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Friday, 22 June 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I can assure the honorable senator that I have not lost sight of the matter to which he has referred. As a protectionist, I am in favour of our doing all the work we can in the Commonwealth ; but in this connexion there are positions which even we, as protectionists, cannot take up. The question is, whether the quantity of arms and ammunition that we require would be sufficient to justify the erection of the necessary machinery, and keep it going. Let us take, for instance, the manufacture of cordite, which is now used for all arms. It certainly could be made in Australia, but its manufacture by the Government would . involve immense loss, since we should require but a very small quantity. I could erect one of the smallest factories here foi a given sum, but the manufacture of cordite in that factory would not be payable, unless we had' an output of something like 50 tons a year.

Senator Staniforth Smith - How do they manage in Canada?

Senator PLAYFORD - I do not know what they are doing there. I do not know that they are making, cordite, but they may be manufacturing it at great loss. I can buy cordite at 2s. 8d. per lb., whereas calculations that have been made show that it would cost something like 59. per lb. to manufacture it here, if the output of the factory were simply that required to meet our own demands. The question is, whether we are going to double our ammunition charges for the purpose of giving a month's employment annually to a few workmen.

Senator Givens - That is not the main purpose, and the honorable senator ought to know that it is not.

Senator PLAYFORD - That is the position as it appeals to me. We have to determine whether it would really be worth while, from a practical point of view, to undertake this work. I have been in communication with two companies, and Nobel's have offered to supply the Department with cordite at a certain price for a certain quantity, the price to be reduced in proportion to the quantity ordered. But we cannot take the quantity necessary. When the late Mr. Seddon was here, the question of whether New Zealand would give us the manufacture of the supplies it required was discussed. If it would, that would increase our output by 5 tons a year. We have also been making inquiries to ascertain whether the Admiralty could not take from us! the supplies required for the Australian as well as for the Eastern Squadron. Inquiries are still being made, and I hope to be able to establish a cordite factory. I should certainly do so if I could say to the Senate, " We shall only have to pay a sum not very much in excess of what we are now paying for our cord'ite." But) as the cost would be so much in excess of what we are now paying, and we have a reserve of cordite sufficient to carry us over, not only this year, but next year- -

Senator Givens - It would not last a fortnight in time of war.

Senator PLAYFORD - When I tell the honorable senator what provision we have made he will recognise that our position with regard to arms and ammunition is exceedingly favorable. Nevertheless. I should like to see cordite manufactured here. A war might break out at any time, but it would not be altogether wise to incur a large expenditure because of a mere probability. As long as we keep up a reserve that will tide us over a certain time, we shall have nothing to fear. Nowadays, wars are generally sharp and decisive. We are not likely to have a recurrence of the one hundred years' Avar, or a thirty years' war, such .as we read of in history, and as long as we takecare to have reserves of ammunition sufficient to tide us over a certain^ time, and a supply of arms sufficient, at all events, to equip the number of troops, necessary to enable us to meet any likely invasion, we shall have done as much as we ought to do. Senator Givens urged theestablishment of a factory capable of turning out big, guns, as well as small arms. Canada has started the manufacture of small arms, and' I have made inquiries as to what would be the cost of providing such an establishment here. It is estimated that an outlay of £150,000 would be required to start thefactory, and that even then we should not be able to keep it working full' time. The trouble is that we require,, comparatively speaking, only a very small quantity. Are honorable senators prepared to support the erection of a big factory, which would be kept going only a month a year? Are they prepared to incur thisexpenditure in order that we may be ready to defend ourselves in a war which, might' not take place for another forty years?

Senator Pearce - Why not have a small" factory, with a smaller turnover, and working all the year round?

Senator PLAYFORD - I would if I could, but the honorable senator knows that in all branches of industry nowadays work is done automatically. An article is made, not by one machine, but by a number ; it passes from one machine to another until its manufacture is complete. Once a machine is started in a small arms factory, it must go on at its full capacity. If its speed be reduced power is wasted.

Senator Millen - That is not an argument with our honorable friends opposite.

Senator PLAYFORD - Surely it is. The position I take up is that it is a question of whether it would pay us to establish a small arms factory.

Senator Pearce - The question is whether we should have one set of the necessary machinery or several.

Senator PLAYFORD - I have been alluding to only one set. Small arms are turned out very quickly by machinery, and one set would probably manufacture ten or twenty times more than we should ever require. We should thus have an expensive plant lying idle for a considerable time every year. My inquiries lead me to believe that there is no escape from that position. At the same time, I recognise the advantage that would flow from the establishment of a factory capable of turning out all that we require. Cordite has a more detrimental effect upon our rifles than has ordinary black powder, and', consequently, new barrels are frequently required. Provision has been made this year for a considerable number off new rifle barrels. I do not know whether it would be impossible for us to make a start in the direction desired by Senator* Givens by establishing a factory, in which we could replace rifle barrels out of repair, and extend it as our population increased and our position improved. 1 can assure honorable senators that I have looked into this matter very carefully. I would ask the Senate to vote the money to start the manufacture of these articles if I could see that it would pay the Commonwealth to take that step. But the cost of the undertaking would be so great that I have shrunk from making a proposal. My idea is that, if it is decided to have a little fleet of our own, we ought to establish dock-yards and build the vessels here. So far as I can see from the inquiries I have made, it will not pay us at the present time to manufacture ammunition or rifles. I shall look still further into the matter. If any honorable senators will give notice of particular questions, I shall give them all the information I can get. If they are then dissatisfied, and consider that we ought to incur this expense simply for the sake of the .advantage of having, in a problematical time of war, the means of manufacturing our own rifles more quickly than possibly they could be imported from the old country, they can bring the matter before Parliament.

Senator Dobson - Do not coquette with them.

Senator PLAYFORD - I am not coquetting with them. I am not in a position to recommend Parliament to do anything of the sort.

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