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Tuesday, 9 May 1939

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - I take this opportunity to amplify a question which I asked this afternoon of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. John Lawson) regarding ship-building. This is a matter which has been before the Government for some time. I have asked numerous questions on it, but up to date have not been able to obtain any definite direction regarding the Government's policy. Towards the end of last year the Department of Trade and Customs appointed some of its officers to make inquiries into the industry, and to report to the Government. It is of the greatest importance that we should develop our own mercantile marine, and facilities for the building of ships in Australia. The report of that departmental committee must have been in the hands of the Government for months past, and even if the new Government is not prepared to act upon it, the information contained in the report should at least now be made available to honorable members. I should like to obtain an undertaking from the Minister that the matter will receive immediate attention. For some weeks I have been endeavouring to impress upon the Defence Department the importance of having manufactured in Australia a greater proportion of naval equipment. Quite a large proportion of this work is now being sent overseas on the ground that, even if it should be manufactured in Australia, it could not be done as quickly as is desired. On the question of cost, I am aware that it is necessary to provide plans, jigs, dies and patterns for the particular types of equipment required, and possibly in some cases their cost would be slightly higher in Australia than if they were obtained from overseas. But the fact remains that if we continue along the lines hitherto followed in Australia in connexion with ship-building, we shall be faced with this argument indefinitely. People who require ships for the purposes of trade and commerce in Australian waters should be forced to obtain them at later periods in this country; it should be made unprofitable for them to place their orders overseas. If the course which I advocate were adopted, the mercantile marine of Australia could be established on a firm basis, and orders placed in Australian shipbuilding yards would enable these yards at a later period to meet naval requirements at a lessened cost. "We should also have the satisfaction of knowing that in this important aspect of national policy Australia would one day become self-contained. I hold the view that unless the British Admiralty authorities and those associated with naval ship-building in Great Britain take some action to extend or permit greater activity in this country, a situation may arise in which Australia may be entirely cut off from British workshops which now manufacture this equipment. The matter I have raised is of vital concern to the ship-building industry in Australia. I admit its importance to my own district, which, as honorable members are aware, is vitally interested in ship-building; but apart from this aspect, I appeal to the Government to give this matter special attention on account of its great importance to Australia, and I hope that something practical will be accomplished at an early date.

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