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Tuesday, 5 August 1930

Senator BARNES(Victoria-Assistant

Minister) [2.15]. - I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this measure is to provide out of Consolidated RevenueFund the sum of £130,570 for additions, new works, buildings, &c, for the year ending the 30th June, 1931.

The amount which Parliament provided last year for similar services was £290,576, and the actual expenditure for that year amounted to £245,536. The amount which Parliament is now asked to provide is, therefore, £160,006 less than was voted, and £114,966 less than was actually expended last year.

The total amount provided for by the bill is made up as follows : -


I shall be pleased to supply whatever details honorable senators . may require when the bill reaches the committee stage.

Senator SirGEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [2.16]. - On the vote for " Naval establishments " I wish to discuss Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Some time ago a judgment was delivered by the High Court of Australia, the effect of which was to prevent the Commonwealth from undertaking . private work in that dockyard; that is. to say,' its operations were confined to the carrying out of purely governmental work. The result, of . course, has been that, in the absence of work for any of the departments, the establishment has been rendered partially idle. It was obvious to the last Government that a tremendous amount of capital was lying idle and that, no matter what it did, the dockyard could not be made a payable concern. It has a very valuable plant which, if kept fully employed, would provide constant work for artisans and others, and, in addition, would be available to the Commonwealth as a going concern for repair and other work for the Navy should Australia, unhappily, find herself involved in another war - a contingency that we all hope will never arise. The last Government, therefore, instituted inquiries with a view to leasing the dockyard to a private individual or a company, who or which could undertake, not only naval work and work for other government departments, but also outside work, without coming into conflict with the Federal Constitution. Just before that Government went out of office, it entered into negotiation with a gentleman who represented certain capital in Sydney, and an agreement was tentatively drawn up.

Senator Dunn - What is his name ?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE I cannot remember his name, but it will appear on the files in the department. He was a man of substance, and represented a substantial amount of capital. Speaking from memory, this tentative agreement provided for the payment of a rental of about £10,000 a year, and 5 per cent, on the turnover.

Senator Rae - Was the 5 per cent, to be additional to the £10,000 a year?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.E think that it was. The offer was a remarkably good one, and I have no doubt that, had it remained in office, the birt Government would have brought the proposal to Parliament and recommended its adoption. Had the agreement been carried out, Cockatoo Island Dockyard would have been able to undertake every class of private work, and iti magnificent plant, instead of lying idle, would have been kept operating on a great deal of work that I feel sure is going out of Australia at the present time. I expected the present Government to carry the matter through when it assumed office, - because such an action would have resulted in the avoidance of a certain amount of unemployment. Under existing conditions the dockyard cannot undertake private work. I believe it was Senator Rae who expressed the view that its plant should be utilized in a certain direction. If he will study the High Court judgment to which I have referred he will find that, under its existing constitutional powers, such a course is not open to the Commonwealth. In the case in question, the dockyard authorities ten- dered for the supply* of certain electrical machinery for the Bunnerong power station. A private firm applied to the High Court for an injunction restraining the Commonwealth from proceeding further with the matter, and the injunction was granted. I believe that there is not another plant in the Commonwealth which is equal to that at Cockatoo Island Dockyard; therefore, no private firm is capable of carrying out every class of work that can be done there. It has astonished me to find that this Government has not proceeded with the matter. No statement has been made as to what has occurred. If the Assistant Minister will consult the files he will learn that the last Government was negotiating with a man of substance, and that the bona fides of the company could not be questioned. I very much doubt whether, iti the existing state of depression, the same advantageous terms could be obtained. When the negotiations were begun, the depression was not so intense as it is at the present time, and probably the person with whom the last Government was negotiating would not take the same roseate view of the possibilities. It is a pity that, because of constitutional difficulties, such a valuable plant cannot be used to its full capacity by the Commonwealth. I cannot for the life of me see how the leasing of the dockyard to a private firm would be in any way antagonistic to the policy of the Labour party, even assuming that that party stands for State ownership. If under State ownership the dockyard is not permitted, because of constitutional limitations, to do certain work, what on earth is the good of adhering to a paper principle? I make this suggestion, not in any party sense, but merely because I regard it as a waste of capital to allow that valuable plant to lie idle. On a recent Sunday, when I Ava3 in Sydney, I passed the dockyard, and it appeared to me that its operations were confined to work upon a small steamer of 200 or 300 tons. Considering the number of large vessels that trade to Australia from overseas, there must be a lot of work that could be done at the dockyard if it were leased to a private company. In the interests of Australia, as well as with a view to relieving the present unemployment, I recommend that the Government look into the matter to see whether the offer, which was made to the last Government, is still open; or, if not, whether a modified agreement can be entered into.

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