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Wednesday, 24 May 1939


Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) . - I am opposed to the provision which enables the Governor-General to decide what shall be done in " the provision or supply of munitions ". I hold the view strongly that the powers to be exercised should be specifically provided in the act. Broadly speaking, I support the arguments advanced so capably yesterday by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports(Mr. Holloway). In Australia we should not depart from the principle that the Government should not only control the manufacture of munitions, but should also keep such enterprises entirely to itself. Whatever arms or munitions are needed can be efficiently manufactured in the government factories that are already in existence, if we enlarge them as those at Maribyrnong have been enlarged and establish other government factories in suitable localities. Although the munitions factories are in my electorate, and more than 4,000, some of whom are my constituents, are employed in them. I disagree entirely with the concentration of munitions production in one area. On many occasions I have urged that the Government should give consideration to spreading the manufacture of munitions and armaments throughout Australia. To show the need for this, one need only cite the possibility of attacks being launched on Australia at places far from the centres of manufacture and our lack of efficient transport to take munitions to the point of attack. I do not pose as an expert on defence, and I realize that the Government .has to give at least favorable consideration to the reports of those who are experts, but it is obvious that the concentration of our munitions factories in a few square miles is a menace to our safety, because in the event of a successful raid on that area, we should be left without the means to carry on the production of munitions. That shows that there 'is something radically wrong with the Government's defence programme. Paragraph b refers to "the manufacture or assembly of aircraft or parts thereof by the Commonwealth or any authority of the Commonwealth." It is my view that aeroplanes for the purpose of defence should he manufactured in Government factories. I respect the opinion of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) who advanced the view that if the Government were to erect sufficient factories to provide for the defence of Australia, it would be difficult to absorb the men employed in them in other branches of industry if,, by some fortunate turn of world political events, we were placed in the position of not having to proceed further with the production of munitions. In that case, if we had a government with the initiative possessed by the Government of New Zealand, the credit of the Commonwealth, based on the productive capacity of the country, would be used to undertake public -works that would absorb the unemployed. We have no evidence that the Government has any plans in that direction. Every time I have endeavoured to elicit from the Government what it proposes to do to relieve unemployment, I have elicited nothing. At least one member of the Ministry believes that there are no resources of man-power to undertake urgent public works. I hope that he is alone in that belief, but whether he is or is not, the Government has made no effort to provide for the happy contingency of Europe settling down to an era of peace in which we shall know that we are secure, without having to expend £63,000,000 on defence. The Government unfortunately does not seem to have made any preparations for that, nor does it appear to have them in contemplation. According to figures supplied in answer to a question recently, no fewer than 2,020 men have been added to the staff at Maribyrnong during the last twelve months. They have been collected from many districts, wherever they could be picked up. There are 29,000 others registered for employment at the munitions factories, and, though some ' may already be in other work, this huge registration shows that a great many are still looking for jobs. They apply to members of Parliament to use their influence in finding jobs for them. A great many of those who are out of work approach members of Parliament asking that they be found jobs on defence undertakings.


Mr Holt - Many of those registered are in employment elsewhere.


Mr DRAKEFORD - Some are, but a great many are not. I do not encourage those who are already in work. I feel it my duty to tell them that I can not help any one merely to move from one job to another while so many are unemployed. I believe that there cannot be fewer than 20,000 men in the metropolitan area of Melbourne looking for this kind of work, and the Government is making no plans for the re-absorption of those already employed on defence work should . the time come when their services will be no longer required.

The manufacture of aeroplanes and parts could be quite well done in Commonwealth factories, and in State railway workshops throughout the Commonwealth. The railway workshops in the various States could do the job in addition to their ordinary work, and the plant used could afterwards be employed on work in connexion with the unification of gauges and the alteration of railway stock. No doubt, some of the machinery used on defence work is of a special character, and not useful for other purposes, but a good deal of it, such as lathes, presses, &c, could be used for ordinary railway workshops purposes, and for producing bridging material. There is no need to call in private enterprise. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports advanced unanswerable arguments against that proposal. We have heard a good deal about the steps to he taken to eliminate excessive profit-making on arms contracts, but no country has yet succeeded in doing so. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) have framed amendments designed to achieve that end, but they are merely deluding themselves into the belief that it is possible in that way to restrict profits. No one can devise a way to prevent the armaments sharks from making excessive profits out of war hysteria once they are allowed to enter the scheme at all. No matter what legislation is passed, they will evade it. I disapprove of the Government's proposal to appoint a panel of accountants practising privately to supervise profitmaking. I agree with the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) that there must, be highly qualified accountants in the Public Service capable of undertaking this work. I do not know any of the gentlemen suggested for the panel. I understand that they possess the highest professional qualifications, but the Government, in appointing outside men, is suggesting that the Public Service is not equal to the job.

My opinion on the subject of arms manufacture is summed up by the followingextract from the report of a royal commission on the private manufacture of arms, and trading in arms, presented in 1936 to the British. Government: -

The commercial interest of the private arms industry lies in war. It opposes disarmament, stimulates the arms race, supplies violators of the Covenant. All these activities are entirely legal, and impossible to stop as long as the present system is continued. It is therefore, necessary to reform the system, which can only be done by removing from the industry the motive of private profit. The arms industry should, therefore, be nationalized if possible by international agreement with other countries. Some will agree at once. All' purely importing countries are already nationalized, since the Government is the only legal purchaser of munitions of war. Russia has only national production of arms. Denmark, Franco, Poland and Spain proposed general nationalization in 1933. An important group of States are therefore already prepared to adopt this measure. It is not one, however, which should wait for universal acceptance, for once it is realized that private arms industry is incompatible with the Covenant it becomes the duty of His Majesty's Government to abolish it whether other League States do so or not.







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