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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7344

Senator HOGG (7:14 PM) —I rise this evening to speak on an issue of the contribution of the Queensland government railway workers during World War II. I do so because a constituent of mine, Mr Mark Underwood, has approached me and my office. Mr Underwood has undoubtedly approached quite a number of politicians in Queensland regarding what he and many of his fellow workers see as a great oversight—that is, a lack of formal recognition of the outstanding efforts of Queensland railway workers during the Second World War. My constituent of course is particularly upset by the fact that Queensland railway workers have been rejected as being eligible for the award of the Civilian Service Medal 1939-1945. To people such as Mr Underwood it means a great deal indeed.

It is worth noting therefore in this brief adjournment debate this evening the record of the Queensland railway and its workers' contribution to the war effort. I will refer to the reports of the Commissioner for Railways as an example of the service of these people. In order to meet the significant extra call on the railways, holiday leave for all railway workers was cancelled from 1941. Crews were required to work extended shifts—anything up to or exceeding 70 hours per week—with minimal time off between shifts, and the railways were declared a `protected industry', meaning employees were not allowed to volunteer for the war.

When I actually proceed to some of the reports in 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945, one will get a feel for the contribution that was made by Mr Underwood and his colleagues in Queensland Rail. I will just turn to the 1942 report. The Commission for Railways in his report for the year 1942 under the heading of `War' said:

Reference has been made to the demands on the transportation branch by the exceptional volume and unusual features of the passenger and freight traffic carried for the defence services, but the effects of the war have also been felt in every other branch of the service, and all sections of employees have been called upon to adapt themselves to the needs of the moment, some by improvising methods, others by strenuous exertion, and all by assiduous attention to the work at hand.

Further on in the annual report, he made this comment about staff:

Exceptional demands were made on the staff to meet the abnormal volume of traffic and the exigencies of war. All sections of the service responded admirably, and I place on record my appreciation on behalf of the Government of their co-operation and assistance.

That was 1942. If we turn to 1943, we find another comment by the Commissioner for Railways about the efforts of his staff. He said:

Emphasis should be placed upon the excellent service given throughout the year by all sections of the railway staff. The Department could not have coped with the enormous increase in business without the devotion to duty and the loyal co-operation of all employees, and it is fitting that I should place on record my appreciation on behalf of the Government of their sustained contribution to the war effort.

The same appears again in a similar vein in the 1944 annual report of the Commission for Railways, where he said:

I desire to place on record the keen appreciation of the Government and myself of the splendid service rendered to the department, and to the State generally, by railway employees of all grades. Traffic was again exceedingly heavy, and the department could not have handled the business it did without that co-operation and loyalty to duty with which the staff performed the tasks allotted to them. Their response to the demands made upon them has been commendable.

So it is interesting then to look at the 1945 report of the commissioner where he said about his staff:

The war in the Pacific having reached a successful termination, I wish to pay a tribute to the part played by the large body of railway men and women of all grades during the war years. Their task was no easy one and none was more ready to recognise its magnitude than those in charge of the Defence Services, whose requirements were so considerable, consistent, and exacting. The employees were called upon to handle phenomenal traffic, passengers and tonnages which even the most optimistic would have considered, in 1938-39, to be beyond the capacity of the system and the staff.

The report went on:

The response to the call for maximum effort, however, was spontaneous on the part of all concerned. The challenge was taken up. Industrial peace was maintained. All worked wholeheartedly to keep the wheels moving, despite the long hours involved and the personal inconvenience which many must have experienced from time to time.

The result is now history and to each and every employee who participated in this great effort I tender my deepest appreciation, on behalf of the Government and myself, of the valued assistance rendered to the State in its time of extreme need.

Mr Underwood has been on a crusade—and I think that is a fair and reasonable term to describe it—to seek recognition for the work of the Queensland Rail workers during World War II. I think it would be fair to say that in some ways Mr Underwood expresses a degree of frustration in having approached a wide range of politicians, as I understand it; having gone to the media; having lobbied both at the state and the federal level of governments, to find that the service has gone, in his eyes, quite unrecognised. He believes that recognition has been given to other areas of service within the community during the war years and he believes that appropriate recognition should be given to Queensland railway workers for the work they contributed to the war effort during that period of time. In particular, of course, Mr Underwood and a number of his colleagues are seeking access to the Civilian Service Medal 1939-1945. They believe that their efforts were not properly recognised. I cannot form a proper opinion and judgment on that.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Fairly helpful!

Senator HOGG —I heard the interjection from the minister; that is quite correct. In Mr Underwood's later days, he is seeking a recognition, which I do not believe is unwarranted or an overly great demand. When one reads just some of the records of the day, one reads the mileage that was covered. Remember that we dealt in miles in those days. For example, one report states that in 1939 the mileage covered by Queensland locomotives was 16,810,602 miles, yet in 1942-43 they travelled 24,309,794 miles. The records also go into the tonnage and the efficiencies that were gained throughout that very difficult war period.

It would seem to me to be a reasonable request. Mr Underwood and his colleagues must be congratulated on the persistence that they have shown. One would hope that the government would look sympathetically upon the call by Mr Underwood and his colleagues for what they consider to be minimal recognition after a long period of time for the work that they put into the war effort given that, in many instances, many of these people would have enlisted but, because they were in a protected industry, were not able to enlist. I commend the concept to the government to look at very closely.