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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - This cruiser, the purchase of which is recommended by the Imperial authorities and also our own experts, will meet the needs of modern times. The policy of the Government is to maintain the Royal Australian Navy at a strength which will keep it efficient, and enable it to make .a proper contribution towards the defence of th« Empire. This policy was announced by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) at Sydney on the 25th September, 1933. It was decided in April last to purchase a cruiser of the Leander class in order to replace* the Brisbane, which has been over ago since 1932. If we did not replace that ship the British Government would have to do so, and it would be necessary to render obsolete a much better vessel than the Brisbane. If Australia is to play its part in maintaining the efficiency of the naval defence of the Empire, it is imperative that the Brisbane should be replaced by this new cruiser, which will be called the Sydney. Cruisers of this class are of 7,250 tons. The armament consists of eight 6-inch guns, four anti-aircraft guns, and six 21-inch torpedo tubes. The speed is 32-| knots and oil fuel is used in the engines. The machinery includes Parsons-geared turbines and four screws. The 6-inch guns are in four turrets and are of an entirely new model. The new cruiser will be the most up-to-date vessel, of the kind afloat. Its length will be 564$ feet, the beam 55 feet 2 inches, and the mean draught 16 feet.

The approximate cost of building the vessel in Great Britain will be £1,800,000, and, with about £450,000 added for exchange, the total C03t will amount to £2,250,000. The Government considered whether such a cruiser could be built in Australia; but if it had been decided to carry out a work of this magnitude in this country the task would have resolved itself into one of merely assembling the vessel in Australia, instead of building it here. The plant for rolling steel plates of the requisite tensile strength is not available locally, and no firm or company could be expected to erect such a plant because the necessary plates could bc rolled in about three weeks, and the plant -would then be idle until another cruiser had to bc constructed. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) stated that all the plant necessary for the construction of the cruiser was already in Australia, but that is not the case. In any event, nearly half the expenditure would have to be incurred in Great. Britain, for it would be necessary to place orders there for the armament, the auxiliary machinery and other special materials and equipment not manufactured in Australia. To build a vessel of the Leander class in Australia it would bc necessary to obtain an expert staff from Great Britain to carry out the work of assembling the machinery and special equipment which would have to be obtained overseas. It was estimated that four years would be occupied in constructing the vessel in Australia. The Brisbane should have been replaced two years ago.

Mr Scullin - What is the estimate of the cost of doing the work in Australia ? '

Mr FRANCIS - About, twice as much as in Great. Britain.

Mr Gregory - When will the new vessel bo delivered ?

Mr FRANCIS - The Government believes that it will be in commission by August, 1935.

Mr Scullin - From what source were the estimates obtained, and what is the estimated cost of constructing the vessel in Australia ?

Mr FRANCIS - If it could be constructed in Australia it would cost over £3,000,000,. compared with £1,800,000 in

Great Britain. That estimate has been prepared by the department, after consul- tation with the British naval authorities and, as I said before, it would be mainly assembling the cruiser here.

Mr Scullin - Since the Government is so fond of appointing royal commissions it is high time another commission inquired into this matter.

Mr FRANCIS - Honorable members should not lose sight of the fact that the Royal Australian Navy is an integral part of the British Navy, and it is imperative that it should be kept thoroughly up-to-date in order that it may be an efficient unit in the scheme of0 Empire defence.

The Government entirely agrees thai it is necessary to do everything possible to encourage the building of ships in Australia, and is in entire sympathy with the necessity for providing as much employment as possible, lt has already placed an order for the construction of a sloop at Cockatoo Island dockyard at a cost of £250,000, and this year the building of a second sloop at a similar cost will be commenced. When the Brisbane was _ built, it could have been purchased in Great Britain for less than £400,000. As I have already indicated, we have neither the skilled workmen with the special experience nor the necessary plant that would be required to enable a cruiser of the Leander type to be built in Australia. The highest naval experts have urged the Government to purchase a vessel of this class. When the Government entered into an agreement with the company now leasing the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, it was losing £60,000 per annum there, and a grant of that amount had to be made annually to make up for that loss. At that time 350 men were employed at tho works. The number at present employed on the sloop is 150.

Mr Rosevear - That is not so.

Mr FRANCIS - The information was obtained at 1 p.m. to-day from the management of the dockyard. The greatest number that will be employed during the period of the construction of the first sloop will be 350, which is as many as were engaged when the yard was handed over to the private company.

When the order for the second sloop is placed there, an additional 150 men will be employed, and within from six to nine months the number working on the sloops will be 650, bringing the total number of employees at Cockatoo Island to 1,000. The Government also has under consideration the construction of a patrol vessel for duty in the northern waters of Australia, involving the employment of an additional 50hands, and of two other patrol vessels which, if proceeded with, would provide employment for another 120 men, raising to 1,120 the number of men engaged at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, an increase of 770 men due to work given to that establishment by the Government within recent years. I quote these figures as definite evidence of the desire of the Government to do everything possible to promote employment and to assist the ship-building industry in Australia. Further, such units of the fleet as need attention will receive it at the island or elsewhere the effect being to supplement the figures I have given.

I submit that I have completely answered the case made out by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) for the deletion of the vote for the first instalment on the cruiser and I therefore ask the committee to agree to the proposed vote.

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