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Tuesday, 4 May 1920

Mr MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) . - I am sorry that the one "baa lamb," which promised to be of some use in repatriation, should have been shorn of the short wool it had when it first left this House. Why do the Government object, to this proposal, and why are the returned soldiers on the Government side going to vote against it? Have they been "nobbled," or do they still desire to go about the' country howling that every man should be sacked from his position who did not go to the war? Are they still going to say that old men should be put out of positions they have occupied for years in favour of returned men- old men whose sons went to the Front, while others were put in their jobs at home? Or will they, on the other hand, seek to repatriate our men in a civilized way? If the latter, an opportunity is now presented. The other day the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) moved the adjournment of the House in order to request that some girls should be sacked in Sydney, and returned soldiers put in their places; and on that occasion the Government explained the whole position away. Their proposal was that all skulkers, even if they could not pass the examinations to entitle them to go to the .Front, should be discharged, and returned soldiers put in their places. We now have proposed a comprehensive system* of employing soldiers without putting girls and old and invalid men out of work. Do the returned soldiers opposite desire to find work for returned soldiers? Do they believe that it is fair to place a " digger " on the land, and give him a chance to make good, and refuse a man in the city a similar chance? One of the most surprising arguments was used by the honorable member for Grampians . (Mr. Jowett), who had the infernal impudence to suggest that no soldier in the city should be able to avail himself of such a clause as this.

Mr Jowett - That is not my suggestion.

Mr MATHEWS - The honorable member would compel a man to go to the country whether he liked to do so or not, or forfeit his right to any assistance. The returned men opposite know as well as I do that thousands of men returned from the Front utterly unfitted for their previous occupations, and some of them have been receiving sustenance allowance for eight or nine months. . This, is wasted money, which makes these men loafers by force. The principal objection by the Government is that if money is advanced in the way proposed the men will waste it; but they are willing to accept the proposal of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs). The Government say that if the men come along, and give " quid " for "quid," they will be helped; but we know that the men have not the money to accept such an offer.

Mr Stewart - -If they had not .gone to the war they would have had money.

Mr MATHEWS - Of course. We know that many of the returned men have shown no disposition to work; but that is not to be wondered at. They were away three or four .years from any civilian work; and yet they are asked to settle down in their old places, be good boys, and do as much as they did before. I would like to see some honorable, members' put back to their old jobs, and watch how they settle down to them again. I know that I am not hankering after mine. The Government have been shown advanced methods and systems for repatriating great bodies of men, but they have refused to take advantage of most of those opportunities. If returned soldiers in this Chamber do not support the principle introduced by the Country party, I" warn them that every time they ask for a man to be put out of a place so that a returned soldier may fill it I shall tell them they are trying to. punish those who did not go to the war, and that it is only another form of economic conscription. They must know that if they succeed in getting returned soldiers out of the ordinary labour market into some new avenue of employment it will be leaving positions open for those who did not fight, and those jobs are what a lot of people are looking for. There are mothers and fathers in Australia whose sons did not enlist, and who insist that the latter shall not be penalized/ The time will come when returned soldiers will be in the minority ; and they cannot expect a fair deal then if they do not make clear now that they do not want to create positions for returned men at the expense of those who cannot be so classed. Many men before the war were working in uncongenial surroundings, and for comparatively little pay. They want something better now. They went away to fight; they fought the battles of the capitalists, and the least that their returned soldier representatives in Parliament should do now is to see that they get decent opportunities. The Government have a chance to bring about a true and broad form of repatriation.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - One would imagine that the Government have done nothing in the direction of repatriation.

Mr MATHEWS - The Government have done much for some, little for more, and nothing for most.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It has cost many millions a year, anyhow.

Mr MATHEWS - Exactly; and the few are getting that money. Does not the Minister know that there are thousands of returned men in Australia who are not fully or congenially employed?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The Government can do these things under the Bill as it stands, and they are doing their best in these directions at this moment.

Mr MATHEWS - If the Government can do what we desire under this measure, why should they not clinch matters by setting them down in black and white? The present beneficent Government may not always be in office. There may be a nasty, hard-hearted Government in control of the nation's affairs about a fort-' night hence. If it is economic conscrip- tion that the Government are after they are on the wrong track. If they are sincere in their desire to repatriate soldiers, let them avail themselves of this opportunity to do a big thing.

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