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Friday, 16 April 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I hope that honorable senators will restrain their criticisms in respect of some of these defence establishments. -It is not wise to drag their shortcomings too much into the public view. In regard to the horses to which reference has been made by Senator Lynch, I am prepared to receive a million of them on the same terms. They would assist to considerably swell the Commonwealth revenue. The position is that on the outbreak of the war a large number of genuinely patriotic persons came forward with offers to the Government of gifts ranging from 10 to 100 horses* They did not know whether the animals were suitable for military purposes or not. They thought that they were. When the horses were examined it was found that whilst many were good riding hacks they were not suitable for military purposes. Consequently, they were put into t"he sale yards and sold. Some of these gift horses which were rejected for military purposes realized more than £20. Others brought only £3. But even so, that was a clear profit of £3 to the Commonwealth.

Senator Millen - I saw a handsome little polo pony sold which was quite unsuitable for military purposes.

Senator PEARCE - The Commonwealth did not suffer by its acceptance of these gift horses in any way whatever. On the contrary, it gained a handsome sum of money.

Senator Lynch - I have merely given the statement which was made to me.

Senator PEARCE - I heard a similar statement soon after I came into office. The criticism was directed at my predecessor, during whose term most of these gift horses were received. I inquired into the matter, and found that so far as those animals were concerned we made a very good bargain indeed.

Senator Millen - I do not think 100 horses had been received before the criticism reached me.

Senator PEARCE - Quite so. As to the horses purchased by the Department, and rejected upon further examination, the percentage, is exceedingly small. We have purchased something like 50,000 horses for various purposes since the outbreak of the war, and the total percentage of rejections is, I think, only 1.60, while the rejects in the case of horses purchased by the departmental officers represent less than 1 per cent. That, I think, is a wonderfully good record.

Senator Shannon - And some of the rejects in that case would be the result of accident after the purchases had been made.

Senator PEARCE -- Or of defects subsequently discovered. As regards the Western Australian camp, I can assure Senator Lynch that we are doing our best. We are conscious of our inability very often to keep up the necessary supply of certain articles of clothing, but we are doing the best we can in the circumstances. We are endeavouring to provide the men, not only with a working garb, but with a change of clothing, recognising that, in the winter, they will need two working suits. We do not provide them with uniforms until they are about to leave, since, if we did, we should have to supply them with a second suit when they were going away. The woollen mills of the Commonwealth are being taxed to their utmost capacity to turn out one set of clothing for each man being sent away, including the reinforcements. The uniforms of the men already away are also wearing out, and have to be replaced. I have heard Senator Lynch himself deplore the backward state of many of our industries, and particularly of the woollen industry of Australia. Australia is thrown on her own resources in this regard. In every European country every article of woollen clothing has been commandeered by the Government, so that all our outside sources of supply have been cut off. Even countries whose factories have been established for hundreds of years have had to import woollens from America, and are importing them to-day. It is, therefore, no disgrace to the Commonwealth that in the unparalleled demand that has taken place we have been unable to supply every article that we should have liked to supply.

Senator Watson - It is an argument in favour of Protection.

Senator PEARCE - And of still further encouraging the woollen industry of Australia. We are doing our utmost, but I am quite conscious that we are not altogether meeting the demands made upon us in this respect. As to the Small Arms Factory, T can tell Senator Grant that I have visited the factory and have questioned, not only the manager, but his staff - the foremen, the men, and the leaders and representatives of the unions I have made a thorough investigation, and am satisfied that the manager is doing his best. Every month the output of arms from the factory is increasing, and increasing fairly rapidly.

Senator Millen - Are we to interpret the Minister's statements, that the manager is doing his best, as meaning that the management is of the best?

Senator PEARCE - I believe it to be the best available. In other words, I do not think we have any reason to assume that the manager is not exhausting every means of obtaining the maximum output of the factory. The men, I am happy to say, are reciprocating. The two main unions associated with the factory have forwarded to me letters assuring me that they will do their utmost to assist the Government in every way possible; that if any of their trade union rules stand in the way they are willing that they shall be waived until the War is over, and that no matter what happens no .dispute will be allowed to bring about a cessation of work at the factory while the war lasts. I should like to see the factory working twenty-four hours per day, and the manager and his staff are to-day training men with that object in view. It is not yet, however, practicable. In this connexion I think it well to point out that one of our Allies in whose country the manufacture of rifles was commenced, I dare say, thirty or forty years before our Small Arms Factory was established, is not yet able to work its main factory three shifts a day, and that it has been importing rifles, so that, to use a colloquialism, it is not " as easy as falling off a log " to run three shifts a day at a Small Arms Factory. I can assure honorable members, however, that the desirableness of such a thing has not been lost sight of. The mere fact that it has not been discussed in the press is not to be taken as an indication that we have no such object in view. We are doing our very best, but quite apart from the difficulties mentioned by the honorable senator there are many obstacles in the way which it would not be wise or politic to bring out. I am thoroughly alive to the necessity of making our output as large as possible. No ' stone is being left unturned, and I shall certainly continue to be watchful and vigilant.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages, without request.

Senate adjourned at 3.62 p.m.

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