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Wednesday, 27 August 1913

Senator PEARCE - Yes.

Senator Millen - Did the honorable senator take steps to get that machinery?

Senator PEARCE - Certain proposals were placed before the Naval Board, but up to the time I left office I had no word from the Board on the subject of those proposals.

Senator Millen - But for five months after the dockyard was transferred to the Commonwealth the Minister took no steps to obtain the additional machinery necessary.

Senator PEARCE - That statement is not accurate. If the honorable senator will place the whole of the papers on the table - and he will not do so while the censure motion is under discussion - I shall be prepared to challenge him on that point.

Senator Millen - That is not a fair statement for the honorable senator, to make, in view of the fact that he made one application to me for a report and it was granted.

Senator PEARCE - Is the honorable senator prepared to place the papers to which I have just referred on the table immediately ?

Senator Millen - Certainly.

Senator PEARCE - Then I shall be very pleased to discuss the question with the honorable senator.

Senator Millen - I do not think that the honorable senator should insinuate that I would not grant his request for these papers, seeing that I have already granted a similar request.

Senator PEARCE - The report of the late Dockyard Committee continues -

With regard to the suitability of Cockatoo Island as a naval dockyard for the construction of the war vessels referred to above, it might appear from the statements attributed to the Prime Minister by the press that at the time the Commonwealth Government entrusted the dockyard with the construction of the war vessels referred to above, and later, when they purchased the establishment for £870,000, the Commonwealth authorities were under the impression that they were entrusting the work to and subsequently purchasing a fully equipped modern warship building establishment, and that payment was arranged for upon that assumption. This is not the case. Admiral Henderson, who reported to the Commonwealth Government upon the establishment of the Australian Navy, personally inspected the dockyard before any warship construction was undertaken there, and the Commonwealth authorities had his report to guide them. Subsequently, during the construction of the Warrego, the Commonwealth Naval authorities had officers stationed upon the island, and it was visited from time to time by their senior naval advisers. It was well known to the Commonwealth authorities that the dockyards were equipped for the docking of vessels, as well as the construction of dredge plant, and that modern machinery was required before the construction of warships could be undertaken ; in fact, so recent are some of the improvements iu machinery used in such work that it would have been impossible to obtain it in years gone by, even had it been required for the purposes for which the dockyards were used in the past.

Being fully seized of these facts, and having had experience of the work done by the Yard in the construction of the Warrego, the Commonwealth placed orders for three destroyer* and the cruiser Brisbane with the State Government ; and, at a later date, took over the establishment on a valuation made by outside experts.

May I say here that these experts were obtained after Captain Clarkson made the report which Senator Millen quoted, and in which he said that the dockyard had not a staff for the work. The honorable senator did not tell the public that. After Captain Clarkson wrote that statement, these experts were obtained by the State Government.

Senator Millen - I do not quite follow the honorable senator.

Senator PEARCE - I say that after Captain Clarkson made this report the State Government obtained the experts ho whom he refers therein.

Senator Millen - Do you say that a record of that is on the file in the Navy Office?

Senator PEARCE - Yes.

Senator Millen - All I can say is that it is not on the file I perused.

Senator PEARCE - I say that the Navy Office is aware, by a communication from the State Government, that experts had been obtained, and obtained after Captain Clarkson had made this report, thereby nullifying that portion of it.

Senator Millen - What do you mean - workmen ?

Senator PEARCE - No, naval experts who were obtained from one of the leading firms of warship builders in England, and who are in the dockyard to-day.

With regard to the action of the late Committee of Management when the construction of the vessels referred to above at the Dockyards was proposed, the Committee felt bound to express to the Government their opinion as to the suitability of the establishment for the construction of warships. The Committee do not consider it necessary to refer to their report on the subject, which was of a confidential nature, beyond stating that whatever information they had at that time was equally available to the Commonwealth authorities, whose expert advisers arc presumably equally competent with themselves to form an opinion.

On receiving orders to proceed with the construction nf the warships, 'he Committee took the necessary steps to remodel the establishment for its new purpose, and obtained from one of the leading firms contracting for war vessels with the Admiralty, and with the advice and assistance of the Admiralty, experts to take charge of the various Departments under the SuperintendentEngineer.

At the time when the Committee were relieved of the control of the establishment on its transfer to the Commonwealth Government, the Yard was being rapidly brought to a state of efficiency for dealing with the carrying out of the contract entrusted by the Commonwealth, and, having due regard to the delays incidental to obtaining the material and machinery required, matters were in satisfactory train for the completion of the work, and arrangements were complete for providing all the requisite modern machinery. For some time prior to the Committee being relieved of the management of the Dockyards in January last, their operations were hampered by considerations arising out of the then impending transfer, since which date the Committee have had no personal connexion with, or knowledge of, the progress of operations at the Yard; but the Committee confidently assert that at the time the negotiations for transfer commenced, they had taken every action necessary to bring the establishment and staff into a state of efficiency to deal with the work, and that they were fully competent to deal with all such matters as the renewal and repair of plant, boilers, &c., required for the execution of the work as and when occasion arose.

Adverting to the criticism which has been levelled at the power plant, the Managing Committee soon after their creation recognised that this plant was not such as they considered suitable, and steps were taken by them to temporarily improve matters, pending the installation of a new plant on a more suitable site. As it would, however, answer the purpose for some little time, the money and energy at the Committee's disposal were devoted to the completion and equipment of the work-shops, and it was only at the end of last year that they felt it necessary to have the scheme thoroughly worked out, when plans were prepared and specifications drawn up for an up-to-date power plant. During the Committee's term of office, they, through their responsible officers, made due provision, by inspection and careful repair where necessary, for the protection and safety of their employés.

Since the Committee were relieved of the management in January last, they understand the Commonwealth authorities have had under consideration the appointment of a new manager at the Dockyards, and, further, that many matters have remained in abeyance pending such appointment. That such a change was contemplated, and yet not made, may have militated against the successful working of the establishment.

With regard to the price to be paid by the Commonwealth Government for the Dockyards, this was, as already stated, determined by mutual agreement. The Committee would point out that the establishment has a high commercial value, not only on account of its situation, but also in view of the fact that it contains the finest dock in Australia, apart from its value as a Naval construction yard ; and, so far from considering the price to be paid excessive, the Committee consider that this State made a sacrifice, in the interests of the Commonwealth, in agreeing to the transfer under the terms arranged.

To sum up the situation in the briefest possible terms : The Committee say that the conversion of these Dockyards into a Naval construction establishment, and the immediate initiation of warship building there - instead of waiting for the construction of new yards at another site - was undertaken by the Commonwealth authorities (presumably in consultation with the Admiralty) for the well-considered purpose of making a small beginning in the training of our men at such work at the only place in Australia where such an immediate beginning was possible; and this step, as well as the purchase of the Dockyards by the Commonwealth, was entered into with a full knowledge of the cost to the Commonwealth of taking such a step, and with a full reliance on the benefits thereby to be obtained.

In conclusion, the Committee desire to state that, subject to a due allowance being made in time for the hiatus which has occurred during the negotiations for the transferof the Dockyards to the Commonwealth, as well as for the time which has elapsed since the removal from the Committee's control in last January (from which date no responsibility for delay is taken) the Committee are willing to resume control at the establishment, and to deliver the warships ordered.

T.   W. Keele, M. Inst. C.E., Chairman.

Hector Kidd, M. Inst. C.E., Vice-Chairman.

T.   H. Houghton, M. Inst. C.E.

E.   M. de Burgh, M. Inst. C.E.

A.   E. Cutler, Assoc. M. Inst. C.E.

Members of the late Committee of Management.

F.   Cass,

Secretary to the Committee.

The late Government called for applications throughout the world for a general manager. They did not fix a salary, but asked the applicants to fix their own salary, the determination being to get the best man available, and to pay him well. The applications were gone through by a committee appointed in England, and consisting of Admiral Henderson, Captain Haworth Booth, and either the High Commissioner or Captain Collins. A recommendation of a person was made by the committee, and had not the Government been practically under sentence of death, that appointment would have been made. The present Government have been in office for nearly two months. They know that there can be no satisfactory carrying on of work until the question of Cockatoo Island Dock is settled by the appointment of a general manager - by haying somebody in authority to refer to. The honorable senator who sprang this scare upon the public has had for two months the opportunity of making an appointment. He has had the names before him; he has had the authority of the Government, with a majority behind it, of making an appoint- ment, but he has not done so. The responsibility for any delay which has arisen from the non-appointment of a general manager he must accept himself. I invite him to say why he has not appointed that gentleman, because I know that it was most unsatisfactory to have to carry on with an acting manager. I intend no reflection upon the gentleman who was the servant of New South Wales. He had no permanent appointment with the Commonwealth, and, therefore, he could not be expected to take upon himself the responsibility, nor would the Naval Board like to remodel the dockyard, or make any drastic alterations there until a general manager was appointed. Senator Millen knows, if he has read the papers, that many things which the Naval Board had advised had to be deferred until a general manager was appointed. If he hadwished to expedite that work, one of the methods by which he could have done so was to come to a decision to appoint one of the applicants as a general manager, or to say to the acting manager," We have decided not to appoint any of these applicants. We will give you authority to act."

Senator Millen - You know that you could not put the acting manager back permanently.

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