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Friday, 18 June 1915

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - Last evening Senator Maughan brought up a matter of very great importance, and I think we ought to get the fullest and most complete information possible on the subject. It had reference to the alleged return of a number of boots from Egypt, and the Minister of Defence, I understand, denied that any. boots had been sent back from Egypt, or that boots not properly made had been supplied to the troops. There is a rumour abroad - I have heard it on what I consider to be good authority - that these boots were returned. Of course, the Minister of Defence told the Senate last evening that the Department had no knowledge of any boots having been sent back to Australia, but I am told, as a fact, that boots have been sent back.

Senator Pearce - Who told you that?

Senator STEWART - I am not at liberty to say who told me.

Senator Pearce - Do you not think that you ought to say ?

Senator STEWART - I wish to tell the honorable senator that, so far as these matters are concerned, I have very little confidence in the Defence Department.

Senator PeaRce - That does not touch the question of who this mysterious individual is.

Senator STEWART - I haveread the history of military contracts in various countries, and the invariable tale that is told is one of rascality. I do not wish to make any assertion. I merely desire to inform the Committee that a report is very widely circulated that not only have boots been returned, but that many of our troops in Egypt have been put to .serious inconvenience on account of the quality of the boots supplied to them.

Senator Pearce - I give that an emphatic contradiction. . Senator STEWART.- I am very glad to hear it. On one famous - or, rather, should I say infamous - occasion, when it was discovered that British soldiers were armed with bayonets made in Germany, and that those bayonets bent when they were thrust at anything, the statement was denied by the military authorities at the time; in fact, we find that the military authorities always deny these things. If one accuses them of anything, he is met with a flat denial; and that common habit on their part has compelled me to come to the conclusion that we cannot place very much trust in what they say. All that I want to impress upon the Minister of Defence is that it is of the utmost importance that the men who are sent to the front should be properly equipped.

Senator Findley - They are the best equipped Force in the world.

Senator STEWART - That is not saying very much.

Senator Findley - It is saying something. . Senator STEWART.- I do not know how the British troops are equipped on the present occasion, but if my honorable friend cares to dive into military history, he will find that, in most wars, they have been very badly equipped. I do not know whether they are well equipped now or not; but it is saying very little in regard to the Australian troops to assert that they are the best equipped troops in the world. We want them to be equipped as men ought to be equipped who are fighting for their country.

Senator Pearce - And so they are.

Senator STEWART - I am very glad to hear it. I have gone about with bad boots, and found that my activity was very seriously interfered with. I am quite certain that if I were fighting for my life in a pair of bad boots, my chance of success would be very seriously decreased. I do not wish to make any charge against the Defence Department. All that I want to tell the Minister is that these reports are being circulated. ,

Senator Pearce - 1 am well aware of that.

Senator STEWART - I hope that the honorable senator will take very good care that there is no ground for such a report. In a newspaper this morning I read something about the matter, . and I gathered that all the inspectors are union men. That is very good, so far as it goes. It is desirable that every manappointed to a position of that kind should be a member of an industrial union. But is he a competent bootmaker? I read that some of the inspectors were boot repairers, in other words, cobblers.

Senator de Largie - It is a very good qualification for an inspector.

Senator Pearce - Where did you read that some of them were boot repairers? The Argus said that one was a boot repairer. Did you hear of any others?

Senator STEWART - I saw the words " boot repairer," and I gathered that perhaps a number of them were.

Senator Pearce - That is how these rumours grow.

Senator STEWART - We want men who are well up in their business.

Senator Pearce - Who could be better up in the business than a man who takes a boot to pieces?

Senator de Largie - Some of our most illustrious citizens are boot repairers. Look at Fleming, for instance.

Senator STEWART - He is in eclipse. We have not heard of him for some time. Probably he is at the front. All that I am interested in is that the man going to the front shall be well equipped, not only with clothing, but with the best rifle that can be secured. I can remember, during the Boer war, when a charge was made that certain rifles supplied to the troops were altogether unsuitable for use in the field. It was impossible to shoot straight out of them. The result was that when a man fired a shot he did not know where it would strike. I hope that nothing of that kind is going on at present. When our country is in extreme danger, it is essential that the men sent into the firing line to fight its battles should be equipped with the very best of everything.

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