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Thursday, 2 August 1934

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- Even if the contention of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that acceptance of the amendment would result in no cruiser being obtained, I should still vote for it. The sum of £2,250,000 could be put to bettor use than in the purchase of a ship, the life of which is determined by the experts who recommend its construction. They make a business of recommending the building of new cruisers and of condemning them almost as soon as they have left the slips. The

Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis) said that the Brisbane has been obsolete since 1932, and that a new cruiser is required in order to bring the Royal Australian Navy up to date. Yet side by side with this new cruiser will be a flotilla of destroyers which, although recently brought from Great Britain, wore admittedly sixteen years old. It was reported in the press that these vessels were so ill equipped that, during the manoeuvres at Portsmouth, they were unable to put to sea owing to rough weather. It was admitted that their useful life did not exceed a further five years, during which the cost of their maintenance would total £40,000 each. In other words, Australia was to pay. during a period of five years, £1,000,000 for obsolete destroyers for which the British Government had no use !

It has been said that no ship-building yard in Australia is capable of building a cruiser of the type required; but it has been proved that Australian yards can build not only larger cruisers than this one, but also merchant vessels. At one period the Commonwealth Government incurred considerable expense in sending artisans to Great Britain to study all features of naval construction, and upon their return most of them were kept in employment at Cockatoo Island. Since that time, those skilled workmen have been dispersed, and difficulty probably would be experienced in re-assembling them. Nevertheless, the training they received enabled the Government to build cruisers at Cockatoo Island. The Assistant Minister "claimed that the plant necessary for rolling the requisite steel plates would be operated for only three weeks, and would then be thrown- idle until another cruiser had to be built. But would not that position obtain in any overseas shipbuilding yard? Ship construction will have to bc undertaken in Australia at some time. Thousands of men who arc walking the streets in the capita] cities are willing and able to do work of this kind, and even if the cost of constructing a cruiser would be greater in Australia than in Great Britain, that is no good reason why the work should not be undertaken here, having regard to the large amount of employment that would be made available. A large number of youths who are now unable to find employment in trades could be absorbed.

The Assistant Minister has repeated mis-statements made on the advice pf the management of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard as to the amount of labour provided there when the works were handed over to the private company.

Mr Francis - I obtained the information at 1 o'clock to-day.

Mr ROSEVEAR - I challenge not the Minister's sincerity in the matter, but the accuracy of the information supplied to him. He repeats the statement that when the dockyard was handed over to the private company the number of men employed there was 350; but I inform him that when the negotiations for the transfer of the dock to private enterprise were completed, tho number of men on the payroll qf the Government was 470. Between the time when the Government decided to abandon the dock and when the company took it over, the personnel was reduced from 470 to 350; so, on the Minister's own admission, from the point of view of employment the position is not one whit better than when the Government passed the control of the dock over to the private company. If the Minister telephoned the company to-morrow he might find that 600, or even 800, men were engaged there; but about 250 or more of them would be painters and dockers whose work may last for only four or five hours. The Minister has made much of the fact that the Government, by the building of a sloop at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, is providing work for the unemployed, yet the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) recently informed mc, in reply to a question, that this job had been given to the private company, without the formality of calling for tenders being observed, not for the purpose of creating work, but in order to conform with the contract made with the company when the dock was leased to it. The Government is bound to give the company £40,000 worth of work every year, and that is the reason why it was called upon to construct the sloop. In the first place, the Prime Minister stated that the company was not required to tender for the work, because the Government desired to give it work in conformity with its contract, but now the Assistant Minister for Defence states that the company has received this job for the specific purpose of keeping work in Australia. The honorable gentleman repeated the mis-statement that he had previously made, doubtless on information supplied to him by the management of the island, that 150 men are engaged on the sloop. The fact is that only approximately 100 men are employed on this work, and that after ordinary hours they are given other repair work to carry out. A limited number of them have been working until 9 p.m. on week days, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays. When I asked the Prime Minister whether he would make representations to the management to have the work so distributed on a fulltime basis that those who are walking the streets looking for employment would benefit from it, the right honorable gentleman said that he was not inclined to interfere with the management, which should be allowed to carry out the contract as it thought fit. It will be apparent that the maximum amount of employment has not been provided by the management of the island on this sloop.

The sponsors of the Government's proposal contend that the construction of this cruiser cannot be undertaken at the island, and when it is demonstrated that similar work has been done there in the past they retreat behind the fact that special plant would have to be brought to Australia. Surely it would be preferable for expenditure on such plant to be incurred, and this work to be done, when thousands of men are looking for work, than to delay its installation until conditions improve and more employment is available in other directions.

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