17th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S.Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m. and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping whether or not materials of British manufacture made from Australian wool are forbidden entry to Australia, whilst under the present pricefixing arrangement imports of materials of spun rayon receive a subsidy of as much as 2s. 7d. a yard?
– I am not aware of the facts, but I shall ascertain them and reply to the honorable member later.
Treatment of Civilianby Provosts - B Class Men - ex-Sergeant Martin.
– Has the Minister for the Army yet received a report concerning the allegation that I made last week - which, incidentally, was censored- - of the manhandling of a civilian at Manly by Army Provosts? If so, will the honorable gentleman state whether or not the Army has an answer to the allegation, and can offer any excuse for the conduct of the officers concerned ? Can the honorable gentleman also adduce any reason for the prevention by Army censorship of the ventilation of facts in relation to such an invasion of the rights of a citizen ?
– I shall make inquiries, and later advise the honorable member as to whether or not a report has been received. I presume that the reference of the honorable member to censorship relates to publicity censorship. If so, the matter is under the control of the Minister for Information, not of the Army Department.
– Does the honorable member for Reid allege that the Hansard report of his speech was censored?
– No, Mr. Speaker, the newspaper report.
– Has the Minister for the Army received a report in relation to the complaint which I made in this House, of200 B class men in a northern unit having been, as they claim, victimized and unfairly fined when unable to do heavy navvying work on the wharf? Will the honorable gentleman consider the facts of this case before the close of the present sessional period, and ensure that full justice shall be meted out to these men? Will he also table the papers in connexion with the matter?
– I shall make inquiries immediately into the matter raised by the honorable member.
– Has not a report been received?
– The honorable member might, with advantage, call at my office and discuss the matter with me there. He has not so far done so, andI shall be very pleased if he will.
– About four days ago,I asked the Minister for the Army whether or not action had been taken in regard to a matter which Ihad raised three or four weeks ago in connexion with ex-Sergeant Martin. The honorable gentleman then said that he had signed’ a letter, and if I had not received it, obviously it was on itsway to me. I now advise the honorable gentleman that I have not yet received that letter. Will the honorable gentleman confer with the Postmaster-General, with a view to that Minister dealing with all communications between Ministers and members, thus ensuring much more expeditious despatch than they receive under the present arrangement?
– The rumour is circulating in a number of country districts that large supplies of rubber are coming to Australia via Russia. Although I give it no credence, a good deal of difficulty is thus being occasioned to War Agricultural Committees, which have the duty of surveying the right of primary producers and others to obtain supplies of tyres. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping state whether or not there is any truth in the rumour?
– There is no truth whatever in the rumour. I am glad that the honorable member has raised the matter, because an opportunity is thus afforded to me to restate that this essential commodity is still in critically short supply.
Concessions to Blind Persons
– Is the Minister for Transport able to state whether or not action is proposed with a view to giving effect to the request of the Blind Federal Council for the restoration to blind perssons of interstate rail travel concessions?
– In January, 1942, the War Railway Committee decided that the general interstate travel concessions, in connexion with other than essential war purposes, should be discontinued. This decision included travel concessions to all sections of the community, such as delegates to conferences, blind persons, &c. Representations were recently made to me by the Blind Federal Council of
Australia, as well as by a number of blind persons individually, in regard to travel interstate for reasonably essential purposes. Such persons have always been given the necessary priority travel permit if the purposes for which they wished to travel came within the Commonwealth regulations; but the railway systems have been charging the ordinary interstate fares. Arrangements were made for further consideration of the matter by the War Railway Committee, and at the meeting hold last week it was unanimously agreed that the concession fares previously in operation in respect of interstate travel should be restored in all cases in which such travel is authorized by a Commonwealth Priority Permit.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the cabled report of the statement by Mr. Churchill in the House of Commons, that he was unable to consent to the widening of the scope of qualification for the 1939-43 star, and the statement of the Minister for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, that service for one day in any of a number of campaigns last year would enable the participant to qualify for this decoration ? Does the right honorable gentleman know that the ground personnel of Royal Australian Air Force squadrons which have served in Britain, many of whom have been killed or have suffered casualties, are excluded? In view of the new facts that have been brought to light, will the right honorable gentleman during his visit abroad earnestly press that these men shall receive what is not a concession but a right?
Mr.CURTIN. - I shall have the matter discussed.
Referendum Information for Service Personnel
– I ask the Prime Minister whether or not it is intended that members of the Australian fighting forces who are overseas shall have the right to vote at the forthcoming referendum at which the people are to be asked to consent to an alteration of the Constitution? If so, will the right honorable gentleman undertake that any communications that may be sent to them so as to enable them to give an intelligent vote, will not be censored for the sole reason that these contain either criticism of the administration, or facts upon which criticism might be founded?
– Has the Government definitely fixed a date for the holding of the referendum? If not, has the Attorney-General an approximate date in mind? Will the right honorable gentleman make the announcement of it as soon as is practicable in order that necessary arrangements may be made by those who may wish to present to the electors views different from those which the Government may urge?
– The date for the holding of the referendum has not been considered. When it is fixed, it will be announced.
– In the press this morning,the announcement has been made that striking coal-miners who were called up for the Army are to be released. Are these releases being made on the recommendation of the Coal Commissioner? Did Mr. Mighell want these men to be returned to the industry, or is this another example of Government capitulation to the Coal and Shale Employees Federation ?
– Full action has not yet been taken by the Coal Commissioner; but it was on his very strong recommendation that the action mentioned by the honorable member has been taken.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether or not permanently disabled soldiers of Australia, at their headquarters in Brisbane, receive a maximum allowance of two ounces of tobacco a week, which is one ounce a week less than is issued to Italian prisoners of war? If so, will the honorable gentleman have investigations made, with a view to rectifying what appears to be a glaring injustice to these ex-soldiers?
– I am sure that the Minister for Trade and Customs is endeavouring to make available as much tobacco as possible to all sections of the community. I shall have much pleasure in obtaining the information which the honorable gentleman seeks.
– Has the Prime Minister received from me a letter in which I announced my resignation from the Social Security Commitee? If so, when does he propose to take the necessary steps to give effect to that resignation, as well as to the resignation of other members of the committee?
– The letter of which the honorable member speaks was handed to me yesterday evening. There was also another letter from a member of the Senate, as well as a prior letter from the honorable member for Parramatta. I have taken the requisite steps to have a motion prepared for submission to this House. It was not possible to have it ready for presentation this morning.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to the duration of the Supply and Development Acts 1939.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 23rd March (vide page 1981), on motion by Mr. Chifley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- I draw the attention of the Government to the fact that there is serious danger of a very heavy loss of canning peaches in the Goulburn Valley district within the next two or three weeks, due to a shortage of suitable labour and a lack of cool-storage facilities. This is the height of the peachharvesting season in that area, and I have received communications from growers’ organizations, and from the managers of the great co-operative canneries, to the effect that between 1,200 and 2,000 tons of peaches may be lost. Such a loss, at a time like this, would be a tragedy. The problem has been accentuated by the fact that there has been a bumper crop this year. I acknowledge the helpful co-operation of the Deputy Director of Man Power, and of the Army authorities in securing labour for harvesting. The Army has released men for seasonal work, and has also organized prison labour for picking peaches and tomatoes. However, there is still a shortage, and the labour available is sometimes inefficient and unwilling. One man told me that he needed 30 men for his fruit-picking team, and the Department for Labour and National Service helped him to obtain workers. However, in order to keep 30 men in the orchard for four weeks, he had a labour turnover of 120 men. His experience was that many men directed to him by the department would work for only a few hours, or perhaps for a day or’ two, and then leave. The canneries have experienced the same difficulty, particularly with female labour. It has been found that girls can be directed from Melbourne to Kyabram and other canning centres, but they cannot be compelled to work. The manager of one cannery told me that, although an additional 100 girls had been directed to join his processing staff, he found that there were 90 fewer girls working than before.
– Do the girls actually travel to the canning centres?
– Yes. Some of them fail to report, but many of them do report, and are accommodated in the hostel which the cannery has provided. They do not fail to live at the hostel, and to eat there. They only fail to work in the factory. Apart from that, everything is satisfactory! The situation could be improved if cool storage space were available in which to hold the peaches so that the processing period might be extended, but there is not sufficient space available. Growers have told me that they cannot get the canneries to take their fruit. One grower with 100 tons of peaches has applied unsuccessfully to the Ardmona cannery, to the Rosella Company - where there is a strike - and to the Lemnos cannery.
As I have said, I have found the Minister for Labour and National Service and his officers most help- ful, but I am not quite satisfied that everything possible has been done to provide additional cool storage space. I have heard complaints that the Apple and Pear Board is bringing apples across from Tasmania to Victoria - where the board does not function - and holding them there -in cool store, when the apples might be held in Tasmania for a little longer, and the storage space used for the accommodation of peaches. In this connexion, I draw the attention of the Minister for “War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) to the need for expediting the making of decisions regarding applications by canneries for permission to build additional cool stores. For six months, I have been trying to get permission for the Ardmona cannery to increase its cool storage space.
– I agree that additional cool storage space would be a solution of the problem.
– My department does not hold up these applications.
– I accept the Minister’s assurance without challenge. I do not know who holds them up. All I know is that this cannery had been trying .for six months to get permission, and received it only last Tuesday.
– Does not the honorable member think that the canneries themselves might have provided cool storage facilities long ago?
– That is probably true. I do not absolve any one who is blameworthy. I think the Government of Victoria might have done more than it has. Now the Kyabram cannery is seeking permission to erect a cool store. If its application is delayed for six months it will still be short of storage space in another twelve months. I cannot see why delays of that kind should be regarded as inevitable.
In order to relieve the shortage of labour in the orchards, I urge the Minister for the Army to expedite decisions regarding applications for the release ‘of men from the Army. I receive hundreds of letters asking for my help in obtaining the release of persons from the Army, but I do not think that it is proper for me to set myself up as a judge to decide who should bp released. The War Agri- cultural committees know the circumstances associated with individual cases, and they make a prior examination of applications. These cases are then looked into by the officers of the Department of Labour and National Service, and after that by the Army authorities. That is a proper procedure, but I cannot understand why, in a majority of cases, it should take from three to six months to reach a decision. One hears of some extraordinary instances of delay, and the passing backwards and forwards of applications from one authority to another. One soldier was sent from Melbourne to Darwin, and on the day he reached Darwin he was directed to return to Melbourne to be released for work on a farm in Victoria. These things are not only unsatisfactory from the administrative aspect, but they also involve a great limitation of troops and substantial additional burdens upon the transport of the country.
– And lower morale.
– Yes. I hold strong views upon the policy which says that the only men who shall be released from the Army on occupational grounds are those who are medically B class and are not in one of the prescribed fighting formations. I concede that B class men should be the first to be released, but I know of many B class men whose release cannot be secured. The son of a neighbour of mine who served in the New Guinea campaign has been in hospital eleven times with malaria and is now held in camp at Seymour. Notwithstanding that his father, who served in the last war, is ill and requires the aid of his son to carry on his agricultural pursuits, neither I nor any one else can secure the release of the boy, who served at Kokoda, Buna and Gona, to work on the farm. But I do not propose to occupy time in referring to individual cases. I confine myself to the general policy. Men who served in Libya, Greece, Crete, the Middle East and New Guinea and are still numbered in the ranks of the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions, being medically A class, are debarred from any possibility of being released on occupational grounds. There should be a policy by which such veterans can be replaced by other A class men who are aching to get into the battle. I know that we must maintain the strength of those fighting formations, because, although, thanks to the gallantry and skill of the soldiers of Australia and its Allies, this country to-day is regarded as safe from invasion, the war is not yet won, and it will be won
Only by defeating our enemies. Australia must continue to play its part, and, I have no doubt, as the war moves nearer Japan, Australian forces will be in the forefront. It is inevitable that those three Divisions will be amongst the first troops to go forward to drive the Japanese back. Nevertheless, it is neither necessary nor humane to say that, while this war lasts, the men who volunteered early in the war must go, if physically fit, into battle after battle, until victory comes or they are wounded or killed. In the Australian Army there are hundreds of thousands of men beside those in the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions, who have “gone A.I.F.”, that is, have volunteered for and been accepted by the Australian Imperial Force, but have not been transferred out of their Militia divisions. They are eating their hearts out to get into the fight. Surely that would enable the adoption of a policy under which the men who have served for some stipulated period, the determination of which I leave to the Army authorities and the Government, will establish an entitlement to be removed, if they so desire, from the front rank either to some essential civil occupation or some Army base job, and replaced by medically fit members of the Australian Imperial Force who are still in other military formations.
– That applies to the Air Force too.
– Yes. The sending of the young chaps who went into the Australian Imperial Force at the outbreak of war into battle after battle must have a devastating effect on their health. I am not optimistic enough to think that we are in sight of the end of the war against Japan. It is futile to attempt to predict when it will end. It would be a most optimistic prediction to say that the European war may be over this year.- When it is over it will be necessary to re-orientate the Allied forces before they can be put into the fight against Japan. I regret that we can scarcely feel justified in estimating that the war against Japan will be over in a couple of years. It may take another three years, or even four years, if things go wrong as they do in every war. Are those men who volunteered in 1939 and 1940 and have fought in battle after battle to go on serving until 1945, 1946 or 1947 or until their health cracks or they are wounded or killed ? Surely not ! There ought to be a policy under which those who desire it shall be transferred into essential civilian industry or to base jobs in Australia which will enable them to marry and, although still in uniform, live something approaching the normal life of a citizen of this country. I put that view very strongly to the Government, hoping that some decision on policy will emerge from it. As the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) said, there is equal opportunity and necessity for the application of a similar policy to the Royal Australian Air Force.
– There should be rotation of duty and something like the long Anzac leave that our men got in the last war.
– True. While it is argued from some quarters that none of these men can be spared, the honorable member for Balaclava has drawn attention time and time again in this House, as I have done myself in correspondence with the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin), to the number of young men in civilian clothes in the Public Service whose hearts are breaking because they cannot get into uniform and take up some of the burden of the war. A great many of them are men who cannot be regarded as key men in their departments. When I was Minister for Air I bad the devil of a fight for the release of young men on £190 a year from the Department of the Army to enlist as aircrew members of the Royal Australian Air Force. It was affirmed by the head of the department that a couple of these fellows were indispensable. They were potential pilots of Lancaster bombers or Spitfires, each capable, in the estimate of the Department of Air, of delivering the most powerful blow at the enemy through those instruments of war that any one man could hope to deliver. It was then argued, as it is still argued in some departments, that men in the lower ranks cannot be spared to don uniforms and do the duties that they are positively aching to take up. Those remarks I address particularly to the Minister for the Navy, with whom I have been in communication, as has the honorable member for Balaclava, about some civilian clerks in his department. I hope that action will be taken to enable young men in the Public Service who have a burning ambition to take an active share in this war to be allowed to do so.
We must anticipate a continued shortage of labour in agricultural industries. The greatest saving to offset the shortage of labour can be made on the farms by the provision of additional labour-saving equipment. I do not argue that when the country is mobilized totally foi war, factories should be put to work to produce ordinary civil requirements, because to do so would be too silly for words ; but there could be a real saving of man-power for the fighting forces and food production if some of our skilled workers and equipment were diverted to the manufacture of modern labour-saving farm equipment. On many farms milking is still done by hand owing to the unavailability of milking machines. Only after long delay are farmers able to buy small engines. This country, which led the world in devising and manufacturing harvesting machinery, now lags behind the United States of America. The only harvesting equipment that Australian factories manufacture are iron-wheeled cumbersome affairs that trundle along at about 1$ miles an hour, whereas the agricultural implement factories in the United States of America produce harvesters with rubber tyred wheels, either drawn by tractors or equipped with their own power units, which go along at 5 or 6 miles an hour. In this disparity is a tremendous additional draw on the man-power of this country. I know, of course, that difficulties will be raised. It will be said, “What is the good of talking about rubber tyres when supplies of rubber are so limited ? “. There is a lot in that, but my reply is, “ What is the use of still seeing hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles freely used in the great cities like Melbourne, duplicating electric train and tram services and government-owned motor bus services ? “ The diversion of some of the rubber used on those city motor vehicles to essential industries would be of tremendous value. These industries are being carried on under disabilities of which few people have the slightest conception. The disabilities extend to every activity of rural industries.
Earlier, I referred to the problems of fruit canneries. One of the biggest fruit canneries in Australia is situated a-t Kyabram, in Victoria, and many of the employees have their meals in hostels and cafes. I have received correspondence from the proprietress of a cafe in Kyabram, and she tells an almost incredible story. Although her establishment has been classified, in her own words, as “ a first essential service “ because she is providing meals for the employees of the cannery, she finds it impossible to get a decision from the rationing authorities to enable her to obtain a reasonable supply of butter, sugar, and tea. Last January, she provided 1,117 meals, mostly for cannery employees, but for that month she was allowed only 8 lb. of butter. She informed me : “ Since January, I have not been able to get 1 lb. of butter from the rationing authorities. Every time I write to them they send me, after some delay, another form to fill in. I cannot spread . the forms on the bread. I must have butter.” Only the assistance, possibly the illegal assistance, of her friends, in giving to her coupons from their own books has enabled her to get any butter at all since last January. Imagine, 8 lb. of butter for a cafe that serves nearly 1,200 meals! Was that supply expected to last for three months? She has had a similar problem with tea. Although her ration is 6 lb. a month, she used 4 lb. last Saturday. When she applied to the rationing authorities for approval to purchase more tea, they sent another form to her. She asks for more tea and gets more forms. She asks for more sugar and she gets more forms.
– If she were to ask for forms, she might get some tea.
– That is the brightest suggestion that I have yet heard. Difficult as the problems of administration are in these days, this state of affairs cannot be permitted to continue. But it appears to be common to every government department. Honorable members will recall that, in January, 1943, 1 complained about the action of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Army, and American forces In taking over, at the- shortest notice, a stud farm at Tocumwal for the purpose of constructing an aerodrome. This farm was one of the outstanding sheep, horse and cattle stud properties in Australia. One day representatives of the services walked on to the farm and told the owner to leave at once. A year passed, but that man did not receive any compensation, with the exception of a monthly payment over a period of six months of the equivalent of 4 per cent, of what some official considered was the value of the property. When I first raised this matter in the House, I emphasized that the proper course for the Government to adopt in the circumstances was immediately to proclaim the acquisition of the farm, so that the owner would be legally entitled to negotiate with the Government to obtain the value of the property. That would have enabled him to start afresh elsewhere. The House agreed that it was indefensible that the owner, a year after he had been compelled to leave the property,- had not received compensation.
– I remember the case, and I am interested to know whether the department took any action.
– The department took action all right, but in its own good time. Despite the continued efforts of the owner, his solicitor and myself, a year passed before the department proclaimed the acquisition of the farm. That delay was indefensible. About six weeks ago, the department announced that it had acquired the property and the owner is now confronted with the impossible task of establishing the value of the improvements, although they were removed more than twelve months ago. What had been a flourishing stud farm with a homestead, plantations, irrigation channels, clover and lucerne paddocks, belts of timber, fencing in good repair, and stock-yards, is to-day a waste of gravel and bitumen runways.
– Cannot the owner obtain redress from the Compensation Board?
– This is what will happen. The board will value the property at, say, £10 an acre. If the owner considers that the value was £1-2 an acre, he has to establish his case. He has to declare how many miles of fencing and of what quality, how many miles of irrigation channels, how many sheepyards and cattle-yards, how much lucerne and clover, how many belts of timber and so on existed prior to acquisition. He has no hope of establishing his case, because all those things have disappeared. I cite that case in order to show what is going on, and in the hope that it will not be repeated elsewhere. Rut honorable members who raise such matters as this in the House do not appear to be able to make any impression on the departments in order to get a fair deal for the unfortunate persons concerned. I know how hard pressed officials are, and how understaffed the departments are, notwithstanding the large numbers of employees on their pay-rolls. I know also how inexperienced many members of the staffs are. But none of those things can be an adequate excuse for continued injustice. The driving force must ultimately come from the ministerial head of a department. I fear that that driving force is not being applied. Although every honorable member was shocked when I related in January, 1943, the circumstances of the taking over of the stud property, a year passed before the Commonwealth acquired the farm, and thereby placed the owner in a legal position to claim compensation. We have the same experience with rationing, and applications for the release of men from the Army for the purpose of engaging in primary production, and for the provision of essential equipment for rural industries. The initiative must come from the ministerial heads of departments. We cannot wait any longer for these matters to be put on a proper basis.
Just as it is necessary to impose the force of a Minister’s direction in current matters in administration, so it is equally essential that the force of a Minister’s direction should be imposed in post-war planning. Many local governing authorities, such as shires, boroughs, water trusts, sewerage boards and the like, are fully competent to plan for essential postwar developments in their districts and they are clamouring for guidance. They are not being given a lead. This country must achieve its greatness by development in the rural areas. True, we have six wonderful cities; but six wonderful cities can never make Australia a nation. The area of this continent is 3,000,000 square miles, and we can build the nation only by the proper development of rural areas. Throughout the country, scores of thousands of men are giving their services in an honorary capacity to local government activities. Many of them are of mature years, and could render invaluable service to-day in planning the development of their own districts in the post-war period. They could plan projects that would provide employment for our soldiers upon demobilization. We do not want to contemplate only great national works that will be undertaken by returned soldiers, who will change from uniform into’ dungarees and work virtually as labour battalions. What we require is the development of country districts, including the sewering of towns, the provision of adequate water supplies, drainage systems, the’ extension of existing irrigation schemes, and the construction of aerodromes to meet the inevitable and vast expansion of civil aviation after the war. These local authorities are not being given a guide to-day. It is true that they have been asked to submit their plans to the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, but they have not received any indication of whether they are wasting their time in making such plans.
I hope that the Government, without further delay, will announce its policy regarding post-war civil aviation within Australia. In this country of such vast distances, the great value of interlacing the continent with civil aviation, routes is unquestionable. That will require ground organization. If towns like Shepparton, Wangaratta, Deniliquin and Echuca are to have a post-war aviation service, as I hope every one of them will, the first requirement is an aerodrome. It is not easy to obtain land for an aerodrome in close proximity to a populous town. It becomes more difficult to do so every time land changes hands. Guidance should be given as to the policy that the Government will adopt in this respect, because the need for it is urgent. Does the Commonwealth Government propose to acquire and own its own aerodromes ? That policy might be very good. Does the Commonwealth consider that the States ought to give their assistance in the establishment of aerodromes ? The Government should declare itself! In many countries, the municipalities provide the aerodromes. Does the Government consider that that practice should be adopted here? If so, I could offer some pertinent observations upon that aspect. The Government should declare its attitude so that we may get on with the job of post-war planning. I hope that Ministers will heed my representations and ensure that present administrative delays will be quickly overcome.
– With most of the statements of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) I am in complete agreement. I endorse particularly his views concerning the necessity for the development of the country areas of Australia. I also wholeheartedly support the honorable gentleman’s protests against the continued use in operational areas of the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions of the Australian ImperialForce. I have raised thissubject in the House on several occasions, because I believe an injustice is being done to the personnel of these divisions, for they have been engaged in operational activities in Syria, Africa and New Guinea and, according to a clear statement , by the Prime Minister, they will be used again in offensive operations. TheGovernment, and also the press, have taken little notice of the protests that have been made regarding the continued use of these men, but perhaps they will change their attitude after to-day. I said morethan six months ago that if this policy were persisted in, the Opposition members of that illusive and mysterious body of futility known as the Advisory War Council should resign. I am glad that the United Australia party representatives have resigned. Undeniably other Opposition members of the Advisory War Council should also resign unless the Government makes a definite pronouncement that the members of the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions will be treated more justly, for, in my view, this is a fundamental issue.
– I suppose they should resign every time they disagree with a majority decision?
– They should certainly resign when they disagree on matters of fundamental importance. The continued use of these divisions on active operations meansblood and tears to the men concerned, and to their relatives and friends at home. It has always been a fundamental feature of the governmental structure of members of the British Commonwealth of Nations that when disagreement occurs in a cabinet body on matters of principle the persons dissenting from the majority view should resign. When they do that, they are of course free to exert all their eloquence in other places against the decisions to which they object. I am sure that the former United Australia party members of the Advisory War Council will be able to speak more effectively on war policy out of the Council than in it, for they will not be circumscribed by requirements of secrecy.
I wish now to refer to what I regard as some serious instances of waste and futility in the administration of certain war activities. During the last few days a great deal has been heard in this House about the filching of £15,000,000 from salary and wage earners in relation to thetransfer to the pay-as-you-earn taxation principle. All salary and wage earners are being subjected to extremely high rates of taxation at present, and people everywhere are concerned about the statements they hear, all too frequently, about government moneybeing, in effect, poured down the drains and wasted. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) called attention yesterday to some instances of wasteful expenditure. I have referred on other occasions in this House to the unsatisfactory results from government expenditure on aircraft production in the last few years. Apart from the manufacture of Beaufort bombers we have little to show for the expenditure of possibly millions of pounds in this industry. Almost complete failure seems to have resulted from the Government’s activities. We certainly have nothing to show for the huge expenditure by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. That organization can be likened to a costly race-horse which never gets near the rails but gallops all over the course. A racehorse that never gets on to the rails is an annoyance to spectators, an exasperation to jockeys, and a heavy expense to its owners. Apart from the Boomerang, which could only be classed as a 70 to SO per cent, fighter, having regard to modern standards, only two or three Wackett bombers have been manufactured1. The Government should make a pronouncement without delay concerning future policy in relation to the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, for the people are gravely dissatisfied with the unproductiveness of the expenditure of this organization.
The administration of the Allied Works Council also leaves a great deal to be desired. Huge sums of money have been wasted. The honorable member for Reid referred to this subject yesterday. I have on numerous occasions received letters from persons unknown to me to the effect that waste has occurred in this branch of Government activity, but because I have not known the writers of the letters I have not considered that I could take strong action on the information conveyed to me. Recently, however, I received a letter from a friend which contained similar information. He has repeated stories that have come to me from other sources to the effect that a colossal waste of money and man-power is occurring on many Allied Works Council jobs and that, on some jobs, three times more men are engaged than are necessary. If that be true, an immediate investigation should be made, for it shows the existence of a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs. The people have a right to expect better results from money obtained from the present high taxation.
Similar stories are current concerning the manufacture of munitions. An old digger friend of mine has told me of happenings in the war factory in which he is now employed, and he has asked me whether I cannot do something about it. He said, in effect, “ As soon as it is known that members of Parliament are coming on a visit, the word goes round and everybody is at work on some job when the members arrive; but half an hour afterwards things are entirely different “. He told me that if I would get a suit of old clothes and go into the factory with him - he said that there would be no difficulty about ray getting in - I would be able to see for myself what was happening. Members of Parliament do not like sneaking about in that way, but my friend told me without any hesitancy that if I would accept his invitation I would discover that he had -spoken the truth, I have been searching for specific information on this subject in order to make definite statements in the House.
Recently I asked the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) a series of questions concerning the Gun Ammunition Production Directorate. I wished to know the names of members of the staff, whether a request had been made recently for releases, and whether it was a fact, as had been reported to me, that employees of the directorate were not fully engaged and had time during their working hours to read books. Reading books is, of course, an edifying occupation.
– When they can be got!
– That is so; but when we have a war on our hands we do not desire that the men engaged to do important war work shall be spending their time reading books. The reply I received from the Minister elucidated one point, for he said releases had occurred in the last few months. That suggests to me that the directorate is overmanned. I should deserve to be regarded as something of an idiot if I thought that a Minister would admit, in replying to a question, that men were reading books while on duty; and I was not surprised that the reply to that question was “ No “. I do not know whether it was meant to be a decisive negative or whether it should be regarded as one of the stuttering and hesitant variety.
– Of course if the men could not get books they could play cards.
– A little of both might be done. It appeared to me, from replies I received, that the directorate was overmanned. For that reason I suggest that there should be a complete overhaul. I also asked the Minister for Munitions recently whether he would inform me why the annexe ‘of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, which had been producing 25-pounder shell components, was closed down although it was operating on a non-profit basis. I wished to know also whether a government factory in “Western Australia had been allowed to continue to produce these shells, the forgings of which were made in Newcastle and had to be transported to Western Australia. I asked whether, having been machined in Western Australia, the shell cases were returned to Melbourne to be filled, and were then sent i:o their destination. I further asked howmuch had been expended on the erection of a factory at Port Pirie and the cost of production there, compared with the cost at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s annexe which had been closed down. I made only one mistake. I had assumed that the forgings which had been sent to Western Australia to be machined had been returned to Melbourne to be filled. I learned that they were returned to Adelaide, not to Melbourne. Possibly, they then passed Newcastle or Sydney in order to reach their destination.
– Does the honorable gentleman consider that the decision is a political one?
– It appears to be nonsensical, and to involve a good deal of expense, loss of man-power, and unnecessary transport. Replying to the first part of the question, the Minister said this-
The closure of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s annexe, together with four other producing centres, was effected as a result of the general depression in the munitions programme.
That is an extraordinary explanation. 1 have experienced a general depression, and the effects of it are still vividly in my mind. I recollect of it the blowing of whistles, and the exodus from a factory of thousands of men who, as they passed the pay office, were told, “Well, boys, I’m sorry, but there will be no more work for you “. Is that the state of the munitions programme to-day? If so, those men who must now be wasting their time could well be employed elsewhere and thus cease to be a burden on government expenditure. When they commenced work outside and paid tax on their earnings, war costs would be reduced.
I learned that the cost of the 25- pounder shell at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s annexe was 17s. Id., after allowing ls. 3d. a unit for amortization of plant supplied by the Commonwealth. I accept that allowance for amortization, even though it appears to be rather large. According to the figures supplied to me by the Minister, the cost of the factory at Port Pirie, which is producing 25-pounder shells was £139,990. The cost of producing a 25- pounder shell in it is £1 6s. 4d., which is 9s. 3d. more than was the cost at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s annexe. If these are business principles, then I have a wrong conception. If this is not waste of money, then I do not know what is. There is something seriously wrong with an administration which expends approximately £140,000 on a factory to produce, at a cost of £1 6s. 4d. each, shells which could be produced by a plant already in operation at a cost of 17s. Id.
Yesterday, my colleague, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who entertains us so well on occasions, had the urge to be entertained in turn. He asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) about a very instructive little exhibit that is to be seen in King’s Hall. This was his question -
How was the artificial fibre exhibit place, in the King’s Hall on Sunday, the 12th March, transported to Canberra? Whence was it transported?
Those were simple questions. They were answered by the statement that the exhibit came from Melbourne by motor truck. Any honorable member who walks out of this chamber into King’s Hall may view this most entertaining and possibly instructive exhibit, even though it might prove somewhat doleful to those who produce a primary commodity upon which this country principally depends. It is not a large display. I do not think that I should be stating an untruth were I to say that it would be possible for a person to bring it from Melbourne in a suitcase. Yet, for the edification of those who wander round King’s Hall, it was brought by motor truck. We know that rubber is scarce, and that there is not much petrol to be had.
I have given two examples of waste, one large and one small. Those engaged in the war effort would give much better results if they were convinced that the administration was being properly directed, and that wasteful expenditure was being avoided. The taxpayers would be much more cheerful if they believed that the Government really knew how to administer the affairs of this country.
.- Throughout the world to-day, the thoughts of earnest men are turned towards the magnitude and the significance of the tasks that lie ahead in re-building a stricken world. Construction rather than reconstruction will be demanded ; not replacing, remodelling, or reconditioning the old system, which has proved so detrimental in general to the welfare of the people, but the building of a new world, not with materials that are worn and faded, but with fresh plans which will give security and happiness to the people. The reconstruction that must take place will call for definite action, which I hope will be taken by the present Government. Discredited and discarded for ever must be the methods and the policies which have brought misery in their wake. Those who have learned anything from the past are aware that, unless what we construct guarantees the right of the individual to live in accordance with the four freedoms enunciated by President Roosevelt, the foundation of the structure will not endure. Human justice, freedom and kindness must be safeguarded if the present warfare is to prove worth-while. The experience gained as the result of what transpired after the last war imposes an obligation on the Government to make absolutely certain that after the present war there will not be poverty and suffering such as were then witnessed. To-day, we are fighting for something different from and vastly better than what was experienced in pre-war days. The memory of the last depression is still fresh in our minds, and the people must be safeguarded against a repetition of such calamitous happenings. A fundamental truth which in the past has been completely ignored by the “ haves “, is that maintenance of life far transcends every other consideration. The Government is determined that, so far as lies within its power, there will arise out of the wreckage caused by the present war a world in which men will be free in the fullest sense, and will have that economic security which is their birthright. An orderly economic system must replace the unregulated and chaotic system which, in the past, brought in its train such abject poverty. Plans must immediately be made for a vigorous housing policy. The slum situation has become more and more acute. Practical steps for an early attack on housing shortage have already been taken by the Government.
– Ls the honorable member satisfied with those?
– I am not. Only a few days ago, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Chifley) announced that 1,000 homes were to be built in the near future. They will be only as a “ drop in the ocean “. Thousands of homes are needed. During the last eighteen years the people have been promised by various governments that slum areas would be abolished, and that a scheme would be inaugurated which would enable those on lower incomes ito purchase their own homes. Such a promise was made when Mr. Bruce was Prime Minister, and it has been repeated at every election that has since been held. The Nationalist party issued in 1925 a manifesto which stated that £20,000,000 would be provided to enable the people in both city and country to secure their own homes. It must be borne in mind that the Labour party has been in office for only four years during the last 27 years. The responsibility for the shortage of homes rests upon the parties opposite. The Commonwealth Housing Act was passed in 1927, but from 1929-30 it has remained a “ dead letter “, as no advances have been made since that year, and again it has been left to the Labour party to show the way. There is a grave shortage of homes all over Australia, both in the cities and in country towns.
I hope that, in drawing up its postwar reconstruction plans, the Department of the Interior will consider proposals for the construction of additional highways to the south and west of Canberra in co-operation with the New South Wales Department of Public
Works. A new road should be built from Canberra to Tumut to link up with the Hume Highway a few miles to the west. Another road should be built through Tumbarumba, to connect either with the Hume Highway or with the road from Wodonga to Corryong, in Victoria. The rich Monaro Tableland and the western Riverina have languished for decades under the financial domination of vested interests in Sydney. The eastern Riverina is under the economic and political domination of Melbourne. Thus, one of the richest geographical units in Australia, bounded by the Murray on the south and the Mumimbidgee on the north, an area which, with a proper system of water conservation and irrigation, would be capable of supporting several million people, is comparatively sparsely populated. The Commonwealth Department of the Interior, by cooperating with the New South Wales authorities in the construction of the roads I have suggested, could play a great part in opening up and developing lands, the products of which would be in great demand. Unfortunately, those products cannot now be marketed successfully because of almost insurmountable transport difficulties.
I also urge upon the Government the need to proceed with the construction of the Yass-Canberra railway - not for the convenience of members of Parliament, as one newspaper in my electorate suggested, but because it is an urgent national project which should have been completed years ago. This undertaking should be given No. 1 priority in the post-war reconstruction programme.
– It is usual, during a debate on a supply bill, for Ministers to be in the House to take note of the representations of honorable members, but at the moment only the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) are here. The absence of other Ministers is a great discourtesy to the House.
T propose to say something on the subject of repatriation, although I have no desire to criticize the department or its pension scheme. I ask the Minister for Repatriation what action is being taken to ensure that the medical branch of the department is staffed by firstgrade men. Honorable members have received many complaints from men returning from this war that they are getting a rough spin from the medical branch of the Repatriation Department. We know that these men, upon their enlistment, were subjected to a first-class medical examination. Therefore, when they return broken in health, they should be given the benefit of any doubt, and it should be assumed that their disabilities are due to their war service. It appears, however, that notwithstanding the fact that the onus of proof now rests upon the department, men are still being treated in much the same way as were returned soldiers from the last war. In my opinion, the best medical staff that can be secured in Australia should be attached to the department.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the present medical staff is incompetent?
– I do not want to be sidetracked by the Minister, nor do I want him to consider that, because he is the Minister in charge, he must defend his department. It must be obvious to every one that returned soldiers lack confidence in the medical officers of the Department of Repatriation. I do not say that there are not good medical officers on the staff. I know that there are good men there, but they have not been encouraged by previous governments - including the one of which I was a member - to keep their clinical knowledge up to date, and to become acquainted with the latest interpretation of medical and surgical disabilities. The medical officers are occupied for most of their time in keeping records and making out reports. They have become glorified clerks, so that they have not had an opportunity to keep abreast of medical developments. About 29,000 veterans are being serviced, by the medical section of the Repatriation Department, and there are 62 medical officers on the staff. Many of them have been carrying on since the last war. They are excellent fellows but, as I have said, they have not been encouraged to refresh their medical knowledge. I often wonder what will happen when they are called upon to deal with the rush of cases with which they will be confronted after the war. I suggest that the best medical men should be selected - possibly from within the Services - to augment the department’s medical staff. They should be sent periodically overseas to study in the great hospitals in order to keep abreast of modern methods of treatment, and to refresh their knowledge of surgical and medical matters. There should be a continuous interchange of medical officers between Australia and overseas countries. “We should be careful to avoid the possibility that men returning from this war may be treated in the same way as were some who served in the last war. I cite as an example the case of Private William Green, No. 2370, who is in a serious state of health in a Sydney hospital. He enlisted in June, 1915, and served in Gallipoli and France. He was discharged as medically unfit for reasons not due to misconduct. On his discharge appeared this note, “Crushed chest”. He was evacuated from Gallipoli with enteric fever. He was in hospital in Egypt and in England before going to France. In England, he was treated for rheumatism, and possibly because of the acute nature of the complaint, his ill-health has persisted until now. This man was blown up and buried three times during the Battle of Mouquet Farm, which you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker (Mr. Rankin), know was the fiercest and most sanguinary battle fought. Some of the best men Australia sent overseas lost their lives in that battle. Green was in hospital in France for three weeks dangerously ill before he was removed to England, where no definite diagnosis of his illness was made, the doctors saying that they were at a loss to find a cure for his condition, a feature of which was frequent haemorrhage. He was returned to Australia, discharged, and placed on a small pension, which was rapidly reduced until in 1919 it ceased, in spite of the fact that the haemorrhage continued. In 1927 he became paralysed from the waist down. ‘ X-rays disclosed a German machine gun bullet pressing against his spine. Ten years after receiving the wound he was officially regarded as having been wounded in action and granted a pension of 10s. a week. The bullet was removed at the Prince of
Wales Hospital, Randwick, and on his discharge the doctors assured him that he was cured, notwithstanding that he was suffering recurring pains. He was X-rayed again at his own expense and found to be suffering from spondylitis. It has been proved conclusively that, owing to his having been blown up and buried, his heart and liver and the ribs on one side are displaced. Yet he was discharged from the Randwick Repatriation Hospital with the assurance of repatriation doctors that he was cured. He is now in the Royal Sydney Hospital suffering a heart ailment, which has resulted in thrombrosis of the brain, affecting his power of speech and paralysing his right arm. His medical adviser says that his ultimate recovery to a large degree depends upon ease of mind and freedom from worry. His condition is aggravated by the thwarting of his wish, which amounts to an obsession, to be transferred to the Prince of Wales Hospital where he will be amongst his old comrades. Both the superintendent of the Royal Sydney Hospital and the superintendent of the Prince of Wales Hospital were approached about the practicability of his being transferred and both were agreeable, provided the Repatriation Commission agreed. The Repatriation Commission will not agree. I approached the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) about the case. I also approached the Repatriation Commission, which said that it would not accept him because it had examined the records of the Royal Sydney Hospital and was not satisfied that his illness was attributable to war service. Not attributable to war service ! The condition of this man who suffered so much in the last war ! I do not know how any experienced medical man could deny that his condition is attributable to all that befell him. His heart must have been strained by what he went through. Yet the repatriation doctors brush his case aside on the ground that his ailment could equally be suffered by any one who had not braved the hazards of war. His wife, whose only concern is to save her husband’s life - and his doctor holds out very little hope of his recovery unless his mind be set free - says she is not concerned with the pension aspect and that all she wants is that he be placed with his mates in the Randwick Hospital. She claims that the Repatriation Commission is afraid that if it allows him to be admitted to the Randwick Hospital be will have established that he is pensionable.
– Does he not get a pension ?
– Yes, on account of the bullet wound only. The repatriation authorities frequently admit men to the hospital for observation. I know one man who was recently admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital suffering from asthma and pneumonia. He was not accepted by the Repatriation Commission as a liability, but he did receive treatment. . Mrs. Green’s appeal is : “ In order that his life may be spared, give my husband peace of mind by gratifying his desire to be among his companions. That is my only concern. We are not concerned with a pension. Please give him that privilege. He was a good soldier. His record shows that “. I add my appeal and ask the Minister to grant it. The Minister told me when I interviewed him about this case that if the man was 100 per cent, incapacitated he could apply for a service pension ; but that is not what he and his wife want. He wants to be with his mates, and she, in order that she may have him with her at least for a few more years, wants his wish to be gratified. The commission should admit him to the Prince of Wales Hospital and provide that it shall take no responsibility with regard to the payment of a pension until the appeal has been determined.
.- I am glad that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) is here, because I think that what I shall say will persuade him to our point of view and enlist his support in Cabinet for the request I intend to make. A few weeks ago, I told honorable members that the Government, ostensibly to save labour, had forbidden the manufacture in Australia of double-weft cloth, but had recently instructed the manufacture of 500,000 square yards of double-weft cloth for export to New Zealand. I claimed that the Government was discriminating against Australians in favour of New
Zealanders and pointed out the serious consequences to the textile industry of this country that would accrue as the result of the prohibition of the manufacture of better-class cloth in favour of what is known as “ standard “ cloth. The reputation slowly built up by the Australian textile industry over twenty years was destroyed’ overnight. I said all that before at greater length, and I shall not repeat it now. My purpose in rising to-day is to bring before the Ministry later developments. The first, and one of the more important, was the statement by the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) that he personally favoured the immediate return to the manufacture of better-class cloth, but the majority of his colleagues in Cabinet did not agree. By that statement, which was extraordinary from a Minister, he showed that he did not see eye to eye with some of his colleagues on this matter. I hope that his influence with other Ministers will be sufficiently strong to bring about a reversion to the manufacture of double-weft cloth. I have with me, for the examination of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, his colleagues and all other honorable members who may be interested, some samples of cloth. The first is a piece of high quality English worsted, the importation of which is now prohibited because it is regarded as “ unessential “ and because of lack of shipping. The second is a piece of rayon wool fabric, the importation of which is allowed. Worsted is made from high-grade Australian wool, but rayon is a synthetic product. It will come as a surprise, I think, to most honorable members to know that price-fixing has resulted in the extraordinary fact that we are actually subsidizing the rayon to the extent of 2s. 7d. a yard. I next show the Minister samples of two pre-war Australian worsteds of excellent quality. I understand that when this cloth was demonstrated in the United States of America just before the war it made such an impression that large quantities were ordered. That proves that the Australian worsted industry had made such advances that, before the war, it was able to compete against the manufacturers of the best grade worsteds in Great Britain, France and other noted weaving countries. Almost overnight, that production was cut off. By way of contrast, I have samples of the Australian standard cloth, which is obviously of poor design and inferior quality.
– It will not wear.
– That makes it uneconomic.
– The last samples that I shall demonstrate consist of spun rayon imitation wool fabric. If honorable members were to examine these two pieces of material, I doubt whether the most expert of them would be able to distinguish between them. Yet one of them is subject to a duty of ls. a square yard plus 30 per cent., whilst a duty of only 1½d. a square yard is applicable to the other. That indicates another anomaly in the customs arrangements. I am informed that great quantities of the material, subject to the low rate of duty, have become available, and some persons who have not a high standard to maintain or a good name to preserve seem to be remarkably astute in picking up this cloth. There is no need for me to impress upon honorable members the importance of the wool industry to Australia. In less enlightened days, people used to say that if the wool clip were all right, it did not matter what the politicians did to the country. “We have now a far better balanced economy than would permit of a generalization of that kind, and, I hope, a far more capable body of administrators. But the fact remains that the wool industry is one of the basic industries of the Commonwealth. Despite that truism, we find in this country, where one would expect that the industry would be guaranteed every possible- protection and encouragement and where we should be united in our demand to defy the competition of artificial materials, we are encouraging the synthetic products at the expense of our native wool and native manufacture. If the Parliament were notengaged at this juncture with so many other matters, honorable members on this side of the chamber would have felt justified in moving the adjournment of the House to discuss this anomaly. The facts reveal a serious challenge to a basic Commonwealth industry. I read in the press that the Production Executive of
Cabinet will again consider this matter in the near future. The considerations which have swayed Cabinet in the past to adopt the present policy should be seen in their true perspective against the very serious challenge which is presented by these synthetic products to our wool industry.
– Is this challenge a new development?
– The challenge itself is not new, but never before has this country paid a direct subsidy to imported synthetic materials.
– What evidence is there that synthetic products are being subsidized?
– I understand that it is being done in a general way. Under the price-fixing arrangements, the Government tried to level out the prices of imported goods. The prices of these materials have increased considerably in recent months. To get stabilized prices in comparison with the prices paid some months beforehand, the price-fixing authorities give a subsidy in order to reduce the prices of the goods now imported. Whilst I do not think that statement can be contradicted, I can understand how this development could occur without the Government realizing it, or appreciating its significance in relation to our wool industry. Now that the matter has been raised, the Government should investigate it immediately. Apart from that, as a matter of general policy, the Government should recognize that any arguments advanced in the past in favour of this policy, such as the necessity for conserving man-power or for the production of a cheaper cloth, cannot stand against the overwhelming body of opinion in favour of the restoration of the manufacture of good quality cloth. These representations come from a wide range of authoritative bodies, including the Australian Wool Board, the Textile Merchants Association and the Country Women’s Association. We have a great opportunity to develop an export market which was expanding just before the outbreak of war. But I am afraid that whatever be done now, some of the damaging effects of this policy will remain. The faith which the public had in the quality of Australian cloth, must be rostered. Technical 3ki.ll in manufacture, which was acquired over a period of years, has been either lost or dulled to some degree, and must be recovered. I express the hope that that process will not be delayed, and that when the Production Executive of Cabinet considers this matter again it will accept the validity of the arguments which have been advanced in favour of the restoration of the previous policy.
– Last night, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) protested against the application of the Control of Utensils Order to prohibit the export to Queensland of hollow-ware manufactured in South Australia. As Minister for Munitions, represent ing, with the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), I desire to reply to that complaint. The honorable member claimed that the prohibition caused great inconvenience to the inhabitants of Queensland. Whilst the department is anxious to ensure an equitable distribution of these utensils throughout the Commonwealth, I am mindful of the fact that some parts of Australia are suffering from the shortage more acutely than are other parts. For that reason the department desires to utilize the manufacturing capacity of South Australia to meet urgent needs in that State and in Western Australia. When the position has been relieved there, consideration will be given to permitting the marketing of these utensils in other States, thus ensuring a fair and equitable distribution throughout the country. Until the position in South Australia and Western Australia has been relieved, it would be wrong to permit the export of hollow-ware to other States where the need is less urgent.
– Queensland is in a worse position than Western Australia. It has always obtained these utensils from South Australia.
– I realize that South Australian manufacturers’ desire to expand their trade by selling their goods in other States. I shall have the position examined again.
This morning the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) referred to criticism by the AuditorGeneral of the Stores and Transport branch of the munitions department. Honorable members should understand that this organization, which has served the country well, expanded rapidly because of the exigencies of war. Therefore, in reviewing the position, they must not forget the numerous difficulties which were met in the course of this rapid expansion. In the initial stages, heavy demands were made on the Transport and Stores branch, and the impracticability of obtaining the services of experienced personnel led to many difficulties and to faulty conditions in the general work undertaken. Although I admit that the organization may have been faulty in many respects, its justification is that no production has been held up, and none of the armed services or essential industries has been denied supplies through any failure of the branch. In general, the comment of the Auditor-General can bc described as exaggerated and giving a distorted picture of the situation. When examined piece by piece, the criticism can be shown, in the main, to be unjustified. Most of it appears to be directed at the Victorian section of the organization. Admittedly the methods and control of the section have been far from perfect. In the circumstances in which the department was compelled to build up a fleet of vehicles in order to meet urgent war needs, some defects were inevitable. Labour was difficult to secure, that even when vehicles could be obtained competent drivers were not available. Foremen, experienced clerks and supervisory personnel were lacking. A measure of the demands made on the organization is given in the figures cited by the Auditor-General to show the use that was made of private transport contractors.
Silling .suspended from 32.J/5 to 2.15 p.m.
– In 1941-42, the department had to hire outside transport costing £252,124, to supplement the capacity of its own fleet, and in 1942-43, £155,88S was paid for outside transport services. That had to be done because raw materials and almost everything else required to fulfil our war programme bad to lie carried, whatever happened. In those years, the predominant need was action, and although everything possible was done to see that’ the Commonwealth got value for the money it spent, nobody had time or opportunity to work out plans or procedures. It is within the knowledge of the Auditor-General that the department has been at work continuously over the past three years, improving the organization of the stores and transport branch, and that it has given special attention to the transport section. Much remains to be done, but it can be said that the transport section is now, and for some time past has been, under effective control.
At this stage one cannot refrain from directing attention to certain phrasing of the Auditor-General’s report, and to
I he maimer in which generalizations have been thrown together to give a totally false picture. For instance, in the second part of paragraph 139 of that report, certain statements are made, which, taken collectively, undoubtedly give the impression that the stores and transport branch of my department ha.* ;i Hotted work to private carriers to a total value of .£248,000, without any regular invitation of tenders. What the AuditorGeneral has failed to make clear, however, is that practically the whole of that expenditure was made through regular contracts arranged by the Contracts Board of the Department of Supply and Shipping. When the wharfs were inundated with refugee cargo, additional arrangements had to be made with great urgency, and neither time nor .circumstances permitted even consideration of the invitation of tenders.
Further on, the Auditor-General makes a statement regarding the overpayment of accounts, which would appear to indicate great carelessness and inaccurate records. It is true that some overpayments have been made as the result of errors : but that is inevitable at a time such as that to which the Auditor-General’s report, relates. What he fails to make’ clear is that there are what can be recorded technically as “overpayments” and “ underpayments “, according to one’s interpretation of certain schedules of the emergency carting contract. Varying in- terpretations have been placed on the schedules by different authorities, and I am informed that the department’s legal officers are at variance with the interpretation given by the audit officers.
On the subject of stores, the AuditorGeneral says that though continuous stocktaking was carried out throughout the year, results have not yer been submitted to audit. When he made that statement, it was largely true, but there were technical obstacles, the most important of which “was one raised by the Audit Department officers themselves, who seemed to be unable to make up their minds as to what records should bc the basis for reconciliations - the physical store records of the Stores and Transport Branch, or the financial records of the Central Finance Branch. Officers of my department are quite clear as to what should be done. They have had considerable difficulty in persuading the audit officials to make up their minds.
The Auditor-General states that the value of stocks on hand in the Victorian stores, at any one time, was estimated to he £25,000,000. I do object to the criticism of the method of ordering. Undoubtedly the impression would be left, that the Stores and Transport Branch was the authority for ordering this £25,000,000 worth of goods. Not unnaturally, if the Auditor-General sees fit. to criticize the methods of ordering in the Stores and Transport Branch, one is entitled to feel alarmed if stores to the value of £25,000,000 are concerned. However, the simple fact is that the Stores and Transport Branch has nothing to do with the ordering of these vast quantities of stores and material. The only ordering with which it is concerned is the purchase and supply of comparatively small quantities of equipment and material needed fo’r the maintenance of its own stores. The criticism of stores activities is even less justified than the attack on transport. The movements in and out of stores have been colossal in volume, and until comparatively recently, the department had extreme difficulty in obtaining sufficient or adequate storage accommodation because the prior needs of the services delayed its building programme. Most of the confusion and discrepancies in stores records ha vi- been due to errors in description, and not. to more serious causes. Most, discrepancies, therefore, are more apparent than real, and there is no evidence whatever that stocks have not been received, kept, and issued with proper care. What is important is the fact that the Stores and Transport Branch has kept this great stream of components, materials, and finished goods moving practically without a hitch, and it is generally acknowledged, has played a notable if unspectacular part in the great success of the whole munitions programme. The sime is true of wages control, and expenditure, which with hundreds of scattered stores, represented a real problem. New systems have been introduced in the course of a general re-organization of stores and transportactivities, and it can be claimed fairly that there is little room for criticism.
Finally, I cannot help remarking that whilst the Auditor-General has managed to convey an exaggerated picture of faults, and in a number of eases, quite a false impression, he has not even seen fit in his concluding sentence to state the real situation which exists to-day and has existed for more than twelve months past. He refers in niggardly fashion to “some improvement’’’. The fact is that although there are still imperfections owing to war conditions; there has been a n immense improvement, and to-day I have no hesitation in saying that the stores and transportation organization of my department does not fear comparison with any similar organization of its kind
Mini size in Australia. f trust that the facts which I have revealed will allay whatever fears may have been entertained by the House because of the Auditor-General’s report, and will be an adequate answer to the speech of the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden).
– There are some matters in various departments regarding which I desire to “peak briefly.
In certain circumstances permits are issued by the Department of War Organization of Industry for the construction of homes in country areas, but a limit of £425, or in extreme cases £450, is imposed. I contend that that restric tion will result, in the building of slum dwellings, particularly in the rural areas. The restriction seems ‘to be anomalous in view of the fact that under the Government’s housing programme, which provides for the construction in the immediate future of at least 1,000 homes throughout the Commonwealth, the limit is £850 for each house. Only last week a case was brought to my notice in which a house was to he erected on a property approximately twenty miles from a town. The limit of £450 meant that the kitchen had to be combined with the living room, and only two bedrooms and ji verandah could be provided. The expenditure of an additional £400 would provide a decent home for those who have to live in it and rear children. Not many homes of this type are needed in country districts at the present time so that there would bc no waste of timber. I urge the Minister to give more flexibility to the regulations, and a little more discretion to Deputy Controllers in the different States, so as to permit the building of homes in country districts on farms that are far distant, from rail centres.
I understand that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) lias made a statement concerning the “true labelling” of the various fabrics that are on the market in Australia to-day. Any person can use the expression “ wool “ in connexion with any synthetic product, without being called to account. Wool-growers consider that it is absolutely essential, as early as possible, by means of regulations or legislation, to ensure that there shall be true labelling of every fabric that is displayed for sale. There has been in the past extreme difficulty in passing legislation, because it has been necessary to have that legislation passed through each of the six State parliaments. Now’, however, regulations dealing with the matter can be issued by the Commonwealth. This must be done if the reputation of wool is to be protected against the competition of various substitutes.
I understand that the price of the suit given, to a soldier when discharged from the Army is approximately £3 15s. It is made of single-weft cloth, and is most unattractive; consequently it must cause distaste to the wearers and create a bacl impression on the public.
– The Government now intends to issue a better suit.
– The press reported last week that the British Government give* lo its soldiers upon their discharge from the Army the choice of many different styles and qualities of suiting, cut in the best “West End fashion. Those suits are most attractive, and stimulate a demand for woollen goods. The British Government also issues to its soldiers upon their discharge a complete outfit of woollen underclothing. The Commonwealth Government should act similarly, thus enabling our men lo be stylishly dressed in good material, and causing them to become advocates of a natural fibre grown in Australia.
Throughout the country districts there is an urgent demand for the provision obatteries for wireless receiving sets on farms and stations which are many miles from centres of population, and cannot obtain the latest news except, over the air. Application has repeatedly been made to the Minister for Munitions (Mi. Makin) for these batteries to be supplied. The most recent communication that 1 received from him was strangely contradictory. It stated that, in view of the urgent necessity to have larger supplies for the Allied forces, arrangements to that end were being made, and in consequence it might be possible to release a larger number for civilian use in Australia.. That appeared contradictory, and I.’ could not understand what was meant. J presume that the honorable gentleman intends lo try to make more batteries available. M.any people in country districts have sons who are prisoners of war. Occasion ally, communications by prisoners of war are broadcast. Therefore, these people desire keenly to have their receiving sets in order, so that they may listen to whatever news is broadcast. I again urge the Minister to do everything possible to enable batteries to be supplied. The owners of these sets, even though they are at present unable to make use of them, continue to pay the licence-fee.
I have asked many questions in this House with a. view to obtaining an increase of the supply of rabbit netting for people in country districts. We have been told by the Minister for Munitions that everything possible is being done to make adequate supplies of this material available. The people on the land should l«j able to obtain ample supplies of the 42-in. by H-in. netting. A large quantity of 1-ft. strip netting also is required for the repair of rabbit fences, and. therefore, the supply of this material should be increased. The rabbit plague is getting completely out of hand and, before many months have passed, particularly should a drought occur, primary production will be greatly reduced unless the necessary netting be made available.
– in reply - The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has drawn attention to an important matter relating to the Financial Agreement and the consequent indebtedness of the States. This lusty, bawling infant was left on the doorstep of the present Government when it assumed office. .
– Neither the Treasurer nor I can bc blamed for that.
– That is true. The circumstances to which the right honorable gentleman has referred have continued for about ten years. His suggestion that the Commonwealth budget would be assisted, if the States were obliged to make the sinking fund payment, for which the law provides, does not appeal to rue, because the Commonwealth budget could not be balanced on that principle. This matter has, been the subject of serious discussion between the States and the Commonwealth, and later, when legislation is introduced to rectify the position, this Parliament will have an opportunity to deal with it.
The right honorable gentleman also referred to the criticism in the report of Mie Auditor-General that wasteful expenditure had occurred in government departments. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) undertook to request, the heads of the departments concerned to investigate the matters to which the AuditorGeneral’s criticism was directed. Thai: instruction has already been carried out and close attention is being given to the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Hill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Message recom mend ing appropriation reported. ///. rom.mil.lufi (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Gin ki. bv) agreed to - Tilsit it is expedient that an appropriation of moneys lie made for the purposes of a bill fur an net to authorize the raising and expending of a- certain sum of money.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley ami Air. Frost do prepare ami bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
That thu bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this measure is to obtain a loan appropriation of £200,000,000 for war purposes and also to authorize the raising of an equivalent amount of loan moneys to finance war expenditure. When the budget for 1943-44. was brought down in September last, I informed honorable members that it was estimated that war expenditure for the year would reach £570,000,000, of which £167,000,000 would be met from revenue resources, leaving a balance of £403.000,000 to l«? provided from the loan fund. In the Estimates for 1943-44 the requirements of the fighting services, together with munitions, aircraft production and reciprocal lend-lease aid to the United States forces, were shown in one amount of £.103,000,000 of which, for security reasons, no details were given.
The balance, amounting to £67,000,000. was grouped under “ Other war services “, details of which are shown in the Estimates. For the eight months ended the 29th February, the actual expenditure was £358,000,000. This is about £22,000,000 less than the pro rata budget estimate. However, we invariably find that in the last two months of the financial year the actual payments arc much heavier than in the earlier months.
I shall not try to make an accurate forecast because many factors cannot bc foreseen. For instance, our overseas expenditure, for which the budget, estimate was £70,000,000, will depend largely upon the actual accounts presented for payment by other governments. Taking it broad view of the probabilities, how ever, it is thought that the actual expenditure for the year will be fairly close to the budgetestimate of £570,000,000. There may be an increase, but it should not be very great. The balance of loan . appropriation available at the 30th June, 1943, was £183,000,000. Further loan appropriation was obtained in October last of £200,000,000, making a total available for this year of £383,000,000. In the budget it was estimated that the amount of war expenditure to be provided from the loan fund would be £403,000,000. The appropriation now proposed, and the associated borrowing authority of £200,000,000 will cover our requirements for the balance of this financial year, and provide for the early months of next financial year.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Mess age reco m m end ing a pp ropriatio n received.
In committee (Consideration of Gover nor-General’s message) :
Motion (byMr. Chifley) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue he made for the purposes of abill for an act togrant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for invalid and old-age pensions.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley andMr.Dedmando prepare and bringinabill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr.Chifley and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide £23,000,000 out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. Bills seeking appro- priations of this nature are submitted to Parliament periodically to enable amounts to be paid to a trust account from which the actual payment of pensions is made at rates already approved by Parliament. The balance of appropriation now remaining is sufficient to meet pension payments to the end of May, and Parliament is asked to appropriate £23,000,000, which is sufficient for approximately a year’s expenditure to provide for pension payment after that date. The amount will, however, not be withdrawn from revenue immediately, as only sufficient funds are paid to the trust account to meet the periodical payments to pensioners. This bill has no relation whatever to the rates or conditions under which invalid and old-age pensions are paid, but merely seeks the provision of funds to enable payments to be made to the trust fund on the basis already approved by Parliament. The total expenditure on these pensions was £19,257,000 and £22,293,000 in 1941-42 and 1942-43 respectively, whilst the estimate for the current financial year is £23,100,000.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Fibre Exhibit in King’s Hall .
Motion (by Mr. Forde) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– This morning, in reply to a question on notice, I received a reply of such a. nature that I cannot leave the matter where it is. On Sunday week, I came to this House and observed an army utility truck drawn up at the back door. In it was a member of the Australian Women’s Army Service in uniform and a soldier of the rank, I think, of a sergeant-major. I was informed this morning, in answer to my question, that the truck had brought from Melbourne to Canberra an exhibit of artificial fibre. As the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) said, the whole exhibit could have been brought in a suitcase. It seems extraordinary that an army utility truck should have been used for this purpose, and that army personnel should have been employed in connexion with an exhibit arranged by the Department; of Supply and Shipping. The misuse of army personnel is one point, but the unforgivable sin is the waste of petrol and tyres involved in running the truck from Melbourne to Canberra and, presumably, back to Melbourne again. Somebody ought to be rapped over the knuckles for it. There ought to be a guarantee from the Minister for Supply and Shipping that such wasteful use of rubber and petrol shall cease.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The followinganswersto questions werecirculated: -
– On the 17th March, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs the following question, uponnotice: -
What was the total quantity of the following crops: wheat, rye, oats, maize,and barley produced in Australia, Great Britain, Canada, United States of America,Russia, Germany, France, and Italy in the year1939, and what was the average production per acres for each crop?
In my interim report. I stated that the information was being obtained. The Minister for Trade and Customs has now furnished the following reply to the honorable member’s question : -
Public Service Tra vb 1.1.1 N c allowances.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Thu travelling allowance scales for officers nml employees with salaries over £1,011 were not altered on the 1st May, 1!)43. The scales were - Permanent heads - 30s. per day; others - 25s. pei- day capital cities, 20s. per day elsewhere.
No. Arbitration determinations do nol. prescribe travelling allowance conditions foi officers with salaries over £1,011. These are provided hy Public Service regulation and, as i uri ica Icd in answer to question 1. no change was made in regulation rates on thu 1st Mav, 1043.
There has been little variation in salaries by arbitration determinations since 1942, because of the restrictions imposed by the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations. Any changes have affected thu comparatively lower-paid groups in respect of which it is not usual to advertise vacancies in the press. The arbitrator has adjusted scales in some positions, such for example, as lineman. Postmaster-General’s Department, increase of £8 per annum, line foreman and 1 iine inspectors, increase of £12 pur annum. In the case of third division male telegraphists the maximum salary was increased from £382 to £304. The increases apply only to returned soldiers and members of tin organization.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Fibre Exhibit in Kino’s Hall.
asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
On the 9th March, 1944; the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Smith) asked the following question : - in view of tile fact that discharged soldiers returning to civil lifo are not provided for in tho retail tobacco quotas, will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs oak him to take steps to ensure that these men, who ha vo served their country in the forces, arc able to satisfy their requirements in regard to tobacco?
The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following reply: -
A scheme covering privileged supplies of tobacco and cigarettes for - men and women recently discharged from the fighting sen-ices has been in operation in all States since the 6th March, 1044. Rehabilitation officers at all points of discharge have been informed of the details of the scheme, in order that suitable advice regarding the matter may be imparted to service mcn and service women concerned. Authorization forms are issued by the Chairman, Tobacco Distribution Committee, at the Customs House in each capital city, and all detailed information in connexion with thi; scheme is available from such officials.
House adjourned at 2.53 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 March 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1944/19440324_reps_17_178/>.