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Wednesday, 5 May 1915

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I am very glad that the motion has been submitted in its present shape. Last session, in answer to a question, I elicited a reply that the rifles which were being turned out at the Lithgow factory had cost something like £100 each.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not go into that question.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - May I say that it was then pointed out that the comparison was unfair, seeing that we were also informed that a huge plant had been put up sufficient to turn our rifles for Australia for many years to come. We now find, however, that, at the first stress, it is necessary to practically rebuild, or, at all events, to greatly extend the factory. One of the many good services that will doubtless be rendered by the Public Works Committee will be that of eliciting facts connected with our Defence Department - facts which hitherto honorable members have been unable to ascertain, no matter what Government has been in office. I trust that the Committee will be able to determine exactly what this Small Arms Factory is costing. Last year information was adduced which showed clearly that the cost of manufacturing rifles at Lithgow panned out at more than £100 each, notwithstanding that equally good weapons could be imported for about £3 each. The provision in our law which requires the reference to our Public Works Committee of all works involving any considerable expenditure is, in my judgment, an admirable one. Had such a system been in operation years ago, it would have saved the Commonwealth millions of pounds. Indeed, it will effect a saving of millions of pounds in the future. In my judgment, the Committee may be trusted to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into this matter. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has raised the very important question of whether Lithgow is a suitable site for the Small Arms Factory. In my opinion, there is much to be said in favour of establishing all national works in Federal territory. Other things being equal, I believe that it would be better to so establish all national factories, thus assisting to attract population to that territory.

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