memorandum which I have quoted was written. That minute was indorsed by all the other members of the Board. The second naval member said -

I concur most thoroughly with paragraph 4. This is urgent and essential.

Another member of the Board wrote -

I concur with paragraph 4, but Minister's approval is required, as it will mean discharge of employes.

I was therefore confronted with this position - that there was a recommendation from the Board-

Senator Pearce - Where is the recommendation that they needed further expert advice ?

Senator MILLEN - I will come to that presently. I am now dealing with my action in regard to the works in progress at Cockburn Sound. I did not have Cockburn Sound before me when these things came along. Then I naturally asked what was being done there, and, so far as I can understand the position, I came to the conclusion that for the economical carrying on of these works it was essential we should complete the survey before we proceeded with buildings and land works. Accordingly, instructions were given to finish the works upon which the men were then engaged, and afterwards to limit themselves entirely to the work of exploration.

Senator Rae - Why limit them to that?

Senator MILLEN - Because nobody but a fool would leave a house without a roof upon it. Senator Pearce is very anxious to know upon whose advice I acted when I urged the Government to seek further expert advice. In a communication to the press, he said that there waa expert advice in the Naval Department, and he asked -

Who, then, has discovered that further expert advice is necessary?

I may tell him that it was the first naval member of the Board. Here is what he wrote on the 12th August of the current year -

The time has, in my opinion, arrived for the appointment of a harbor and dock engineer of the highest qualifications to supervise the very important works includedin the Henderson scheme, and involving an outlay totalling some millions.

This requirement is in no way depreciatory of the ability of the officer at present directing the Naval Works, but the growth of the work from the stage of providing all data, the magnitude of the works in view, and the serious problems facing the Naval Board involved in the selection of sites, &c., make the appointment of this officer at an early date one of urgency.

Senator Rae - It seems as if all these Boards want to pass their responsibility on to somebody else.

Senator MILLEN - So far as I understand the position, there is no particular branch in the whole of the engineering world upon which more money can be wasted than upon naval works. The world is full of instances of that kind. It does seem to me that, so far, Australia has not had an opportunity of developing men of very wide experience in this branch of work. We are only following in the steps taken by individual States, which, when confronted with similar problems, have sought the aid of experienced men from the Old World. It is not suggested that the gentleman who is to come out here to advise us in this matter is to review the question of a site'. The memorandum which I have read merely says that in the carrying out of these works it is desirable to secure the services of a gentleman of wider experience than is possessed by any officer now available to the Commonwealth. That recommendation was one that appealed to me. I do not know anything upon which the Government might lose more money than upon these naval works.

Senator Pearce - In common fairness to the officers who have been carrying out these works, the Minister ought to have some proof of their unfitness.

Senator MILLEN - I rather think that I ought to have some proof of their fitness.

Senator Pearce - Have they not given that?

Senator MILLEN - Where?

Senator Pearce - Have they not carried out works at Westernport?

Senator MILLEN - All that I say on that matter is that it is too early to determine whether even the Westernport works are being carried out in the best possible way. I do not want honorable senators to think that I have any reason to believe that they are not being carried out properly and efficiently. But the proof of these matters is not to be determined at the time when you are carrying out the works, but afterwards. In my own State we have had deplorable instances of engineering mistakes in connexion with our rivers, and we have had to pay for them since.

Senator Pearce - If the Minister is going to act on suspicion we can equally well be suspicious of any other engineers as of those already in charge.

Senator MILLEN - I may as well say distinctly that, in my opinion, the gentleman primarily responsible, Mr. Fanstone, cannot claim to be an expert in connexion with such big works.

Senator de Largie - Another Chinn?

Senator MILLEN - Mr. Fanstone may be a perfectly good and conscientious officer, but the position is this: It is of no use trying to say that because a man may have been an expert draftsman for many years he can go and take charge of a work which, if properly executed, will excite the admiration and demand the study of the greatest engineers we can find. These are not easy works to carry out. They are not works which you can find many people competent to execute.

Senator Rae - We are always to go outside Australia for our men?

Senator MILLEN - It is not a matter of going outside Australia, but of getting the best man obtainable for important works.

Senator Rae - Is it not a fact that these English " johnnies " are always trying to find fresh jobs for their "cobbers" ?

Senator MILLEN - I am not arguing as to whether I am right or wrong in this particular matter ; but it seems to me that there is no man in the Department - certainly not Mr. Fanstone - who is entitled to be regarded as sufficiently experienced in carrying out works of this magnitude. Believing, therefore, that it was the ng ut thing to do, I had no hesitation in asking that a communication should be sent to the High Commissioner, asking him to take steps to obtain applications from engineers of experience. I have endeavoured to make a plain statement with regard to the matters that have been mentioned. I have inadvertently omitted to deal with my point. I shall be glad to have my attention directed to it, in order that I may repair the omission afterwards. I have endeavoured to approach the subjects with which I have dealt, not merely as one who thoroughly and sincerely believes in the defence policy, which we are pledged to carry out, but in the belief that that policy will lose in public estimation unless, in trying to give effect to it, we are careful of the interests of those who have to find the money. While I should be the last in the world to impair the efficiency of either the Naval or the Military Forces by any unnecessary scamping or economy, I still maintain that it is possible to carry out the defence scheme with the same careful regard for the taxpayers' money as we show in regard to any other Department of the Commonwealth.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Keefe) adjourned.

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