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Friday, 25 June 1915

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) .- I felt very warmly about the management of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, but the statement of the Minister has thrown a new light on the position. The fact that we are short of steel-

Mr Sampson - There is plenty of steel.

Mr FISHER - When was it made available? '

Mr Sampson - Steel has been available for a considerable time past.

Mr FISHER - For how many weeks ?

Mr Fowler - Since the 12th May.

Mr Sampson - The report of the Public Works Committee has been presented for- more than a month.

Mr SPEAKER -The Prime Minister was not here when I warned the House that I would name the first member who interjected! There was excuse, therefore, for him, though none for the honorable member for Wimmera, whose offence, however, I shall overlook on this occasion.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - If the statements of the Minister are correct, odium has been thrown on the Government which they do not deserve. The honorable member for Wimmera, who, by this interjecting, is qualifying for a seat outside in the wet, evidently thinks that he has some knowledge on the subject which should be made public, and I have been informed by a member of the Public Works Committee that a witness stated on oath that a supply of steel had been available for a considerable time. The Government, therefore, should make the facts very clear. If there has been a supply of steel available for any length of time, some one should be dealt with. In other countries the offender would be stood up against a wall and shot. I again urge the Government to adopt the suggestion to appoint a Minister of Munitions, notwithstanding the fact that the suggestion comes from the Opposition. If the honorable member for Maranoa were sent to Lithgow, the second shift would be started there within ten days. He would not waste time making inquiries. Yesterday I questioned the Assistant Minister of Defence on this matter, and was asked to give notice of my question. This morning the reply furnished was " As SOOn as possible." It is only when he was pinned down by the Leader of the Opposition that the honorable gentleman told the House what he should have said yesterday, that the instruction had been sent to Lithgow that a second shift must be started forthwith. This dodging of questions is had, because the public and honorable members are entitled to know these things. I was prepared to say some hard things about the Government and the Minister relative to the Small Arms Factory, but, after the Minister's statement, I shall not do so. Members of the Public Works Committee tell us that there is plenty of material available, but the Minister says that it is not so. It is, therefore, difficult to know who is to blame. The Minister accuses the Leader of the Opposition of raising the matter for party purposes, and has asked why he did not authorize a second shift. A report of some length, by the head of the Amalgamated Engineers at Lithgow, was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which it is stated that a second shift could have been started long ago, everything being available. Ministers and. others must have read these reports. Naturally those who have kith and kin fighting at the front ask, "Why is the Government content merely to make inquiries?" The Public Works Committee, the Finance Committee, and two or three other Committees have visited Lithgow to ascertain what any man could have found out on the spot in ten minutes.

Mr Bamford - Will the honorable member accept the statement of the Chairman of the Public Works Committee ?

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