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Friday, 22 June 1906

Senator MCGREGOR (South Australia) .- - I am very glad to hear that the Minister is making inquiries, because in ray opinion they are verv necessary. We have the honorable gentleman and many others in the Senate always declaring that our population is too small to enable us to do anything of this kind here.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator cannot quote me as saving that, because I have never made the statement.

Senator MCGREGOR - The honorable senator said that the quantity of ammunition and rifles that we require was too small to justify the, establishment of a factory, but that when our population increased we might make a move in that direction. What are we to infer from that statement? I ask the Minister to inquire what is done in Denmark, which has, very little more than half the population of Australia, in Switzerland, and in Belgium, where they manufacture arms extensively, although their population is not much larger than ours.

Senator Playford - They make them for sale.

Senator McGREGOR - Why could we not make arms for sale? We make a lot of other things for sale. We shall never make these articles unless we try to do so. What I wish to point out to the Minister is that the annual vote of £1,000,000 is not spent for actual war purposes. On the contrary, it is spent for the purpose of preparing us to meet such a contingency. Is it not advisable, whether it is employed fully or not, to provide ourselves with the machinery to make the arms and ammunition for our men? And before we obtain that machinery and begin the manufacture of arms and ammunition, is it not necessary that we should produce steel and iron in Australia? In my opinion the Minister is the proper person to make all these inquiries, and tell the Senate what, in his view, is the best way to proceed in this direction. I was very glad to hear from the Minister that if it is decided to have a small navy of our own an attempt will be made to build the vessels here. In view of the possibilities which have been suggested, we ought to be in a position to construct the ships on the spot. I heard an honorable senator on the other side accuse the Minister of coquetting with the Labour Party. That is all nonsense. The Minister was talking to every senator in the Chamber, and that accusation ought not to have been made. We, as a party, were not asking the Minister for anything in connexion with defence. Some honorable senators are always talking about the great navy of Great Britain, what it has done, and is doing, and how dependent we are upon its efforts. The way in which we can render the greatest assistance to the mother country is by being able to defend ourselves. Every senator who is the head of a family naturally anticipates the time when his children will be prepared to provide for themselves. Look at how we provide for our defence by water ! What do we get for our subsidy, which, I admit, is not a very great one? Are any inquiries made by honorable senators opposite as to what we get for the money?

Senator Fraser - We get security against invasion. It is like an insurance fund.

Senator Walker - Quite .right.

Senator McGREGOR - Do honorable senators, who interject, know that, early in this year, when the flagship went on a trial trip, her machinery broke down? It is very easy for some persons to say that we are well defended, and to suggest that the machinery^ of every ship is liable to break down, and that a mishap is just as likely to occur to the machinery of the Powerful as to' that of any other ship. These mishaps occur too frequently. Suppose that we were dependent upon the efficiency of these vessels for our defence, and that 'when they went out they broke down one after another, what would; be our position ? No inquiry is ever made. Honorable senators do not know that these vessels are continually breaking down. For the last three or four months the Pylades has been lying alongside Garden Island. Her tubes have been blown out two or three times, although she came out with almost new boilers from the old country. It shows that we cannot depend upon these vessels. There ought to be in Australia some place where they could be repaired efficiently instead of lying alongside Garden Island.

Senator Walker - They are being repaired in Sydney already.

Senator McGREGOR - Yes, but look at the question of cost and inconvenience, and the way in which the work has to be done. We are dependent upon these vessels for our security when they are lying alongside Garden Island to be repaired. Cannot honorable senators opposite see that they are only living in a fool's paradise? It is the duty of the Minister of Defence to inquire into these matters, and to be in a position to tell the Senate whether in sending out these vessels the British Admiralty are fulfilling their dutv towards the Commonwealth, and whether we have a right to quietly sit here and consider ourselves safe when that' sort of protection is afforded to us in return for our subsidy. I hope that the day will soon arrive when we shall have the material to build our own vessels manufactured here, because it could be produced with greater economy here than in any other part of the world, as we have the coal and the iron lying alongside each other. Australia is far richer than are many other places in the world where iron is produced to-day.

Senator Col Neild - The honorable senator means in New South Wales.

Senator McGREGOR - And in other States.

Senator Col Neild - Nowhere else, I think.

Senator McGREGOR - Steel is being manufactured in South Melbourne to-day by a process which I venture to say the honorable senator has never heard of. Queensland has deposits of coal which are just as plentiful as those in New South Wales. But I am not arguing in the interests of any particular State. I do not care whether the work is undertaken in New South Wales, South Australia, or Vi;toria. But the time has arrived when we ought at least to consider whether it is not advisable to make provisions for future necessities in connexion with naval defence and for the manufacture of our own small arms and guns. Unless we begin to consider it seriously, the work will never be undertaken. I believe that it would pay us to have an arms factory of our own, even if we only kept ir. going for a month in the year. I have heard complaints made that if we had a larger military force we should simply increase the number of idle men. What is to prevent us from forming a force in Australia of such a character that those who composed it could work in the arms and ammunition factories at the same time that they were learning to be soldiers? They could, it seems to me, be useful citizens, while still carrying out their military duties when not required to work in the factories. This would be a means of utilizing a certain amount of labour that is at present lost in every civilized community. I am quite aware that trained soldiers are not employed usefully in times of peace in other countries. But we in Australia should begin to teach the rest of the world a lesson. Many of our soldiers at Queenscliff and other forts would be far better employed if a certain portion of their time were occupied in making ammunition in a factory under the control of the Commonwealth.

Senator Playford - Girls are usually employed in ammunition factories.

Senator McGREGOR - But I contend that these men could fill in a large portion of their time that is at present unoccupied at work which would be valuable. I am sure that they would feel the happier if they knew that their services were being utilized in the interests of the country.

Senator Playford - If we did that, we should! have to have one ammunition factory in Sydney, another in Queenscliff and others at other stations where our soldiers arelocated.

Senator McGREGOR - How would the Minister act if there were an attack upon Brisbane? Would he not send all the soldiers available to that place? And could he not do exactly the same thing if a certain quantity of ammunition were required to be made at a certain place?

Senator Playford - It would cost us a good deal to keep our men moving backwards and forwards.

Senator McGREGOR - It costs us a good deal to keep them doing nothing at the present time. If it cost us a little more to keep them doing something, it would be economical, all the same.

Senator Dobson - Would the trade unionists consent to the honorable senator's idea?

Senator McGREGOR - Senator Dobson need not trouble about the trade unionists.

They are prepared to act in the interests of the Commonwealth to quite as great an extent as are honorable senators opposite. I can guarantee that. They know that if a large number of men are kept in idleness they, as workers, have to provide their sustenance; and they would far rather have the assistance of these men in doing useful work. Trade unionists are no fools. There may have been a time when they were as narrow-minded as some honorable senators are to-day. They might then have objected to a proposal of this description. But they see too far and too clearly now what their interests are, and I am sure that they would raise no objection to what I propose. I hope that inquiries will be made as to the possibility of building our own vessels and manufacturing our own ammunition, small arms, and guns ; that we shall see to it that we obtain good service for the money that we pay : and that the security which Senator Fraser and Senator Gray profess to have so much at heart will at last be attained.

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