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Friday, 16 April 1915

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - If only seventyfour pairs out of 3,000 pairs were rejected it would not be a very big percentage.

Senator NEEDHAM - The Ordnance Officer sent those boots back to the Ordnance Stores and dissected them, with the result that he found that leather of an inferior quality had been used. If this defect had not been discovered the soldiers wearing the boots would have been barefooted in a few days.

Senator O'LOGHLIN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Colonel O'loghlin. - How many defective pairs were not discovered ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not know. I am only speaking of what I know about the boots that were rejected.

Senator Bakhap - Inspectors are appointed to discover such things.

Senator NEEDHAM - But firms are not supposed to defraud the Government and imperil the lives of our soldiers. If there was any honesty about the business there would not have been one pair rejected. The boots should have been the best the firm could have turned out.

Senator Bakhap - You would want no Government inspectors if all firms enjoyed that distinction.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not know who is making this speech, whether it is the honorable senator or I. If Senator Bakhap is content to be an apologist for men who were defrauding the Government and people of the Commonwealth, and imperilling the lives of our soldiers, I am sorry for the attitude he thinks it well to adopt.

Senator Bakhap - I do not do anything of the sort.

Senator NEEDHAM - The price paid by the Government for these boots is 12s. 6d. per pair, and very good boots could be turned out at that price. In contradistinction to the action of Goode, Durrant, and Company, let me quote the firm of Pearse and Company, of North Fremantle, who have been given by far the largest portion of the boot contract. Out of 3,000 boots delivered to the Defence Department by this firm, only one was rejected because of a little mistake in the sewing of the upper. It will be admitted that, perhaps, the most important part of the equipment of a soldier are his boots. If he can keep his feet dry, and is well fed, he will be able to stand any amount of hardship. After the Chief Ordnance Officer had rejected the boots supplied by Goode, Durrant, and Company, and informed them that they must supply boots made of leather, according to the sample, it was discovered that they were supplying boots that were badly sewn. The workmanship in them was simply disgraceful. Again, the firm had to be told that unless they complied with the demands of the Ordnance Department the contract would be taken from them. As a result of the persistent vigilance of the Ordnance Department, they are to-day, I believe, satisfactorily carrying out their contract. Another firm to which I wish to refer is that of Sandover and Company. This firm received an order to supply a number of candle boxes for field service. The boxes were supposed to be made of block tin, and to hold 1 lb. weight of candles. The weight of each box was to be 10^ ozs., according to th© sample tin which I saw. When the tins were delivered to the Ordnance Department by this firm and tested, it was found that they weighed barely 6A ozs. each, or 4 ozs. short weight in each tin. Further the soldering of the tins was disgraceful. The lid was so soldered and hinged that it would not stand being opened more than half-a-dozen times without breaking. The sample tin supplied was mad© in such a way that the top was rounded, so that a soldier opening the tin in a hurry to get a candle would not be likely to cut his fingers. The tins supplied by Sandover and Company had an edge on the top as sharp as a razor, and it is easy to imagine what might have occurred if they were put into use. A soldier in the trenches might be for weeks without proper food, and that would impair the condition of his blood. Upon opening one of these field service boxes supplied by Sandover and Company, he would probably cut his fingers, and there would at once be the danger of gangrene and blood poisoning. Sandover and Company had also to be pulled up by the Ordnance Department, and under duress they ave supplying satisfactory tins to-day.

Senator Bakhap - That is the proper way to deal with them.

Senator NEEDHAM - I should like to deal with such people very much more severely. I brought this matter under the notice of the Minister of Defence and of the Senate, and I hope that if no other punishment is to be meted out to the two firms of which I have complained, at least they will never get another contract from the Government. I have here a cutting from the London Daily Mail of 6th February, 1915, which bears somewhat upon matters of this kind. I quote the following: -

Some tilings are better managed in Germany than here. Fraudulent contractors are among the number. Mr. McKenna's remark in the House of Commons, " contractors will be contractors," was a tacit admission that contractors in time of war need careful supervision, to put it mildly. Militarism has this advantage, that it stands no nonsense from civilian contractors. During the French Revolution guillotining was the penalty for fraudulent contracts. Nowadays,weare too sentimental to shoot the directors of a fraudulent company. But ifwe sent a few of them to penal servitude we should help to safeguard our soldiers against the meanest form of commercialcheating.

I should like the Minister of Defence, when replying, to indicate what action he proposes to take to deal with firms of this kind.No other instance of such fraudulent practices has come under my notice, and that is saying a lot for the honesty of private firms who have been called upon by the Government to assist them in this time of stress. There should not be one firm guilty of such practices as I have complained of. As an excellent example of irony, it may be mentioned that the two firms of whose work I have complained, so I am told, contributed to the motor ambulance fund in Western Australia. They were going to assist the soldiers to get to the ambulance much more quickly than they would have been assisted by a German bullet, if their inferior boots and candle boxes had been accepted. I regret to have had to bring this matter under the notice of the Senate, but I feel that I should have been lacking in my duty if I had not done so. I hope that the Minister will see that, if no other punishment can be meted out to these people, in future they will get no more contracts from his Department. We have passed legislation to prohibit trading with the enemy. If we find an enemy within our gates we at once intern him. I say that men guilty of such actions as those to which I have referred are certainly enemies within our gates, though they are our own kith and kin, and they should be dealt with in some way. Another matter to which I wish to refer is also connected with the Defence Department, and has relation to assistant armourers. I believe the matter has been brought already under the notice of the Minister of Defence, who held, rightly or wrongly, that the men are being adequately paid for the services they render the Commonwealth. I do not think the Minister has any intention of paying a low rate of wage. I presume he is acting on the advice of his experts, but when I inform him that the men have to pass a very stiff examination he ought to admit that they are not getting the wage to which they are entitled. The practical test for assistant armourers is as follows : -

(a)   M.L.E., M.E. - Westly Richard and Francotte Rifles.

1.   Examination,100.

2.   Stripping and assembling, 75.

3.   Names of components, 50.

4.   Adjusting action, 25.

5.   Examination of barrels and setting same, 100. 425 pass marks.

Senator Millen - I could get an ordinary rifleman to do that.

SenatorNEEDHAM. -

Other Tests.

6.   Setting bayonet, M.E. rifle, 50, straightening and tempering.

7.   Stripping and assembling scabbard, M.E. rifle, 50.

8.   Examination of pistols, 100.

9.   Stripping and assembling same, 75.

10.   Names of components pistol, 50.

11.   Making tools and spare parts, 75.

12.   Browning, brazing, and fitting, 100.

Will Senator Millen get an ordinary rifleman to temper a bayonet?

Senator Pearce - Yes.

SenatorNEEDHAM. -

Class of Work done at Perth.

Manufacture of two complete sets of carriers, maxim gun, and tripod.

Making and fitting trees to saddles.

Manufacturing instrument for killing bullock.

Manufacture of sets of carriers, ammunition box, maxim gun.

Re-cutting breeches, chamber, lead, and extractor way, for barrels, Francotte.

Manufacture of all necessary tools, &c., required in armoury. This consists of smithing, fitting, carpentering, turning, and painting.

I do not agree with the Minister or the ex-Minister of Defence that an ordinary rifleman can be got to do all this class of work.

Senator Millen - My interjection referred only to the first item.

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