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Wednesday, 19 May 1920

Mr MAHONY (Dalley) . - I ask whether it is the intention ofthe Government to proceed further with the building of shipsatCockatoo Island? At the present time, hundredsofmen are being discharged there, although Australia is crying out for shipping, and commerce remains almost stagnant for want of it. I ask the Minister totake steps to arrange for the construction of ships at Cockatoo Island, and, at all events,to take in hand the coal ship, the building of which has been already approved by the Government, and for which all the material needed is at present in the dockyard. I hope the Minister will take the necessarv steps to see that the work is placed in hand immediately.

The other matter to which I desire to directattention is one involving what I consider to be a gross injustice to one of our Australian soldiers.The man I mean isCorporal Launcelot de Mole; and when I state what thisyoung Australian has done, not only for Australia, but for the British community, and the Allied countries, the House will, I think, admit that he has rendered signal service, and is entitled to some recognition. He was the original inventor of the tank, which made possible the great advances on the Western Front, and the breaking of the Hindenburg line. During the years 1911-12, this young man struck the idea of the caterpillar tank, and submitted his plans and designs to the Defence Department in Perth. He found, however, that he could get no satisfaction from the Department, and, according to his own statement, when he interviewed the Secretary at the Perth office, he was assured that it was quite useless for him to submit any plans to the local Inventions Board. That is a statement of fact on which I desire honorable members to dwell for a moment. In most cases this would have baulked a young inventor, but this man, like the average Australian, was full of grit and determination. I remind honorable members that these happenings were prior to the Great War ; and it was suggested by friends, whom the inventor consulted, that he should submit the plane to the German Consul in Australia. This he refused to do; he was a young man of some vision, and, seeing the possibilities of the invention, he declined to submit it to any but the representatives of his own people. He sent the plans and designs to the Secretary for War in Great Britain, but they were pigeon-holed in the War Office, and the inventor could obtain no news of them. He volunteered for service when the war broke out, and, after being turned down once, was accepted, went to the Front, and " did his bit." During a short term of leave from the firing line, he went to London, and made inquiries at the War Office, but could not get any satisfaction beyond being told that he would have to submit a model, as well as plans and designs, and this he did. The model was sent to the Munition's Inventions Department, but the inventor was not allowed to appear to demonstrate the capabilities of his invention. The Department, however, reported favorably, and recommended that the invention should be sent on to the Tanks Committee. Perhaps the most remarkable and significant fact 'in the whole business is that the plans, designs, and model of the tank were lost in transit between the two Departments, although they were distant from each other less than half-a-mile. Nothing was heard of the matter for some months, when the young man suddenly discovered that his invention had been turned down on the report of Major Wilson, who was at that time the head of the Tanks Design Department. Honorable members may remember that, after the matter had been dealt with by the Tanks Committee, the war having gone on for some time, the question arose as to who should receive the compensation or reward for the invention of tanks. According to the report of the Royal Commission appointee) by the British Government, Colonel Johnson, the present head of the Tanks Design Department, regarded the rejection of the invention of the young Australian as not justified. The young inventor had to rejoin his unit after his leave, but, on his return to England after the Armistice, he appeared in person before the Royal Commission, and gave evidence. For financial reasons, he was not able to b'e represented by counsel, whereas Major Wilson, the head of the Tanks Committee, had King's counsel appearing for him. And here is a point which, to my mind, needs clearing up. This same Major " Wilson shared in the reward of £15,000 which was granted for the invention of the tank. Do honorable members see the significance of the situation? In the first place, the designs and plans of the young Australian were lost in transit from one Department to another over a distance of less than halfamile, and when eventually they were discovered in the second Department, the head of which was Major Wilson, they were disapproved by that officer, who eventually was given a share of the reward. Here we have a young Australian soldier who, on the face of it, appears to have been robbed of the fruits of his labour and the child of his brain, and it is the duty of the Government of Australia to see that he is given' his due for his good work on behalf of the Allies. Another peculiar point is that the Royal Commission, when dividing the reward, gave the Australian inventor £987, but this was to recompense him for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the preparation of the plans and designs, making a working model, and so forth. When this amount was awarded the stipulation was made - and this, it appears to me, amounts to an admission that the Australian inventor has some claim for justice - that the matter was not to be made public. As a matter of fact, the whole proceedings were kept secret in Great Britain, and it was only when the correspondents of the Australian newspapers wrote home that the facts became public.

I asked the Prime Minister some questions a week or two ago, and his replies exactly bear out the statements which I have made this afternoon.. The Government should now be prepared to go further in this matter, and to ' intimate to the Imperial authorities that it will not sit down quietly and allow this young Australian soldier and inventor to be robbed of the fruits of his labour. He rendered good service both in the firing line and as an inventor of war-like weapons. Not only did he fight in the trenches, but he gave to Great Britain and the Allies a weapon which effectively smashed the Hindenburg line. I strongly appeal now for justice in his behalf.

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