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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1947

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (09:34): I rise to speak about a good news manufacturing story in Calare. Last Friday I was absolutely delighted to take part in the inaugural firing of the first new civilian rifle to be designed and built in Australia for around 50 years. I am very excited to say that it is being undertaken in the town of Lithgow in my electorate, that part of Australia first found by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson just over 200 years ago. Thales Australia are set to release three calibres of civilian rifles which will be produced at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, making it the only factory produced civilian rifle in Australia. Thales has been operating in Lithgow since about 2006, mostly producing small arms for the Australian military. Prior to this, the factory operated as an Australian government owned armaments supplier. In fact, the factory was established just prior to World War I, in 1912, following the government's decision to break free from its dependence on British munitions and armaments.

When the factory officially opened in June 1912 it was known as the Lithgow Small Arms Factory and had 190 employees. This rose during the Second World War to around 6,000 employees in Lithgow, with another 6,000 stationed in Orange, Bathurst, Cowra and other towns in the central west. It is also interesting to note that during the war effort many women worked in a factory. It was probably one of the first places where women did that sort of work in Australia. The factory currently employs around 120 locals and has provided employment in the region for well over 100 years now.

Thales's decision to expand into the civilian market will help sustain the factory and its workforce over the coming years—and in my part of the world that is no bad thing. It is a decision of diversification and, I sincerely hope, a fruitful one for our region, which has experienced productivity losses associated with the general downturn in manufacturing. For me, shooting is both a hobby—it is what I have always done as a farmer—and something that I am very interested in. I greatly value the contribution Thales make to the Lithgow region, to the electorate and to the Australian Defence Force. It is wonderful to have their presence in the electorate.

Thales have invested heavily in modernising the factory yet value its history. State-of-the-art machinery is situated in the original factory buildings on 100-year-old timber floors. You know the history of this place the minute you walk into it. I look forward to the factory remaining in Lithgow for many more years to come. I welcomed the opportunity I had to, as it were, launch on behalf of Thales their new Rimfire commercial production and I had the pleasure of being one of the first to fire the rifle.