Tuesday, 11 February 2014


The reduction of the strength of the British military forces and the modification of the naval programme so far as to abandon the building of one of the large armoured cruisers and a battleship of the Dreadnought class may find a certain justification from a mere financial point of view, but is indefensible when contrasted with the increasing armaments of neighbouring Powers. The naval programme of Germany has been increased, and German military experts do not regard the invasion of England as a particularly formidable task, should Great Britain be seriously embroiled somewhere else; yet instead of meeting, preparations of this kind by counter-preparations, there is only a decadent desire for avoidance of expense and the responsibility of maintaining national efficiency. This comparative indifference on the part of the mother country has had a mischievous effect on the colonies, and particularly on Australia, which has not yet realised the dangers to which she is now exposed from the eager desire of European countries for oversea expansion. There is the keenest competition for possession of the world's waste spaces, and as the Monroe doctrine forbids European Powers meddling with American territories, and as the war in the Far East has temporarily put an end to European aggression in Asiatic countries, the line of least resistance is found across the Pacific. Here Australia, with its scant population, its wide open spaces, rich tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate soil, is the richest prize for a nation desirous of colonisation. What is our defence ? Has this question ever been seriously considered as a whole, and has any true answer ever been given ? In the first place there has never been a true recognition of the responsibility of defence as an essential part of every man's citizenship, and there is a grotesque anomaly between the amount of money devoted to military expenditure as contrasted with the way in which the local naval and coastal defence forces have been starved. The question is not one of militarism, but of national safety, and of the inculcation of self-reliance in making adequate provision for what is the first requirement of every nation. The appeals which Lord Roberts is continually making to his own countrymen should come with even greater force to Australians. Preparations for war, said the veteran Field Marshal recently, mean nothing more nor less than the application of all that is best in the mind and intelligence of the country to the business of defence. In an article contributed to the "Nineteenth Century" last year he said : "I maintain that it is the bounden duty of the State to see that every able-bodied man in this country, no matter to what grade of society he may belong, undergoes some kind of military training in his youth, sufficient to enable him to shoot straight, and carry out simple orders if ever his services are required for the national defence." And where can this training be better given than in connection with the education of children ?" It is," said Lord Roberts, "because I fear that nothing short of a national disaster will make the people of this country realise this that I earnestly press for the boys and youths of Great Britain to be given an education which will teach them their duty to their country, and imbue them with that spirit of patriotism without which no nation can expect to continue great and prosperous." These principles hold equally good in the case of Australia, where there is better material to work upon, and where the expansion of the cadet system is a step in the right direction. But in every country a defence system must be organic, and must be directed to providing against the particular dangers to which that country is exposed. In the case of Australia it would be hardly too much to say that the defence system is chaotic, and that ninety-nine people out of every hundred could not give any coherent account of what bad been done in the way of military defence. The only thing certain is that so much money is expended every year, and that troops occasionally take part in Important State functions. It would, therefore, appear that the best method of reform would be to wipe the slate clean. For our land defences we need no elaborate military forces, and if adequate training were given at school it should be easy enough to organise a volunteer system on simple yet comprehensive lines which would give much better results with less expenditure. This again would enable the Commonwealth to pay greater attention to the first line of defence on the coast, and here the training of naval cadets should be regarded as of quite as great an importance as the encouragement of military cadets ; yet in what Mr. Deakin referred to the other day as "a systematic and continuous policy of defence" no provision whatever had been made for naval cadets in our seaport capitals, where the bulk of our population is concentrated. Captain Creswell, who is now returning from London, has apparently been successful in his mission for the encouragement of an Australian navy, the very nucleus of which will entail a greater naval expenditure ; but this will readily be met if naval and military defence be placed in their true proportion and relation to each other, without any immediate need for drawing more heavily on the Treasury.

The Brisbane Courier 13 June 1906,

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