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Friday, 31 October 1913

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - I cau now understand why the Minister of Defence fell in so badly when he first entered the Department in rushing into the press with charges against his predecessor, notably in regard to Cockatoo Island and Cockburn Sound. To-day he has told us that he has been informed by officers of the Department that I had approved of the purchase of mares for breeding purposes. That is ou all-fours with some of the other statements emanating, I am afraid, from certain officers who apparently allow their political bias to influence the information they convey to the Minister.

Senator Millen - I do not think that.

Senator PEARCE - No such action was ever taken by me, and the officers who told the Minister that were either ignorant, of the true position, or were anxious to give Senator Millen some political shot with which to fire at me. At any rate, they did not trouble to ascertain the true facts, which were these: We decided to do away with the old practice of hiring horses for the Field Artillery, and to purchase our own. Officers were appointed to purchase them, and they did so. They purchased, amongst others, three mares which happened to be in foal. Those mares foaled, and we kept the foals. But I am free to say that that was only the initiation of a scheme whereby we intended to establish breeding stations throughout the Commonwealth, and to breed horses for military purposes. A considerable quantity of data was collected with that end in view. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do. At the present time horse-breeders do not, except in the minority of cases, breed the kind of horses that are required for Field Artillery work. When we had to buy somewhere about 2,000 horses we practically had to honeycomb Australia to get them. We had to send from the northwest of Western Australia down to th«> south of Tasmania, and from Queensland to Victoria, to get them. If that is not sufficient to convince any one of the necessity of having a properly-organized system of supply I do not know what would convince them. In war time the wastage of horses is enormous. As a matter of fact, we have no reserve supply of Field Artillery horses in Australia to-day, and experience a great difficulty in keeping up a normal supply.

Senator Millen - No difficulty at all.

Senator PEARCE - The Minister will find that officers who purchase for the Commonwealth have reported that there is a difficulty.

Senator Millen - There is no difficulty in getting all we require, because horses are shipped every day to India. «*

Senator PEARCE - That is one of the causes of the difficulty.

Senator Millen - It is a matter of price, then.

Senator PEARCE - Buyers come from Japan and India to purchase suitable horses for military purposes. We have in the north of Australia, the west of Queensland, the east of Western Australia, and the west of New South Wales, vast areas of country that are the bestbreeding grounds for horses in the world. The Commonwealth requires horses, not merely for artillery purposes, but also for the policing of the Northern Territory and the Post and Telegraph Department. If any of the horses which we bred were unsuitable for Commonwealth requirements, we should find a ready sale for them in the markets of Australia. We could sell every such horse, and could thereby obtain a revenue that would pretty well make the' breeding establishments self-supporting. In addition to that, I do not see why we should not assist the Mother Country in this matter of the supply of horses. At the present time, the Indian Government is pretty badly robbed in the buying of horses in Australia. Honorable senators have only to compare the prices which the Commonwealth has paid for military horses with the prices paid for horses for India to find that that is so. I do not know where the money goes.

Senator de Largie - Would it be the patriotic men of Australia' who were at the back of the robbery t

Senator PEARCE - I do not know whether it is the Australians who are doing it; but there certainly is a big difference between the price which we pay and that which the Indian Government pay ?' »

Senator Millen - A big difference, after freight and insurance are paid. It has always been a marvel to me how men could buy horses here and ship them to India at the price they do. I have been selling horses for years, and I do not know how they do it.

Senator PEARCE - Let the Minister compare the prices, and he will see that the difference is pretty startling. When I was in London, I saw the Secretary of State for India on this matter, and inquired of him whether the Indian Government would be prepared to make the Government of Australia its agent in Australia for the supply of military horses, in the event of our establishing horse-breeding establishments. I said that we were considering the question, but were- not in a position to do it yet. He said that if the Commonwealth Government went in for horse-breeding for these purposes, the Indian Government would have confidence in it, and would welcome its assistance in every way. There is a demand for an enormous number of horses from Australia, and it would increase if a properly-constituted Government stud farm for breeding were organized. By that means we could utilize a large area of country that is not at present put to the best advantage. It has been demonstrated that in similar country ve can breed the best horses in the world. If the Minister will look at the departmental files on this question, he will find a mass of data indicating that this is a feasible proposition .

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