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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr MULCAHY (Lang) .- I listened with a great deal of interest to the speech of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) who condemned the Government for its failure to find employment for youths. Such criticism sounds strange from an ex-Minister, because all the things of which he complained existed during the time he was a member of the Government. I agree with him that the Government did nothing, during the depression or afterwards, to train youths and young men to enable them to find careers for themselves in industry. The Government stands con demned because it made no attempt to solve the unemployment problem in the past, and it is making none now. This is illustrated by the fact that when it brought down the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, which was recently passed through Parliament, it contained no provision whatever for unemployment. To-day, the Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) referred to the large number of persons in employment in Australia, and he made much of the fact that large amounts of money were being expended on public works, particularly defence works. All this may be true, but it is not enough to relieve the poverty and distress created by widespread unemployment in the cities, and in most country towns. I am informed that in the town of Wellington, in New South Wales, there are 400 persons out of work. It is not a very big town, and this is a very large number to be unemployed. It is situated in the electorate of the Minister for Works himself, and perhaps he will be able to explain later why he has done nothing to help these people.

The honorable member for Maranoa referred to the system in operation in New South Wales under which young men, over the normal age of apprenticeship, are given work by private employers, at fi a week, and their wages are subsidized by the Government by as much as f 3 a week on condition that they are taught a trade. In many cases, the employers have availed themselves of this system merely in order to ' get cheap labour, and the training received by the young men is practically useless.

Mr Thorby - But they work under a permit.

Mr MULCAHY - Yes, but there is no guarantee that they will be taught a skilled trade.

Mr Thorby - The Technical Board watches that.

Mr MULCAHY - I assure the Minister that I know of one young man, whom I recommended, who has been employed for the last fifteen months as a labourer, and has been taught nothing.

Mr Anthony - The employer's contribution must be increased each year.

Mr MULCAHY - It is not very much, anyway.

Mr Harrison - The Government subsidy eventually vanishes altogether, and the employer must pay the full wage.

Mr MULCAHY - The youth is indentured for only two or three years, and the employer has the benefit of his labour during that time.

Mr Thorby - That must be an isolated case.

Mr MULCAHY - It may be. It is the only case that has come under my notice of a man working under the scheme, and this has been his experience. The Minister should make inquiries.

Mr Thorby - I should be grateful if the honorable gentleman would give me the full particulars privately.

Mr MULCAHY - I shall be glad to do so.

I again direct the attention of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Thorby) to the need for assistance to be given by the Commonwealth Government to the Australian Air League, of which there is a branch in my electorate. This organization takes young men at the age of twelve and instructs them in the mechanism of aeroplanes, and subsequently trains them to obtain their pilots' licences. Air transport will be the transport of the future, and every possible encouragement should be given to an organization which voluntarily is undertaking the training of young men, not only for civil aviation, but also, possibly, for air defence. Generally, the Minister is inclined to encourage anything that tends to develop the defence of the country, and I commend to him for encouragement the work that this organization is doing. Two or three weeks ago I met three young men who were trained by it, and who eventually obtained their flying licences.

Negotiations have been proceeding between a certain company which seeks permission -to establish an industry at Camden for the extraction of oil from coal, and the Government of New South Wales, and for some unknown reason that Government has failed to grant permission for a start to be made. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has been brought into the matter. It is difficult to understand that a company, which seeks to develop the coal-oil industry, should be hampered, especially when one realizes that the company formed to develop an industry for the extraction of oil from shale at Newnes is being subsidized by the Governments of the Commonwealth and of New South Wales.

Mr Thorby - The Government of New South Wales is prepared to grant a lease on condition that the company does not sell raw coal.

Mr MULCAHY - I understand that that is so, but the costly machinery which will have to be installed for the extraction of the oil will deal only with the smaller coal. I cannot understand why the company should be prevented from selling its surplus supplies.

Mr Thorby - The reason is that there are already too many coal mines that are over-producing.

Mr MULCAHY - Yes, that is so; but this company intends to establish an industry to do something of national importance which existing coal-owners will not do. The Commonwealth Government should bring pressure to bear on the Government of New South Wales with a view to enabling the company to begin its operations. The matter of defence has been exercising the public mind to a great degree in recent weeks, and, if the Commonwealth Government is sincere in its desire to protect Australia, it should give every encouragement to the establishment of an industry that will produce the fuel which is so necessary to the development of the control no less in peace time than in war time.

The present Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) and his predecessor (Mr. Thorby) have assured all questioners in this Parliament in the last few weeks that all is well with the measures which the Government is taking towards the defence of Australia, and honorable members have taken their assurances in good faith. It is disquieting, therefore, to read in the press reports to the contrary. The former Minister for Defence made several statements which have been contradicted by men who know something about military matters. One of the most brilliant officers in the last war, Brigadier-General Lloyd, recently, in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, made an alarming statement, which he elaborated in the press, indicating that a large amount of money which has been expended on defence in Australia had been wasted. If that be true, it is regrettable. I have known that gentleman for many years and I know that his statements cannot be disregarded. I applaud what he said at the end of his speech in the Parliament of New South Wales in resentment of the fact that the Union Jack is often used for political purposes. The use of the national emblem of the Empire for political purposes should be prohibited.

I support what was said by the honorable member for Maranoa about the need to retain in the Postal Department the services of telegraph messengers who have served the department faithfully for two or three years.

The Government has embarked on a campaign to double the strength of the militia in order to strengthen the defences of this country. We should not neglect those who gave wonderful service to the country and the Empire generally in the last war. Many returned soldiers are under a great handicap in trying to prove that their disabilities are due to war service. I feel that the scope of the Repatriation Commission should be widened.

Sitting suspended from 12.0 midnight to 12.30 a.m. (Thursday).

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