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Tuesday, 22 September 1942


The first criticism of the Allied Works Council came from the Opposition when its members thought that they could hold the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) responsible for what the council was doing. Attacks were frequently made upon the council because honorable members opposite thought that they were indirectly attacking the Minister for Labour and National Service. It is quite clear, however, that that Minister has no responsibility in the matter at all. The Director-General of Allied Works is an exceptional official. Most, directors-general appointed by the Commonwealth Government have to administer the regulations, subject to ministerial direction, but the DirectorGeneral of Allied Works is entirely independent of ministerial control. He has such powers and functions as are specified in the regulations, and he is not bound to accept directions from the Minister, and is, therefore, not subject to ministerial control. If he were, he would be subject to the control of the Minister for the Interior. The only point at which he makes contact with the Minister for Labour and National Service is in the call-up of labour. He is not allowed to call up persons employed in protected industries or protected undertakings. Whether a person is or isnot so employed is a question which can be answered only by the Director-General of Man Power, who, subject to the control of the Minister for Labour and National Service, administers the manpower regulations.

Mr McEwen - Surely the DirectorGeneral of Allied Works would exercise authority in accordance with government policy?

Mr BLACKBURN - Only so far as the policy is expressed in the regulations. I do not wish .to deny the value of work which I understand that the Allied Works Council is doing, but I believe that that work is being carried out at. great cost of human suffering and loss of civil morale.

Mr Rosevear - And public money.

Mr BLACKBURN - Yes, but I am not particularly concerned about that aspect. Young men sit behind officecounters and desks and dispose of the fate of men sometimes old enough to betheir fathers. Men between 55 and 59 years of age are dealt with by comparatively young men who look them over, take a few records and say, "You start to-morrow ". Men have told me that after a short interview they have been directed to start on the next day digging roads at the Sale aerodrome. Any one who knows Gippsland in July would know what a trial that would be for elderly men. I have written to the department concerning several cases, but not concerning thespecific case to which I shall now refer.. An elderly man, 56 years of age, was told that he- had to begin work at Sale the day after his call-up and that his employment would be on the roads of an. aerodrome. He said, "I am not going. The Allied Works Council m.a.y put me in gaol if you like.. That will probably be as cold as Gippsland, but it will undoubtedly be drier and healthier. I have never done hard- work of this description in my life. I have followed a sedentary occupation and have engaged only in technical work at my trade ". In conversation with me the man said, " I ask you : What worse could happen to a mau. like me if Hitler came to this country?". I had no answer to give him. I cannot conceive of anything worse for such a man than for him to be taken from his home at a moment's notice and from a comparatively quiet and sedentary life, and sent to Gippsland, in midwinter, to work on roads at an aerodrome.

Other similar cases have been brought to my notice. When the department has been approached on the subject, officers have said : " We have persons of this class to deal with, and what are we to do with them ? Many men in the 45 to 59 age group have lived sedentary lives and have never done hard work; but we have this class of work to be done and under the regulations, the men are handed over to us ". Another person came to me with a complaint concerning his call-up. I heard his story, and then asked him to approach his own member on the subject. Eis story, which I believe to be true, was that he was 56 years of age and had spent his lifetime in developing a small business upon which the livelihood of himself and his family depended. When he expostulated, with the representative of the Allied Works Council about the work which he was directed to do he said that this man, a young man, came from behind a counter, seized him by the collar, and said : " What fellows like you have to remember is that you have nothing in the world except the clothes you stand up in ". I cannot conceive of anything so calculated to destroy the morale of the people as that kind of thing. Elderly people should not be conscripted in this manner. If they are to be conscripted at all. for industrial purposes their cases should be considered by men of mature age and experience. The Allied Works Council is probably an efficient- body, but its efficiency has been achieved at the expense of much human anxiety and suffering, and considerable demoralization of the civil population.

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