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Tuesday, 8 November 1983
Page: 2368

Mr SIMMONS —Is the Minister for Defence Support aware of claims being made by certain staff unions at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory that the Government is planning to procure armaments overseas to the detriment of defence establishments such as the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow? Can the Minister assure the House that the Government has no such plans and that employees of the factory have no grounds for such anxiety?

Mr HOWE —I should like to thank the honourable member for Calare for his question . I think the honourable member's interest is very well known. He was very prompt to visit the factory after the recent floods there. I think he observed publicly what a magnificent job the workers and the management did in getting that factory back into shape after the damage that it suffered.

In terms of the proposal for the new weapons, the short list for evaluation trials is currently under consideration by the Defence Source Definition Committee. A number of options are being considered, including a number of options in terms of design. Two Australian companies are being considered for the design of both the individual rifle and the light support weapon or machine gun that will be manufactured. The final evaluation of the short list for contending weapons is planned for completion at the end of 1984 and the final selection is to be endorsed by the Government in mid-1985.

At the Small Arms Factory a great deal of work is being done preparing detailed capability, establishment and production cost estimates for consideration later by the Force Structure Committee. We are also carrying out a study of relevant capabilities of Australian industry. Work in relation to 5.56 millimetre ammunition will be carried out at the Ammunition Factory, Footscray. For this contract the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, has to compete at least in terms of international standards.

Many Department of Defence Support establishments over many years have lacked the investment and support of governments. The Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, is currently going through a process of improvement of its facilities and its plant . I am very confident that it has a very bright future in manufacturing small arms for the Australian defence requirement.