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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) .- We have just listened to one of the most surprising addresses ever delivered in this Chamber. One would hardly imagine that it came from a gentleman who only last week readily accepted the proposal of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). I have never seen such a change to the right-about.

Mr Poynton - Let the honorable member read what I said about the proposal.

Mr FENTON - I do not care what the honorable gentleman may have said in a dozen speeches. It is the final step that counts, and his final step was to assent to the proposal, which his silence when the clause was put to the Committee signified. The Minister (Mr. Poynton) has not an ounce of backbone. Last week he was doing something which to-day he says was diametrically opposed to the interests of the country and those of returned soldiers. Why has this change come about? Simply because of a cursory discussion in another place, not a heart-to-heart talk such as we have here among men who are engaged ina practical sense in certain industries we are desirous of helping.

Mr Hector Lamond - Are these reflections on another place in order?

Mr FENTON - Another place ought to be reflected on for having sent us a Bill which had to be completely overhauled and sent back to it with an entirely new face on it. It is quite natural that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) should not recognise his own measure on its return. However, that is no reason for claiming that we have done anything wrong. According to the Minister for Home and Territories, there has never yet been a proposition put forward presenting so many avenues for throwing away money as this does. Did ever a Minister stand so selfcondemned out of his own mouth? The clause provides that the Repatriation Commission is to examine every application from a body of men. to start a co-operative concern.. Six men may probably wish to start a saw-mill. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) pointed out last week the case of men engaged in: a saw-mill who were anxious to start on their own account, but had not the wherewithal to do so. There is ' no need for any qualification certificate from them. They have already been engaged in the practical work; but are we always to keep them in subservient positions, and say that we will do nothing to help them ? If we find such practical men willing to undertake a co-operative concern for their own advantage, why should we deny them the right to make a start? I know a young fellow at Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula, who before going to the- war was employed in a saw-mill.. He and a few other returned soldiers have purchased a saw-bench, and now they are turning out tens of thousands of fruit cases, and are doing well. Is it not desirable to help men of that character? Surely we are not going back upon our emphatic and unanimous decision of last week? If the Repatriation Commission is not satisfied with any application for assistance under this provision, it will send practical men to find out where the mill is to be started, who are going to run it, and what previous experience they have had. And even if, after making exhaustive inquiries, the Commission is favorable, the' proposal has still to be submitted to the Minister, and if he is not satisfied he can take it to Cabinet. Each application may have, to pass the criticism and verdict of three different courts before it is granted. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) has said that if this proposal were taken to any financial institution it would be turned down. Co-operative companies are nearly always dependent upon bank overdrafts to help them to carry on, and if a bank is willing to assist them they are- all right; but I was associated with one co-operative rural industry which,, just as it was on the eve of success, and because it happened to be pushing certain private persons out of business, was told by the bank, " We will not assist you any further." Many a co-operative concern in its initial stages has been frowned out of existence by financial institutions.. It seems to me that a plea has been put up this afternoon for vested interests. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. James Page) has shown very clearly how necessary it is that we should stand by these men, and help them to provide for their own requirements. In the building . of homes for returned soldiers, for instance, who could better supply the timber, the bricks, and other material required than the returned soldiers themselves ? And who has a better right to supply them? If, however, we adopt the Minister's proposal, we shall deny them that right. According to a statement in the- newspapers to-day, we have, unfortunately, in Victoria no' less than 4,500 returned soldiers out of work. That is a disgraceful state of affairs. There may be. some who are unemployable - some whom it is hard to fit into any position - but I am quite certain that they are not all unfit to take up some kind of employment. We do hot seem to be doing very much for these men. Here we have an opportunity to help them. Are there likely to be . greater f ailures in this than in other phases of industry ? No.

Mr Mcwilliams - There are going to be a few .failures in connexion with land, settlement.

Mr FENTON - A returned soldier applies to the State Board, secures a block of land. and has'' to conduct farming operations almost entirely without advice and assistance. Under this scheme, however, we would have a combination of energy and. intelligence so that where one might fail a. party of half-a-dozen or more, because of their combined wisdom, would make good. The industries mentioned by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) are but a combination of one great industry'. Who, for instance, has a better right to hold an interest in the management of woollen mills than the wool -growers ? And so with the clothing, tanning, and fellmongering trades. They are all related to primary industry. I hope that the Committee will insist upon the new clause inserted by us in the Bill last week. I am not in favour of the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Capricornia éMr. Higgs), which the Government are . accepting as the lesser of two evils.

Mr McWilliams - It is no good. .

Mr FENTON - And it is a serious reflection, not only on the Minister, but on our returned men.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Will the honorable member show in what respect it is no good ?

Mr FENTON - It will be of no avail because most of our men have come back with very litle money.

Sir Granville Ryrie - They will have their gratuity.

Mr FENTON - That will not help them over a thousand hills. It will certainly be of assistance to some who are already in business, but it is lack of capital that, in most cases, brings about failure. That was the cause of the failure of the co-operative concern with which I was associated. If we had, possessed ample capital, we could have brushed aside the objections of the country bank manager, who knew little about our industry ; but, not having it, we were closed up like a book. Many of the banks and financial institutions will treatco-operative concerns in the. same way. Co-operation, however, has come to stay, and the more it is extended the better for the community. Those who vote against the clause will vote against one of the best propositions ever pub before Parliament, because it is designed to help returned soldiers to do for themselves what they are most anxious to do. I hope the Committee will stand by it.

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