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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) . - I am very pleased to see the Minister representing the Minister of Defence in his place, because I wish to elicit whether tenders for saddlery have been called for in the open market, or whether a price has been fixed by the Department? There are striking peculiarities in connexion with the contracts which were let in the different States last year. According to the figures which have been published in the Gazette, we have in Australia, not only a shipping combine, but also a harness combine. All tin; tenderers for the supply of harness in the different States fixed upon the same prices to a penny. In the case of the Field Artillery equipment in New South Wales, the contractors were Messrs. J. J. Weekes Limited, whose prices were as follow : -


The contractors for the supply of harness to the Field Artillery of Victoria were Messrs. Guthridge and Company, who charged the same prices to a penny as did the New South Wales contractor. In Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, Messrs, Holden and Frost got the contract, and they charged the same prices to a penny, as did the other contractors.

Mr Reid - There must have been collusion between them.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - In Tasmania it is the same. In Western Australia, when some extra sets were required, Messrs. J. Colton and Company got the contract.

Mr Reid - At the same price?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes. With regard to medical equipment, I find that the prices at which Messrs. J. J. Weekes Limited tendered for the New South Wales supplies were -


Messrs. Hunter and Company have the contract for Victoria, and their prices vary only in regard to the near wheel sets, in which there is a difference of 11s. 3d. Matthew Hemsworth had the contract for Queensland, and his prices were identical with those which I have given, as were also those of Messrs. Holden and Frost for South Australia.

Sir John Forrest - -What is the point? No doubt the lowest tenders were accepted.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The surprising thing is that the prices are identical in each State. It seems to me that the Department is being taken down by some arrangement between the tenderers. Some time ago I was in correspondence with Messrs. Mountcastle and Sons, whose contract was cancelled in July.

Mr Hutchison - On what ground ?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Because the Department thinks that each State should manufacture its own requirements. I believe in that. I do not think that goods required in Queensland should be made in South Australia, or that goods required in South Australia should be made in New South Wales. If harness or leather work is needed in New South Wales, it should be made there. Under the present system of calling for tenders in all the States there seems to be collusion as to prices, under which the Department suffers. I find that Messrs. Holden and Frost get the biggest share in the business.

Mr Hutchison - They are the best makers of harness in the Commonwealth. That was proved in the Boer war.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - There are harnessmakers in Rockhampton who hold certificates as to the excellent workmanship of the saddlery which they made for the Boer war. Those certificates prove that their work was done to the satisfaction of the Department, but not that it was better than that of any one else. The Department should see that it is not taken down bycombines.

Mr Ewing - I am not prepared to give the honorable member any information with regard to this matter to-night, but I shall be able to furnish him with an answer tomorrow.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - I ask the Minister to promise that in future the requirements of the States shall, as far as possible, be made within their own borders. Each State should do its own work, and, moreover, each centre of population should have an opportunity to tender for local work. For instance, tenders should be called in places like Rockhampton and Townsville, instead of merely in Brisbane, because the people of the central and northern parts of Queensland do not take the Brisbane newspapers, and may therefore be ignorant of the fact that tenders are being called. I do not think that this system would result in the Department having to pay more for its articles, because in most country towns they can manufacture nearly as cheaply as in the larger centres. I have been" told that the halters and pickets used by the Defence Department are not manufactured in Australia. If that is so, I do not know the reason, because the ropes themselves can be easily made, whereas the pickets are merely pegs shod with metal. These articles could be manufactured in Australia, because they are composed mainly of rope.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - They are made by the thousand in Brunswick.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - All I know is that they are being introduced into the various States, and that no opportunity is given to the local manufacturers to show that they can produce them.

Mr Reid - Is the honorable member quoting from some official publication as to prices - is he satisfied that the prices are correctly quoted?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes. I am quoting from the Commonwealth Gazette. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter, and see that the work is distributed over the various centres in something like an equitable manner.

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