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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I do not know that I should have taken part in the debate had it not been for the last speech. I can understand direct, opposition, but I cannot understand how men can profess to support a proposal and, at the same time, do what they can to kill it.

Mr Mackay - i gave reasons for .my attitude.

Mr Mcwilliams - i do not think that they appeal to many honorable members. Even if the clause under discussion is incomplete, it must not be forgotten that the Bill provides for the making of regulations by which the difficulties alluded to by the 'honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) may be removed. Some of the best men who went to the war - one of them was a winner -of the "Victoria Cross - -were men capable of doing every kind of mill work - in the bush, on the tram, and at the bench. Why should not such men be helped to set up for themselves ? As the honorable member for Cow,per (Dr. Earle Page) has pointed out, there is room in all parts of Australia for small co-operative concerns. Cooperation would' be the chief, means of getting rid of many of the difficulties that now exist in the relations of capital and labour.. We have here an opportunity to enable returned soldiers to become their own employers. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster') arid the Minister (Mr. Poynton) have said that wild-cat proposals would be brought under the clause. But are there not safeguards ? We have appointed - i think, unnecessarily - a Commission of Repatriation, which must indorse every application for assistance. Its indorsement will require the approval of the Minister, which means the approval of the Cabinet, and the Cabinet is responsible to Parliament. There could be rio greater security than is given by that arrangement.

Mr Fenton - i wish that all our public funds- were as well guarded.

Mr mcwilliams - If every proposal for expenditure sanctioned by Parliament had ' been surrounded with similar safeguards, there would not have ..been so' much waste in connexion with some of our public works. I do not know of any other proposal for the expenditure of public money which is so well safeguarded. The question we must ask ourselves is: Are returned soldiers who when they enlisted were wages men to be given a chance to co-operate and become their own employers ? Had the measure come before the House three years ago, when the wax was in progress, not one member would have objected to this proposal; but some members would now say to men who, as soldiers, covered themselves with honour, and acquitted themselves on active service in a way that has never been surpassed: " If when you enlisted you were employed at a mill or in a mine, you must go back to that employment." We have no right to require that of men who made good. The returned soldiers who took up the weaving of cloth, making what is known as Anzac tweed, have done well, and would have done a great deal better had they been given a fair run; and is there anything that would be more advantageous to the men themselves, or to the country, than the formation of small co-operative concerns by returned soldiers? It is to .the credit of the Government and of Parliament that the returned' man who when he enlisted was a farm labourer has been given a chance to acquire a farm of his own, and it would be unjust if we refused to give like opportunities to men who formerly were mill hands or miners. I ask the Committee to insist on its amendment. The clause to which the Senate objects was agreed to without a division, and no good reason has been given to us for reversing our decision regarding it. It would be absurd to intrust the Minister for Repatriation and the Commission with the expenditure of scores of millions of pound's in other directions and to say that they cannot be trusted to study the interests of the community in the granting of assistance to cooperative bodies of returned men.

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