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Wednesday, 5 May 1915

Mr WATT (Balaclava) .- I support the motion ; but, at the same time, it is not quite clear that the Government are adopting the right procedure. It is possible for them to undertake the work themselves without any preliminary inquiry under the Act. If the Minister is as desirous of despatch as he suggests, and as some of his colleagues behind him recommend, it is possible for the GovernorGeneral in Council to exempt the vote from the operation of the Act, as an item required for the military and naval defence of the Commonwealth. Having, however, brought it before the House, and followed the procedure suggested by the Public Works Committee Act, it seems to me that the discussion ought to be as wide as you, sir, in your judgment can allow. The Committee are directed by the Act, in considering and reporting on any work, to have regard to its stated purpose, the necessity or advisableness of carrying it out, and, where it purports to be reproductive or revenue-producing, the amount of revenue likely to be produced, and its present or prospective public value. They have generally to take such measures, and procure such information, as may enable them to inform or satisfy Parliament as to the expediency of carrying out the work. This is an expenditure to increase the output of small arms in Australia. Whether we be at war or not, the whole question of the production of small arms, whether their quality or quantity has been satisfactory in the past or may be made so in the future, whether they will be needed in the future, and how they shall be used if and when produced, ought to come within the ambit of the discussion. I, therefore, suggest that honorable members who desire to see the necessities of rifle clubs considered, apart from the needs of our trained troops here or overseas-

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not discuss the question of rifle clubs.

Mr WATT - I shall take care not to, sir, if you are in that mood, as I do not desire to transgress your ruling. But if we cannot discuss the use to be made of rifles produced as the result of this extension, we shall be limited in one of the most important sections of the discussion we wish to undertake.

Mr West - The Public Works Committee will consider that matter and report upon it.

Mr WATT - We have had every reason to be bitterly disappointed with the result of the work at the Small Arms Factory under Government control. All our calculations, so far as we are able to ascertain, have been falsified by experience as to the amount of money necessary to equip this factory, the number of men to be employed, and the quantity and quality of the production. No man has been satisfied that the anticipations have been fulfilled, and, as an illustration of faulty management or administration, we had the astounding fact a week ago that the report for the year ending 30th June, 1913, was laid before Parliament twenty-one months after the period named. Surely it is time we had a more up-to-date report of the management than that for the information of honorable members. That circumstance alone should be sufficient to arrest the attention and excite the anxiety of honorable members, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact, whether we like it published or not, that the quality of the article turned out of the factory up to date has been unsatisfactory to experts. The most searching examination by the Ministry, apart from a searching examination by the Committee, is demanded.

Mr Carr - It is supposed to have had that.

Mr WATT - No; a non-expert examination would not be sufficient to elucidate the causes of failure and apply a ready means for its removal.

Mr Carr - Areyou satisfied it has not had all that?

Mr WATT - No, it has not had that; and, if the honorable member can tell me where and by whom, I would be glad to know. A visit by the Minister could not afford that, and a visit by this Committee would not. The Government should order, as early as possible, a complete and searching investigation by expert officers of the Department into the matter, particularly into the question of the quality of metals, in order that they may be satisfied that the articles turned out are likely to be of durable value, and will not fail our men at a critical time. Now, as to the quantity of articles produced. I do not know whether the Minister or the manager of the works is responsible for the fact that the factory is only working one shift. If we can trust the cables from Great Britain, all the authorities of the Mother Country, from Lord Kitchener down, desire that every part of the Empire should turn out all the small arms that our soldiers are likely to require. If that is so, why cannot we work two or three shifts in Australia ? Are the men not obtainable? I venture to say that no attempt has been made to add to the expertness of the existing staff, or to increase it, by bringing in workers from allied industries.

Mr Carr - What is the good of talking about that now?

Mr WATT - Because we want to prevent any recurrence of the difficulty, and I hope that will be the attitude of honorable members on both sides of the House. I notice that in the Imperial House of Commons the Government have invited criticism and co-operation in connexion with important naval and military affairs. That is an attitude which should be adopted here. If in connexion with the Small Arms Factory material is lacking, the Government should take steps at once to increase it. I believe the Minister and his colleagues are endeavouring to do their best in a most difficult situation. In the gravity of the position as it exists in the minds of some members of the lower House, I do not know that any money should be spared to make this factory, as early as possible, capable of producing, in as large a quantity as may be required, the highest class of small arms that our workers can turn out. Particularly should this be so with the Forces that have gone overseas, and for the reinforcements, because, as experience has shown, the life of a rifle in trench fighting is very short. Just as in the War Precautions Bill we took notice of certain civil and other offences for the safety of this country, so we should do everything we can to encourage the movement for our second line of defence, by providing equipment for those who join it. I hope that the Committee, when this motion passes, will regard the investigation as an urgent one, and, regardless of the feelings of officials or Ministers, or anybody else, will conduct a most searching inquiry. I hope, also, that the Minister will act with that promptitude which the occasion demands, and I feel sure that the House will give due expedition to any measures that may be necessary to increase rapidly the production of small arms in Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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