Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 28 June 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - Certain remarks by Senator Gardiner lead me to interpolate a few observations before the Leader of the Government replies to the criticism which has been offered. My remarks will have reference to the manufacture of munitions. I would not like the observations of Senator Gardiner to go forth to the public without some statement accompanying them to show that the Government are seised of the importance which the supply of munitions plays in any effective defence scheme. We agree with what he has said, viz., that at this juncture it is more important that Australia should be able to manufacture munitions than thai we should spend a large sum of money upon training operations. I can assure Senator Gardiner, and honorable senators generally, that during the past year our Defence policy has, been based upon those lines. Training has been cut down to a minimum, to a point far below what, in the opinion of some persons, it should have been reduced to. As a matter of fact, one-third of our total Defence expenditure has been upon our munitions supply branch. That represents an infinitely greater proportion of our defence expenditure than was incurred at any period prior to thewar. I have here a little demonstration ofwhat is being done in this matter. I hold in my hand a fuse for an 18-pounder shell. In the early stages of thewar, when the British Government were very hard pressed for the supply of munitions, they appealed to the Dominions to assist them to the utmost of theircapacity. Accordingly, we brought together the most skilled men we could get, both in this city and in Sydney, and we. got them into touch with the manufacturers of thiscountry, . with a view to the manufactureof shells. We did succeed in manufacturing a considerable number of shell cases. But, although we had the specifications for its manufacture, we failed toget a single response from any person in Australia who was able to manufacture this particular fuse, notwithstanding that, apparently, it is a very simple article. I say that " apparently it is a very simple article," because only when it has been taken to pieces does one realize how complicated it really is. As a matter of fact, it is almost a piece of clockwork. In the later stages of the war we were able to obtain a special plant for the manufacture of this article. We have that plant to-day, and the fuse I hold in my hand is the first one which was turned out in Australia. Without that fuse, the manufacture of the case, and of the explosive, and of the cartridge, is absolutely useless. We have demonstrated that we are able to make the shell case. The process by which we were manufacturing it became obsolete owing to the inventions of the war, and the shell cases were made by new processes, but we have the machinery for their manufacture by those new processes in the possession of the Department to-day. Before the war, we could not make the big gun cordite by which the shell would be propelled. To-day we can make it. That has been, done during the war. Before the war, although we could make the small armsmunition cordite, the main constituents of it had to be imported. To-day we make the greater part of those constituents, indeed, prac tically all of them, in Australia, from raw material obtained in Australia. Trinitrotoluene, the explosive with whieh these shells wouldbe filled to make them high explosive shells, was not made in Australia before the war, although during the war we were able to supply the United Kingdom with toluene, from which T.N.'T. is made, in considerable quantities, but we now have the plant by which we can make T.N.T., and proposals in this direction will, I hope, shortly come before Parliament. I indicate these things so that the Senate may know that the Department is alive to that essential section of defence preparations, and is taking active steps in the direction of enabling Australia to produce ite own munitions. One of the revelations of this war has been that in munition manufacture the most essential thing of all is a brain centre - a centre where chemists and other experts may be able to get that degree of accuracy in manufacture which is not obtained in the ordinary industries of a country, such, for instance, as the making of agricultural implements. The particular article which I hold in my hand comes into about half-a-dozen separate pieces, which have to be so truly made that, if 10,000 of these parts were mixed upon the floor, each piece could be picked up and fitted into the other parts with absolute accuracy.That is a feature in practically all munition manufacture. In time of peace there is no industry that applies itself to attaining that high degree of skill, and, therefore, the line of policy that the Government have adopted is to endeavour to create, not so much an arsenal as an arsenal staff of highly skilled and equipped experts who in time of war would be able to produce the jigs and gauges and other machinery by which the ordinary peace industries could turn over to the manufacture of munitions, and have at command that skill whichwould enable us to produce munitions in large quantities. That, in a few words, is the line of policy which the Government is endeavouring to work out. It all comes back to the question of money. Any honorable senator who has studied the financial position of the Commonwealth knows very well that the amount of money which is at any time at the disposal of any Government for these objects, however desirable they may be, is limited, but I can assure the Senate and the country that the Government is endeavouring, within the- amount" of money at its disposal, to do its utmost to make Australia self-sufficient for these essential features of defence.

Suggest corrections