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Wednesday, 10 September 1958
Page: 1107

Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) (1:40 AM) .Mr. Chairman,I wish to raise three matters in relation to the estimates now before the committee. The first relates to the Department of the Army, the second to the Department of Supply and the third to the

Department of Defence. I am glad that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) is at the table, because I desire to raise with him the question of the future of the rifle clubs of Australia. The Minister no doubt knows that the rifle clubs scattered throughout the Commonwealth are doing exceedingly good work in the training of marksmen, and that, for many years, they have had the financial support of the Department of the Army, which, I understand, to a certain extent, has subsidized the excellent organizations that the clubs have formed and are maintaining throughout the country.

The rifle clubs in my electorate - and I can assure the Minister that there is quite a number of them - are concerned about a rumour that has gone round the clubs that it is proposed to increase the charge for ammunition used by them. I am told that at present they pay 50s. a hundred for cartridges, and that tentative suggestions have been made that the charge should be increased to £5. Indeed, in one instance it was suggested that it would be raised to £10. All I desire to point out to the Minister is that the members of these clubs, in the main, are people of very limited means. The members of the rifle clubs in my electorate are people who work in factories and shops and on farms, municipal employees and other workers, and they are hard put to it to pay for the cartridges that they use in practising. In addition, the clubs must train new marksmen, and this training entails the constant expenditure of cartridges. If the present charge of 6d. a cartridge is increased to ls. or 2s., the rifle club movement throughout Australia will be effectively killed, because very few members will be able to afford the expense. If the charge for cartridges is increased, the good work that has been done by these organizations for so long will probably die out altogether. I ask the Minister to investigate the matter and ascertain whether there is any proposal to increase the charge for cartridges, and I suggest that if this is intended, he should prevent any increase from being made and thereby enable the rifle clubs to continue to function effectively.

The second matter that I desire to raise concerns the Bendigo Ordnance Factory. Since October, 1956, about 450 male employees, most of whom are skilled tradesmen, have been put off. The reason given is lack of work. I think it would be well for me to point out at this stage that, on the numerous occasions on which I have discussed with successive Ministers for Supply the employment prospects of workers in the Bendigo Ordnance Factory, in other munitions factories in Melbourne and in the small arms factory at Lithgow, I have always been told that not enough orders are received from the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. It looks as if the expenditure of the moneys voted by the Parliament for those three services is not so planned as to keep all the munitions factories going steadily at a constant level of employment. This has had a very serious effect at the Bendigo factory in particular. At one stage, this? establishment had a staff of 1,200. As I have said, the number of employees has now been reduced by 450, and there is grave doubt about whether work will be available for a number of the remaining employees at the conclusion of this year. I appreciate the efforts of the Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley) to get outside orders to keep the various factories going, but it seems to me that the Government itself could take positive action to find constructive work for the men in these establishments.

During World War II., the Bendigo Ordnance Factory produced 200-horse- power diesel engines for naval vessels, and it is capable of turning out 2,000-horse- power diesel engines that would be invaluable for use in diesel locomotives on the railways. I think it is essential from the stand-point of defence that not only the Bendigo factory but also the other defence factories should be kept fully staffed and that key skilled personnel should be retained, so that, in an emergency, men will be available immediately for defence work. In order to ensure that, I suggest that these factories, and especially the Bendigo factory, could be employed on the manufacture of diesel engines for railway locomotives, and that the Commonwealth Government could help by offering the States a loan of, say, £10,000,000 on the understanding that the money would be used to improve and modernize the railways by putting into service increased numbers of diesel locomotives powered with motors made by the Commonwealth defence factories. If that were done it would achieve two objects. First of all, it would keep the Bendigo factory and the other defence factories fully staffed, and would obviate the dispersal of skilled tradesmen. Secondly, it would improve the efficiency of the railways, both from the stand-point of the States and for defence purposes. I earnestly hope that the Government will consider this suggestion carefully in order that defence factories may be kept fully staffed and the defence value of our railways considerably enhanced.

The third matter that I desire to raise, Mr. Chairman, concerns the question of defence as a whole, with particular reference to the railways again, because of their defence value. More than one speaker in the debate on these estimates this evening has said that our defence forces must be mobile. There is no doubt that complete mobility, not only of troops, but also of supplies, foodstuffs and the general requirements of the people, is essential in a time of emergency. Therefore, we must have strategic roads in order that troops may be transported quickly from place to place, and we must have a properly unified railways system in order to provide the highest degree of mobility.

The present tendency in Victoria to close certain sections of railway lines, thereby preventing the complete integration of the Victorian railways system, impels me to mention this matter during the consideration of the Defence estimates. There are four arterial railways in Victoria running from Melbourne to the north, the north-east and the north-west, and there are spur lines connecting them. Certain of those lines are highly vulnerable to aerial bombing attack. It would be easy to put out of commission the line between Melbourne and Echuca by the destruction of bridges at Woodend and Malmsbury, and by the destruction of tunnels near Chewton and other places. The same considerations apply to the railway line from Ballarat to Adelaide and other places. They also apply to interlocking lines linking the places 1 have mentioned, such as the line from Heathcote to Bendigo and the line from Maryborough to Ararat which provide a link-up with the four arterial systems, thus providing alternative routes for the purposes of mobility. But these linking lines are being closed. I believe that that is wrong, and should not be permitted. I seriously suggest that this matter might be again considered by the Minister for Defence with a view to arriving at some understanding between the Commonwealth and the State on the lines to which I have referred, which are necessary for defence purposes. They should be kept in operation and in good repair so that in an emergency it would be possible to link one line with another and so have alternative means of transport between the various arterial lines should one section of line be put out of operation.

I make these suggestions in the belief that their adoption would assist our defence. 1 think that rifle clubs are essential, that proper staffing of our various factories is essential, that mobility and interchangeability in our railway systems is essential, and 1 suggest that these three matters should receive the earnest consideration of the Government.

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