House debates

Monday, 4 July 2011

Private Members' Business

Centenary of the Royal Australian Navy

7:01 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

By conferring the title 'Royal' on the Australian Navy 100 years ago, King George V signalled his belief in Australia's ability and preparedness to effectively look after its own maritime defence. The bravery and resilience shown by Navy personnel since that momentous occasion has helped protect the nation and has shaped our reputation of distinction abroad. It is fitting that next week, on 10 July, we recognise and celebrate 100 years of distinguished service by the Royal Australian Navy.

For a newly federated nation with a coastline of 59,736 kilometres, maritime defence was always going to be of utmost importance. From settlement, Australia's defence was dependent upon units detached from the British Empire's Royal Navy Sydney Base. In 1859, Australia was established as a separate British naval station with a fleet to be financed and controlled by the Australian Commonwealth. At a conference on naval expansion in 1909, the Australian government and the British Admiralty agreed to establish the Australian Fleet Unit. This unit was to include at least one battlecruiser, three submarines, three second-class cruisers, six destroyers and several auxiliary support vehicles. Whilst this fleet is diminutive by today's standards, it signalled to the world that Australia as a nation had come of age and was ready to handle its own maritime affairs.

On 10 July 1911, King George V granted the prefix 'Royal' to the Australian Navy in honour of its increased size and status. This decision was formally promulgated by the Australian Commonwealth Navy Board later that year on 5 October. From that point in time, all Australian ships were to fly the Royal Navy's White Ensign beside the Australian flag. In just three years time, the new maritime force would be dragged into a war of historically unprecedented proportions. The immediate role of the Royal Australian Navy was to annex all of Germany's Pacific colonies to secure supply and trade routes. The Royal Australian Navy's first maritime battle was with the German light cruiser the SMS Emden. Von Spee had detached the Emden to roam the Indian Ocean independent of his command. From the period 1 August 1914 to 9 November 1914, the Emden sank or captured 30 Allied warships and merchant vessels. Captained by Karl von Muller, the single cruiser effectively brought the Indian Ocean to a standstill. To strengthen his dominance of the Indian Ocean, Captain Muller decided to send a landing party to Direction Island in the Cocos Islands to destroy a radio tower that served as a critical piece of wireless ship-to-ship communication infrastructure. When the Emdenlanded on 9 November 1914, the people of Direction Island managed to radio for help to HMAS Sydney, which was 80 kilometres away. Upon arrival, the Emden engaged the Sydney. The Royal Australian Navy's first sea battle ensued. Fighting valiantly and demonstrating the nation's newfound capability to defend itself, the Sydney's losses were four dead and 13 wounded, whilst the Emden sustained large-scale damage, with 131 dead and 65 wounded soldiers.

It is rare for a new naval force to have such a large-scale success in its first engagement; it was even rarer for this success to be achieved against a vessel from an empire that was one of the most powerful of its time. The personnel aboard the HMAS Sydney set the tone and high standard for members of the Royal Australian Navy for years to come. It was their original success that allowed the Royal Australian navy's culture of distinction and achievement to take its roots.

The centenary of the Royal Australian Navy also holds an element of personal significance. The electorate of Bennelong has many retired and current naval officers, including retired Navy Chief Harvey Porter, President of the Northern Metropolitan District Council of RSL Sub-Branches in New South Wales and President of Lane Cove RSL sub-branch. I wish to thank Mr Porter for his assistance in compiling the research on this motion.

Bennelong has a significant history in the construction of naval ships. When boat builder Lars Halvorsen died in 1936 from a bone infection at the age of 49, his will specified that his large estate be divided between his wife and seven children. This would have effectively dismantled the company. Backed by the entire family, the five sons went to court and convinced the judge that, despite their youth, they should continue to successfully operate their father's company. The new company that was formed was named Lars Halvorsen and Sons, headquartered in the suburb of Ryde, and grew to become the largest fully undercover factory of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

During World War II, over 250 Halvorsen ships were deployed by the Royal Australian Navy, the Dutch navy and the US navy. There were 112-foot Fairmiles, 60-foot torpedo boats and 38-foot air-sea rescue boats involved in many conflicts and proved vital in saving the lives of Australian naval officers. Two Halvorsens were involved in the chasing and depth-charging of Japanese midget submarines during the 1942 attack on Sydney Harbour. The Halvorsen's factory in Ryde built 237 vessels with a workforce of 350 who worked 24 hours a day.

In its short life, the Royal Australian Navy has distinguished itself in every ocean, with operations throughout Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Pacific. It has assisted the United Nations several times in global and regional peace-keeping missions. Just this year, the Royal Australian Navy rapidly responded to aid Australians in need following the horrific floods and cyclones in Queensland. Every day the fleet contributes to the security of our region, whilst upholding their core values of honour, honesty, courage, integrity and loyalty.

Last Thursday I was privileged to represent the Leader of the Opposition to welcome home the men and women of the HMAS Stuart. The tight-knit community recognises, respects and supports these great Australians who heroically choose to defend us and preserve our national sovereignty. Celebrating the first 100 years of the Royal Australian Navy and all of the heroism and selfless acts of bravery in the face of fire should focus our attention on those brave soldiers who so richly deserve recognition for their valour in the presence of the enemy in form of our nation's highest award, the Victoria Cross. In Senate estimates hearings last October, Senator Barnett raised the question of why none of Australia's 97 Victoria Cross recipients have hailed from the Royal Australian Navy. I am informed that two members of the Royal Australian Navy are now being considered for this rare honour. This would be a most fitting tribute in this year, the Centenary of the Royal Australian Navy.

This motion recognises the achievements of the men and women who have contributed their unique skills, expertise and courage towards our nation's defences, and those who continue to do so, and congratulates the Royal Australian Navy on a proud history over the past century. One hundred years may not be a long time in world history, yet for our nation it represents a great part of our history. The Royal Australian Navy is a great part of our history. I commend this motion to the House.


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