8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m. andread prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister when the Sugar agreement will terminate, and if the House will have an opportunity to discuss the terms of any new agreement before they are finalized by the Government, so that the price of sugar to the consumer may ho reduced?
– I am not aware that the question is urgent. The Government has not given consideration to the renewal of the agreement, but if there is to be a renewal of it, or any change of the present policy, the House will be given an opportunity to discuss the matter.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs seen the statement that, at a meeting of the industrial associations of New Zealand held at Wellington it was said that Australia, by her Tariff, has treated the Dominion as if it were an Asiatic country? As during the whole course of the Tariff debates here no member was aware that any item in the schedule was adverse to New Zealand interests, will the honorable gentleman take steps to remove this misapprehension?
– It has been explained, not once, but many times, both in this Chamber and outside, that the Tariff is not designed to injure New Zealand. On the contrary, it provides what has never been provided before, the means whereby we can give to New Zealand, if she will accord the same treatment to us; as good terms as any other part of the world.
– In view of the statements, which are not mere idle rumours, that members of another place are opposed to the passing of the Constitution
Convention Bill, will the Prime Minister consider - the time at the disposal of Parliament being now so limited, and the anxiety of the public for an amendment of the Constitution, in order that new States may be created, very keen - the advisability of having prepared alternative Bills for submission to the electors at an early date by way ofreferendum ?
– Ido not know that the members of another place are opposed to the proposed Bill,but if they are, they have some warm supporters in this Chamber, who in that case find themselves for once in most respectable company, although, of course, wholly misled. I cannot say off-hand whether the House will have an opportunity to consider measures for submission to the people by way of referendum,but, in any case, that course could not he taken until the Convention Bill had been rejected. The preparation of such measures now would amount to an invitation to the opponents of the Constitution Convention Bill to reject the measure, and I do not propose to issue suchan invitation to them.
– Has the Prime Minister read a cablegram, which states that, according to the Observer, Great Britain’s re-export of raw wool during the last ten months has amounted to 277,000,000 lbs., as compared with 251,000,000 for the corresponding period of 1913, and that of this quantity Germany bought £100,000,000 worth, as compared with her purchase of £18,000,000 worth in 1920, and of £76,000,000 worth in 1913. As Great Britain is making out of our wool a trading profit which should have come to us, I should like to know how much longer the blind policy of refusing to trade with Germany will be persisted inby this Government.
– The question has no relevance to the statements on which it is based:
– I ask if the question’ is in order, being based ona newspaper paragraph?
– I did not hear the honorable member for Hume clearly, and, therefore, was not aware that the question was founded on a newspaper paragraph; but almost daily I draw the attention of the House to the parliamentary rule that it is not in order to ask questions founded on newspaper paragraphs unless those asking them make themselves responsible for the accuracy of the statements on which the questions are founded. I hope that, in future, I shall not he compelled to draw attention so frequently to this wellknown parliamentary rule, and that mem- bers will observe it in the framing of their questions.
– The only reply I have to make to the question is that any one in Australia may sell to Germany all the wool that he has. If our wool-growers are not selling to Germany, that is their own business.
– That is the position.
– That is not the point. As we refuse to buy from them, they naturally do not want to buy direct from us.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral if it has not been the practice, in some cases, at all events, to make payments, either ex gratia, or as a matter of law, to postal officials who have lost their sight in the course of their departmental duties, and if he will take into friendly consideration the claims of a Mr. Farquhar, who, after thirty years in the Postal Department, has lost his sight as the result of that service? Will the honorable gentleman sympathetically consider Mr. Farquhar’s application for something in the nature of compensation, which, I understand, has, in some cases, been paid by the Treasury?
– I will ascertain what the position is.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I would refer the honorable member to my statement in the House on the 9th November in reply to a question by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister), when I intimated that if I thought a Meat Pool would provide a remedy for the trouble which existed, I would support it wholeheartedly, but that I did not think it would help those engaged in the industry. The Government, however, realizes the gravity of the position, and is prepared to do everything in its power to alleviate it. I might add that I have already despatched a cablegram to the British Government pointing out in the strongest possible terms the critical condition of the industry and suggesting certain remedies which, if adopted, - will have the effect of greatly relieving the situation. No reply has yet been received from the British Government.
Mr.HIGGS asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
May any citizen of the Commonwealth export sapphires from the Common wealth?
May a resident of another State buy in Queensland gems found in the State of Queensland?
What are the restrictions on the purchase and sale of gems found in theRuby Vale and Sapphire districts, Queensland?
Arc the said restrictions in conflict with section 92 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which provides that trade, commerce and intercourse among the States shall be absolutely free?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
SirROBERT BEST asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
On 19th October last credit balances are shown in the “A” (1915-16), “ B “ (1916-17), “C” (1917-18), “ D “ (1918-19) and “ E “, (1919-20), Victorian Pools as at the 30th June last, amounting to £3,995,005 19s. 2d. Can he inform the House what is the total amount of money standing at the credit of these various Pools for the whole of Australia. i.e., lump sum, not necessarily individual Pools!
Is the money at credit of these various Pools invested at interest?
If so, at what rate of interest is such money invested?
Is the money at credit of these various Pools invested at call?
Is the money at credit of these various Pools invested for definite periods?
If so, what are the amounts, and what are the expiry dates of such investments?
Where and with whom is the money invested ?
What is the present financial position of the “F” or 1920-21 Pool, i.e., what is the amount standing at the debit of this individual Pool?
With reference to a statement by another Minister that all the wheat belonging to the “A” (1015-16), “B” . (1016-17), “0” (1917-18), “D” (1918-19), and “ E “ (1919-20) Pools had been dealt with excepting 349.000 bushels in the South Australian “ C “ (1917-18) Pool, does this 349,000 bushels of wheat exist in actual fact or is it only a book entry of a balance of wheat which should be in existence?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Linesmen: Payment of Award - Payment of Old-Age and Invalid Pensions - Allowance to Postal Officials
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the reason for the apparent delay in giving effect to the award in the Linesmen’s case?
– In accordance with the law the award does not come into opera tion until it has been laid before both Houses of Parliament for 30 days, which period will expire on 2nd December, 1921.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether he will consider the advisability of making better arrangements for the paying of old-age and invalid pensions, viz.: - That each pensioner be sent his or her pension by post, thus saving the pensioner the anxiety of walking to the various post offices?
– If payment were made through the post by means of postal note, money order, or cheque, it would still be necessary for the pensioner or his agent to attend at a post office or bank or other place to obtain the money. There would, therefore, be no saving of trouble to the pensioner, whereas there would be the added risk of the money order or other document being lost or stolen. The frequency with which pensioners change their address would also complicate matters and cause numerous delays. The present system of payment has been in force since 1909, and has been found to work satisfactory, both to the Department and the pensioners.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
If he remembers a deputation from the allowance postal officials which waited upon him in the early part of this year; if so, will he make a report as to the various requests that were then laid before him?
– Yes. The deputation made requests in regard to rates of payment to postmasters for personal services, allowances for delivery of telegrams, calling persons to public telephone and payments of pensions, and the granting of holidays with pay.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 17th November, vide page 12957) :
Proposed vote, £1,134,251.
Upon which Sir Granville Ryrie had moved, by way of amendment -
That the vote be reduced by £200,000.
.- Honorable members will recollect that last night, upon the Government having moved to reduce this vote by £200,000, a suggestion was put forward that the amount of the reduction should be £250,000; and, in reply to the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), I made certain observations, which applied not only to these Estimates, but also to the general Estimates, which the Government had suggested reducing by £250,000; and explained that if it were found possible to reduce the Estimates for new works by an additional £50,000, it was not to be taken for granted that a further £50,000 could be added to the £250,000 reduction which the Government proposed to make in the general Estimates of the Department. The Government have given the new works Estimates consideration, and they are now prepared to reduce the vote for the Defence Department (Military) by £250,000, distributing the amount over the items in a way that will disturb the general scheme as little as possible.
Amendment amended accordingly, and agreed to.
Reduced vote, £884.25], agreed to.
Department of the Navy.
Proposed vote, £499,000.
.- There is only one item to which I wish to call attention, and that is the amount of £193,000 for reserves of stores, including ammunition, ordnance, torpedo stores, and coal and oil fuel. Apparently, there was no expenditure last year for this purpose; and, in the absence of explanation, it seems strange that when we are practically scrapping half of our Navy, we should require to expend, this additional amount this year. Other items under the Navy show decreases as compared with last year’s expenditure; but the total increase for new works for the Department is £172,232. In view of the present financial position, and the efforts that are being made overseas to bring about a reduction of naval construction among the leading Powers, I do not think we can justifiably agree to additional expenditure upon the item to which I have referred.
– What about the £300,000 provided for the construction of Fleet?
– While the Minister is furnishing to the Committee the information for which I have asked, he might also explain that item, which probably refers to the completion of war-ships. I think the Minister should take the Committee into his confidence, and give the fullest possible information.
– I shall do so with the greatest of pleasure. The item of £193,000 for reserves of stores can be explained very easily. In other years, it has been included in the General Estimates, but my experience is that, owing to the delay in the passing of the General Estimates, it is almost impossible to get the stores needed for the Navy early enough. Accordingly, I had the item transferred to the Works Estimates, so that the authority of Parliament, for the purchase of these stores, could be obtained much earlier in the financial year. The stores are urgently required, and the amount asked for is largely to pay for purchases already effected. It is neces sary to maintain sufficient reserves in order to keep the ships we have in commission in a state of efficiency, and if the reserves cannot be secured early we might just as well have no vessels at all.
– What was the cost of stores last year?
– Speaking from memory, proportionately, about £200,000. The practice in the Navy has been .to keep two years’ stores in reserve ordered from abroad, and one year’s stores purchased locally, but I have taken the risk of cutting them down one half, which has enabled mo to effect a great saving this year. However, this cannot be done in a moment. Accordingly, at the moment, I propose to gradually lead up to the system of having in hand only one year’s reserve of stores, and for this purpose I am obliged to ask the Committee to agree to the expenditure of £193,000 this year.
– How much is to be devoted to the purchase of coal and oil fuel reserves ?
– I cannot say offhand, but a large proportion is to be devoted to that purpose. I am using nothing but Australian coal at present, having given instructions that no Welsh coal is to be brought out this year.
– Were contracts made ahead for the purchase of stores up to two years ?
– Yes, in case of stores imported.
– Were those contracts subject to any reduction in the cost of the items?
– No ; but since stores have become very expensive, I have curtailed expenditure considerably. In one deal alone I effected a saving of £21,000.
– I do not think that the Minister has curtailed expenditure very much, judging by the General Estimates for his Department.
– I have curtailed expenditure considerably. ‘For instance, . the Williamstown depot has been closed, and about £100,000 worth of stores held there have been transferred to Sydney. In that way an enormous saving was effected. The conditions of the men at the Williamstown depot were very bad, and, furthermore, the site, although limited, was exceedingly valuable. The cost of the transfer of the depot to Flinders has been considerable, but the saving that will eventually be made in conjunction with the surrender of the valuable site at Williamstown should commend the transaction to the Committee. The £300,000 referred to by the .honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) is a commitment for the completion of the Adelaide and Mombah and other works.
– What is the use of completing the Adelaide?
– We could not afford to scrap her while leaving other ships in commission. As the result of experience gained during the war, and under advice from the Admiralty, we have made certain alterations in the Adelaide which will make her one of the most valuable ships of her kind that is afloat to-day. We have to fit her with machinery of a remarkably intricate and secret character, and the expenditure necessary to complete her is largely in the nature of commitments. I hope the Committee will not press me to give details, but will accept my assurance that it is absolutely essential that we should have this machinery in order that the Ade laide may be thoroughly efficient when she is put into commission.
– Did I understand the honorable gentleman to say that the item of £193,000 in respect of reserves of stores, &c, was formerly provided for in the general Estimates, and that his expenditure under that heading would really be less than it was last year ?
– The expenditure on stores generally will be less than it was last year. The stores provided for under the Works and Buildings Estimates are different from those dealt with in the general Estimates. I am seriously handicapped in that I cannot give the Committee the exact information _ as to our position with regard to reserves of stores. Honorable members will appreciate the reason for my reticence on the subject, and I am convinced that they would be surprised if they knew exactly the extent to which I have cut down the expenditure on stores. Since I have been at the head of the Department of the Navy I have adopted the policy of keeping the ships in commission on active service conditions. The result is that the crews have had more practice and engaged in more exercises during the last nine months than was carried out by them during a much longer period in years gone by. The ships in commission have made long cruises; they have carried the flag to the important islands of the Pacific, and most valuable work has been accomplished. As a result of this policy, the officers - of the Fleet have gained excellent experience in uncharted waters. Survey work has also been engaged in. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), who has a wide knowledge of the north-west coast of Western Australia, has given me substantial assistance in that direction, and I have adopted a certain policy with regard to marine surveys which will prove very useful. When the charts are available, honorable members will realize that very important survey work has been done by the Navy.
– When the honorable gentleman says that he adopted that policy, does he mean that the Naval Board agreed to it, or that he himself laid it down?
– The Naval Board, with whom I discussed this matter in detail, has assisted me in every way.
It has endeavoured to meet my wishes, and, where it has not given effect to them, it has given good reasons for its attitude. The work done by the Naval Board will stand the closest investigation by the Committee. Commodore Hardy, the second s Naval Member, has been acting first Naval Member of the Board, and the services rendered by him to the Commonwealth cannot be too highly commended. He is a gentleman of wide experience, and has worked night and day. It is largely owing to his action that the ships we have in commission to-day are efficient.
– Can the honorable gentleman say when the Adelaide will be completed ?
– It is difficult to say when she will be ready to put into commission. The intricate machinery with which, on the advice of experts in London with whom we are in constant communication, she is to he fitted, is, for the most part, here, and its installation will be proceeded with as rapidly as possible.
.- While I have a very keen desire to effect economies I am equally anxious that the efficiency of this service shall not be impaired. I thank the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) for his kindly reference to myself, but I think that he might well have supplied the Committee with fuller information than he has done. We have iri these Works Estimates a new item of £193,000 for reserves of stores. The honorable gentleman said: that this was really an old item which previously had appeared in the General Estimates. But on page 181 of the General Estimates the honorable gentleman will find a number of items of exactly similar character. If the amounts asked for in respect of those items be added to the total of £193,000 provided in the Naval Works Estimates for reserves of stores, it will be found that, under this heading the Minister is asking for more than was expended last year. We were under the impression that a number of the vessels of the Fleet were being put out of commission, and that consequently the expenditure would be considerably less than in former years. I expect the Minister to tell the Committee whether there are special reasons why we should spend more than we did under this heading last year. At page 181 of the General Estimates wo have items relating to fuel, oil fuel, &c.
– I can explain them.
– Why does this item of £193,000, for reserves of stores, appear in the Works Estimates ?
– There would seem to be no reason for it. I do not suggest that the Minister does not desire to give the Committee the fullest information, and I am convinced that attention having been drawn to this matter, the Government, realizing that we do not want to exceed, last year’s Naval expenditure, will put the exact position before us. We should have details also as to the item of £300,000 for “Construction of Fleet.” Can the Minister yet give us the estimated cost of the Adelaide? .He should surely be able by this time to do so. It is a pity that Naval construction work of this kind cannot be withheld, if only temporarily, so that, in the event of the Washington Conference leading to good results, we may be able to make use of the Adelaide in some other capacity.
When we come to the Loan Estimates I shall expect the Minister to supply us with the fullest information in regard to the proposed loan expenditure. In the Works Estimates there is an item relating to machinery which gives me ample latitude, Mr. Chairman, to discuss a matter dealt with in the Loan Estimates, but I propose to-day to make only a very brief allusion to it. I refer to the expenditure which has been, and is still being, incurred at the Flinders Naval Base. The way in which money has been expended there would be a disgrace to any Administration. When we reach the Loan Estimates the Committee will be justified in asking whether the recommendation made by Admiral Henderson in regard to the Flinders Base was carried out, and whether he designed the formation of the Base in the lagoon there. We shall want to know, also whether Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, when he. came out here at the invitation of the Government, pointed out that the expenditure being incurred there was useless. Over £750,000 has been expended in the formation of a submarine and destroyer base at Flinders, yet last year we were advised that it was useless as a submarine and destroyer base, and could be utilized only as a training school. Honorable members have no idea of the enormous sums that were asked for by the Naval authorities for the provision of huge establishments and the installation of the most intricate machinery at theFlinders Base. It is absolutely essential that full inquiry should be made before any of these large works are started. The Flinders Naval works were entered upon just before a general election. And so were the Cockburn Sound Naval works. Honorable members, on referring to the report of the Public Works Committee will find that evidence was given by the Naval Works Director that work there had been proceeding for over two years before the plans were approved.
– Those works were started in 1913.
– Quite so, but the present Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) was in office at the time and was responsible for them.
– The honorable member wants to go back to expenditures in 1913.
– The same sort of thing is going on to-day. What right had the Government to take over the works at Maribyrnong? They must accept the responsibility for such action. Public moneys should be spent wisely in the development of this country. We want a fair deal all round. Why should the money of the people be wasted in giving assistance to certain private enterprises? We desire that it shall be used for productive employment, and we must take care that waste and extravagance are avoided.
– Honorable members are, to a large extent in the dark in dealing with these Estimates. Last night the, Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) undertook that the Naval Works Estimates would be reduced by £130,000, and if the Minister for the Navy would at once supply the Committee with particulars as to the items that would be affected by the reduction, a great deal of time would be saved. The determination to make a reduction of £130,000 was arrived at by the Government after investigation. They must have full knowledge as to which items can be reduced, and that knowledge should be placed in the possession of the Committee. If the information were supplied now we should know in what direction to concentrate our attention. I ask the Minister, therefore, whether a reduction upon this specific item of £193,000 was contemplated for inclusion in the total of £130,000. If such was intended, or decided upon, the Minister should say so at once and permit the Committee to authorize the reduction without further delay. The Minister will be consulting the convenience and the wishes of honorable members if he immediately furnishes the necessary information concerning which items, after investigation, it has been decided to cut down.
.- So far as I can see at present the task of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) is very easy. No criticism of a violent character has, up to the present, been levelled at him or his administration. I concur with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), who said that, as regards Naval defence, we are just now treading water. When the Naval and Military Estimates were first drawn up, there was no Washington Conference, either in contemplation or in session; the Prime Minister was away and had not seen them. Now, however, the whole position has to be reviewed, in the light of what is occurring on the other side of the Pacific. What can the Government offer? They are setting out with a reduction proposition involving £130,000. I want to know how the proposed savings have been arrived at. Great reductions have already been made. Long before the Washington Conference was contemplated, drastic all-round pruning had been undertaken; this involved a partial scrapping of our Fleet. Ships have been placed in reserve. No sums of money have been set aside for new construction or re-building. All the time, it must not be forgotten, we have had to do without oil and munition reserves in Australia. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) placed his finger on an important point when he referred to the item of stores. Based upon my wartime experience, I must say that the amount of stores which gets adrift and is never traced is colossal. The best possible bookkeeping system must be provided to insure that there are no leakages from the stores accumulations.
– Hear, hear!
– There are items among the stores whose cost runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Yet they can easily be got at and taken away, and for ever lost sight of. I am making no charges whatever against the Royal Australian Navy; I’ do not know anything of what might be going on within it. As regards payment for stores, cannot some system be determined upon so that an amount, or a fund, may be maintained in London to meet payments in order that the Commonwealth Naval authorities shall know exactly where they are? I heartily indorse the remarks of the Minister for the Navy as regards the maintenance of efficiency. I pay this tribute to the Minister, that he has cut down our Fleet to a very small number, but that those vessels are absolutely efficient. They are by no means “ has beens.” The Cockatoo Island Dockyard Royal Commission was tendered expert advice by leading Naval authorities to the effect that our light cruisers are far from “has beens.” They possess fighting efficiency which will cover a period of at least another three years, and, after that time, they should be able to perform valuable services in other directions. Our little Fleet has undergone most severe tests during the past eight or nine months, in the course of manoeuvres about the Pacific. Warlike activities have been carried on with as eminently satisfactory results as ‘could have been expected of any unit of the Royal Navy. I had that tribute from Admiral Dumaresq himself, backed by the words of Captain Cumberlege, his next in command. The comments of these officers bore both upon the ships and their personnel. The Minister for the Navy has done remarkably well. He has cut down, and yet he has kept the Fleet absolutely efficient. Honorable members will be afforded another chance to talk about the future after the Washington Conference shall have ended, and when the British Admiralty shall have advised the Commonwealth authorities concerning their views. The Washington Conference requires to be watched very closely. Particulars published recently, in the Melbourne Herald, back up information which I had gathered from other sources respecting the launching activities of the Japanese navy. I trust that Great Britain will not ‘be caught napping. With Balfour and Beatty at Washington such should not be the case, for those men are not fools. But the whole business of naval reduction, or disarmament, bears vitally upon what Australia will be called upon to spend in this financial year. During the past six weeks the following modern units of war have been launched, in order, from Japanese naval dockyards : -
Destroyer Warabi, supply ship Burume, destroyer Sumiro, light cruiser Isuzu gun-boat Nakoso, seaplane carrier Hosho, superdreadnoughts Kaga (to take the water, according to programme, on 17th November), Mutsu, and Tosa
All three of these super-Dreadnoughts are 40,000 “tonners, each to mount eight 16- inch guns. I emphasize that the whole of these recently-launched units of the Japanese fleet are post-Jutland vessels. In addition to those I have specifically mentioned, several other craft are well on the way towards completion, including the light cruisers Ohi and Sara, three firstclass destroyers, and nine submarines On all. of these ‘the finishing touches are now being put, to make them ready for commission. Great Britain has only one post- Jutland superDreadnought, the Hood. Three sister vessels, under programme, will have been wiped out by the Washington disarmament scheme. How vitally Australia is affected need scarcely be stressed. I have not any inside information concerning what the British Admiralty may have told the Commonwealth Naval authorities, but the latter would naturally obtain advice from the Admiralty concerning what should be done in carrying on our naval programme.
– Does not the proposition which was laid down at the Washington Conference equally affect the Japanese programme?
– How can it affect ships already launched, and to be launched, before any of the schemes propounded at Washington shall have been put into effect? The Conference cannot touch those Japanese ships which have just taken the water.
– The honorable member is all wrong there.
– In one respect I would like to see the Naval Estimates increased by a sum ranging between £500,000 and £1,000,000. I refer to the necessity for carrying out a project which was urged upon Parliament in. the report of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard Royal Commission. The recommendation in question was based upon expert naval evidence. We were told by the most authoritative witnesses in Australia that we should have a large floating dock, even if its sole purpose were to clean the great ships of thp British Navy which might pay Australia occasional visits. We .are living in a fool’s paradise. If the Renown, which brought the Prince of Wales to Australia, had “ smelt the ground “ when entering Sydney Heads she could not have been touched* except by divers. I note that the Commonwealth’s new Eir3t Naval Member, Admiral Everett, who has just set his feet on Australian soil, expressed the independent view that we should have a large floating dock. Sooner or later, Parliament must face the proposition; it will have to be financed either by the aid of a half contribution from the British Admiralty or by Australia paying for the whole job herself. Possibly this House may have to deal with the scheme when considering the next Estimates. The Minister for the Navy, must always have sufficient money in hand to undertake repairs to the Fleet in being. The longer repairs are delayed upon ships in active commission the heavier becomes the cost; the ratio increases, indeed, from day to day. The Minister himself has said -
In considering this fact it has been necessary to take into account the increased cost of labour, and also the fact that, as ships continue longer in service, the cost of repairs and maintenance increases each year.
The Minister is perfectly correct. I am satisfied with the administration as it is being carried on at present. The Minister is the best Minister for the Navy Australia has ever had. I know what I am saying. Personally, I have had every reason to be well satisfied. In all the various representations which I have been called upon to make, I have been met with courteous justice. The Minister has performed a feat which should evoke the highest commendation and satisfaction, in that he has drastically employed the pruning knife and has yet maintained an efficient Fleet.
– I will indorse the honorable member’s eulogy to the extent of saying that the Minister for the Navy is the best man for the job who has ever been appointed from that side of the House.
– The Minister has always done the fair thing, both for the upper deck and for the lower deck. He has handed’ out even justice to all ranks, and, as a result, he has succeeded in maintaining happy ships.
– After the question of the Naval Estimates had been discussed in this Chamber some days ago I went into - the whole matter again, and I have continued to consider it, right up to this morning, when I was in consultation with the Naval Board. I have intimated to the Prime Minister that, upon this^ item of £193,000 for .stores, I shall be able to save £50,000. In doing so, I have had to go right down to bedrock.
– It is a very late discovery in view of the statements of Sir Joseph Cook upon the matter.
– It may appear so to honorable members; but the saving has been brought about by an absolutely drastic consideration of the Estimates. Indeed, the members of the Naval Board told me that I was accepting a heavy responsibility in giving this undertaking. I had to intimate to the Naval Board that I took the responsibility, so that the First Naval Member could not subsequently be held to blame. I felt compelled to do this for the reason that I was cutting so deeply into the affairs of the Fleet. I am able to say, however, on the authority of those Naval experts to whom the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) has just alluded, that the ships which I have commissioned are as efficient as any in the British Navy. I would not hold my present position if that were not so; but if the Estimates are further reduced, I shall not be able to make that assertion. It would be cruel, indeed, to break up the morale of the Navy by providing men and ships, and then depriving them of ammunition for practice.
– Does the honorable gentleman propose to make any reduction?
– Yes, by £80,000; and further than that I cannot go. A reference was made by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) to the stock-taking of goods on our ships.
– I referred to goods in store.
– About twelve months ago I went into that question with the Naval Board, owing to an incident at Cockatoo Island, and a complete system of stock-taking was instituted. In addition, a police force was created at Flinders Base, with gratifying results. Altogether, we hope very shortly to have a most efficient stores branch, and Captain Treacy has been given authority to carry out the scheme of which he gained knowledge when in Great Britain.
If I may be allowed, I should like to briefly refer to the item of £185,000 in the general Estimates for victualling stores, because it is connected with the question before us. In the same division of the general Estimates honorable members will observe that there is provision made for the repair and maintenance of ships, and to these I have already referred, when speaking of reducing the contract period from two years to one. Then, again, there is the item of clothing in the general Estimates. In trying to curtail the expenditure last year, I went to bedrock in providing for the supply of material for making clothing for our ratings, and, as a consequence, the stock has got to a very low ebb, and must be replaced. The money for this purpose is paid into a Trust Fund, and when the cloth is issued the men pay for it.
– Will you make clear a point that apparently is troubling a number of members ? In the general Estimates for the Navy there is provision for the purchase of coal and oil fuel, and in the Works Estimates there is provision for reserve stores of such fuel. Why is that?
– I have already explained. We require stores immediately, and there is great delay in the passing of the general Estimates. It has already been suggested to me by the Naval Board that orders must be placed within a certain time, or the stores will not reach Australia this year.
– Then you require your reserve stores before you get your current stores?
– The reserve stores are of a particular kind, and take much longer to procure than do the current stores. The honorable member will see that the item he refers to consists largely of ammunition.
– I see nothing of the kind. What I see in the general Estimates is an item of £120,000 for coal and oil fuel, and in the Works Estimates an item of £193,000 for reserves of stores, including coal and oil fuel.
– Discussion of the general Estimates is out of order.
– The money will be utilized for the purchase of necessary stores as funds will permit. I find that, owing to the carry-over, in the case of reserve stores, I am committed to £193,000 on which, I have said, I hope to save £50,000.
– On what does the Minister propose to make the saving of £50,000?
– I cannot give the honorable member that information on this item, as it comes under another division.
.- We on this side desire to reduce the Estimates, keeping them, as far as possible, within the limits of the Estimates of last year. The Minister (Mr. Laird Smith) now proposes to reduce this vote before us by £80,000 ; but we must bear in mind that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has already promised that the Naval Estimates will be reduced by £130,000.
– That was in regard to the general Estimates.
– I wish to know whether it is intended to make a further reduction - that is, in addition to the reduction promised this morning - in order to fulfil the promise made by the Prime Minister.
– That is so.
– I notice that, with the proposed reduction of £130,000, the Naval Estimates will be £120,000 less than last year; and that is very satisfactory.
– It is very hard on me!
– That may be; but nowadays a Minister has to face, the position, and it is very gratifying to know that something has been accomplished in the direction desired by the Committee. The Defence expenditure should be kept flown as far as possible, and the Government, after further consideration, have succeeded in making reductions. The item of £193,000, which the Minister proposes to reduce by £50,000, appears for the first time; and as there are quite a number of items in the general Estimates dealing with stores, we are left in doubt as to what is really the position. During the last few years, I have heard much evidence as to the supply of stores to various public Departments; and, unless it is absolutely necessary, I do not approve of long contracts, especially at a time like this. Prices have been abnormal, almost double what they were prior to the war; and if contracts are entered into on a falling market, the Commonwealth stands to lose considerably. To obviate this, there ought to be in all contracts a stipulation that they are subject to the variations of the market. It is not a satisfactory position, when, simply because certain stores have to be held in reserve, contracts must be made for two years, with the possibility of a fall in prices of from 30 to 40 per cent.
– Prices may go up.
– We all know, that prices must come down.
– Before the war, we could have made thousands.
– And what did the Government do during the war? Lose thousands.
Mir. Laird Smith. - No; we had stores in reserve.
– The Estimates show that the Government, like every one else, purchased during the war at high prices.
– We had to keep going.
– That is so. All I am suggesting is provision in the contracts for variations of the market.
– That was in my mind when I reduced the period of the contracts from two years to one year.
– That reduction is an admission that there is something in my contention. The Government ought never to enter into contracts at a definite price, even over one year.
– You would never get contractors to agree.
– When contractors are guaranteed a fair price in contracts running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, they ought to be content.
– The period of the contract depends on the nature of the goods.
– That is so; but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that, in many cases, huge sums are made by contractors because of the absence of such a provision as I suggest. It is common knowledge that, in the case of many articles, orders could at any time be placed without a contract, with a probable saving, in many instances, of £15,000 to £20,000.
– We would save money by paying cash on the nail in London.
– There are many firms which would be glad to supply the Commonwealth, at any moment, with orders running into £40,000 or- £50,000. I have heard evidence during the last few months to the effect that many firms carry heavy stocks, and could easily supply the Government’s requirements. There are all the indications of a falling market, and the facts ought to be faced and considered, not only by Ministers, but by all public men. I do not think there is any necessity to move a reduction in this vote, in view of the promised reduction of £130,000 in the total.
.- The amount we are asked to expend upon the Navy this year is £3,000,000. As the amounts are scattered over the Estimates, honorable members have not, perhaps’, arrived at a true appreciation of the fact. I think that £3,000,000 is too much to spend on the Navy this year. The proposal to reduce this amount by £130,000 is not enough, and the Committee will have to be tested on that point.
– The honorable member is referring to the general Estimates?
– I am referring to both. I am prepared to accept the Minister’s statement that £80,000 is all that he can take off these Works and Buildings
Estimates. If the Committee accepts that assurance at this stage, it must at a later stage insist upon £250,000 being taken off the general Estimates. If honorable members will look at the general Estimates they will see that the total sum provided there for the Department of the Navy is £2,340,438. Broadly speaking, I think that £340,438 should be the amount by which the Estimates should be reduced, and not merely £130,000. Of course, it is impossible for members of the Committee, without contact with the expert departmental officers, to say whether £50,000 or £80,000 should be taken ofl a given item. What this Committee will have to do, and it has been invited by the Government to do it, is to make broad cuts and place* the responsibility on the Government of finding out from what items the reductions shall come. Accepting the Minister’s word at this stage that £80,000 is the maximum reduction he ca.n effect in the Works and Buildings Estimates, I shall make an attempt later to take the balance of £250,000 off the general Estimates, and the Minister can have his choice as to where the economies are to be made. I do not think there is anything sacrosanct in the Navy. I do believe with the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) that our first, second, and third lines of defence are on the water. But I see nothing that will so prove our bona fides in two vital respects, namely, our desire for a reduction of armaments on the sea, which is the first consideration -of the Washington Conference, and our desire to economize with the people’s money, whether it be revenue or loan money, as a definite cut wherever it can be made in every branch of the Estimates. I propose to accept the « Minister’s statement that he cannot do anything better than he has promised at this stage, and when the general Estimates are before us I shall attempt to persuade the Committee to reduce them by at -least £250,000. As a member of the Committee, I lament the. extraordinary conduct of Ministers yesterday and to-day in regard to the supply of information which honorable members have demanded. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) . has been lauded up by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks), who is a competent student of the whole naval situation, as the finest Minister of the
Navy we ever had. I am not in a position to judge of that; I assume that the honorable member is. But I have not known in any Committee of either the State Parliament or the Federal Parliament so little information vouchsafed by a Minister in charge of Estimates, as has been given to this Committee on both the Military and Naval Estimates for works and buildings.
– During the whole of the years I have been in the House I have never heard any explanation of these Estimates given. They have been passed without debate.
– Past Committees must have had faith in the other Ministers, but the fact that this Committee is determined to probe and pare these Estimates, forcing that view persuasively upon the Government and accepting the Government’s invitation to do it, is a fair indication that the Committee reflects public opinion better than do the Government. We wish to reduce this expenditure down to bedrock, and as was facetiously remarked by another honorable member, bedrock on these Estimates appears to be very friable, because we press and press and we get down deepen and deeper every time. I have no desire to ruffle the temper of the Minister for the Navy, or injure his spirit, or his prestige with his colleagues. But I take two> items on pages 181 and 375 in regard to which I have already sought information, and point out that they are similar, and in some respects the phraseology of them is identical.
– I admit that.
– I have asked several questions of the Minister in order to ascertain why there are items on page 181 of the general Estimates, which are almost identical with items on page 375 of the Works and Buildings Estimates. In other words, why does the expenditure upon fuel appear at one page in the general Estimates, and at another page amongst “Additions, New Works, and Buildings.” I can conceive that at the end of the war, or owing to a policy of economy, a Department like that of the Navy might be short of reserves of fuel . and naval stores. In the Railway Department of the State, because of the dislocation caused by the frequent stoppages of coal production, all wise administrators are endeavouring to lay in coal reserves - enough for a year if they have the money and the storage capacity. That is a very wise thing to do.
– It is very unwise.
Mr.WATT. - The big transport services must be kept going. And so it is with the naval service. We may desire to have in far-off depots, particularly in new zones that have come to us recently as an added responsibility, stores of coal or oil fuel, where we never before kept such stores..
– When coal is stored in huge quantities for a long period it loses half of its steaming power.
– I have known beats to be made in Victoria of every kind of coal. Our low grade coal loses its steaming properties very quickly and more substantially than do the higher grade coals of Newcastle and Maitland. There is depreciation, to some extent, but it is not uniform in all kinds of coal. If I were a Railway Commissioner I would be content to lose 10 per cent. of the value of high grade coal, in order to be sure that I had supplies when I needed them. Why does the Minister for the Navy when he buys his “ reserves “ of fuel call them “ works,” and when he buys for the current needs pay for the fuel out of general Estimates.
– We have been using up our supplies, and I could not wait longer to replace them.
– I cannot understand the Minister giving such an explanation to a body of grown-up men, such as members of this Committee are.
– The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) spoke of “book-faking.”
– I will not use any such term. The Minister’s explanation is that the reserves must be ordered so far ahead that he” has to give notice of them.
– Our ammunition becomes gradually used up, and we must keep our stocks up to a certain standard.
– Stocks of ammunition may have to be maintained in that way, although, as we make so much ammunition of a certain kind in Australia, the Minister’s remark can only apply to the ammunition he has to import for the guns of heavy calibre.
– Yes; it is very costly, and we have a very poor supply of it.
– I desire to pin the Minister down on item 4, “ reserves of stores including ammunition, ordnance, torpedo stores, and coal and oil fuel, £193,000.” Does the reason he has given apply to that item?
– It does, because we have used up all our reserves, and we must get them replaced in this way.
– Whether coal is to be passed into reserves, or taken into immediate consumption, it must be bought in the same way.
– We are using a tremendous quantity of coal. On my northern trip, I used 50,000 tons.
– The honorable member apparently means that the Department used 50,000 tons. I deprecate Ministers claiming personal property in Departments. There was one Minister in a Government with which I was connected who always said, “ I did this,” and “ I did that.” It is better to use the word “Department” than the first personal pronoun. I was saying that the manner in which the coal is to be used makes no difference to the buying; whether it is for immediate consumption or for storage. Therefore, the Minister’s reason is not the correct one ; there must be some other. If he wishes us to accept his statement, as the reason for the procedure which has been adopted, he is assuming that we know nothing at all about the subject, and are not fit for the positions we occupy as guardians of the public purse. I ask him to consult his officers again, and then tell the Committee the reason for this procedure.
– I have consulted them, and they say that we must maintain a certain reserve of fuel and other stores.
– I do not know whether there is anybody who can speak for the Treasury at the present time, but I should like to know why the Treasurer assented to the Navy Department’s proposal to separate these items. Probably the Prime Minister, as Acting Treasurer, if he were present, would be able to explain why the expert Budget officers of the Treasury agreed to that separation.
– The same practice was followed in connexion with the Defence Estimates year after year, even when the honorable member was Treasurer.
– It is time we altered the practice, because stores are not works or buildings. “
– I have followedthe example set by the honorable member .
– I wish the Minister would follow my example by not interjecting. Goods bought should not appear in these Works and Buildings Estimates. When we use the term “Works,” we are assuming something in the way of construction, whether it be a road, a railway, a canal, or a building, We do not mean goods which can be consumed.
– The honorable member’s work at present is destructive.
– It was protective last night. We have been invited by the Government to prune these Estimates. Certainly they said it was impossible for us to do it, but we find that by helping them a little, they are able to help themselves, and the only way in which to get this vole shaved down to proper proportions is for the Committee to do this work conscientiously. Speaking with some knowledge of the procedure adopted in the past, I say that the Minister for the Navy has not given the full and proper explanation to which this Committee is entitled. I leave the mater at that.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has suggested that we should depart from the contract system in connexion with the purchase of stores. This is a very old problem. Ever since Governments began to handle large quantities of goods for the use of public Departments, there has been a class of men who believed in direct purchasing, chancing the market, and buying for cash in London, or locally. There have been other men who, having tried that system, came to the conclusion that it was full of dangers and evils.
– In some cases it has worked well.
– I could give instances in which, in regard to individual items, an expert man whom the Department could fully trust was employed, where it worked well, but, broadly it is the experience of Australian Governments that the supplying of such stores, as are needed, say, to feed the lunatic population of Victoria, is best done by contract. Any other method makes opportunities for all kinds of malfeasance. The influences’ brought to bear on the average departmental officer to favour buying from A, B, or C, often prove too strong. That is why the contract system has been universally adopted, with contract boards composed of responsible officers whose duty it is to deal with the main contracts. When a Government advertises annually or bienially for tenders for certain classes of goods, and assigns to competent officers the analysis of the tenders received, clean and competent administration is more likely than under any other method. I am satisfied that any Government that abandoned the contract system would be sorry for it within twelve months.
– The honorable member for Hunter objected, not to the contract system, but to the system of biennial contracts.
– On a rising market one man may be hit and on a falling market another. Perishable things, like potatoes, onions, and so on, should not well be bought at prices fixed on a long term contract,but steel and other things, the prices of which fluctuate very much less, may be properly included in a long contract. I understand the honorable member for Fawkner to remark that the objection of the honorable member for Hunter was not to the period, but to the character of the contracts. If it is a matter of obtaining supplies of clothing or foodstuffs for the Navy or some branch of the Defence Forces, a contract is made in which it is provided that the contractor shall get an increase of 10 per cent. on his price, if prices generally increase by 10 per cent., and that a reduction of 10 per cent. shall be made if prices fall by that amount; there is no value in an arrangement of that kind.
– And a lot of danger.
– Yes. The testing of a market is a ticklish thing. One man will certify that hebought fat lambs for 13s. 6d., another that he paid 16s. for them. When prices fluctuate rapidly, what is the prevailing price at any given moment is largely a matter of individual opinion. My view is that it is not enough to reduce these estimates by £130,000, and that we should save on them at least £330,000. If £80,000 is all that the Minister thinks should be taken off the Navy Works estimate, the balance should come off the general Navy estimates. If the honorable gentleman can, with the aid of his officers, determine just how that reduction can best be effected, it will simplify matters for us when we come to those estimates. But I feel compelled to accept my share of the responsibility imposed on the Committee at the invitation of the Prime Minister, and if the Minister has no suggestions to make, the Committee must itself reduce his estimates, leaving to him the task of deciding how the reductions shall apply.
– I have not much criticism to offer on a subject of which I know little, but, although I do not profess to have the knowledge of a First Naval Lord, I was not impressed by the request - it might fittingly be termed a prayer - which the Minister delivered almost with tears, that we should pass these Estimates at the figure which he proposes as the expression of economy. I feel it due to my constituents and to myself to say that the Ministry’s attitude towards the Estimates is covering it with infinite discredit. Were this a personal matter, I should feel tempted to oblige so amiable a man as the Minister for the Navy, but how can he expect us to treat his request, or his prayer, with respect in view of the manner in which he has approached these Estimates? I take it that in originally bringing down his Estimates he realized his Ministerial responsibility, seeing that the country was demanding retrenchment, especially in regard to Naval and Military expenditure. If those Estimates were presented without his having made a meticulous investigation of the details of the proposed expenditure, he is not worthy of the distinguished position which he holds. If they were prepared and presented with care, how does the Minister justify this belated lopping off of large sums? This morning the Prime Minister told us that he would reduce the Military Works Estimates by another £50,000, not because he had found that that could be done in the interests of the country, to relieve this labouring Commonwealth, but because the pressure from the Corner party, and from his own supporters, had made him realize that he must accept the direction of the Com mittee or go out of office. What then becomes of the principle of Ministerial responsibility? Does the Government consider itself entitled to abandon its responsibility because it recently had a close shave for its life? Are Ministers entitled to say, “ We must get into recess at all costs, whatever may happen to our Estimates.” The Minister for the Navy is entitled to little sympathy and respect when he tells the Committee that, after a careful estimate, not of the receipts and expenditure, but of the political situation, he finds that he can make a reduction of £S0,000.
– If he did not, you would kill him.
– I agree with the honorable member for Bourke that it is the duty of the Opposition to examine and to criticise, though its criticism must be in good faith, and founded on facts, so far as these are obtainable, but no Government can enjoy the respect of the people if it endeavours to ascertain what is the minimum concession it must make to retain office. That has been the attitude of this Government throughout the discussion of the Estimates. The Minister for the Navy has been told by the honorable member for Balaclava that he must make further reductions, and he will make them. The Minister for Defence, in an analogous case, said that his proposal spelt patriotism, and that ours spelt Bolshevism and treason, but in a few moments Bolshevism and treason had triumphed with him and patriotism was grovelling in the dust.
– The honorable member is getting wide of the question.
– ‘Because of the magnanimity which you have displayed towards me, as to other honorable members, Mr. Chairman, I have been able to say all that I wish to say on that subject. It is proposed to spend £300,000 upon fleet construction, but I suggest that the time is opportune for making a drastic saving there. It cannot be said that the construction of warships is an urgent work, but it is time we faced this question on. the basis of principle, and’ not expediency. There are men in my electorate who are working on defence matters, but I do not propose to make any special appeal on their behalf, which would have the effect of pumping oxygen into the condemned military system. There are men working on defence matters in other honorable members’ electorates, but I hope that, in carrying out the expressed will of the people, that there should be drastic reductions in the wasteful expenditure on defence, we shall not be held back by such considerations. It is quite an easy matter to start works for the mere purpose of providing employment, just as easy as it is to foster exotic industries for the purpose of giving employment by the imposition of Protective duties. I repeat that the present time is particularly opportune for limiting our expenditure on the construction of warships, whatever may be said of maintenance. I have no desire to sail under false colours. I do not admit the suggestion made by the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) from that curiously bleak outlook of his that the attitude of honorable members of the Labour party is governed by some sinister and traitorous disregard for the interests of our country.
– The honorable member must not proceed in that strain.
– In these matters I do not wish to try to sail under false colours. While I do not plead guilty for a single moment to anything but a desire to serve the best interests of the country, so far as Defence and other matters are concerned, I say quite candidly that I would go a good deal further than perhaps some of my colleagues would. I would scrap the whole of the Fleet; I would cheerfully see them sunk to the bottom of the sea as a part of a general, and the only wise, policy of disarmament, and as evidence of our return tosanity from that condition of hysteria and insanity in which we lived during the late disastrous war. I can see that some of my colleagues cannot go to that length, but, at any rate, we might as well he unanimous on both sides of the chamber in regard to arresting any further wastage of money upon the construction of huge, useless engines of destruction, while a Conference is deliberating at Washington to put a check on such giant acts of folly. The Minister for the Navy has made a moving and touching appeal that we should not send our gallant naval officers aboard these ships of war on their pleasure cruises around the Australian coast unless we supply them with blank cartridges to shoot at nothing for their own enjoyment.
– Why should they not have their occasional trips to the Melbourne Cup?
– Of course they should jaunt about the coastline and practise shooting whenever pleasant inclination moves them to do so; and they should have blank cartridges in abundance. Once I attended in an official capacity a naval court martial on board H.M.A.S. Australia, when a naval seaman was charged with doing something which some able seamen are able to do quite easily, and I saw on board some excellent examples of how these distinguished gilt-edged gentlemen necessarily waste public money in time of peace by preserving the stilted formalities of war time. In passing, also, I may say that I have had some experience of the way in which money has been thrown into that sink otherwise called the Flinders Naval Base. I suggest that in connexion with this item of £193,000 for reserves of stores, including ammunition, ordnance, torpedo stores, and coal and oil fuel, the Minister should have given us some idea of what he proposes to spend on coal and oil fuel so necessary for keeping vessels in trim until the wiser policy of scrapping them has been decided upon. I think some distinction might have been drawn between the proposed expenditure in this direction, and that which it is proposed to make on ammunition, ordnance, and torpedo stores. I do not know why it is that every time we consider Estimates we have to discuss first and separately matters relating only to additions, new works, and buildings, without being permitted to co-relate the general question of naval expenditure.
– As a matter of fact, we cannot discuss them intelligently unless we do so.
– The honorable member is quite right. We cannot discuss them intelligently without reviewing the whole situation both as to new works and general naval expenditure. Our difficulty is increased when we find that we are asked to vote under the head of Additions, New Works and Buildings a sum of £193,000 for stores, including ammunition, ordnance, torpedo stores, and coal and oil fuel. Heaven only knows what connexion these have with new works. The explanation given by the Minister is that he wanted to spend the money without authority.
– No; I wanted authority to replace stores.
– The Minister wants authority to replace these stores and spend the money, and, therefore, has inserted under the heading of Additions, New Works, and Buildings, items which have nothing whatever to do with additions, new works, and buildings; his idea being to get authority for the spending of the money upon things which some honorable members think he could very well do without. Having a confident belief that our docile Ministry will do what it is told to do, provided it is told by the right people from the right quarter, I can only stand happily by while the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) tells the Minister what to do, and support the honorable member in requiring the Government to do what it will not do for the Labour party, but is quite willing to do for others, so long as it knows they are in a majority.
Sitting suspended from 12.55 to 2.15 p.m.
– I would not dream of making any depreciatory observations regarding the compliments paid by one of the naval experts of this Chamber to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith). I am prepared to recognise, with very few limitations indeed, the compliments paid by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) to the Minister in regard to the brilliant and statesman-like qualities he has shown in the administration of his Department. I would be one of the first to repudiate with indignation any suggestion that the honorable gentleman, either now, or at any time, regarded it as one of the principal parts of his occupation to polish up the handle of the big’ front door of the Navy office, or to perform any work of that kind. I recognise also the usual patriotic discernment of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in selecting for the control of the Navy an honorable gentleman who, by his brilliant and distinguished services on the floor of the House, had proved to the Ministry that he was thoroughly entitled to hold the position which he now dignifies and adorns. Iam in a diffi culty, however, regarding the honorable gentleman’s so-called expert advisers. I confess that when I find these gentlemen regarding as one of the strategic necessities of the defence of Australia that the Fleet should be concentrated in Port Phillip Bay each year at about Cup time, I am somewhat doubtful as to their bona fides in other respects.
– Where does the honorable member suggest that they should be at Cup time?
– Necessarily the honorable member, being a sportsman, recognises that the brilliant uniforms of our naval officers help to lend an air of distinction to the lawns at Flemington, and that they are even an acquisition to gubernatorial levees, to which honorable members are not now invited.
– I do not intend to fallow up that matter. J am merely suggesting that such things cause one to be somewhat doubtful as to the reliability of all the acts and suggestions of the gentlemen known as the Navy experts behind the Minister for the Navy. I do not wish to derogate in the slightest degree from the record and reputation of the fighting men of the Australian. Navy. They have done magnificent work, and, if the opportunity offers, will do so again.
– The honorable member is now dealing with personnel, which has nothing to do with the question before the Chair.
– I am coming immediately to the question before the Committee, which has to do with the expenditure on Naval works. I point out that, in this connexion,the work of the Navy is entirely admirable, but from that I shall proceed, if you will allow me, sir, to show that, at the present time, the necessity for spending much money on these proposed Naval works is more than doubtful. The battle of Jutland meant the scrapping of a great many ideas regarding methods of naval warfare, and, at the present time, putting aside the somewhat interested opinions of our own Australian experts, it is without doubt the general opinion of the experts of the rest of the civilized world that an entire re-casting of the methods of naval warfare, including our ships of war, is necessary. May I suggest that, at this time, the safety of Australia and the peace of the world do not depend in the least on the maintenance of the Australian Fleet, or the projected works before us. We have spent a considerable amount of money in this regard, and the time has arrived when we should, for at least a little while, call a halt. We are not in any immediate, if, indeed, in any ultimate, danger of attack, and certainly, in view of the urgent necessity for retrenchment in Australia, and the very hopeful turn which the proceedings of the Washington’ Conference are taking, we can very well refrain from a considerable amount of this expenditure until we see later on where we are.
The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) gave an indication to the Government that when the proposed expenditure on naval bases came before us he would require some information as to the justification for the sum of £179,000 being allotted to that item, I want also to suggest to the Government that I must have the most ample justification before I allow an amount of that kind to pass. It is only a few days since I asked for and obtained information regarding the complete cessation of work at the Henderson Naval Base. That base has been referred to from first to last as one of the most important, if not the most important, that could be undertaken by the Commonwealth. It has been suggested by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) that a floating dock is absolutely necessary, not so much for our own ships perhaps, as for those of the Empire. I have seen it suggested that that floating dock should be established in Sydney Harbor. Apart from other considerations, I doubt very much whether there is a sufficient depth of water for the purpose in a suitable part of Port Jackson. The Henderson Naval Base, on the other hand, undoubtedly offers all the facilities, as well as occupying the strategic point where such a floating dock would be useful.
– In what respect has the Henderson Naval Base a strategic Value for the purposes of a floating dock as compared with the north-eastern side of Australia?
– Because it is the first pointof approach for Imperial warships from Europe.
– And it is the last for vessels coming from Asia?
– Quite so. But it there is any danger from Asia. - and I do not agree that there is - it is obvious that the one naval base that we might be able to develop ought not to be directly opposite that point of possible danger. What I want to emphasize is, that some £800,000 has been spent on the Henderson Naval Base, and that now that work there is to be stopped that money, according to my advices,might just as well have been thrown into the sea.
– It has all been thrown into the sea.
– A good deal of it has been ; but I propose to tell the Committee where money has been thrown into the sea with still less justification. It is time for the Government to make up its mind as to which base is most necessary, to concentrate on that base, and to carry it through to finality, so that we shall have something useful and will not be pottering about throwing money here and there without achieving anything definite.
– We are carrying out the recommendations of the experts of the British Government who came out here.
– I should be glad to see those recommendations. All that I have seen or heard of up to the present indicates the importance of the Henderson Naval Base and the relative unimportance of the Flinders Base.
– Another point is that the deliberations of the Washington Conference may change the whole face of naval strategy, and our requirements We must work now with the British Navy. Certain recommendations have been made, subject to the Washington Conference. When that Conference is over we shall know exactly where we are. I agree with the honorable members that we must say definitely what it is that we want most, and must concentrate on that work. That, however, cannot be done until we know the result of the Washing ton Conference.
– So far, so good.I thank the Prime Minister for that expla nation. I desire to know, however, when we are discontinuing operations at Hen derson Naval Base, while the Flinders Base, which is of secondary important is to have spent upon it, I understand, the bulk of this proposed vote of £179,000
The history of the Flinders Naval Base is almost unbelievable. If I retailed to the Committee the madness and absurdity of the various schemes that have been carried out from first to last honorable members would be. astounded.
– Money must be spent there, because people walking ashore from the ships would otherwise get stuck in the mud.
– The place selected there for the expenditure of money is one of the most extraordinary for the purpose that I have heard of or seen. Time and again, the Public Accounts Committee, the Public Works Committee, and other authorities have condemned, root and branch, those operations. Still, for some reason or other, the work there goes on. It is admitted, even by the Government, that huge and expensive mistakes have been made, but, apparently, still more are to be risked. If the Government have the definite information, I wish to find out what is the reason for the continued expenditure of immense sums on a secondary base, while work is being suspended entirely at that which, hitherto, has been regarded as of primary importance. If I cannot get a satisfactory explanation, I shall do all in my power to prevent the allocation of the money indicated here for Naval Bases.
.-It is remarkable that so little information should be forthcoming in regard to these Estimates. The most extraordinary feature of the situation is that so little of the information we have obtained has come from the responsible Ministers. Any details that have been vouchsafed tous during the course of these debates have been furnished by Ministers only with the greatest reluctance, and because of the persistence with which honorable members have demanded it. The Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie), apparently, did not take the trouble to study the Estimates of his Department; and when the Minister now in charge of the ‘Committee (Mr. Laird Smith) spoke this morning, he, notwithstanding the warning, or perhaps I should say notwithstanding the discussions which have taken place and the complaints made about no information being available, gave us a very vague statement. So extraordinary have the conditions become in the Committee that a responsible Minister placed in charge of his Department is superseded by other Ministers. During the course of the discussion on these Works Estimates, we have had no fewer than five Ministers in charge, one after the other.
– Will the honorable member please address himself to the matter before the Chair?
– I desire to know who is in charge of these particular Estimates - the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), or the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom).
– The honorable member is not in order in canvassing the action of Ministers in that way.
– I can quite understand the “ big guns “ opposite being brought to bear on the Committee in defence of a Government which is slowly, but surely, falling to pieces.
– If the honorable member does not obey the Chair I shall order him to discontinue his speech.
– What I say may be quite out of order, but, apparently, it is the truth. The Labour party’s attitude towards these Estimates is quite clear. We stand on a principle when we advocate drastic reductions in these Estimates, and the votes which the members of the party have given clearly show that attitude. That would not matter so much to the Government were it not, as rodents desert a sinking ship, so are certain members opposite coming over to our side.
– I ask the honorable member not to force me to take action.
– I shall not offend again. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has made rather serious statements from time to time with relation to the compilation of the Estimates. He has talked of “ book-faking “ ; and, if it is not “ faking,” and I would not for a moment say it is, a suspicious mind might think so. I would say, however, that, at least, the Minister or his advisers have intended or tried to deliberately misrepresent the position and mislead the members of the Committee. I do not know who is responsible - though I suppose the Minister for the Navy is so nominally - for placing figures before the House which are obviously intended to create a certain impression, and, bya judicious hiding away of certain large sums of money, to get these Estimates through. I dare say that if the Leader of the Country party were offered, say, five portfolios instead of three, a good deal of the trouble would not have occurred.
– If the honorable member again disobeys the Chair I shall order him to discontinue his speech.
– I shall not disobey any further. There have been many demands for a return to responsible government, especially in dealing with Estimates, but so dire is the position of the Government that they are determined to hang to office, irrespective-
– The honorable member has defied me so often, despite repeated warnings, that I now order him to discontinue his speech.
.- I should like to be allowed to say a word or two on the Navy Estimates, and the general question of the Naval defence of the country, so far as it is permissible to refer to these subjects obliquely. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) has indicated that he is prepared to move a reduction of some £80,000; and when we come to the next division I shall be prepared to move a further substantial reduction.
– How much?
– I shall say when we come to the division ; I now wish to state the position of the Government in regard to the Naval Estimates. It has been suggested on the floor of the Chamber that, in addition to the reduction of £80,000, there should be a further reduction of £250,000. To this the Government cannot agree. There is a responsibilityon every member of the House of which he cannot divest himself. The Naval defence of this country is its first line of defence, and, obviously, the most important. Those naval expertswho are charged with the duty of advising His Majesty’s Ministers have stated in the most definite and unequivocal terms what are the minimum requirements of Australia in the world of to-day.
– I rise to a point of order. It does not appear that the right honorable gentleman is directing his observations to the items before the Chair, and I submit the fact to you, Mr. Chanter, for your consideration. The right honorable gentleman is dealing with the general Naval policy of the country; and having had the advantage of hearing your ruling on this point so frequently, I ask for a ruling now.
– It is perfectly clear that it was permitted to other honorable members to refer to such matters, and even to declare their intention to reduce the general Estimates; and I submit, therefore, that I am in order.
– The item before the Chair is connected with Naval expenditure on Works and Buildings. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has said that the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) proposes to reduce the vote before us by a certain amount, and has intimated, on behalf of himself and the Ministry as a whole, that it is proposed to make a further reduction in the general Estimates for the Navy. So far as the Prime Minister has gone, he is nor. out of order.
– I was endeavoring to show why the reduction proposed by the Minister for the Navy should be accepted, together with the other reduction to which I referred, as amply sufficient to satisfy the desire of this Committee for economy. The Washington Conference is now considering matters of vital moment to the whole world. We hope that the reductions that have been suggested in naval armaments will be accepted. If they are, the world will be a very different one from what it is now, but it will still be a world in which it is necessary for us to maintain a Navy of some sort. If, on the other hand, the scheme suggested by the Secretary of State for the UnitedStates of America is not accepted in its present form, or in any, then, clearly, thepresentnaval strength of Australia, as part of the Empire, is insufficient. I submit that the proper and prudent course for this Parliament is to maintain the Australian Navy in its present state of efficiency - a state which has been reached as the result of very many and drastic reductions. Our first-class battle cruiser has been put out of commission, and everything has been reduced to bedrock. At any rate, the Government consider that it is vital to Australia that we should not, in this regard, anticipate a decision which has not yet been made. Our Navy, by itself, can do little or nothing - it is an integral part of the British Navy. At the Imperial Conference the whole defence of the Empire was considered, and our part was marked out. I say, without hesitation, and with a due sense of responsibility, that the part that was then indicated cannot be played by us if the reductions in the Estimates now contemplated or suggested are made. In the circumstances, therefore, I ask the Committee to accept the reduction to be proposed by the Minister for the Navy, together with my assurance that there will be a further substantial reduction in the next division of the Estimates before us. I ask honorable members to accept what I have said as a plain statement of the position of the Government - as a statement thatthe Government cannot accept further reductions in the general Estimates for the Navy. I am sure that the majority of members of the Committee do not desire, by any precipitous and unwise action, to divest ourselves of the only means we have of playing our part should any untoward circumstances arise. I agree entirely with the view that, on the international horizon to-day, there seems to be not a cloud, but I venture to remind honorable members that there have been previous occasions when the sky of the world looked equally clear, and yet suddenly, and without warning, a bomb exploded. We live in a world of stern reality. I shall support any reasonable proposal for reduction, but I will not consent to the Navy being made a mere sham. With the reductions that are proposed in these Works and Buildings Estimates, I agree, and I propose to make a substantial reduction in the following division, because I believe that can be done without impairing the efficiency of our Defence Forces, but beyond that we cannot go.
.- I take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) for letting the Committee have a complete statement of what took place during last year in regard to the scrapping of certain vessels, and the economies effected in some of the branches. The Committee, is, however, labouring under a great disadvantage. The Prime Minister has attended an Imperial Conference, at which the question of Naval Bases in the southern hemisphere was discussed. We do not know whether or not any Naval Bases are to be established in Australia.
– Naval Bases in Australia are essential to Imperial Navy strategy. The honorable member may take it definitely that that has been recommended by the First Sea Lord, subject, of course, to the decisions of the Washington Conference.
– That is very good. If we are to share in the cost of any Naval Bases, I hope that the works will be of assistance to our own naval defence. I would like to see a mark- time policy adopted as far as possible pending the decision of the Washington Conference.
– I agree with that.
– That is the spirit of the Committee. Whilst I desire the country to be adequately defended, I cannot follow the Minister’s argument as to how he has kept the Fleet up to concert pitch. He spoke of long cruises, and the consumption of great quantities of Australian coal. That is not the way to economize.
– But it is the way to keep the Fleet efficient.
– Whilst there is a doubt as to the result of the Washington Conference, we should stay our hands. I know what the cost of a Fleet’s cruise is. I have seen some of the ships of the Navy leave Sydney Harbor, and put out to sea, and return after a few days; then other vessels were sent out. Those manoeuvres add to the cost of the Navy.
– If the Navy is to be of the slightest service, the policy that is now being pursued is the only policy.
– I do not say that the Navy should not put to sea for a day or so, but a cruise like that undertaken by the Fleet along the northern coast is very expensive.
– I agree with the honorable member that if the Washington Conference comes to a decision to reduce armaments, we must alter our policy. And we shall do so.
– I desire to see as much curtailment of expenditure as possible.
Australia must be in the position to defend itself, and we, as representatives of the people, are charged with the responsibility of seeing that it is in that position. At the same time this is an opportunity to practise economy wherever possible.
– I agree with that, too.
.- I congratulate the Government on having commenced to see the light. After many speeches and frequent votes in this Committee the Government have apparently come to the conclusion to which we asked them to come some two or three weeks ago with regard to the revision of these Estimates by the Departments. To-day the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) submitted his Estimates in a revised form. He has followed exactly the procedure that we asked should be adopted in connexion with the whole of the Estimates. If each Minister in charge of a Department will adopt the same policy, and come before the Committee with certain re-adjustments ready for consideration, we shall get through the Estimates much more quickly than if we haveto fight for reductions line by line. In regard to the reduction of the Naval Works and Buildings Estimates by £80,000, which the Prime Minister has promised, in the absence of any information, we had not proposed in any estimate of economies we made to take anything off these items. Therefore to us the reduction of £80,000 which the Minister has undertaken to make represents clear “bunce.” We have regarded the provision of reserve stores of fuel and ammunition and the completion of the Adelaide, as inevitable, and I am pleased to find that the Minister has been able to revise these Estimates in such a way as to effect a saving of £80,000. Australia is an island continent, and our first line of defence must be on the sea. But we do insist that money voted by this Committee shall be spent economically and efficiently. Unfortunately, there is at Flinders Naval Base one of the most striking object lessons of the way in which public moneycan be wasted when it is badly handled and the works are not properly planned. On a recent visit to the Base I had occasion to look at the sanitary arrangements, and to inspect the medical and surgical appointments, and I think £300 or £400 might easily be saved in respect of fuel, and devoted to making those arrangements modern and satisfactory. If that is not done the lives of good men and true may be lost, and epidemics occur in respect of which the Government will be seriously culpable. In regard to certain latrines, I found thatby standing on the first floor of one of the buildings one involuntarily took a shower of mixed urine and water. The operating room lacks certain modern necessities, which even the smallest country hospital is not without. I refer to appliances for the sterilization of water and for dressings. Even at the cost of having a couple of hundred tons of coal less in reserve, the Minister should supply these facilities, which would cost only a small amount of money, but might bethe means of saving the lives of some trainees.
– Should the question of cost come into such a matter at all?
– It should not; but I might be twitted that, being a preacher of economy, I yet suggested further expenditure. It is poor economy that deprives an institution of necessities of this kind, and I was merely indicating a direction in which the £300 or £400 required to supply them could be saved without being missed.
– As a matter of fact, there is a provision on the Loan Estimates for Flinders Naval Base.
– I am pleased that the Ministry are considering this matter, and I hope that they will place the buildings in such a condition that they will cease to be offensive.
By interjection this morning, the Minister for the Navy stated that, so far as he could remember, these Works and Buildings Estimates were never previously discussed ‘at great length. I think the reason for that was that the Country party was not in the House to insist that they should be discussed.
– Does not the honorable member think that the statement of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) was very unfair to me?
– I find it sufficient to answer for my own statements without being responsible for those of other honorable members. I am glad that we have been able to get detailed statements from Ministers as to what is actually to be done in the way of economy. I trust that as each successive Department comes under consideration the Minister in charge ‘will be prepared with definite proposals for reductions before the discussion starts.
.-The Department of the Navy is deserving of a good deal of credit for the work it performed during the late war, the extent and importance of which is not generally known. Whilst I am one of those who are prepared to cut naval and military expenses to the very bone, and shall carry out that policy to its logical conclusion, at the same time I am ready to give credit to a Department that did magnificent service to this country in its hour, of trial. It is interesting to note that at Cockatoo Island Dock during the war 112 transports were refitted. It would have been utterly impossible for the men of the Australian Imperial Force to be transported to the seat of war if we had not had such an establishment as the Cockatoo Dock to fit up the transports and put them in proper condition for service. The work done in this way must stand to the credit of the administration of the Department, and the workmen engaged at Cockatoo Island during those trying years. The transports were refitted to carry 4,459 officers, 5,900 non-commissioned officers, 112,500 men, 1,800 munition workers and navvies, and 17,100 horses. Those figures prove conclusively that this establishment maintained a high state of efficiency during the years of war, and that to the men employed there is due some of the credit for the deeds which our soldiers performed on the battle-field. The Garden Island shipyards dealt with 852 Vessels during the war, including the refitting of transports and various vessels of war from destroyers to. high-class cruisers. These vessels were re-fitted and overhauled at Garden Island in a most efficient and workmanlike manner. The Royal Commission which inquired into the administration of Garden Island found that it was very efficient, and reported to that effect. I give the Naval Department credit for that efficiency. We have, however, now placed the Cockatoo Dockyard under the management of a Board, which is controlled by a Department having no experience of naval matters.
– The change originated in a recommendation of the Naval Department.
– The advice tendered to the Royal Commission by the highest naval authorities was that Cockatoo Island should be retained under naval control.
– Who is the head of the Board?
- Mr. Farquhar.
– Has he not had wide experience in naval architecture?
– I have nothing to say against his qualifications as a mercantile shipbuilder, but I say that it was a waste of money to establish this Board. The manager, assistant manager, and officials who were previously at the dockyard have been retained, but, in addition, we have a Board of Control. Mr. Farquhar may be an expert in the matter of merchant shipbuilding.
– He is a naval architect also.
– He has not had the experience of naval construction that the acting manager and the man who previously managed at Cockatoo Island have had. Will honorable members name the war vessels of whose construction he has had charge?
– Surely he can do better than Clarke.
– I have no brief for Mr. Clarke; but if he is a competent man there is no need for the Board of Control, and if he is not competent he should not be in his job.
– Mr. Farquhar could lose him. Clarke ought to be sent about his business.
– In my opinion, the Board is not required, and its existence increases expense unnecessarily.
In these Estimates £193,000 is set down to provide for stores, and in the general Estimates £120,000 is set down for the same purpose, making altogether £313,000, which means an increase of £169,503 upon the vote of last year. The Royal Commission, however, drew attention to the large quantity of stores at Garden Island, and estimated the value of the surplus - not of the total - naval stores lying there at £200,000. Has the Commissioner’s recommendation that these stores be disposed of been given effect? Surely, with £200,000 worth of surplus stores there, it cannot be necessary to’ vote £169,000 more for stores this year than we voted last year.
– We are reducing the quantity of stores from a reserve of two years to a reserve of one year.
– I can only take the figures in the Estimates, and they tell a different tale. I hope that the Minister will give us an explanation of the matter.
.I should like to have from the Minister on some convenient occasion a statement of the cost of an up-to-date capital ship.
– Do you mean one of the latest type being constructed in England ?
– Yes ; or one of those being constructed in Japan. When the figures are given, it will be seen that it would be ridiculous for us to think of building such vessels with our present population. There is an item in the Estimates providing £300,000 for shipbuilding.
– That is for the Adelaide.
– I accept the opinion of Admiral “ Jacky “ Fisher and of another great naval expert, who says that it is madness to continue thebuilding of these capital ships, because no country could afford the loss which their destruction would entail. Experiments made in America on the German warships proved that, although a bomb might not effect much other injury, or cause great loss of life, it completely disorganized the electrical apparatus, and those who know anything of war vessels know that when the electrical apparatus is out of order they are helpless. I draw attention to the following paragraph in Martindale and Westcott: -
At least one valuable and useful British scientist’s life was lost in the laboriousexperiments while inventing a respirator for soldiers and sailors to protect them against chlorine and other asphyxiating gases in the late war long after it had started. In the next war it may not be necessary to find meansin a few hours to save the entire population of the country from scientific annihilation.
I think that the Navy Department or the Defence Department, or the two acting conjointly, should establish a laboratory for scientific research. It is to be hoped that we shall never have an enemy to kill with deadly gases, but in the course of experimenting, discoveries may be made of great advantage to humanity. The Minister need have no hesitation about cutting these Estimates to the bone. This being an island continent, we have little need for war vessels to be sent far afield. If we defend ourselves, we shall do our duty to the Home Land, which has helped us so much in the past.
– My expert advisers say that the cost of a capital ship is approximately £8,000,000. I move -
That the vote be reduced by £80,000.
Amendment agreed to.
Reduced vote, £419,000, agreed to.
Proposed vote, £400,000.
– This vote covers the proposed expenditure upon the new branch of the Department which has been constituted jointly by representatives of the Defence and Navy, and is made up of two or three leading items. The first is an item of £375,985 towards the acquisition of sites and the provision of air craft equipment and plant. Another item is £55,216 for the acquisition of sites, the initial preparation of aerodromes and emergency landing-grounds, also the provision of air-craft equipment, &c, for civil aviation. Then under the control of the Works and Railways Department provision is made for expenditure of £200,260 upon the construction of buildings, hangars, workshops, &c, for military purposes; and £14,000 for construction of buildings, &c, for the Civil Aviation branch. The total expenditure under the control of the Department of Defence is £431,201; but inasmuch as it is estimated that £159,201 will remain unexpended at the close of the year, the net vote will be only £272,000. Again, in connexion with the items under the control of the Works and Railways Department, it is estimated that £86,260will remain unexpended at the close of the year, leaving a net vote of £128,000. The total net expenditure for the year, military and civil, will thus be £400,000, but the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) and the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), after having consulted the Works and Railways Department., propose to reduce that amount by £100,000.
– Will that reduction seriously interferewith the Government’s intentions with regard to civil aviation?
-No; the saving will come mostly from the proposed expenditure upon the acquisition of sites, &c, and the construction of buildings for the military branch of this vote. It is not intended to interfere with the appropriations for civil aviation. Of the money voted for both branches last year, only £77,040 was spent on the acquisition of sites, but there are commitments on the military side amounting to £82,000 for the purchase of sites, material, and plant, and on the works side amounting to £24,606, nearly all of which has been spent at Point Cook upon electrical machines and necessary equipment, works, &c, while tenders have been called for a total of £15,247. The total commitments are over £106,000, to be met out of £300,000, which will be the amount of the vote after deducting the £100,000 which the Government propose.
– Can a Department commit Parliament to expenditure in this way?
– The honorable member apparently is under a misapprehension. During the course of a year a certain amount of money is appropriated for a certain purpose, and the approval of Parliament is obtained. In this case, Parliament approved of an appropriation of £294,200. When an Appropriation Bill is passed by Parliament, plans have to be prepared and tenders called. Very often the Department is not able to spend within the financial year the whole of the amount voted. Nevertheless, the contracts entered into under the authority of Parliament must be carried on in the succeeding financial year, or else all such works would have to close down definitely on the 30th June of each year until a fresh appropriation could be obtained. The commitments which the honorable member questions were made under the authority of Parliament for essential services. I have no desire to weary the Committee with details of what has been done in connexion with the organization of the Air Force in Victoria and New South Wales; but in order that, these units may be properly established, provision must be made for the acquisition of sites and the construction of the necessary hangars, workshops, and buildings, and also quarters for the housing of the personnel. Provision must also be made for the permanent storage of a number of valuable air-craft supplied to the Department. Civil aviation having been initiated, proper provision must also be made for equipping aerodromes and laying out emergency landing-grounds. Already an air route in the West, to Derby, has been marked out, and only this morning authority was given for the preparation of emergency landinggrounds along it.
– Will honorable members have the opportunity of seeing the report upon that route?
– It is available to honorable members at the Department.
– Honorable members will see that the vote is being cut down to the absolute limit this year, considering the provision that has to be made for the acquisition of sites and the construction of the necessary aerodromes, repair shops, and houses for the personnel. A scheme has been very carefully outlined by the Board for a complete chain of landinggrounds, but it is proposed to limit expenditure this year to essential services. Experts have been called upon to advise the Government as to the number of tool shops, hangars, &c, they require at once. No matter what discussions may take place at Washington, Air Forces will certainly be included among the military services left to any country.
– I cannot accept the proposal to reduce these Estimates by £100,000 only. I shall be obliged to move that they be reduced by £200,000.
.- I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) not to commit himself as to the amount by which he thinks this proposed vote should be reduced until he hears what I have to say. I think I can give the Committee good reasons why a greater reduction than that proposed by the Government should not be made. We came forward with an offer to cut down this vote by £100,000, be- cause it had been said that, in connexion with the previous votes, we had professed not to be able to make any reduction, but, on pressure being applied to us, we had done so. I have made an honest attempt to cut down to bedrock the vote for this service, and when I give the Committee some particulars, I think they will be satisfied that, a reduction of £100,000 off the total of £400,000 is a fair thing. The Committee ought to know that our original Estimates were cut down by the Treasurer. In the first place, we; asked for £750,000 for the air services. That draft estimate was revised, and revised a second time at the request of the Treasurer. Finally, the right honorable gentleman arbitrarily cut down our estimate of £750,000 for air services, including civil aviation, to £500,000, and of that amount allocated £400,000 for additions and new works. The Department thought at the time that such a reduction would be almost fatal to the proposition to inaugurate an efficient Air Force in Australia. However, as it is evidently the wish of the Committee that further! reductions should be made, abonâ fide effort has been made by me to cut down this proposed vote to the fullest possible extent, and it has been decided to reduce by £100,000 the £400,000 for which we have asked. It will be impossible for us to provide an air service’ for less than £300,000. Many honorable members are not aware of the development which has taken place in connexion with aeronautics in Australia. We have in the . Commonwealth to-day 158 machines, and of that number 100 were presented to us by the British Government. The “spares” to keep the machines going are very costly, and necessarily involve a large expenditure. Then, again, have honorable members any idea of the personnel required for the air service?
– Yes, if it is a Military service the personnel will be unlimited.
– I ask the honorable member to bring to bear on this question a. reasoned judgment. He may be surprised to learn that 258 airmen, exclusive of officers, are employed. Many of them are married, and have been engaged for a period of six years, so that a grave situation will arise so far as they are concerned, if we are not granted a sum sufficient to carry on the service.
The present personnel of the Royal Australian Air Force is as follows: - Wing commanders, 2; squadronleaders, 4; flight lieutenants, 15: flying officers, 14; pilot officers, 2; total, 37. On the “ K “ list, which applies to employees who are not flying men, but who look afterthe stores, attend to repairs, and generally carry out the work of the quartermaster’s side of the service, there are2 squadron leaders, 2 lieutenants, and 7 flying officers. These are described as “ flight.” officers, but do not fly. We have a grand total of 308 officers and men. In addition, we have six clerks, while on the temporary staff there are - Staff clerks (clerical),8; messengers, 2: cleaners, 4; labourers, 14; examiners of munitions, 2 ; or a total of 30 temporary employees.
– How many of the 258 men are mechanics?
– A large number, but I cannot give the exact figures. I would submit for the special consideration of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that included amongst our liabilities is the payment for six aeroplanes that are being manufactured in Sydney. It is something to have in Australia factories that can manufacture aircraft.
– Are engines being made here?
– I am afraid not ; but we hope to be able to manufacture in Australia engines for aircraft. We have a contract with the Australian Air-craft and Engineering Company, of Sydney, to build for us six machines, at a cost of £8,200. In all the circumstances, I think it will be agreed that the vote is not a large one.
Mr.Charlton. - I am not surprisedat the Government being ready to reduce this vote by £100,000.
– I have also some figures relating to gross Estimates. The items of £375,985, under Division 12, and £200,260, under Division 14, for works, buildings, &c, give us a total of £576,245, or, less the amounts estimated to remain unexpended, which total £245,461, leave as the amount proposed to be expended, £330,784, or, less the £100,000, by which I am now proposing to reduce the items, only £230,784. The liabilities carried forward from last financial year - liabilities that we must face - total £82,000, leaving only £148,000 to be expended for all purposes in connexion with this vote for new works.
– The honorable member is now making the liabilities carried forward from last financial year much less than the Minister for Works and Railways said they were.
– In addition, there are £24,000 on the Works side.
– The trouble is that the Assistant Minister for Defence is dealing with military aviation, while the Minister for Works and Railways dealt with civil aviation.
– Yes, and also the Works side.
– We have sanctioned an aerial service from Derby to Geraldton on the north-west coast of Western Australia, and are paying a very large subsidy for the carriage of mails over that route. It covers a long stretch of what is largely uninhabited country, and, for that reason, honorable members may say an aerial service should not be supplied there. We have selected the route for a, trial, in order that people who, perhaps, have not been getting a mail more than once in six months may reap the benefit of such a service. In addition, it is of very great importance from a tactical point of view that sucha service should be established there. It enables us to make reconnaissances along a part of the coast which it would be almost impossible to reach except by aeroplane. At the present time I have tenders for aerial mail deliveries between Sydney and Adelaide, and Sydney and Brisbane. We wish to accept those tenders, but if the Committee practically strangle the service by refusing the necessary funds, we cannot carry out such undertakings. The other day a very important delegation from the people of the north-east waited on us. We were interviewed by men who have put a large amount of capital and a great deal of energy into the establishment of an aerial service between Charleville and Cloncurry. They have partly established that aerial route. A small company has been formed with a relatively large capital, and the Government have been requested to subsidize its efforts. It would be a good thing if the company could be assisted in that way; but, in reply to a deputation the other night, the Prime Minister (Mr.
Hughes) told representatives of the company that, while he had every sympathy with them, the state of the finances would not permit of any pecuniary assistance. The members of that deputation arestill in Melbourne, and are worrying me every day to say what can be done for them. As a last resort I suggested that they might be helped by having presented to them three of the machines with which Australia was presented by the British Government. These machines, I suppose, are worth about £9,000, and though they might be of some value to the company, I do not know that their value would be very great. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has now expressed his intention to move for a further reduction of the vote; but, as I have come here to-day to say that the Government are prepared to make a reduction, I ask him to be reasonable. It is most desirable that civil aviation should be encouraged, and that encouragement cannot be extended if this vote is cut down.
– This is a departure from the ordinary expenditure of the past, and our experience regarding civil aviation is only small. I rise to object to this money being spent solely, or for the most part, on the military side of aviation. It is not advisablefor us to turn out a whole crowd of trained airmen, wholly military. We ought to promote civil aviation, and thus provide a source for the supply of men should occasion require it. The Minister (Sir Granville Ryrie) has told us of one arrangement made, and it is, in my opinion, the best we have heard of up to the present. I refer to the arrangement for a postal service from Geraldton to Derby. This should not be controlled by the Military Department, but by the Postal Department; and similar routes throughout Australia would soon produce men who would be invaluable if their services should be required on the military side. If we establish a military aviation corps we do not know where it will end, and, in any case, it will not have the results that we look for from the civil side of aviation in Australia. I am quite agreeable to an increase of the vote on the civil side if the corps be associated with the Postal Department. There is another phase of the question which requires attention. The men engaged in this work lay themselves open to be maimed and to losing their lives, and I suggest that it is the duty of the Government to establish an insurance fund. It would be unfair to ask men engaged in such a work, whatever their remuneration might be, to insure themselves for a sufficient amount in view of the risks. It wouldnot be wise, in my opinion, to subsidize private insurance companies; the proper course is for the Government to do that business themselves. At any rate, if something of the kind is not done , those engaged in the work will nob be satisfied. Flying happens to be a pastime very popular with the average young Australian, but, because that is so, there is no reason why the Government should shirk their responsibilities.
.- I do not know whether the vote before us means the creation of another Department, but it certainly points in that direction. We have far too many Departments now, and they do not make for economy. I notice that the air service is under the Navy Department, but administered by the Minister for Defence.
– Has the honorable gentleman ever known joint control a success in administration ? If this vote means dual control, the Committee should oppose it, because in this or any other country it is doomed to failure. It appears to me as if this proposal meant another case of a Department within a Department.
– It is not unusual for a Department to have branches.
– But too many branches spring up in Departments.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) the case of the invalid pensioners in the Heatherton Sanatorium, as disclosed by the following communication from them: -
We the undersigned invalid pensioners suffering from tuberculosis do hereby ask you kindly to put beforetheHouse of Represen tatives the following: -That we ask for an. increase of allowance from pension whilst in this institution, owing to having to buy our own clothes and daily necessities, which we cannot do on our present allowance of 2s. per week, as we are all penniless, and a few extra shillings would help us out of the difficulties.
I also desire to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the removal of a lavatory in this building, which was very convenient to the latrines. The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) quite agrees with my views on this matter. What I suggest, in the interests ofcleanliness, is that a tip basin should be placed between the latrines. The cost of removal of the lavatory, I suppose, is £400, and for this no extra accommodation whatever has been provided. In these days of economy I regard the expenditure as a waste of money.
– I should like to know from the Prime Minister when he proposes to proceed with the Anti-Dumping Bill and the Tariff Board Bill.
Mr. HUGHES (Bendigo- Prime Minister and Attorney-General [3.58]. - I hope to proceed with those Bills before the end of the session. I am sorry there is not a larger attendance of members at the moment, but I must once more call attention to the state of public business. Honorable members keep asking me when I am going to proceed with certain matters; but I remind them that we have been here all the week and have done very little. It will be necessary to sit in the mornings after next week, and if that is not sufficient we must sit on Mondays also. Even then we cannot progress with the business without the co-operation of honarable members. Included in the business to be transacted are the Anti-Dumping Bill, Tariff Board Bill, Constitution Convention Bill, Conciliation and Arbitration Act Amendment Bill, shipping and shipbuilding, wireless communication, air ships, and the Estimates. I cannot think of anything more at the moment. We must get through some business, and honorable members will realize that at the rate at which we are going we shall not do much. However, the measures to which the honorable member for Newcastle has referred will be proceeded with, and their fate will rest with honorable” members.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 November 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19211118_reps_8_98/>.