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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) .- It seems to me that some honorable members are disposed to approach the consideration of this question in a fighting spirit- rather than to deal with it according to common-sense principles. I am convinced thatwe are all anxious to do what we honestly believe to be in the best interests of our returned men, and in the few remarks that I propose to make I shall follow along practical lines. As a rural producer engaged in the butter industry, I have had practical experience of the working of co-operative enterprises. Many honorable members will be aware of the fact that when the butter industry in Victoria was in a very bad way the State Government came to our assistance with a bonus, and that its help was most opportune. It put us in good heart, enabled us to wipe off our debts, and was also the means of putting the State on a solid footing. We have some 25,000 returned men either already in training or offering for vocational training. I have seen the work that is being carried out in the vocational training institute on St. Kilda-road, and it is,as I said a few days ago, a distinct credit to the Minister for Repatriation. Those learning various trades will soon become proficient in establishing industries such as those of furniture-making, upholstering, motor-body making, or blacksmithing, in each of which a dozen or twenty men could combine when a grant of, say, £200 a man would enable them to put their business on a sound footing. It would enable them to become their own bosses, and the movement, as it grew would breaks-down, to a verylarge extent, the industrial unrest that now prevails. My desire is thatas many men as possible shallbe made self-reliant. I do not want men to be content to remain wageearners. I desire,on the contrary, to encourage the : men to become their own masters. The clause is not designed to induce men to lean on the Government forhelp. It makes f or combinations of individual effort. In this co-operative scheme we shall 'certainly have some failure's, but I am convinced that, if adopted, it will lead to the establishment of our returned men in a. number ofindustries, and will open up a vista of great possibilities to the industrial workers of Australia. We are all aware of the industrial unrest which exists today throughout the civilized world. I believe that, by encouraging men to combine and work along co-operative lines, we shall give very considerable assistance to the soldier, and do good to the nation as a whole.

Much is said nowadays of profiteering. Co-operation, I believe, would help to lessen the evil. What, for instance, would be the resultif a number of returned soldiers combined and entered the woollen trade? Wool will no doubt be dearer in the future, and profits will not be what they have been, but the industry still offers unlimited scope for the energy and enterprise of co-operative combinations. Last year we exported something like £34,000,000 worth of wool. In. this, according to experts, there were 80 tons of manure; on which we paid freight to the old world, and which contained valuable by-products. All these are matters of importance.

This' may be described as a prospecting venture; arid no one can foretell the benefits that will result from it. By encouraging co-operation we shall, to some extent, remove the feeling of hatred that exists between the . worker and the capitalist. It should be our desire to do all that is humanly possible to remove that' feeling. If, by carrying out this proposal^ we can not only accomplish much ' iri tha't direction, but make ' men . more self-reliant, we shall do a good, service to the community. . Co-operative . efforts properly controlled would, to a' large extent; enable the people to' avoid the- enormous sums that are spent oh the. army of agents and middlemen ranged between the producer and the consumer. The Victorian Government has set us a. worthy example in the matter of cooperation,, by its action in making advances for the establishment of freezing works. The State Government advanced £1 for £1; and although the scheme was at first regarded as a harum-scarum one, it is going to prove one of the wisest upon which the State has ever embarked.

Shortly' put, this clause is designed to make our boys more self:reliant and independent. Representatives of country constituencies, after discussing the proposal with returned soldiers and their parents, are satisfied that under this scheme it will be possible to start a number of industries in rural towns, the residents of which will be able to render valuable assistance. 'We ask that- this scheme be given a trial. It must not be forgotten that it will be under the control . of the responsible Minister and the Cabi-net as a whole. It has been said that . we might have a change of. Ministry, but whatever Ministry is in power will have to accept full responsibility for its actions, and will have to account to the people. . It will not be possible for any Government to go very far along the wrong track without being pulled up by the people. I hope that the Government will insist upon the retention, of the clause, and am satisfied that if they do it will not only give satisfaction to our returned, boys, but will open up fruitful, sources of income in the near future.

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