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Thursday, 17 June 1915

Mr ATKINSON (Wilmot) .- It is unfortunately becoming only too clear to the whole Empire that this terrible war has reached a very serious stage. .A splendid opportunity is offered to the. Government, if they will only seize it, to materially increase the recruiting, and supply our soldiers with the necessary clothes, rifles, and ammunition. Although the Ministry have been slow and lax in many directions, the feeling throughout Australia is so splendid that they have only to take advantage of the grand offers being made to them, and put the right men in the fight place, for the country to become a hive of industry for the production of every necessity. The State Government are offering ^thenwholesouled assistance. They are» prepared to hand over all their factories, including such establishments as the Newport Workshops, while all those conducting private industries and commanding big factories are. offering to do all they can in the public interest. I am also, satisfied that the great bulk of the workmen, whether unionist or non-unionist, are only too willing to do their share if properly treated and told what to do. I am sorry the "Government have not seen their way clear to take the advice tendered, and accede to the requests made by the Leader of the Opposition, to drop party warfare.

Mr Burns - Why do you not move a motion of censure on them ?

Mr ATKINSON - We do not want to do that. We want to work together amicably in the general interest. The idea of stopping party warfare is not only in the mind 'of -the supposition . .All the great dailies"/ including 'the Age and the Argus, are' urging the same thing:

These great papers are not altogether uninformed on public topics; they know that the situation is serious, and that not only the best minds in Parliament, but the whole community, should be galvanized into thinking alike, and acting for the common good. The Government have an opportunity to do it if they will onlytake it. Every man owes a duty to the Empire, and if the Government will not do what the Opposition requests them to do, all that is left for us is to sit here and offer healthy criticism to try to keep the Government up to the right pitch until the termination of the struggle. If Parliament were not sitting, and the Government were free to devote all their attention to the one issue, far greater results would be achieved in a great deal less time. There is an impression in some quarters that the Opposition desire the creation of a Coalition Ministry in order to secure positions of pay and profit. I am not aware of any move from this side to get the Government to . do any such thing. No member of the Opposition would think of joining such a Ministry unless requested to do so by the Prime Minister himself. It is apparent that in some parts of the country there are people who really think that the Opposition are suggesting a Coalition Ministry for selfish and ulterior motives. There is no truth in that suggestion. The question was first raised in this House by the honorable member for Bendigo. He put to the Prime Minister the question that gave rise to the idea.

Mr Burns - It was raised long before that.

Mr ATKINSON - I challenge honor-* able members opposite to point to any request made by this side to the Government to seriously consider the formation of a Coalition Ministry. I do not wish at this stage to criticise the Government harshly or unfairly, although the Minister of Defence has been extremely lax on one or two occasions. For instance, two Committees of the House have recommended, the institution of a second shift at the Small Arms Factory, but the Minister of Defence says that ten months ago he wanted a second shirt" there. He is the responsible Minister, and the man to whom Australia looks for a lead on the question- of munitions. Why did not ne institute a second shift ? The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, many of whom I happened to see when the

Public Accounts Committee was takingevidence at the factory, were all willing to work a second shift, and, in fact, all suggested it. They could see no difficulty in the way of having a second shift in satisfactory working order within two or three months. Yet ten months ago the Minister of Defence had this brilliant idea of a second shift, and was going to institute it, but never did so. . The manager of the factory may have advised the Minister that it was impracticable, but why is the Minister putting in the second shift now? The manager's opinion to-day is what it was eight months ago - or what it was when he gave evidence before the Public Works Committee in Sydney recently. I do not want to criticise the Minister of Defence. No one can criticise him more harshly than he has criticised himself. Take, for instance, the matter of shells. The Minister says it is difficult to get formulae, and that he has been trying to' obtain formula? for months and months. Yet if the actions of the Minister are analyzed, step by step, great gaps will be found wherein he did nothing. Why ? He does not explain. The Minister now is taking something like what I consider to be the right course, in appointing an expert Committee to go into this question of munitions.

Mr Burns - Does that meet with your approval f

Mr ATKINSON - It does, so far as it goes; but I would far sooner see a Committee that was not composed so largely of men from his own Department. I know nothing about them individually, but they may be the very men who have been responsible for the inactivity of the Department during the past ten months - the very men whose advice may have been keeping the whole thing back. T do not say this is so - I do not know - but, in my opinion, it would be far better to have a Committee upon which captains of industry, good business men, would be represented. These are the men who may be relied upon to do something, because they know the ins and outs of trade. A Committee of this House, would have to spend a lot of time acquiring information before it reached the position a Committee composed of such men as I have indicated would occupy at the start. I do not care whether ' some' officers of the Defence Department and some members of 'Parliament are' on it,- but I trust the bulk of the Committee will come from the business community, who understand business and industry and know how to organize the resources of the country. Such a Committee would be able to get things going in the twinkling of an eye, as compared with the time it would occupy a Committee of this House or of officers from the Defence Department to do the same thing. The war is not a thing of the past. It is a thing of the present and the future, and it would be a fatal mistake if, in preparing to supply munitions, the Government did not recognise this fact.

Mr Burns - Every single man ought to volunteer, and you ought to lead the way.

Mr ATKINSON - I am quite willing to volunteer.

An Honorable Member. - Do it now.

Mr ATKINSON - I am quite willing to do my share.

Mr Finlayson - You are one of the few men we can spare.

Mr ATKINSON - I have an idea that I should be of as much use as some of my honorable friends. But the point is that the war is going on, and munitions and clothes are wanted now. I understand there are clothes made to the order of the Defence Department that cannot be removed from factories in Australia because inspectors have not been round to stamp them. Business men would not allow a thing like that to happen.

Mr Higgs - Why have they not been round ?

Mr ATKINSON - I do not know ; but surely when clothes are wanted so acutely" by the troops they should not be left for any length of time in the factories where they have been made, simply because inspectors cannot find time to put a brand on them. One good business man could remedy this in a very short time, but when it is left to the Defence Department, goodness only knows whenit will be done. These equipments have to be found now, not in the distant future, when some socialistic enterprise may be able to find them ; and I want to lay stress on this point, because I hope that in whatever is done business people - the people who will get things done in something like reasonable time - will be brought in. I can give nobetter illustrationof whatIrefer tothan provided by the Small Arms Factory. It is interesting to look at the history of this factory, and I refer to this as being calculated to show how much more satisfactory private enterprise is at the present time than socialistic undertakings. What may be the state of affairs in a hundred years hence I do not know. Socialistic enterprises may suit that period, but they do not suit the present period; and what we have to do has to be done now. You have been three years dilly-dallying with a Woollen Factory, and it is not going yet. But to come back to the Small Arms Factory. On 24th September, 1907, the then Minister of Defence, Sir Thomas Ewing, introduced the matter to the House by placing a sum of £32,000 on the Estimates for the erection of a factory. According to the explanation he gave to the House, this £32,000 represented an instalment of the cost of the machinery. He told the House that the total cost would be £65,000 for machinery, but that he only wanted £32,000 then because that was all he could spend during that year. In addition tothat sum, the Minister explained, £10,000 would be required for buildings, and the House was led to believe that £75,000 would build and equip the factory.

Mr Burns - Were you supporting him in the matter?

Mr ATKINSON - I do not care whether I was, or whether I wasnot. That does not affect my argument.

Mr. Tudor.Didyou ever . read Sir Thomas Ewing's opinion of the present Leader of the Opposition?

Mr.ATKINSON.- I have not; and I think the Minister would be showing himself a little more fitted for his position in these serious times if he would take a little interest in the business of the House. It is all very well for him to sit there as perky as a cock sparrow, but that attitude does not win battles. Sir Thomas Ewing promised that in about eighteen months or two years the factory would be turning out about fifty rifles per day, or 150 rifles daily if it worked three shifts.

Mr Archibald - That merely shows that he had great faith. Why does not the honorable member exhibita little faith?

Mr ATKINSON -I have; more faith than the Minister credits me with. But at the present time it is rifles and munitions that we require - not faith. The rifle which we were importing at the time Sir Thomas Ewing was Minister of Defence was costing us £5 7s. Nearly two years passed before tenders were accepted for the installation of machinery at the Small Arms Factory. It was estimated that that machinery would cost £68,000. About the time of which I am speaking a paper was submitted to this Parliament showing that the machinery, plant, and the motive power of the factory would cost, approximately, £92,144. The cost of the rifle was estimated at £3 9s. Id. But what has been the result ? Up to the 30th November last we had expended on plant, machinery, buildings, and equipment £182,186, and the rifles were costing more than £7 each. The Defence Department has muddled the entire business. If we wish to contrast Government action with private enterprise, wc have merely to turn our eyes to Newcastle, where the Broken Hill Proprietary Company have erected a plant worth £2,000,000- a plant which is turning out steel rails to-day, although nothing like two years have elapsed since the establishment was projected. I say that we have merely to look at what has been accomplished at Mount Lyell and Newcastle to realize the difference that exists between Government work and work undertaken by private enterprise. I say that the Defence Department should have taken expert advice in connexion with the establishment of a Small Arms Factory. I need hardly remind honorable members that there are1 very few of these factories in the world to-day. Sir Thomas Ewing thought that the estimates placed before him were correct, and Parliament accepted them in good faith. We now know that they have been very greatly exceeded. I wish to urge upon the Government the desirableness of endeavouring to organize as quickly as possible all the industrial resources of the Commonwealth, with a view to the production of munitions of war. In this matter we must recollect that time is Vh© essence of the contract. When I was fighting the last general election I found that it was impossible to secure good attendances at my meetings if I talked on ordinary political subjects, and, consequently,*.! had'ii'6 option but to 'discuss the war. I said then that. whatever schemes we might have for the future, they must, be left in abeyance until we had succeeded in humbling the foe. I pointed out that if Australia were to pass into the hands of Germany it would be idle for us to make plans. We know that Mr. Lloyd George recently stated that the production of munitions is one of our chief troubles. Ten months have passed since the outbreak of war, and nothing has been done towards ensuring the manufacture of shells. The Minister for Defence is now attempting to do something, but if he wishes to expedite action in this direction he must call in the captains of industry. The Department has no experts who are capable of organizing our industrial resources. The officials are not experts in this matter, and lack the necessary experience. Advantage should be taken of the splendid offers that have been made by private individuals, and by the State Governments, to expedite the production of urgently-required munitions.

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