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Wednesday, 12 May 1920


Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) . - I am in accord with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that this proposal should be left in our hands for a day or two in order to enable us to give it more consideration. I did not have the privilege of hearing the debates on this matter, and have not had the opportunity of learning what influenced this Chamber in deciding to assist in establishing returned soldiers in cooperative industries, but I think no better channel could be made available for them in regard to their future employment. From a cursory glance at the proposal before us, it appears to me that a returned soldier who ought to bare a perfect right to participate in the benefits of the pro vision will. not be permitted to do so if he is now following his usual civil employment. There are dozens of returned soldiers whose cases have come under my notice, who have found, on resuming their usual occupation, that their health has been so impaired that they have not been able to earn what their fellow-employees can make, or what they were drawing before the war. They would like to get into businesses of their own, and I have had applications from them asking for assistance from the Repatriation Department to enable them to do so. If they sought assistance under the proposal before the Committee, very likely it would be held by the Repatriation Commission that these men would not be entitled to it, because they had been satisfactorily established! in their usual occupations. The Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) says that honorable members ought to agree to this provision because of the position of the finances. We all know that the finances are not in a good position. We know, in fact, that it is getting worse, and that, as things are going, some day or other we may have financial chaos; but I cannot see in what way the argument of the Minister applies to the proposal before the Committee. He invites us to agree to the amendment, and commit the country to an expenditure of £250,000, but I cannot see in what way it would add to the burden of the country if no limitation is placed on the classes of returned soldiers who may participate in the benefits given by the provision, so long as they are bond fide. I have heard the remark that there are some men who have not done quite the right thing, who could have found work, but made no attempt to get it, who, in other words, have malingered ; but if there are men of that type - I do not say that there are - they will have the opportunity of benefiting under this scheme, whereas the man who has found 'work for himself on his return will not participate.


Mr Poynton - We are committed -to the expenditure of £250,000, but we cannot get the money for nothing.


Mr Tudor - Land settlement is still to go on.


Mr CHARLTON -I believe that everything possible should be done for those who went abroad to fight for us, and if we can place them in suitable avocations we ought to do so>, but I understand that in many cases a good deal of the money advanced to place soldiers on the land' is to be returned to us in the shape of repayments. The argument of the Minister for the Navy, that we have already committed ourselves to the expenditure of about £20,000,000 for .repatriation - it will probably be nearly £30,000,000 before we are through- is only misleading, and gives no assistance to the Committee. The Government would be well advised to allow the matter to remain in abeyance for a day or two to give honorable members an opportunity of considering it. According to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who is a Government Supporter, the Ministry are not in earnest in regard to this proposal. It would appear that they .are endeavouring to find! an easy way of coming to a settlement with another place. But I contend that this House ought not to whittle away its rights in regard to finances. It will be a bad day for the country when we allow the Senate, to control the public purse We ought to insist on our rights, and should not back and fill on a matter of this kind. We came to a deliberate conclusion that the amendment we sent to the Senate was appropriate for "the measure, and the Government have done wrong in bringing forward an alternative proposal - it really is sufficient to form a Bill in itself - and.' asking us to consider and accept it at a moment's notice.


Mr Hector Lamond - We have already put in a fortnight on this very same question.


Mr CHARLTON - Well, another fortnight would not he too long to wait, notwithstanding the fact that it is necessary to 'get the Bill passed as early as possible. The men need not suffer in consequence' of the delay. The payments can be made retrospective. We are not justified in agreeing to this proposal on the reasons advanced to-day. Where shall we find ourselves if we allow things to drift in this way ? The experience of the honorable member for Fawkner is that we agree to matters too hastily. Bills .involving the expenditure of millions of pounds, just the same as those involving the expenditure of thousands of pounds, are passed without receiving the due consideration they deserve. I quite agree with the Minister for the Navy that there are honorable members who are constantly talking about the financial position, yet are willing .to still further extend the benefits that are granted to returned soldiers. But I am not going to withdraw from my position. If there is any malingering, or any injustice perpetrated on the part of the returned soldiers, it is a matter that should be rectified by those who are administering the Act. But we cannot escape from the promises made to the genuine man, the one who went abroad at our request, and to whom we made the promise that everything possible would be done for him on his return, or for his dependants in the event of his decease. Because the financial position is acute we cannot get away from the promises made in this chamber .and elsewhere. I have heard almost every member promise in this House to do his best to conserve the interests of the returned soldiers in return for the sacrifices they made, on our behalf. But now that the war is over, we are told that we are not able to find cash or do anything for these men if we can avoid it. We cannot honorably evade our responsibilities in this respect. This amendment involves too much to be dealt with hastily; it should receive the most careful consideration. I object to the proposed limitation to the assistance that is to be given; the fullest opportunity ought to be given to all returned soldiers. I have in mind some who are following certain occupations, working three parts time or half time, and often losing a day's work, on- account of impaired health, due to warlike operations. Those men- should be given an opportunity of getting out of such occupations. " The majority of them have no money; but by pooling their war gratuity bonds and the loans from the £250,000 which the Government propose to make available, groups of a dozen or fifteen might be able to engage in co-operative enterprises, and thus make their future easier. We have a perfect right to ask the Government to give us time to consider this proposal. We should not be asked to accept it in a hurry, merely in order to overcome a difficulty that has occurred with the- Senate. We -should have an opportunity to study the proposal paragraph by paragraph and line by line. _ It is largely because of the haste with which we did many things during the war that we find' ourselves in our present financial position. Much money was squandered because of this House not giving full and proper consideration to measures that were brought before it. I admit that we were all much alike. In the early stages of the war we were carried away with the desire to do all we possibly could to help the Allied cause, and we voted for things which perhaps in our calmer moments we would not have supported. Now we have to foot the bill, and it is an ever-growing one. I fear that in the very near future a financial slump is inevitable. We cannot continue increasing indefinitely the cost of commodities and labour; we must reach a dead-end sooner or later. When that stage is reached we shall have financial chaos, and thousands of men will be unemployed. Those men who went abroad to do their part in the war will suffer, and largely through careless legislation and administration during the last five or six years. The time has arrived when this House should reassert itself as a deliberative assembly, and consider every proposal brought before it, in order to do what is best in the interests of the country. If we do that, we may have some chance of escaping from the financial difficulty which the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has just foreshadowed. The information he gave should have been given to the House when the Repatriation Bill was first under consideration. We should not be told at this stage that we should be very careful as to what we do, that the country already 0 \Ves so much money, and that our proposals are opening up fresh avenues of expenditure. That has nothing at all to do with the proposal now before us. If the financial position is as the Minister has described it, the Government had no right to accept the proposal moved, in the first place, by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). If the country is not capable of bearing the expenditure now, it was not capable of doing so then; therefore, that argument, -introduced at this stage, counts for very little. This scheme cannot be given that earnest consideration that is necessary unless honorable members are given more time to study the pros and cons. The Minister in charge of the Bill would be acting wisely if he agreed to report progress, and delay further consideration of the measure for a few days.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Is it not time that some Government supporters were in the Chamber ? Only three Ministerialists are present. I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.']







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