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Wednesday, 14 July 1920

On the next day the following paragraph appeared in the Argus : -

Consideration was given by the Federal Cabinet yesterday to arbitration matters. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said that the Cabinet had discussed the position that arose through the Deputy President of the Arbitration Court (Mr. justice Powers) going on leave. It was also hoped to introduce at an early date legislation to amend the Arbitration Act.

When the proposal by the president of the Employers Federation (Senator Fairbairn) for a round-table conference on industrial matters was mentioned, Mr. Hughes said : - " Two years ago we proposed to bring in a measure for a Grand Council of Labour, on which both sides would be represented. That idea we hope to embody in our coming legislation.

But such a proposal will be useless without the hearty co-operation of both sides. We propose to call a conference. We will not put a cutanddried proposition in regard to the constitution of a Council of Labour, or to industrial legislation before them, but will seek to have a free discussion of matters and find out the ideas of both sides. Then we will try to formulate proposals, to secure industrial peace and harmony."

The sooner we know what the Government proposals are in this direction the better it will be for all concerned, but they made the promise more than two years ago, and, so far, have done absolutely nothing. It was also promised that the Prime Minister would act as Minister for Labour, but nothing has been done in that matter either.

The employers have also failed in, their duty. Representatives of the tannery employees of Australia have informed me that they had the greatest difficulty in getting the employers to meet them, and I am told that in 'the hat trade the employers are offering excuse after excuse to avoid meeting their workmen in conference, although the award has expired. A strike in the hat-making industry would not affect the community as would a strike amongst transport workers or engineers: but the fact that there are two sides to a question ought to be made known. The workers in all industries have very little chance of putting their case before the people through the press. The opinion seems to be held in some quarters that if a ballot of employees is taken a proposal to strike will be turned down; but the Prime Minister knows as well as I do that, taken as a whole, the rank and file in an organization are far more militant than are the officials. The newspapers claim time after time that strikes are fomented by the latter, whereas, as a matter of fact, they are chiefly concerned in trying to do their best for their members, and will exert all their influence to avoid trouble. What has been the result of some of the ballots recently taken? In the case of the seamen the decision was to strike, and in the later cases of the marine, engineers and the engine-drivers and firemen of Victoria the result was the same.

I do not consider that the promises which were made to our soldiers when they went away from Australia have been kept. A few days ago I received from a gentleman whom I knew some years back, a letter in which he says -

I wish to place in your hands a letter which I received from the Repatriation Department, conveying the decision of the Repatriation Committee, the first paragraph of which should be of very considerable benefit to you in reference to your censure motion.

The paragraph to which my attention was thus directed reads as follows: -

The Department at no time has undertaken, or has contemplated undertaking, an obligation to reinstate a man in his pre-war position.

I am under the impression that the promise was made to those who went to the war that they would not suffer for doing so, and that when they returned they would be given positions at least as good as those they left -

The Department, however, will, as far as it reasonably can do so, endeavour to assist a man to obtain a position equal to his pre-war occupation.

I have had letters from men who were in business before they went to the war, who, on their return, could not obtain assistance from the Department. Only last month I wrote to a correspondent saying-

I received your letter, and will at once make strong representations to the Repatriation Department on your behalf. Immediately I -hear anything I will advise you.

In writing to the Deputy Comptroller of the Repatriation Department at Melbourne, I said, referring to this case -

Prior to enlisting in 1914, this man owned and conducted a printing business at Brunswick and Abbotsford for nearly seven years. He then enlisted and handed over his business to the care of a master printer, who, after two years, closed down, and sold part of the - plant to pay certain debts. Whilst Mr. Kidson may not have sold his business, he certainly disposed of it, as it is not in his possession to-day.

I am told that his application has been refused; but he is appealing against the Board's decision.

In reply, the Deputy Comptroller informed me that -

Mr.Kidson's application was declined in view of the fact that he did not dispose of his business to enlist, and he is, therefore, ineligible for assistance to commence again. He has been informed that, on receipt of an appeal in writing, his case will foe resubmitted to the deciding authority.

In regard to the suggestion that I should inform my correspondent that he must appeal again in writing, I wrote the following letter to the Minister: -

On 26th instant I wrote to the Deputy Comptroller here regarding a man named Wm. A. Kidson, of 173 Vere-street, Abbotsford, and have received the enclosed reply, which, you will see, is signed by an officer of the Department.

In my letter of the 26th instant I gave the whole of the facts, and asked that the matter be reconsidered. I frequently get similar replies to the one enclosed, insisting on the applicant making an appeal, but, in my opinion, it should not bc necessary for the man to make an appeal when I do so on* his behalf. Naturally, this causes the applicant further trouble and delay, which seems to mt entirely unnecessary.

Whenever I write to the Pensions Office and ask that a case be reconsidered with a view to increasing or granting a pension, it is done without asking the applicant to also write in.

I shall be glad if you will look into this matter, with a view to expediting business and eliminating a good deal of red-tape.

Although I wrote that letter on the 30th of last month I have not yet received an acknowledgment of it.

I wish now to give honorable members an illustration of the way in which war pension applications have been treated. A f friend of mine received towards the end of 1918 a letter in which the writer complained of " the very unjust way the Defence Department treated mothers who had raised large families and who applied for pensions in regard to sons who had been killed at the war." According to the statements contained in that letter, the man and his wife had four sons who enlisted, of whom two were killed in action, one died at sea on a transport, and one was still in the fighting line. After the first son was killed the usual papers for a pension were sent to them and the wife was called to Melbourne, and gave her replies to the questions asked of her. After some time she was informed to her surprise that she would be paid a pension of 5s. per week, which she regarded as an insult, because she knew that other mothers were getting pensions of 10s., 15s., and, in some cases, £1 per week, because of the death of their sons. She regarded the offer of the Department as " making little of her brave boy who died fighting for his country." The second son was killed in action on the 9th August, 1918, when the usual pension papers were again sent, and the wife again went to Melbourne and replied to the questions asked of her. She then received what she considered a bigger insult from the Department, because the pension was nil. It was the intention of the writer to tell his wife, when the pension papers came in respect of the lad who died at sea on a transport, to reply that as she had been so badly treated in the past, she could live without their insults. The ground for the rejection of these pensions in respect of the second lad killed was that the parents were not dependent on his earnings for the twelve months immediately prior to his enlistment. The writer points out that, although they were not dependent on their son for their living, he being then nineteen years of age, and learning a trade, a family of ten had been raised on a wage of 6s. 6d.- a day, and the lads who had been killed would have been earning £3 per week at the date on which he wrote had they not gone to the war, and would, of course, have helped their parents in their old age, a matter which the Pensions Department ought to have taken into consideration. I put the matter before the Department, and eventually got a pension of 7s. for each of the two sous, though that was not enough. The complaint has been made that widows who were getting £2 per week war pension have had their allowance reduced to £1 ls. These reductions have been made recently, and are not fair.

Many complaints are being made about the restrictions on the war gratuity. The insurance offices have now been prohibited from cashing war gratuity bonds, but men have told me that if they go to certain furniture selling firms, they can get their war gratuity bonds* cashed, so long as they spend 33 per cent, of the proceeds upon furniture.

Mr Mathews - In some cases, they are asked to spend 60 per cent, of the money on furniture.

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