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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr LISTER (Corio) .- I am one of those unfortunate individuals to whom the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) has just referred as being likely to get their necks into a cleft, because I intend to vote against the retention- of the clause to which the Senate objects. I am just as keen a supporter of co-operation as is any other honorable member of this House. I have been interested in cooperative enterprises, some of which have ended very disastrously through bad management and the fact that everybody in them wanted to be a boss. I shall give very briefly my reasons for voting against the clause which was inserted in the Bill last week on the motion of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), and with which the Senate has disagreed. My view of it is that it leads to nowhere. If it were carried, any proposal made under it to the Commission would have to go to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) as the final arbiter, and with the Minister in his present frame of mind disappointment would await theapplicants.

I have listened with a good deal of interest to the various arguments that have been adduced both in favour of and against the clause. It seems to me that the bulk of the suggestions for cooperative effort on the part of returned soldiers have centred round the saw-milling industry and the establishment of woollen mills. Many honorable members during this debate have referred to woollen mills established on a co-operative basis as being likely to give employment to many returned men, and at least one honorable member has said that if the Government would grant to a party of returned soldiers a sum of £250 each, they would be able to embark upon such an enterprise. I propose to quote - and this is my main reason for rising - a few figures which I think will at once remove from the minds of honorable members any idea of a woollen mill being established for such a sum. These figures relate to the cost of the Commonwealth mill at Geelong. Some may say that that mill is thoroughly up to date - as it undoubtedly is - and offers opportunities for advancement; but we should be prepared to erect only such a mill as would provide for the best conditions for those employed in it, and when we take' into consideration the fact that the cost, of machinery and material has increased considerably since" the Commonwealth mill was erected, it will be seen at once from the figures I intend to quote that any proposal for the establishment of woollen mills by returned soldiers is out of the question. I learn from the Defence Department that the mill buildings alone cost £81,000, while the 'cost of machinery was £93,390. The number of employees - and I ask honorable members to follow these- figures closely, since it has been said that the establishment of an industry of this kind would in a measure solve the returned soldier unemployment problem - on 31st March last was 293. Of these employees, 148 were males and 145 females. The cost of buildings and plant therefore represents £595 per employee. If we divide the cost by the number of male employees, we find that it works out at £1,150 odd per man. It will thus be seen that it would be absolutely impossible for the Government to advance such huge sums of money for the establishment of the industry by men who for the most part would have had no experience.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - But the Commonwealth mill at Geelong is one of the most up to date in the world.

Mr LISTER - Would the honorable member suggest that for returned soldiers, in whom so many people have a great interest, anything but an up-to-date mill should be established ?

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - No; but I would not commence with such a large mill. A man can start with a selection before he gets a station.

Mr LISTER - Undoubtedly ; but from the arguments which have been put forward to-day, it seems that the object which the honorable member for Echuca had in view in securing the insertion of this clause was to provide employment for a maximum number of returned soldiers. It would be absolutely impossible in the circumstances for the Government to consider any proposition of the kind. I propose to explain what is being done by returned soldiers in my electorate at the present time.

Mr Hill - A mill at Ballarat, with a capital of £100,000, employs 500 hands. The honorable member has cited an extreme case.

Mr LISTER - I have referred to a mill where, perhaps, the employees work under better conditions than do those at Ballarat. The returned soldiers in Geelong and the surrounding district recognise that the future of Australia depends, not only upon the primary industries, butalso upon, the secondary industries.They met together, and having, as intelligent men, reasoned the matter out, they put before the soldiers of Victoria a proposition for the establishment of a woollen mill on a co-operative basis in Geelong. The shares held by any one man are limited to five at £20 each, and the majority of soldiers are paying for their shares with their gratuity bonds.

If the men in the Corio district are able to do that, what is to prevent menin other parts of the Commonwealh cooperating similarly?

Mr Stewart - We are trying to encourage that spirit.

Mr LISTER - I support the establishment of industries everywhere, but the amendment will lead us nowhere, because the Minister is the final arbiter, and we know that he would turn down any proposal that was put before him of the nature suggested by the amendment. The Government are prepared to accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), and I intend to vote with them.

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