- Ogle, Brian
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Commonwealth Act No. 17 (10 October 1902)
By now the Nation was under way. Costs were escalating. The 12 months to June 30, 1903 required a grant from consolidated revenue of £3,986,794. Defence had risen to £787,151. Due to the prospect of the terms of the new Naval Agreement with Admiralty appropriations were doubled. Included in the estimate was the cost of maintaining the Australian troops at the Boer War.
It must be remembered that those first governments were anti-income, land or any direct tax. Hereunder is the estimate of revenue and expenditure for the year ended June 30th 1903 extracted from p.587 of Commonwealth Papers Vol.11, General.
|Surplus Paid to States
One can see that as a percentage of revenue £800,000 in defence was, in the eyes of many members, beginning to stray into the field of “…indulging in extravagant expenditure”. Others, mainly Labour, were more far sighted. The system of taxation had to be revised to cope with inevitable defence, particularly naval, requirements.
The History of Australia’s Commitment to Naval Defence Expenditure4
Up until 1887 the Australian Colonies paid nothing to Admiralty for the presence of the R.N. Australian Squadron (Victoria, Queensland and South Australia possessed and maintained some individual units). Imperialism was hotting up amongst European nations towards the end of the century. The grab race brought huge increases in naval expenditure and a strain on the John Bull hip pocket. The Colonial Office called a conference in London in 1887 and advised Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians that they had to kick the Empire’s Naval tin forthwith. An agreement was reached between the Australian Premiers and the Colonial Office that an Auxiliary Squadron (in addition to the R.N. Australian unit) would be provided by Great Britain. The Colonies were to pay interest on the cost of contribution and share in the cost of maintenance. (Note: the word “interest” – it was a keynote to future debates). Australia’s contribution was £121,000 per annum.
Problems of the Auxiliary Squadron
In October 1891 the new ships arrived and were absorbed into the Australian Squadron which comprised 1/3 of the Pacific Fleet – the others being China and East Indies. The squadron was fully manned by British sailors and deployed as the R.N. Admiral pleased. In a word they were Imperial, Australia had no say.
Lord Selbourne, then First Lord, in emphasising the necessity for single (Admiralty) control said, “In respect of the Auxiliary Squadron the Colonies are merely hirers enjoying the same relationship of the man who pays and the man who supplies”. This blimpish statement by no means coincided with what the Australian delegation had understood in 1887. They believed that they were paying for a squadron to be largely locally manned and with provision for training Australian ratings. Such had been the recommendation of Sir George Tryon after service as Admiral of the Australian Squadron. It is worth quoting Tryon’s letter of 1886 to Sir Samuel Griffith, the Premier of Queensland:
“It is not a mere subsidised force that will do what is wanted. It is not only money that is required but personal service. To awaken the true spirit, the Government of each colony should manage (as far as possible) their local forces during times of peace.
Unless they do, the burden of cost will be irksome, and the interest of the people in their maintenance will not be evoked“.
In this Tryon demonstrated a recognition of the Australian psyche which was “bang-on” and a contrast to his autocratic stubbornness in the tragic “Camperdown Collision”.
The Imperial distortion of the decisions of the 1887 Conference was the genesis of an Australian distrust of Admiralty and the Colonial Office which remained until 1914 when Andrew Fisher promised to help defend the Empire “…to the last man and the last shilling”. A period of jingoism which lasted some 18 months and faded considerably after Gallipoli.
Profit and Loss Account of the Auxiliary Squadron – Pre-Federation
The financial gains stemming from the addition of the Auxiliary Squadron were not quite all one way. Imperial Britain had increased the trade/protective power of her naval force to the extent of five third class cruisers and two torpedo gunboats. The ships were 100% controlled by the R.N. They were anything but expensive ships and the Colonies were contributing to cost. Members of Colonial Parliaments raised many indignant questions.