Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 11 June 1915

Senator PEARCE - I do not admit that. These Committees say that the advice was well founded.

Senator MILLEN - Let us see what the Committee do say. Mr. Davis has once and for all put to the Minister a proposition* and I shall be glad to know what the Minister proposes to do, and that is that Mr. Wright should be at once removed. Does the Minister intend- to follow that advice? Mr. Davis gives his reasons in the following language: -

After a long conversation with Mr. Wright, it is obvious that it is impracticable to expect much help from him, seeing that he is likely to sever his connexion with the works at an early date, and especially in his present disturbed state of mind. It is abundantly clear that owing to circumstances with which I am altogether unacquainted, he is greatly upset, and although he evidently thoroughly understands his business, and has got a comprehensive grip in detail of the work, he would be, as before stated, of little use except to assist some other responsible person in inaugurating the change. I therefore strongly advise that the new arrangement as regards management should be brought into being at once.

Mr. Wrighthas proved all through the chief obstacle to the introduction of a second shift. Nothing was done, in spiteof the attempt made by this Committeeto throw a sort of cloak over his action. The fact remains that up to the last moment Mr. Wright reported that a second shift was impracticable. Only so- lately as the visits of the two Parliamentary Committees to the Factory, Mr. Wright insisted that a second shift could not be established, and the Minister, following his advice, took up that attitude; but it needed the driving force of public opinion to bring about a change. I make this statement in order that the Minister may see that there are times when even his official advisers are wrong, and a responsibility rests on him to brush them on one side. No one will dispute to-day that had action been taken with regard to a second shift, in other words, had Mr. Wright been overridden six months ago, we should now have been better off than we are. I do not wish to unduly detain honorable senators, but I desire to point out that we are in an altogether invidious position. There are in Australia to-day empty homes asking what we are going to do to bring the war to a speedy termination. There are in Australia many aching hearts wanting to know what Australia is doing in order to reinforce and thoroughly equip the men who are fighting side by side with their sons. We have to give an answer, and it is not sufficient to say that we can in three or four months increase the number of rifles when there is an expedient, more costly I admit, by which it could be done within a fortnight. With every desire to assist the Government in its efforts, I invite the Minister to put a simple question to the members of his Committee, and that is whether it is not possible by departing from their proposal, and taking already trained engineers, to establish a second shift within a fortnight. Mr. Davis makes reference to one other matter - a thing so trivial in itself that it only indicates that his mind is not yet seized with the urgency of the problem he had to deal with. He mentions the difficulty about housing the men. Are we stopping the sending of troops to the front because of the difficulty of housing them ? It is, to my mind, a trifle to talk about the difficulty of housing for a limited period the additional staff we will have to place at Lithgow. I venture to say that the townspeople will make accommodation for newcomers, but if that is not possible, surely we have not lost all resource; we are not so helpless a community that we could not utilize public halls and make temporary quarters. Even if it comes to the worst, I venture to say the Govern- ment has only to appeal to the patriotism of the workers of Australia, to ask them, as a temporary expedient, to submit to what their brothers are doing, and to take shelter in tents for the time being. There need be no difficulty on that score. The one difficulty I see in the matter is a tendency on the part of all Departments, and generally of Ministers, to follow the recommendation of their advisers, and to feel bound to support and defend them. This matter is too serious, I submit, for the Minister of Defence to follow that generally recognised track. The position is a very simple one, and it is : Can we save this valuable period of* three months by availing ourselves ' of the skilled labour which has already been offered? I am very confident that it could .be done. I did not venture to make a _ statement of this kind as a layman without having buttressed myself with the opinions of those competent to advise. I have it on the authority of leading engineers, both in New South Wales and in this State, that there will be absolutely, no difficulty in obtaining the necessary men, who could walk into the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, and in a few hours could run the machines as efficiently as the men whom it is proposed to take three or four months to train ; indeed, better still, because they are already trained. I feel a great reluctance to say a word as to the want of initiative which has marked the conduct of the Defence Department, but the matter is too serious to enable us to consider the sensibilities of 'anybody. We have to recognise that outside its ordinary military duties - I do not wish to say a single word in that direction - the Defence Department, both here and in the Old Country, has been woefully lacking in initiative. It has not been the Department itself at Home which has brought about the changed front, but it has been the driving force of public opinion, that had to absolutely insist upon things being done which ought to have been done long before, but which the 'Defence Department was not doing. One of the biggest influences hampering the Minister of Defence is the inability of the ordinary military officer, outside his military duties, to grapple with business problems. This is a business problem pure and simple. The Minister will probably not admit it, but he knows as well as I do that there is a strong conservative preju- dice in the Defence Department against embarking upon any fresh lines. There is, in addition, a strong prejudice against having anything to do with outside enterprises and people.

Senator Maughan - That is not singular to the Defence Department.

Senator MILLEN - I am dealing now with the Defence Department alone. There is a strong disinclination to take advantage of the services of private institutions, or of any person who is not controlled by the Department, or does not come within the four corners of its regulations. These are things which must unconsciously warp the judgment of the officers called upon to advise the Minister. But we are speaking at a time when the safety of the Empire trembles in the balance. The Minister must shake himself free from these influences, and should insist on a plain and simple answer to the question I have submitted. There are available many persons quite competent to advise in this matter. I do not wish to say a word about the personality of the Committee I have referred to, but we must recollect that .one .member of it, who was not an official, was associated with three who are officials, and had to depend largely upon such information as he could obtain from Mr. Wright. That did not place him in the best position to get a clear view of the case. If the Minister will seek the opinion of Mr. Ferguson, or the engineers at Eveleigh, or his own engineers at Cockatoo Island, I feel certain he will learn that, if the ordinary business procedure recommended by the Committee be set aside, it will be possible to have a second shift going at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory in a fortnight. I have finished with that subject now, but I take advantage of the motion, in justice .to the Hansard staff, to refer again to the matter I brought under the notice of the Senate this morning. What I quoted from was the original proof of my remarks, and I find that when it was corrected for the permanent record, it was not open to the suggestion that Hansard had been careless in the matter. Had I seen the permanent proof, I should not have found it necessary to make the statement I made this morning.

Suggest corrections