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Friday, 26 June 1903

Mr PAGE (Maranoa) - I move -

That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that immediate steps be taken to establish a Commonwealth Clothing Factory, wherein shall be manufactured all cloth and clothing required for the use of the several Federal Departments.

This morning we heard from various honorable members that there is now lying idle at Ipswich a factory full of machinery which is unused, and a large building adjoining it, where, no doubt, the clothing factory which I suggest could be established. I feel certain that I shall have the support of the honorable members for Darling Downs and for

Moreton. In England, all Government uniforms are supplied by Government clothing factories. I have some knowledge of the Pimlico factory, in London, where there are thousands of hands employed, and where the whole of the clothing used by the military and naval forces throughout the British dominions is manufactured.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Cook. - Does the honorable member propose to import the necessary cloth, or to have it manufactured here 1

Mr PAGE - I would give the protectionists an opportunity to manufacture it here. If cloth can be manufactured and clothing made up under Government supervision in conservative England, why cannot the same be done in democratic Australia ? The New South Wales Government have already set us an example in this matter. All the clothing required by the public officials of that State is manufactured in a Government factory, and I have received the following letter in regard to the conditions which prevail there : -

In reply to your inquiries re clothing factory, ours has only been started about six months. There are about 100 hands (men and girls) employed, and are at present making arrangements to extend. It is run on up-to-date factory lines, paying wages and working on union rules as laid down by the judgment of our Arbitration Court, and from reports from the various Government Departments, the work is giving better satisfaction than when done by contractors. I have visited the factory two or three times, and the manager tells me that the cost of the clothes to the Government will not be any more than .... when done by contractors, and although the wages are, of course, not too good, the miserable sweating carried on by the contractors and sub-contractors is done away with. All hands employed have to belong to the union in their branch of the trade. The manager receives, t'300 a year. The PublicService Board appoint all employes. Not being practical tradesmen themselves, I have no doubt they consult the manager in selecting the hands. This system has been adopted to prevent influences being used to get employed persons who would not be capable and, of course, would militate against the chance of making the factory a success. Of course when we get the report from the manager of the first year's transaction, it would be more definite and reliable than this ex parte statement for Mr. Page's purpose, but I ani satisfied than he can safely state that our experiment is a decided success.

I do not ask that the Commonwealth factory be established in Queensland ; I shall be willing to see it established in Victoria, so long as we have a Government factory for the manufacture of Government uniforms.

Mr Kennedy - Who wrote the letter ?

Mr PAGE - A member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. I can show it to any honorable member who may question its authenticity.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - An official report has been published which more than bears out the statements contained in the letter.

Mr PAGE - I am satisfied from my knowledge of the Government clothing factory at Pimlico that we should find it greatly to our advantage to start a similar establishment here. Those honorable members who saw the clothing supplied to the soldiers who went away to South Africa from the various States must have noticed its want of uniformity and unsatisfactory character. With a Commonwealth clothing factory nothing of the kind could occur, but everything would work harmoniously, and the results would be generally satisfactory. I believe that it is intended to adopt a standard uniform for the whole of the Defence Forces, and in view of that fact the Minister for Defence could not do better than starta factory for the purpose of supplying the military with clothing. I understand that the Commandant recognises the advantage to be gained by adopting this course, and I trust that some notice will be taken of his recommendation. Last session the Minister for Defence said that it was impracticable to establish a Commonwealth clothing factory, but what has been found possible in the old country might surely be attempted here with every prospect of success. We have heard a great deal about the unbounded resources of the Commonwealth, and I am sure that we might very well embark upon an enterprise which has been attended with success under similar auspices in other places. The labour party desire that we should not only make up clothing, but that we should manufacture our own materia], and are willing to set aside all fiscal considerations if they can, by means of a Commonwealth clothing factory, promote economy combined with efficiency. We need have no better example than that afforded by New South Wales, and I might meet any possible objections on the score of economy by pointing out that there is at Ipswich a factory all ready to the hand of the Commonwealth if the Government care to use it. I hope that the honorable member for Wentworth will not tell us on this occasion that we are trying to snatch a vote, because the motion has been upon the notice-paper from the commencement of this session. If the present proposal is to be regarded as involving the principle of protection to native industries, I am willing to be called a protectionist to the extent to which the adoption of the scheme will commit me to that policy. I think that, all things being equal, we should in every case give a preference to local manufactures. When I first joined the Imperial Army some of the clothes served out to the troops were more like fustian than cloth, and were in many cases sewn with burnt thread, so that if they fitted tightly they were almost bound to burst away at the seams. For these and many other reasons the Imperial Government started the manufacture of clothing at Aldershot, in order to supply the requirements of the garrison, and they met with such success that they afterwards started the Pimlico Stores, for the purpose of manufacturing the cloth and making uniforms for the whole army. To-day those works stand as a monument to the superiority of Government as compared with contract work. I hope that the Committee will give this question the most serious consideration, and that the motion will be carried as a direction to the Government to enter upon the manufacture of the clothing required for the Commonwealth Departments.

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