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Thursday, 17 June 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - Of course the Land Tax Commissioner himself has assigned some reason for his inability to answer Senator Grant's question in less than the time indicated. I will bring tue remarks of the honorable senator under the notice of the Prime Minister. In regard to Senator Maughan's statement, I wish to say that there were two articles published by the Argus. Perhaps the honorable senator missed the other article. It was exceedingly instructive.

One article was written by a mau who was specially sent out to gain information. That information having been obtained, the leader writer founded a leading article upon it. That leading article states that " the most definite fact " is that a consignment of 600 pairs of boots has been sent back from Egypt as being unfit for wearing. I have made inquiry as to the truth of this " most definite fact," and I have learned that the Department has no information as to any boots having been sent back from Egypt. Prom the allegation of the Argus as to this "most definite fact" honorable senators may judge of the reliability of the whole statement.

Senator Lynch - It is a bulk sample.

Senator PEARCE - Exactly.

Senator Watson - Can no action be taken by the Government against a newspaper for publishing statements of this kind?

Senator PEARCE - I may tell honorable senators that 300,000 pairs of boots have been tendered for and accepted by the Defence Department. Obviously in the supply of such a large quantity "of boots a number will be rejected, and some boots will pass the inspectors which are not quite up to sample. A little time ago some boots did come under our notice which were not up to sample. These were reported on by the inspectors. On the report from Queensland, whither they had been sent, we ascertained what inspectors were responsible for passing them, and those inspectors were discharged. It must be remembered that the supply of boots we have accepted prior to this year did not represent oneeighth of the quantity we have had to accept since the outbreak of the war. As a result we have had to immensely increase our staff of temporary inspectors. In taking on these temporary inspectors, the Government have adopted the principle of preference to unionists. It is that fact which is worrying the Argus, and not the question of the quality of the boots supplied to the soldiers. That can be plainly seen by the contemptuous reference to the ability of these inspectors at the end of the article. What is the charge against these inspectors? It is that they are men who worked at a trade. That is a nice thing to urge by way of disqualification of an inspector. If there are any persons who should know something about boot3, obviously they are the men who have made boots.

Senator Grant - People should pay no attention to the Argus.

Senator PEARCE - Every man appointed was a member of the Bootmakers Union. Consequently he had either to he a man who was earning his living by making boots by hand, or one who was employed in a boot factory. Now, a boot repairer knows more about boots than does a man who works in a boot factory. Obviously the best inspector we can get is a boot repairer, because he makes all parts of boots, whereas an employee in a factory may not make all those parts. Yet the Argus trots that man out as an instance of the inferior class of men who have been appointed as inspectors.

Senator Guy - He is only a cobbler.

Senator PEARCE - He is a cobbler, but he is the man who is required for the position. We have other information on this subject. We have the report of a General Officer Commanding which was1 sent to the Department just before he took his troops to Gallipoli after a test had been made, and he reported that the boots and uniforms were splendid. It was a most glowing report as to the equipment, and the way it stood the test. Again, we have the report of the war correspondent of the Times, who was sent to Egypt, and reported that the Australian equipment was better than any equipment he had ever seen, and he wrote after he had had experience of the regular armies of Great Britain and other countries. There is this point to be borne in mind - and I am quite conscious of it - that we are obtaining our boots more cheaply than boots are being obtained in the Old Country. It may, perhaps, be brought forward as a striking tribute to the success of the Protectionist policy of Australia that our manufacturers are able to turn out boots, although they pay higher wages, more cheaply than is done in England, and even in New Zealand. There has been an increase in the price of leather, and the question as to whether we should increase the price of boots is now under consideration. With the increase in the cost of the raw material it has been represented by the manufacturers that the price of the boots should increase proportionately, and that question ib being investigated by experts in the Department. Considering the magnitude of the contracts we have had in hand - 300,000 pairs of hoots - I think that the inspectors have done marvellous work, and very valuable work, too. They have absolutely justified the policy of the Government in picking practical men for the positions, rather' than resorting to the old system of selecting men who followed clerical occupations. We have obtained .in that way over 100 inspectors, and it is a tribute to that method that we have had to discharge only three or four of them. If I found an inspector passing inferior boots I would not hesitate for one minute to discharge him.

Senator MULLAN (QUEENSLAND) - Not only to discharge him. but to send him to gaol if you can.

Senator PEARCE - And- to send him to gaol if necessary. The fact remains that of the 100 men supplied by the unions for the positions, we have only found it necessary . to discharge three or four. The. tributes of praise which have been passed on the equipment are the best justification of the way in which the inspectors have carried out their work.

Senator Watson - No complaints have come from the front f

Senator PEARCE - There have been no complaints from the front at all.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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