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Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not enter upon a discussion. He is entitled only to ask a question.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Inasmuch as we expend something like ^800.000 a year upon defence, is it not right thai: we should be informed in regard to the position generally., more especially in view of the serious charges which have been made by an officer of the Commonwealth Forces? Apparently the Prime Minister, after a consultation with the Minister of Defence, can sec his way to give only the qualified answer that the position is not nearly so bad as it has been said to be.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member makes a misstatement in saying that I spoke after consultation wilh the Minister of Defence, because I had no knowledge that these questions would be asked this morning, and, therefore, had no opportunity to consult my colleague upon the subjectmatter of the inquiry. As a private member, I myself, acting upon information supplied to the first Minister of Defence, stated in this Chamber that, in my opinion, we should make further provision in the way of armaments and munitions of war, and a few weeks ago, in putting forward the Government policy, I informed honorable members that this Ministry intend to do that. Under these circumstances, it would be folly for me to say that the position as to our armaments and so on is absolutely satisfactory. I do not think it will be satisfactory until we have an absolute reserve supply, and a sufficiently large number of rifles and a big' enough store of other munitions of war to equip more than the war strength provided for in the scheme furnished by Major-General Hutton.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did not the late Minister say that a large saving had been effected, and the money used to provide munitions of war?

Mr WATSON - As I indicated the other evening, when speaking upon the Supplementary Estimates, a sum of nearly ^50,000 was diverted - I think properly - by the late Minister of Defence and the late Treasurer from some less urgent expenditure to provide reserve ammunition and armaments, chiefly in the nature of rifles.

Sir John Forrest - The Government are robbing Peter to pay Paul. They are taking away half the Fremantle fortifications.

Mr WATSON - All the money voted for the Fremantle fort could not have been spent this year in any case, because of engineering difficulties which stood in the way. However, we have no intention to leave Fremantle defenceless. I shall bring the whole matter under the notice of my honorable colleague, and shall consult him as to the best way to meet the charges which have been referred to, which are undoubtedly, in their general tenor, incorrect and improper.

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