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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) .- Several honorable members have desired, during this session, to discuss at some length, the housing conditions of Commonwealth employees along the transAustralian railway line, with the object of securing very necessary improvements ; but unfortunately the order of business has not made this possible. However, the circumstances are so unsatisfactory that in justice to the men and women concerned I feel obliged to draw attention to several more urgent aspects of the matter. A review of the general question of housing must await that moment when it can be adequately dealt with. I hope that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) will take note of my remarks and act at once to remedy the particular complaints that I shall voice, lt may be said, in general terms, that the housing arrangements at practically every settlement along the trans-Australian line are unsatisfactory, but in one or two cases the conditions are such as to require immediate attention.

I call attention to the circumstances under which a man and his wife and infant are required to live at Watson, where the quarries are situated from which ballast for the line is obtained. Quite a number of foreigners are employed in the quarries, and the wife of the railway officer there is frequently required to remain, with her child, for considerable periods alone while her husband travels on the ballast train up and down the line. It is very unfair to this woman that she should have to live under such insufferable conditions in such an isolated place. The manager of the quarry use's a building at Watson belonging to the Commonwealth railways for office accommodation that would be much more satisfactory as a residence. Even that building is not really adequate for residential purposes but it would be infinitely better than the place in which this man, woman and child have to live at present. The baby is under twelve months old, and the young mother has every justification for feeling aggrieved at the conditions under which she has to live. I urge the Minister to call upon the Railways Commissioner to remedy this complaint without delay.

The lot of the maintenance men who work along the railway and have to live in travelling vans is also most unsatis- factory, and must be improved immediately. These vans are intended to accommodate a limited number of men, but in many instances they are so overcrowded that even such primitive living conditions as they would make possible are made intolerable. The camps also require better equipment, and the rest houses must be placed on a much better basis. I feel sure that when the Minister investigates this complaint he will recognize the wisdom of catering in a much more satisfactory way for the comfort and well-being of these employees. The wider aspect of this housing question will be dealt with in a direct approach, in the first instance, to the Minister, and then later will be fully detailed to this House.

There is urgent need to make arrangements for the Commonwealth railways to accept as apprentices and train as many boys and young men as the regulations permit, but I am given to understand that the Commissioner is not prepared to engage even the limited number of apprentices that could be utilized. A good deal has been heard from honorable members in the course of this discussion about the defence requirements of Australia. May I point out that unless we train artisans to undertake the responsibility of servicing our various mechanical appliances we shall find ourselves in trouble if ever a call is made for such service. If it is worth while to spend such vast sums of money to provide for the defence of this country it issurely also worth while to spend a reasonable amount in training artisans under a proper apprenticeship system. I hope that the Government will see that the Railways Commissioner fulfils his obligations in this respect. Railway men who serve the Commonwealth in remote places along the trans- Australian railway line are entitled to expect the Government to make available some avenues for the employment of their boys in railway workshops and elsewhere; but this does not seem to be the policy of the Government. I was very surprised to learn from a railway man at Cook that, when he endeavoured to place his boys in the Commonwealth railways service, so that they could learn a trade, he discovered that the department was neither sym- pathetic nor interested in his problem. This is unreasonable in view of the isolation of these men, and I hope that steps will be taken to develop the apprenticeship system in such a way as will make openings for the sons of these men.

The last matter to which I shall refer relates to the practice of the department in using porters as temporary guards on various trains. I do not suggest that all the trains are staffed by porters acting as temporary guards, but it is undeniable that the practice is followed quite frequently. It has two ill effects; one is that it hinders the promotion of officers, and the other is that it enables the Railways Commissioner to evade the continuous payment of rates of wages to which men are justly entitled. The guard's rate is certainly paid when these men are acting temporarily, but it is not a fair method to adopt to utilize them as guards and deprive them of the permanent status that should be given. This is a subtle method of depriving men of their proper grade in the service.

I do not wish it to be imagined that 1 have any desire to pillory the Commissioner, but the complaints that I have made must be remedied without delay. The Minister should take advantage of the information that honorable members gather when they take the trouble to make personal inspections of the conditions of life and work along this line.

Mr Collins - How long is it since the honorable member travelled along the trans- Australian railway?

Mr MAKIN - I travelled along it during the last recess when, with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford), I made a thorough inspection of the working and living conditions of the men employed on the railways, who live at wayside stations. The honorable member for Maribyrnong and I intend to make a further inspection along this railway during the coming recess. I hope that we shall then discover that the complaints I am now voicing have been remedied. "We should do our utmost to improve the conditions of the men who serve the Commonwealth in distant and lonely places, such as those along this railway.

Mr.BLAIN (Northern Territory) [10.11}. - I support the remarks of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). I notice that last year £57,000 was voted for Commonwealth railways purposes under the heading " Increased payments in accordance with the determination of the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator ". I commend the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) for having forced the issue in this respect about eighteen months ago. It was largely due to his advocacy that Commonwealth railways employees were granted the right to approach either the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator or the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, though I gave my modicum of support to his appeal.

Mr Drakeford - I consider that railway employees in the Northern Territory should be given a similar right.

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