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Thursday, 23 October 1913

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - It is remarkable that, in spite of the criticism of Senator Russell and Senator Pearce, the Minister of Defence has resumed his seat after ignoring the very salient points made by those two honorable senators. I venture to say that we have witnessed to-day in the Senate conduct on the part of a Minister that has not been in accordance with the usual custom. It is true that, on other occasions, the motion has been moved that the Budget-papers be printed; but it is also true that, during the discussion on that motion, honorable senators were at least supplied with information in answer to questions which they propounded. Many of the important questions to which Senator Russell and Senator Pearce referred to-day have not been touched upon by the Minister in the reply which he has vouchsafed. If he had furnished such information I should not have arisen to address myself to the motion. I venture to say that the policy of the present Government in regard to defence, if it is a policy at all, is one of centralization. We should like to know whether the Government are really sincere in the matter of Australian defence. It is useless to quibble or split straws. We have the

Budget statement before us. We have the administrative acts of Ministers to which we can refer. Only one of two conclusions can be drawn. Either this Government are against the true spirit of Australian defence, or they are simply playing with a great project. The question of the Naval Bases is very much to the point. We find that the works at one of the important Naval Bases, namely the Henderson Base, Cockburn Sound, Western Australia, have been practically stopped. I am not referring to this matter in a parochial sense. I am referring to it as closely affecting the question of Australian defence. The very gentlemen who occupy the Treasury bench in this chamber and elsewhere are those who, on every platform during the last election campaign, denounced the ex-Minister of Defence - Senate Pearce - and the Labour Government for not pushing ahead with the works more rapidly. They told the people that if a change of Ministry took place they would soon see that works would be proceeded with expeditiously. But, in Western Australia, the great Naval Base recommended by Admiral Henderson has practically been set on one side. It is significant that the members of the present Government were those who were the principal advocates for the continuance of Australia's contribution of £200,000 a year to the Imperial Navy, in order to keep up a phantom fleet in our waters. They strongly opposed the very idea of Australia having, a fleet of its own.

Senator McColl - That is not correct.

Senator NEEDHAM - I will repeat the statement.

Senator Millen - Of course you will, because it is not correct.

Senator NEEDHAM - There are men in the present Ministry, and the Minister of Defence is one of them, who advocated the continuance of the subsidy to the Admiralty. Will the Minister deny that? The present Prime Minister was a sturdy advocate for continuing the payment of the subsidy. No one knows that better than Senator McColl, who, having been gazetted Vice-President of the Executive Council, is supposed to be a Minister of the Crown. The Prime Minister dubbed the attempt to establish a fleet as fathering upon Australia a tinpot fleet, a mosquito fleet, and so forth.

Senator McColl - The honorable senator's is only a new-born zeal.

Senator NEEDHAM - That statement is not correct. My zeal for an Australian fleet is not new born. It has been exhibited ever since I have been in Australia. I am not Austraiian born, but I have always been an advocate for Australia Having its own fleet, built in Australia and manned by Australian seamen.' If the Minister is not too lazy, he can look up my speeches since I have had the honour of being a member of the Senate, when he will see the attitude which I take up to-night is that which I have taken up from the beginning.

Senator McColl - I was referring to the honorable senator's party, not to himself.

Senator NEEDHAM - If the Minister refers to my party's new-born zeal for defence, I hurl the statement back in his teeth, and say that it is not correct. My party was the creator of the true Australian sentiment.

Senator McColl - Go back to 1903.

Senator NEEDHAM - I am quite prepared to go back to the beginnings of the Labour party in Australia, before we had Federation, and I can prove to my honorable friend that the Australian Labour party was the creator of the true Australian national sentiment. What concerns me now is whether the Government of the day is going to carry out the expressed wish and demand of the people of Australia, as far as concerns a national scheme of defence. I want the people to be apprised of the policy which the Government is carrying out. As the time for taking members' private business is approaching, I ask leave to continue my speech on a subsequent occasion.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

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