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Thursday, 10 November 1938

Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) . - There are two matters to which I wish to direct the attention of the House. The first relates to the question of furlough for employees of the munitions establishments of the Naval Department, who appear to be the only section of Government employees not granted that privilege. I regret that the Minister for Defence is not present in the chamber at the moment. I realize, of course, that he has occupied his new position only for a brief period; but his predecessor knew all about this matter, as also did an earlier Minister for Defence, Sir Archdale Parkhill, because I have asked questions on this subject on several occasions. While Sir Archdale Parkhill was Minister for Defence I asked the following questions : -

1.   Is it a fact that the Government has had under consideration the application of furlough or long service leave for temporary employees in the Navy Department and the munitions establishments at Maribyrnong and Lithgow t

2.   If so, has it been decided to apply it to temporary employees in those sections of the Government service?

3.   If not, will the Government, in view of the action taken this year in applying it to temporary employees of the Commonwealth railways, give favorable consideration to its application to those similarly employed in the Navy Department and in the munitions establishments at Maribyrnong and Lithgow?

The reply was -

1.   Yes.

Which indicated that the matter was under consideration -

2.   and 3. Information is now being prepared for consideration of Cabinet to enable the matter to be determined.

Later, I asked -

Can the Minister for Defence state whether the matter of the granting of furlough and long service leave to employees in the Defence Department has been dealt with? If so, what decision has been reached?

The Minister's reply waa -

Owing to the pressure of parliamentary business it has not yet been possible to deal with that matter, but a memorandum is available for the consideration of the Government.

Evidently a memorandum had been prepared and, as far as I can gather, it was not unfavorable. During the period in which the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) occupied the position of Minister for Defence, I repeated the question on more than one occasion, and the reply invariably was that the matter was still under consideration. I venture to suggest that the Government has had ample time to consider the claims patiently put forward by these men, and that there is no reason why distinction should be made between them and officers of other branches of the Government service.

Mr Martens - How long has the matter been under consideration?

Mr DRAKEFORD - For two and a half years. Of course, if a rushed decision is to be unfavorable I do not wish to hurry it; but the department has had ample time to arrive at a just decision on the merits of the case. I hope that the Treasurer will bring this matter under the notice of his colleague, the new Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), who has expressed himself as anxious to do everything possible to do justice to employees under his control, and that the men concerned will bb granted the same furlough rights as are enjoyed by other Government officers.

The other matter to which I wish to direct attention has already been raised in the House by the honorable members for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and Ballarat (Mr. Pollard). In my constituency twelve men who are employed in the Postal Department were given notice last week that their services are to be dispensed with. I recognize, and I think every sensible man must recognize, that there are certain kinds of temporary employment which must cease after the work has been completed; but there is ample other work to be undertaken by the Postal Department. There are, for instance, 8,000 condemned telegraph poles in Victoria awaiting replacement. Although these poles are a menace to the lives and limbs of the linesmen who have to work on them, their dangerous state does not seem to cause the Government any anxiety. I suggest that if the work on which the men under notice of dismissal have been engaged has been completed, they could well be employed in replacing these condemned poles. I remind the Treasurer that recently he stated publicly that money without limit could be made available for defence purposes. Surely if unlimited funds can be provided for defence purposes, the comparatively small amount of money necessary to replace condemned poles, which are a menace to the lives of Government employees, could be made available. I am informed that condemned poles are to be found not only in Victoria, but also throughout Australia. Within my electorate there are many people who have waited for a long time to be connected to the telephone service ; but nothing is being done to expedite that work. The men under notice of dismissal are intelligent and know that there is work waiting to be done, and their own foremen recognize that there is work in the Postal Department still waiting to be put in hand on which their services could be utilized. I am wondering whether these dismissals are in any way connected with this newly-announced recruiting campaign for our militia forces. It is reasonable to assume that some men are being thrown out of work in order to make recruiting easier. If the rate of dismissals in Victoria is to apply throughout Australia, between 800 and 1,000 men will be dismissed from the Postal Department, although there is plenty of work for them in that department. Most, if not all, of the men who have been dismissed are married and have families, and many are returned soldiers. I trust that the Government will not continue this policy of dismissing men from essential government services in order to extend the field for recruiting. I ask the Treasurer to treat this matter as urgent. An opportunity for a more adequate discussion will be presented when the Estimates are being considered. For this reason. I shall not present all the details which I have at my disposal. I hope, however, that the Treasurer will take steps to prevent further dismissals and will cancel dismissals already authorized. The workers involved should be restored immediately to their employment, which is an essential part of the communications of this country.

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