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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr PROWSE (Forrest) .- I regret, as I am sure every other honorable member does, that it is necessary to spend a penny on defence, but that does not alter the fact, as stated by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) - and I agree with him - that we are forced to do this. Necessity drives us to incur such expenditure as is essential adequately to defend Australia. I was a member of this House several years ago when it was decided to obtain two cruisers. At that time the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) took the same stand as he is taking to-day. He said that the vessels should be built in Australia. I, likewise, take the same stand as I took then. I regard this expenditure as an insurance premium. It was stated when we were considering the purchase of the two ships to which I have referred that they could be bought for what it would cost to build one cruiser in Australia. The Commonwealth cannot afford to pay twice as much in insurance premiums as is necessary. I pointed out then that if we bought the two ships overseas in preference to building them in Australia we should be able to construct 700 miles of roads in this country with the money that would be saved. The Government is fully justified in buying this vessel overseas, seeing that it can be obtained for little more than half what it would cost to build one in this country.

Mr Scullin - That is not so.

Mr PROWSE - There is no evidence that costs have been reduced to any great extent in Australia. Therefore, I support the proposal of the Government, because our public debt is big enough as it is, and we cannot afford to pay more for defence than is necessary.

Mr. BEASLEY(West Sydney) [5.2GJ. - When considering this subject, the first question that arises is whether the defence of Australia can best be served by warships of this kind; and, secondly, if the vessel is necessary, whether it should be purchased overseas or built in Australia. Although no detailed information has been placed before the House, the Government is evidently convinced that it is necessary to strengthen our Navy by the addition of this cruiser, but that does not deprive the Opposition of its right to examine the Government's defence policy with the closest scrutiny; and the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) is not justified in suggesting that the Opposition, by so doing, is evincing a disregard for the adequate defence of the country. We are also entitled to consider alternative means of defence, including the development of the air arm. I have not gone into the matter myself, but we have been informed that certain foreign countries are conducting experiments for the dissemination of poisonous gases from the air so that not only the enemy 8.military forces, but also the civilian population hundreds of miles behind the fighting line, will be in danger of destruction. We are also entitled to remember that thousands of pounds of public money have been spent in sending delegations from this country to disarmament conferences; and it might not be out of place to recall that, during and after the last war, we were subjected to much propaganda designed to convince us that the war was fought to end war, mid to make the world safe for democracy. The Commonwealth budget for this year provides £19,000,000 for war and repatriation services, and nien who fought in the war are walking the streets looking for employment, while their families are in want. These facts constitute a severe indictment of our civilization, and should make us hang our heads in shame. Nevertheless, in spite of the lessons which we should have learned, but apparently have not, we are now authorizing the expenditure of millions of pounds in preparation for a similar orgy of destruction.

The Government apparently believes that this form of defence is necessary, and that this money should be spent. If we accept this as their policy we are at least entitled to demand that the money for this purpose should be spent in Australia. If it is proposed to devote £2,250,000 to the strengthening of our Navy by the purchase of thiB cruiser the money should be spent in providing employment for Australian workers, and there is not the slightest justification for sending the order overseas. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) marshalled an array of arguments to show that, even from a monetary point of view, it would undoubtedly pay us to have the work done in Australia, as we can readily understand when we consider that it would mean reduced sustenance payments, increased income tax returns, additional tram and railway traffic, and a general stimulation of business activities. Apart from that, however, the outstanding argument in favour of having the vessel built in Australia is that we have here the plant and equipment necessary for doing the work, and the skilled workmen able to carry it out. The Attorney-General said that we had not in this country men capable of doing the work, but that is an unwarrantable reflexion on our skilled tradesmen, who are second to none. I can speak with some authority on this subject, because, for many years, I worked at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and was associated with the building of cruisers, and the refitting of submarines, &c. It is absurd to say that we have not in Australia men able to do this work. The shipworkers in Britain merely work from blue prints in exactly the same way as do the men here. Every skilled worker can read a blue print, in no matter what country he happens to be situated, and he merely does' his work according to the plan provided. This kind of work has already been done in Australia on other warships, and there is no reason why it cannot be done again. At Cockatoo Island Dockyard there is the most modern equipment for this purpose which cost over £1,000,000 of public money, and the necessary slipways arc already iu existence. All that is necessary is to give the order, and the wheels of industry can be set in motion.

Moreover, it may interest honorable members to know that the Commonwealth Government some years ago sent to Britain many skilled men, including boilermakers, engineers, electrical workers, &c, with the idea of training them to become specialists in this very kind of work. Although thousands of pounds were spent in providing them with the necessary experience and knowledge, now that they are back in Australia there is no work for them, and they are on the dole. When times were better, and when there was some activity in the shipbuilding trade in Australia, many skilled shipworkers came to Australia from the Clyde and other parts of Great Britain, and they are to-day living in my constituency, and in the constituency of Martin, in the Drummoyne district. They have made homes for themselves here, and reared their families and now there is no work for them or their children. It is well known that men trained as ship-builders find it hard to obtain employment in other industries, and that has been particularly the case during the last four years. One can see these men every day lining up at Mort's Dock and Cockatoo Island Dockyard, carrying their bags of tools in their hands, waiting for a pick-up. They may get a job this week, and not another for three weeks. What will they think when they see, that the work, which means their bread, and butter, and upon which they might be employed, is being sent by this Government overseas?

The next most important point is the need for providing employment for the youths of the country. Shipbuilding, covering as it does, many trades and callings, affords a wonderful opportunity in this direction. Only last month the secretary of the Boiler Makers Union, in a deputation to the Government of New South. Wales, declared that during the previous twelve months only four boys had been apprenticed to the boiler-making trade, no openings being available for othei'3. I suppose inquiries would show that in other trades the number of apprentices indentured during the same period would not be much greater. To-day, parents are crying out for opportunities to place their boys in skilled trades. Whether a boy subsequently follows the trade to which he has been apprenticed is immaterial ; his early training is of immense value to him throughout his lifetime. It develops a trained mind and gives him an advantage. over the unskilled man. It assist in making him a better citizen and in many respects more capable of taking a leading part in the affairs of his country. Shipbuilding, I repeat, offers wonderful opportunities for the employment of boys covering as it does so many spheres of activity. It is work of a specialized nature, and is most interesting. Those who are fortunate enough to be engaged in the electrical side of the industry will find it a very highly skilled and most interesting work. The need to provide employment for our youths is a question which agitates the minds of all public men to-day. No particular party may claim a monopoly in this regard. Every honorable member has given serious consideration to this important subject irrespective of what his politics may be. The Government, therefore, should be prepared to afford every opportunity for the employment of boys in shipbuiding on account of the wonderful opportunities it offers and in order to help towards solving this particular problem.

The Attorney-General spoke of the pride we had in the .Royal Australian Navy, the military and air forces, &c, and said how desirable it was that the fleet should make contact with the public by visiting different Australian capital cities. But. the right honorable gentleman does not exhibit any pride in the ability of -our own people to carry out the work of building that fleet. We must, he says, go overseas to get essential defence equipment. It seems that under some arrangement with the British Government the construction of this cruiser commenced some time ago. I am not desirous of delving deeply into discussions of policy on this matter which took place during the term of office of the last Government, but I am aware that an attempt was made then to influence that Government tq follow the course which is now being taken. However, it definitely refused to place any order overseas when the work, if deemed necessary, could be done in Australia. This position is caused by unemployment having reached acute proportions on the Clyde Bank. The shipyard, employees there have demonstrated against tin? failure of the British. Government vu provide them with work, and they did so in a way with which we are all familiar. At any rate, they made their demands felt, and in order to stem the tide of revolt among these people certain ship-building work was put under way. It appears to me that the construction of this' cruiser has been portion of that work. Indeed, I should not be surprised to learn that the cruiser on which this money is to be spent is almost completed, being one of the works entered upon by the British Government to relieve the unemployment in the Clyde Dockyards, and at the same time assist the armament firms. While it is certainly the right of the British Government to look after the unemployed in its own country, and while we may have every sympathy with the position of unemployed workers in the ship-building industry in England, we are faced with the same problem in our own country, and we in Australia have every right to view the position from the angle of our own unemployed, particularly as the money will have to be drawn from the taxpayers of Australia.

The points I raise are: - First, that we are not justified in spending such a large sum of money upon a vessel that may not be the form of defence most needed; and, secondly, if the Government is determined to proceed with the work, that it should be done in Australia. I represent a constituency which is seriously affected by the decision of the Government. In Balmain, Drummoyne, and other place.s on the waterfront, the unemployed dockyard employees are now to be found living in circumstances too horrible to describe, and I intend to fight for their rights. The greater the amount of money circulating through the wage fund in our own country the greater the market created for -primary products. The whole community is, therefore, concerned in this expenditure. This is an opportunity to give a fillip to a very deserving industry, for which help is badly needed. Although the Government has already decided upon the manner in which this money is to be spent, and as to the type of defence equipment to be purchased, I make this final plea for consideration to be extended to an Australian industry which is passing through the worst crisis of its history.

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