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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) . - The committee is considering the Estimates for the Department of Supply, the Department of Defence Production and other services. I ask at the outset: What is the use of considering these items in view of the attitude to-day of the Minister for Defence Production (Sir Eric Harrison) and other Ministers, who have indicated that the policy of the Government is undergoing a change with respect to these matters? Just how much can we believe of what is contained in these proposed votes? Does the information portray a correct picture of these departments' activities, or are we to understand that some new figures and some new basis for consideration will be arrived at, that employees are to be sacked from various departments and that the amount of money to be voted under these Estimates will be considerably in excess of the amount required?

Before dealing with those matters, I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in making a plea to the members of the committee, to the people of Australia, and to mankind generally, that we should view the matter of atomic war in an entirely different light. Surely the time has arrived when we, as responsible people elected to serve the people of Australia, should get into harmony with the thinkers and humanitarian people throughout the world who feel that some action ought to be taken in regard to this matter. Are we, the elected representatives of the people, such arrant cowards that we are not prepared to say that nuclear warfare is horrible and will bring destruction to mankind, and that all sane people ought to play their part in seeing that it is overcome once and for all? 1 join with all honorable members who say that the policies of the Soviet Union, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and, for that matter, Australia's contribution too, should be reviewed. But where 'can we start in dealing with a question of this kind? Do we agree with the other nations, or do we indicate to the world by our own actions what we think is right? If we really believe that what we arc doing is right, if we want to save generations of the future from the most agonizing and terrible death, then it is our responsibility now. in the National Parliament of Australia, during a time of peace, to say to the world, Now is the time to review this matter; and Australia, as one of the countries which has led the world in all sorts of reforms, will make its contribution and indicate just where we stand in relation to it ". Consequently, I am pleased to support the Leader of the Opposition, who, in a clear and definite manner, highlights the importance of this matter.

I desire, however, to speak upon another subject related to the Department of Defence Production. I should like to take the minds of the committee back not to the statement made by the Minister for Defence Production in this place a few minutes ago but to a statement which he made in this Parliament approximately two years ago. I should like the Minister himself and the people of Australia who are concerned with the defence of this country to take notice of that statement. Two years ago, he said that the Government was proceeding with its programme and, in reply to remarks I was in the course of making, he indicated that the Commonwealth Government was proceeding with the manufacture of the new FN. 30 rifle at the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. His exact words were - hi order to obviate the necessity to rise later to reply to the honorable gentleman in respect of the one matter, I now inform him that we have already placed orders for the new standard service rifles, which will be manufactured at Lithow.

The date of that statement was 1 6th September, 1954. Two years have elapsed since that time. Yet, the Minister for Defence Production made a very important statement this afternoon in which he said that it will be two years before the Government will obtain the sealed drawings for this weapon. Two years have elapsed since that previous promise was made to the people of Australia. Not only did the Minister make that statement to this Parliament, but he also went on record in the press. In the " Daily Telegraph " of 1 7th September, 1954. appears an article in which the Minister sought to bolster up his own status as a most progressive Minister by declaring that this service rifle was to be manufactured. Inter alia, the article reads -

The Government had placed orders for the new standard service rifle. Sir Eric Harrison said today.

Sir Eric isMinister for Defence Production. He told the House of Representatives that the Commonweal .h Small Arms Factory at Lithgow would manufacture the rifle.

The rifle is self-loading.

The article then deals with other aspects. Yet, the Minister now says that a further two years will elapse before the sealed drawings will be available to proceed with the manufacture of this weapon. I suggest that if the Minister had considered the planning of this service rifle with the same meticulous care and detail that he has planned his departure from Australia to take a job in Mayfair, the rifle would have been much further advanced than it is at the present time. 1 have sought information on this matter from the Minister for Defence Production and have asked him to go to Lithgow to make an inspection of the factory. He gave me a promise that he would visit Lithgow, but he has not yet visited the small arms factory. I do not blame the executive of the small arms factory at Lithgow. ! join with the Minister in paying a very fine tribute to those engaged in the factory. I pay a compliment to those engaged on the Munitions Board generally, but I emphasize that the Minister ought to set about to see what is wrong and take positive action to deal with this problem. It is of little use dealing with all the other matters relating to defence if this Government cannot produce a service rifle, or cannot even reach a decision in regard to the matter.

The Minister should, without equivocation, now say what has caused the hold-up in the production of the new service rifle. All the Minister has said in the past must be rejected because it is not in accord with the facts. The facts speak for themselves and I say that the Minister had a duty to-day to tell the committee just how many people are to be dismissed from the various factories. He should have told the committee this afternoon how many people are to be dismissed from the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. It has been reported in the " Sydney Morning Herald " that dismissals will occur in tha! factory and I should like to know from the Minister whether the number will be 500, 700, 250 or any other figure. He has had the opportunity to tell the committee what the position is.

The bitter pill in regard to this matter came from the Minister himself this afternoon when he indicated that a number oi dismissals will take place at the small arms factory at Lithgow. When one considers, the proposed vote for this department, one sees that adequate funds are available to produce this rifle. What is wrong? Is the Army to blame; does confusion and indecision exist in regard to the manufacture of the rifle from the military standpoint? If that is the case, this committee should know and the Minister should say so. If the Colonel Blimps in the United Kingdom War Office are to blame, thai should also be stated. Plainly, the Minister should say whether the new rifle is to be accepted. If it is not, why have definite promises been made over a period of time? lt is pertinent to ask whether the rifle has, actually been accepted at this stage, and whether agreement has been reached between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Commonwealth of Australia. I very much doubt whether agreement has been reached. Indeed, I should say that, if agreement has been reached, the Australian Government has been treated as the poor relation. Indeed, the Government is deserving of censure for its failure to send overseas until quite recently responsible officers of the Department of Defence Production in connexion with this matter. That action should have been taken two years ago.

It is not much use dealing with this matter in this fashion now. It is not much use the Minister telling us what he intends to do at St. Mary's unless we know the type of weapon to be used. So much time has elapsed - two years to this stage - an

Sir ERIC HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Tell that to Canada or to the United Kingdom.

Mr LUCHETTI - I remind the Minister, who is a champion of private enterprise, that General Motors-Holden's Limited, when it decided to change the type of car it was making, continued production of the existing model and produced a new model within a year without altering a scale or making any changeover at all. If General Motors-Holden's Limited could do that, certainly the Commonwealth should be able to do much better.

It is a reflection upon this Commonwealth that Canada was obliged to step in and say, " We will pioneer this work because it ls not being done in the United Kingdom and because Australia has not been invited into the councils of Nato to play its part in the development of this weapon ". It is a most serious matter. It goes beyond the city and district of Lithgow. The question te whether we are to produce in this country the weapons we need or whether we, like the Arab nations, shall become dependent upon the gun-runners of the world for the weapons that we require for our security. We can have all the new weapons of destruction, chaos and suppression, but in the end the areas that we take over must be policed. The only way in which any area can be policed is for the occupation forces to have rifles or weapons of that nature. I suggest that it is time the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the various members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization finally determined this question one way or the other. It is utterly absurd that we can get plans from Belgium but cannot proceed immediately with the production of this rifle. I ask the committee to consider this as a most important matter. These things warrant a considered statement from the Minister. He has tried to emphasize certain difficulties. The change over to the manufacture of a new rifle should certainly not require four years before tooling-up commences. Any statement made by the Minister for Defence Production in the past has begged the question.

I pay a tribute to the men who have the capacity, the ingenuity and the skill to do this work. The men at the small arms factory at Lithgow have produced all the weapons that the Administration has asked them to produce. In addition, they have produced Westinghouse talking apparatus and sealed units for refrigerators and fulfilled many other peace-time orders. Surely the skilled operatives should be kept in that factory so that their services and skill can be called upon in the future. It is most unfortunate that their services will be lost to the nation.

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