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Thursday, 22 August 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I am sorry to he obliged to admit that there is something in the complaint which has been made, and that is one of the reasons why the Government decided to establish our own clothing factory, and one of the reasons why we provide on these Estimates for its extension. Under the existing system of contract we have found it impossible to obtain anything like a regular supply of uniforms. This result is very largely due to the fact that our private factories are already fully employed, and do not. care whether they get the Defence contracts or not. They are simply indifferent. In connexion with almost every contract for which tenders are called we have to approach the tenderers and ask them if they will take up the balance of the orders?

Senator Millen - Is the Minister of Trade and Customs aware of this? '

Senator PEARCE - I think that he is. We experience the greatest difficulty in getting our contracts carried out up to time. As a result we are unable to supply clothing in the way we should like. It has now been decided to make the uniforms for our Permanent Forces in our own factory, and to endeavour to obtain a more speedy and regular supply than we have secured in the past. We have also to consider the question of the supply of cloth, which has not been too satisfactory. Some contractors, and notably one in New South Wales, have come to our rescue splendidly, but still we have experienced very great difficulty in placing all our orders during the past eighteen months. All these difficulties have tended to delay the supply of uniforms to our troops. I regret this circumstance very much, but, as things are, we are practically helpless. I shall be only too pleased to see this Bill passed so that we may get our clothing factory extended, and proceed with the establishment of our woollen mills.

Senator Millen - I hope that it is not intended to keep these men without clothing.

Senator PEARCE - It is not. But, obviously, when contractors only consent, as a matter of grace, to take up the balance of our orders it is very diffcult to enforce conditions. In our tenders we stipulate that a contract shall be completed within a certain time. . But when all the tenders have been received we find that the whole of our orders have not been taken up, and, consequently, we have to approach the contractors, and say to them, " Will you take up the balance? " Their reply usually is, " We will, provided that you give us an extension of six months." The position is so intolerable that I regret we did not start our clothing factory earlier. The woollen mills have been planned by the manager, Mr. Smail, upon the known requirements of our Forces during the next ten years. It is intended to erect a mill which will be capable of supplying practically the whole of the cloth for the Commonwealth Forces. It is proposed to turn out cloth and cord, and also putties.

Senator Chataway - And postal uniforms ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes.

Senator Millen - Will His Excellency's uniforms be made there?

Senator PEARCE - I have not had any request from the Department of Home Affairs on that subject yet. The amount which is here set down is " towards cost ofplant." Of course, we do not propose to order machinery until we are in a position to instal it.

Senator Millen - Has the building been started ?

Senator PEARCE - No.

Senator Chataway - What is to be the total cost?

Senator PEARCE - I have not that information with me.

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