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Wednesday, 10 October 1956


Mr JEFF BATE (Macarthur) .- When considering the proposed vote for the Department of Defence Production, one thinks of the making of ammunition, and one may be forgiven for recalling those days in 1944 and 1945 when Australian troops, already emerging into an atomic age because an atomic bomb was used in 1945 to end the war, were in the jungle wrestling with the problems relating to the supply of ammunition for their weapons. I can remember, and I suppose many other honorable members can remember, too, endeavouring to get ammunition through the jungle up to the troops in the front line.


Mr Dean - Dry.


Mr JEFF BATE - And to get it there dry, as the honorable member for Robertson says. The . 303 ammunition was still being packed in a steel container of a type which was introduced, I suppose, in World War I., 30 years earlier. The containers held 1,248 rounds, and it was impossible to carry them on the jungle trails. The containers had to be opened and the ammunition transferred in small quantities to sandbags, which became wet, and so the troops were forced to carry with them wet rounds which they could not trust. Further, they carried not only . 303 ammunition but also 9-mm. and 7-mm. ammunition, rounds for the various machine guns, belts for the Vickers, magazines for the Brens, mortar bombs of all types, rounds for artillery pieces, and so on. This situation led to a lowering of morale in the troops, and great difficulties in the supply lines both for ourselves and for the Americans at whose side and on whose side we were fighting. All sorts of difficulties were encountered in bringing the ammunition to the islands, and taking it from the ports or beaches into the jungle and from the jungle bases to the front line. The problems encountered were almost incredibly difficult. From this state of affairs the ideal of having one size of ammunition to suit all the western nations was conceived. We now have an agreement, I believe, that the FN .30 rifle, which is a semi-automatic carbine similar, I think, to the American carbine, will be standard equipment and that all armies at the side of which we are likely to fight will use common ammunition. If we are forced to fight on the side of other troops or alone, it will be a boon indeed to have the .30 rifle in use. The agreement to which I have referred was made some years ago. The need for it was apparent many years ago, when the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) was Minister for the Army. It was apparent to me as a very lowly officer, and I made a report about it. [ do not know whether the report ever reached the honorable gentleman; probably it was stopped at some low level. The report referred to the dangers of having old types of ammunition packages. Whereas the Japanese were carrying light packages wrapped in tarred paper, which enabled mortar bombs and other ammunition to be kept dry and in good condition for years, we were still being supplied with steel packages of ammunition which were not suitable for that type of warfare. The point I am making is that, in spite of the need which then existed and which now exists, we have not yet reached the stage of manufacturing .30 ammunition. Perhaps the Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison) will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that we are still making .303 ammunition for the .303 rifles that are used for training and rifle practice. Stocks of such ammunition have to be maintained for use in this rifle which, I think, was used 40 years ago in World War I. I make that observation because I want to refer to a term that is being commonly used to-day - the inflexibility of defence preparations. Although this Parliament has been thinking in terms of nuclear warfare, radar, and guided missiles, which seek out enemy aircraft, we still go on with the inflexible preparations which are a legacy to us from previous military regimes. The defence chiefs are still forced to make recommendations which carry on the manufacture of the kind of ammunition that is being produced at Maribyrnong.

We are not concerned merely with the manufacture of practice rounds, or even with the manufacture of rounds for the FN .30 rifle, with which, I understand, the

Australian Army will soon be equipped. Because the use of infantry is essential to the defence of this country, we must continue to manufacture rounds for small arms, but whilst we carry on with these inflexible defence preparations, we also arcobliged to find ammunition for new weapons, such as those used in aircraft, tank guns and mortars. Under the seate treaty we have obligations to the other member nations. We have obligations, too, to Great Britain, which some of us thought we might have to honour in connexion with the Suez Canal situation. Then, we have obligations to America. This Government has made defence arrangements with other nations which I think those who sit on the other side of the Parliament also would have made had they been in power. The Government has embarked on defence preparations in accordance with the arrangements made with Australia's allies for mutual security. We have spent £190,000,000 a year on defence. We have all kinds of military weapons, and we must have ammunition for those weapons.

The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) referred to the use of Centurion tanks. Suppose that we had Centurion tanks but no ammunition for them. Think what would happen if there were no hand grenades, no mortar bombs, no bombs for aircraft and no means of providing war heads, propellant charges, fuses, and so on. All of those things are essential to defence preparations. For that reason, the factory at Salisbury is being used by the long-range weapons organization, and the factory at Maribyrnong is producing small arms, but because we had no factories which could supply us with the other very necessary items of military equipment, such as bombs, mines, shells, propellant charges, war heads for shells and fuses, it became imperative, in order that we might be capable of honouring our obligations to our allies, to construct the ammunition filling factory at St. Mary's. It has been argued that there is no need for that factory, but, obviously, if we are to have defence preparations, we must have ammunition. Not only must ammunition be in the storage magazines, but also we must have a plant which is capable of producing newly developed munitions at short notice, and by the most modern processes, including automation. If. at any moment, we are attacked and have to defend ourselves, we shall be able to depend upon the factory at St. Mary's to the ammunition that is needed.

Many of us found ourselves, in the early part of the war, in the situation where we had arms but no ammunition. I remember an episode that occurred after Mr. Churchill had sent practically all of his war -materiel to the Middle East. England was under threat of attack across the channel, and a tank colonel ordered the mobilization of his tanks to try to save England from invasion. The quartermaster reported to him that there were no rounds available, >to which the colonel replied, " Get the rounds "! The quartermaster thereupon produced wooden rounds for the defence of Great Britain! There are, in this Parliament, people who never want to see a recurrence of those events, nor do they want to see thousands of young Australian men offering to defend their country but having no ammunition with which to do it. It is the duty of this Parliament to make sure that there are adequate supplies of munitions.

Because the Minister for Defence Production may not speak again in the Parliament after to-day, I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate him on his determination to give Australia and its defence -forces adequate supplies of ammunition, although in doing so he has been attacked, f publicly congratulate him for his part in the establishment of the factory at St. Mary's. There was a need for the factory; the Minister knew that the need existed, and he went ahead with the project. In my opinion, the need for the St. Mary's plant has already been established, and I think that the Parliament and the country should acknowledge the fact, although to do so may not be popular with certain sections of the press which have attacked the project with utter irresponsibility.

Since the need for the factory at St. Mary's has been established, let us look at the methods used to establish it, which, -perhaps, have been, in part, the reason for the attack. The factory was to be constructed on a new method known as a cost plus fixed fee contract, or a negotiated contract. A firm named Stephenson and Turner was selected as the supervising architects, which was a most unusual course, I had an opportunity, some time ago, to see some of the staff of this firm, and 1 must say that I have never seen a better group of men. The designing and supervision of the factory, therefore, was placed in the hands of a very fine organization. In addition, Utah Australia Limited and Concrete Constructions Proprietary Limited, which obtained the fixed fee contract, have made a great difference to construction methods in this country. If honorable members care to go to St. Mary's, they will see that the work is not being carried out by the government stroke. I have never seen men work so hard. Naturally, some criticism will arise in connexion with such a vast and complex organization, and, of course, extraordinary things are happening, but the men are working hard and are very proud of the organization for which they are working. They are also proud of the modern machinery that they have been given. 1 remind the committee that work on the Eildon weir project in Victoria, which was being constructed by government daylabour, at one stage went dead slow and then stopped. Utah Australia Limited came on the scene and did the job that the government stroke had failed to do. The company was paid a management fee of £10,000 a day to complete the job within a certain time. It did the job in three months less than the specified time and lost the fee of £10,000 a day for that period. It believes that honesty pays, which is unusual in contracts of this kind, and thought that it might get more work in Australia by such a policy. I am delighted to see the St. Mary's project going ahead. The construction methods are proving themselves. I do not wish to anticipate the Minister's remarks, but I think it is fair to say that reports indicate that the job will be finished on time, and that, in December, 1957, we shall have, at St. Mary's, a modern and splendid plant of which every Australian may be proud.







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